The Peril and the Hope for the Future of Humanity

Much of the development of societal organisation throughout history has taken place through a process of reaction to immediate pressures or circumstances.  In some instances, however, the process involved serious thought and planning.  Whether it be the laws of Manu, the code of Hammurabi, the British parliamentary system or the constitution of the United States, (as a few examples), an attempt was made to organise and codify the relations of the people, the government and the process of governing in a way that made sense.  These represented steps forward in the evolution of the human reason as a tool of action in the world.

We have reached a tipping point in human life where the destructive power of our technological advancement, coupled with the immediate pressures of ever-more-pressing crises on a world scale, has created an existential peril for humanity.  Yet we see that the forces that have worked to bring about the influence of the higher reason and even spiritual principles of existence are once more at work to try to find a way through the chaos and confusion of the vital circumstances and pressures.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The question now put by evolving Nature to mankind is whether its existing international system, if system it can be called, a sort of provisional order maintained with constant evolutionary or revolutionary changes, cannot be replaced by a willed and thought-out fixed arrangement, a true system, eventually a real unity serving all the common interests of the earth’s peoples.  An original welter and chaos with its jumble of forces forming, wherever it could, larger or smaller masses of civilisation and order which were in danger of crumbling or being shaken to pieces by attacks from the outer chaos was the first attempt at cosmos successfully arrived at by the genius of humanity.  This was finally replaced by something like an international system with the elements of what could be called international law or fixed habits of intercommunication and interchange which allowed the nations to live together in spite of antagonisms and conflicts, a security alternating with precariousness and peril and permitting of too many ugly features, however local, of oppression, bloodshed, revolt and disorder, not to speak of wars which sometimes devastated large areas of the globe.  The indwelling deity who presides over the destiny of the race has raised in man’s mind and heart the idea, the hope of a new order which will replace the old unsatisfactory order and substitute for it conditions of the world’s life which will in the end have a reasonable chance of establishing permanent peace and well-being.  This would for the first time turn into an assured fact the ideal of human unity which, cherished by a few, seemed for so long a noble chimera; then might be created a firm ground of peace and harmony and even a free room for the realisation of the highest human dreams, for the perfectibility of the race, a perfect society, a higher upward evolution of the human soul and human nature.”

“…too long a postponement or too continued a failure will open the way to a series of increasing catastrophes which might create a too prolonged and disastrous confusion and chaos and render a solution too difficult or impossible; it might even end in something like an irremediable crash not only of the present world-civilisation but of all civilisation.  A new, a difficult and uncertain beginning might have to be made in the midst of the chaos and ruin after perhaps an extermination on a large scale, and a more successful creation could be predicted only if a way was found to develop a better humanity or perhaps a greater, a superhuman race.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pp. 315-317

An Optimistic View of the Future of Humanity

If we remain embedded in the crises, problems and issues confronting humanity in today’s world, it is quite easy to fall into a pessimistic view of the future; for who can see how these apparently intractable concerns can be resolved?  What is the solution to the competing ideologies that are always willing to go to war with one another?  What answer do we have to the issues of unequal access to resources, global pollution, climate change, and the threats of war with weapons that can annihilate life on earth?  Yet if we survey the past history of the human race, we note that at various points in time, humanity was faced with challenges that turned into major crises, including pandemics, vast inter-continental warfare and imperial ambitions, acts of genocide, and in each case, mankind found a way to face and solve the then current crisis.  It is clear that the crises we face today represent existential threats far beyond those we have witnessed in the past, but we also have to acknowledge that humanity has grown in the interim, gained new understanding, new tools and technologies.  Another important point is that if we attribute some divine purpose to life and the evolution of consciousness, then these issues and obstacles represent not necessarily existential threats but opportunities for new growth and understanding.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Mankind has a habit of surviving the worst catastrophes created by its own errors or by the violent turns of Nature and it must be so if there is any meaning in its existence, if its long history and continuous survival is not the accident of a fortuitously self-organising Chance, which it must be in a purely materialistic view of the nature of the world.  If man is intended to survive and carry forward the evolution of which he is at present the head and, to some extent, a half-conscious leader of its march, he must come out of his present chaotic international life and arrive at a beginning of organised action; some kind of World-State, unitary or federal, or a confederacy or a coalition he must arrive at in the end; no smaller or looser expedient would adequately serve the purpose.  In that case, the general thesis advanced in this book would stand justified and we can foreshadow with some confidence the main line of advance which the course of events is likely to take, at least the main trend of the future history of the human peoples.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pg. 315

The Ideological Struggle Between Capitalism and Communism and the Need for a Basis for Coexistence

The main issue that prevents the United Nations from achieving the eventual result of a world union is the competition of opposing world views and economic models between the capitalistic and the communistic directions.  Communism was born in Russia through an intense revolutionary struggle, and the adherents of that particular ideology came to believe that they not only had the solution that humanity required, but that the only way to bring about the success of their ideology was to repeat their experience of revolution on a world-scale.  This outlook drew an inevitable counter-resistance from those who supported the status quo of the capitalistic model.  The resultant development of two heavily armed and opposing camps  then led to the sense that they could not both exist in the world at the same time, and thus, the idea was that one way or the other, one had to prevail over the other.  This ideological struggle resulted in the cold war and the outbreak of several “hot” wars by proxy states representing the interests or needs of the lead powers on each side.  The United Nations has been hobbled by this struggle and can only emerge in the development of the world-union if and when an accommodation is developed that permits them to mutually exist and relate to one another, or they each undergo sufficient modification within themselves to render them more capable of peaceful interchange.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “If much of the unease, the sense of inevitable struggle, the difficulty of mutual toleration and economic accommodation still exists, it is rather because the idea of using the ideological struggle as a means for world-domination is there and keeps the nations in a position of mutual apprehension and preparation for armed defence and attack than because the coexistence of the two ideologies is impossible.  If this element is eliminated, a world in which these two ideologies could live togehter, arrive at an economic interchange, draw closer together, need not be at all out of the question; for the world is moving towards a greater development of the principle of State control over the life of the community, and a congeries of socialistic States on the one hand, and on the other, of States coordinating and controlling a modified Capitalism might well come to exist side by side and develop friendly relations with each other.  Even a World-State in which both could keep their own institutions and sit in a common assembly might come into being and a single world-union on this foundation would not be impossible.  This development is indeed the final outcome which the foundation of the U.N.O. presupposes; for the present organisation cannot be itself final, it is only an imperfect beginning useful and necessary as a primary nucleus of that larger institution in which all the peoples of the earth can meet each other in a single international unity: the creation of a World-State is, in a movement of this kind, the one logical and inevitable ultimate outcome.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pp. 313-315

Weaknesses of the League of Nations and the United Nations and the Basis for a Successful World Order

As humanity begins to grapple with the idea of a world-union if some form, it nevertheless starts from the basis of the existing world order, and the limitations imposed by the “real-politic” of that world-order, based on several dominant states or imperial powers.  The League of Nations, while the concept was pushed by the United States, did not eventually include the United States as the Congress opposed the initiative driven by President Woodrow Wilson.  This however was not the only or primary defect that doomed it.  It also turned out to be a forum for political power plays led by the key powers of the time, and rather than turning into a collaborative effort for the general welfare of humanity, it became a tool of attempted imperialism to sustain the great powers and their status quo.

The United Nations formed with a somewhat advanced agenda, but once again, the reality of political power on the world stage led to the development of the Security Council and the provision of the veto power by several major players, which served to distort the direction and intent of the body and enforce once again the wishes of the dominant world powers.

Sri Aurobindo discusses these issues and the eventual basis for a solution: “The League of Nations was in fact an oligarchy of big Powers each drawing behind it a retinue of small States and using the general body so far as possible for the furtherance of its own policy much more than for the general interest and the good of the world at large.”

“In the constitution of the U.N.O. an attempt was made, in principle at least, to escape from these errors; but the attempt was not thoroughgoing and not altogether successful.  A strong surviving element of oligarchy remained in the preponderant place assigned to the five great Powers in the Security Council and was clinched by the device of the veto; these were concessions to a sense of realism and the necessity of recognising the actual conditions of things and the results of the second great war and could not perhaps have been avoided, but they have done more to create trouble, hamper the action and diminish the success of the new institution than anything else in its make-up or the way of action forced upon it by the world situation or the difficulties of a combined working inherent in its very structure.”

“… it will be necessary to build, eventually at least, a true World-State without exclusions and on a principle of equality into which considerations of size and strength will not enter.  These may be left to exercise whatever influence is natural to them in a well-ordered harmony of the world’s peoples safeguarded by the law of a new international order.  A sure justice, a fundamental equality and combination of rights and interests must be the law of this World-State and the basis of its entire edifice.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pp. 312-313

The United Nations Represents an Opportunity for Cautious Optimism on the Path Towards Human Unity

As a second iteration of the attempts of humanity to try to solve global issues together through deliberation rather than through violent means, the United Nations clearly represents a step forward for humanity, whatever its current defects.  Common action to address problems such as climate change or global pollution, addressing pandemics, global economic issues, or to aid with issues such as drought, flood, famine and migration are all possible if a forum for mutuality and discussion exists.  The development of agencies and bodies to unite humanity for specific actions that has arisen out of the United Nations process,  shows us the continued progress along these lines.  The limitations of the current United Nations, particularly the existence of, and use of, major power veto to subvert common goals and needs for the egoistic advantage of the power exercising the veto, is one such limitation.  Another very obvious one is the lack of any realistic enforcement power, with the UN Peacekeepers representing a potential first step forward in creation of a global enforcement power.  And certainly, the ability of certain powers to simply disregard the UN forum when their use of economic, political or military power seems to them a more certain way to achieve their objectives, is another of these serious limitations.  The mere existence of limitations in what represents a new direction for humanity is not a cause for despair, but a call for work to bridge the gaps that still remain and move us to the next level of integration of the entire human race into oneness.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…the deficiencies that exist in the organisation or its constitution have to be quickly remedied or slowly and cautiously eliminated; if there are obstinate oppositions to necessary change, they have somehow to be overcome or circumvented without breaking the institution; progress towards perfection, even if it cannot be easily or swiftly made, must yet be undertaken and the frustration of the world’s hope prevented at any cost.  There is no other way for mankind than this, unless indeed a greater way is laid open to it by the Power that guides through some delivering turn or change in human will or human nature or some sudden evolutionary progress, a not easily foreseeable step, saltus, which will make another and greater solution of our human destiny feasible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pp. 311-312

Nature Utilises Resistance to Concentrate Her Forces of Accomplishment

Humanity tends to respond to crisis rather than through a patient, thoughtful process of development.  We see that throughout history it is various crises that act as the fulcrum for change that Nature is trying to achieve.  The League of Nations was the response of humanity to the horror of World War I.  When it could not sustain its footing, a second conflagration tore through the world.  The response:  The United Nations.

Humanity now stands on the brink of an abyss.  Weapons of mass destruction, global pandemics, climate change, massive inequality of access to resources, and exploitation of resources through force, which destablises, brings about regional or local warfare and mass migration events.  The resources of the planet are being used faster than they can be replaced and the population explodes, creating ever-more need for what are becoming more and more limited resources.  Pollution and the waste products of civilisation are poisoning air, water and land.   Those who have profited from the status quo fight hard to maintain their position, regardless of consequences.   Certainly humanity is at a decision-point:  live or die.  It is in just such situations that Nature is able to impel solutions as humanity reacts to the life and death event.  The solution in this case is the development of human unity and addressing these crises together as one.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “All the catastrophes that have attended this course of events and seem to arise of purpose in order to prevent the working out of her intention have not prevented, and even further catastrophes will not prevent, the successful emergence and development of an enterprise which has become a necessity for the progress and perhaps the very existence of the race.  Two stupendous and world-devastating wars have swept over the globe and have been accompanied or followed by revolutions with far-reaching consequences which have altered the political map of the earth and the international balance, the once fairly stable equilibrium of five continents, and changed the whole future.”

“But the two wars that have come and gone have not prevented the formation of the first and second considerable efforts towards the beginning of an attempt at union and the practical formation of a concrete body, an organised instrument with that object: rather they have caused and hastened this new creation.”

“Nature uses such means, apparently opposed and dangerous to her intended purpose, to bring about the fruition of that purpose.  As in the practice of the spiritual science and art of Yoga one has to raise up the psychological possibilities which are there in the nature and stand in the way of its spiritual perfection and fulfilment so as to eliminate them, even, it may be, the sleeping possibilities which might arise in future to break the work that has been done, so too Nature acts with the world-forces that meet her on her way, not only calling up those which will assist her but raising too, so as to finish with them, those that she knows to be the normal or even the unavoidable obstacles which cannot but start up to impede her secret will.  This one has often seen in the history of mankind; one sees it exampled today with an enormous force commensurable with the magnitude of the thing that has to be done.  But always these resistances turn out to have assisted by the resistance much more than they have impeded the intention of the great Creatrix and her Mover.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pp. 309-311

The Initiation of a New Era in Human History

We often misjudge the importance of an event, or what it portends, from the small and seemingly innocuous way it begins and comes to our notice.  Who could imagine, for instance, looking at the majestic redwood trees that they sprout from a tiny seed, or that the grand spreading oak tree begins from an acorn.  Similarly, the advent of the League of Nations represents a watershed event in human history, as it represented the first global attempt to bring humanity together to try to resolve issues through collaboration rather than conflict.  The failure of this specific bodily form for the idea of human unity was not a defeat of the concept; rather, it was a sign that the form was not yet correctly developed and solidly based.  It took another worldwide conflagration to emphasize the importance of developing a mechanism for interchange, communication and discussion as an alternative to world war.  The founding of the United Nations after the end of World War II represented then another chance of embodiment for an idea that was driving towards manifestation.  The United Nations itself is not a perfect form, certainly, and the concept has been distorted by the existence of veto power exercised by dominant world powers to protect their own egoistic vested interests.  Yet, the process continues and the United Nations certainly represents an advance on the tentative steps taken by the League of Nations.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “At the time when this book was being brought to its close, the first attempt at the foundation of some initial hesitating beginning of the new world-order, which both governments and peoples had begun to envisage as a permanent necessity if there was to be any order in the world at all, was under debate and consideration but had not yet been given a concrete and practical form; but this had to come and eventually a momentous beginning was made.  It took the name and appearance of what was called a  League of Nations.  It was not happy in its conception, well-inspired in its formation or destined to any considerable longevity or a supremely successful career.  But that such an organised endeavour should be launched at all and proceed on its way for some time without an early breakdown was in itself an event of capital importance and meant the initiation of a new era in world history; especially, it was an initiative which, even if it failed, could not be allowed to remain without a sequel but had to be taken up again until a successful solution has safeguarded the future of mankind, not only against continued disorder and lethal peril but against destructive possibilities which could easily prepare the collapse of civilisation and perhaps eventually something even that could be described as the suicide of the human race.  Accordingly, the League Nations disappeared but was replaced by the United Nations Organisation which now stands in the forefront of the world and struggles towards some kind of secure permanence and success in the great and far-reaching endeavour on which depends the world’s future.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pg. 309