"THE PROSPERITY OF HUMANKIND"
AN ABRIDGED VERSION FOR STUDY

The ideal of world peace is taking on form and substance and awakening a degree of hopefulness about the future of our planet. Further effort must be galvanised by a vision of human prosperity whose beneficiaries are all of the planet's inhabitants. Drawing upon their collective inheritance the world's governments and peoples are now challenged to take up consciously and systematically, the responsibility for the design of their future.

This will necessitate a re-examination of the attitudes and assumptions that currently underlie social and economic development, and a broad consensus about human nature itself. The two avenues of discussion that this paper explores are;

The current purpose of development is essentially the achievement of the material prosperity that characterises certain regions of the world. It has become clear that these approaches are not capable of meeting humanity's needs. An ever widening abyss separates the living standards of a diminishing minority of the world's inhabitants from the poverty of the vast majority of the globe's population. This unprecedented economic crisis, together with the social breakdown it has helped to engender, reflects a profound error of conception about human nature itself. We are being shown that unless the development of society finds a purpose beyond material conditions, it will fail to attain even these goals. That purpose must be sought in the deeper dimensions and motivations of life.

Development planning largely views the masses of humanity as essentially recipients of benefits from aid and training. The limited range of decision making left to most of the world's population is often irreconcilable with their perceptions of reality. Such an attitude misses the significance of probably the most important social phenomenon of our time, the response of the peoples of the world to constructing a new global order. Countless movements and organisations, supported by growing numbers throughout the globe, advocate social change at local, regional and international levels. Their vital concerns include human rights, the advancement of women, sustainable development, moral education, literacy and primary health care. The transformation in the way that great numbers of ordinary people are coming to see themselves raises fundamental questions about the role assigned to the general body of humanity in the planning of our planet's future.

The bedrock of a strategy that can engage the world's population in assuming responsibility for its collective destiny must be the consciousness of the oneness of humankind. Only through the dawning consciousness that they constitute a single people, will the inhabitants of the planet be enabled to turn away from the patterns of conflict that have dominated social organisation in the past and begin to learn the ways of collaboration and conciliation.

Employing an analogy that points to the one model holding convincing promise for the organisation of a planetary society, Bahá'u'lláh compared the world to the human body. The modes of operation that characterise man's biological nature illustrate fundamental principles of existence. Chief among these is unity in diversity.

It is precisely the wholeness and complexity of the order constituting the human body - and the perfect integration into it of the body's cells - that permit the full realisation of the distinctive capacities inherent in each of these component elements. No cell lives apart from the body, whether in contributing to its functioning or in deriving its share from the well-being of the whole. The physical well-being thus achieved finds its purpose in making possible the expression of human consciousness. The purpose of biological development transcends the mere existence of the body and its parts.

What is true of the individual has its parallels in human society. The advancement of the human race has not occurred at the expense of human individuality. As social organisation has increased, the scope for the expression of the capacities latent in each human being has correspondingly expanded. Because the relationship between the individual and society is a reciprocal one, the transformation now required must occur simultaneously within human consciousness and the structure of social institutions.

II

Justice is the one power that can translate consciousness of humanity's oneness into a collective will for erecting the necessary structures of global community life and as the ruling principle of successful social organisation. At the individual level, justice is the faculty that enables each person to distinguish truth from falsehood. It calls for fair-mindedness and equity in one's treatment of others, and is thus a constant, if demanding, companion in daily life. At the group level, a concern for justice is indispensable in collective decision making, because it is the only means by which unity of thought and action can be achieved. Far from the punitive spirit that has often masqueraded under its name in past ages, justice is the practical expression of awareness that the interests of the individual and those of society are inextricably linked.

Concern for justice protects development planning from the temptation to sacrifice the well-being of humankind - and even of the planet itself - to the advantages of privileged minorities. It ensures that limited resources are not diverted to projects extraneous to essential social or economic priorities. Only development programmes that are perceived as being just and equitable and as meeting their needs, can hope to engage the commitment of the masses of humanity, upon whom implementation depends. Human qualities such as honesty, a willingness to work, and a spirit of co-operation are successfully harnessed to enormously demanding collective goals when every member of society - and every component group - can trust that they are protected by standards and assured of benefits that apply equally to all.

At the heart of the discussion of a strategy of social and economic development lies the issue of human rights. Concern that each human being should enjoy the freedom of thought and action conducive to his or her personal growth does not justify the cult of individualism that so deeply corrupts many areas of contemporary life. Nor does concern to ensure the welfare of society require deification of the state as the supposed source of humanity's well-being.

The freedom to investigate the purpose of existence and to develop human endowments requires protection. It is this distinguishing impulse that provides the moral imperative for many of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Universal education, freedom of movement, access to information, and the opportunity to participate in political life are all aspects that require guarantee by the international community.

The same is true of freedom of thought and belief, including religious liberty, along with the right to hold opinions and express these opinions appropriately.

Since the body of humankind is one and indivisible, each member of the human race is born into the world as a trust of the whole. This trusteeship constitutes the moral foundation of most of the other rights. The security of the family and the home, the ownership of property, and the right to privacy are all implied and the obligations on the part of the community extend to the provision of employment, mental and physical health care, social security, fair wages, rest and recreation, and a host of other reasonable expectations. The principle of collective trusteeship creates the right of every person to expect that those cultural conditions essential to identity enjoy the protection of national and international law. The immense wealth of cultural diversity achieved over thousands of years is vital to the social and economic development of a human race experiencing its collective coming-of-age. It represents a heritage that must be permitted to bear its fruit in a global civilisation. On the one hand, cultural expressions need to be protected from suffocation by the materialistic influences currently holding sway. On the other, cultures must be enabled to interact with one another in ever-changing patterns of civilisation, free of manipulation for partisan political ends.

"The light of men", Bahá'u'lláh says, "is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men."

III

In order for the standard of human rights to be established as international norms, a fundamental redefinition of human relationships is called for. Present day conceptions of what is natural and appropriate in relationships - among human beings, between human beings and nature, between the individual and society, and between the members of society and its institutions - reflect levels of understanding arrived at by the human race during earlier and less mature stages in its development. If humanity is coming of age, if all the inhabitants of the planet constitute a single people, if justice is to be the ruling principle of social organisation - then existing conceptions that were born out of ignorance of these emerging realities have to be recast.

Central to the task of reconceptualizing the system of human relationships is the process that Bahá'u'lláh refers to as consultation. "In all things it is necessary to consult", is His advice. The standard of truth seeking this process demands is far beyond current patterns of negotiation and compromise. Debate, propaganda, the adversarial method and partisanship are all harmful to arriving at a consensus about the truth of a given situation and the wisest action among the options open.

What Bahá'u'lláh is calling for is a consultative process in which the individual participants strive to transcend their respective points of view, in order to function as members of a body with its own interests and goals. In such an atmosphere, characterised by both candour and courtesy, ideas belong not to the individual to whom they occur during the discussion but to the group as a whole, to take up, discard or revise as seems to best serve the goal pursued. Consultation succeeds to the extent that all participants support the decisions arrived at, regardless of the individual opinions with which they entered the discussion.

Consultation is so vital to the success of collective endeavour that it must constitute a basic feature of a viable strategy of social and economic development. The participation of the people on whose commitment and efforts the success of such a strategy depends becomes effective only as consultation is made the organising principle of every project. "No man can attain his true station", is Bahá'u'áh's counsel, "except though his justice. No power can exist except through unity. No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation."

IV

Reaching the levels of capacity entailed in the tasks of the development of a global society will require an enormous expansion in access to knowledge. Universal education will succeed only as human affairs are so reorganised as to enable individuals and groups in every sector of society to acquire and apply knowledge to the shaping of human affairs.

Throughout recorded history, human consciousness has depended upon two basic knowledge systems - science and religion. Through these two agencies, the race's experience has been organised, its environment interpreted, its latent powers explored, and its moral and intellectual life disciplined.

The credentials of science need no elaboration. The issue is how scientific and technological activity are to be organised so as to permit people everywhere to participate in social and economic development. This calls for an expansion of scientific and technological activity, and the creation of education programmes and institutions that will enhance the capability of the world's peoples. While acknowledging the wide differences of individual capacity, a major goal is to make it possible for all of the earth's inhabitants to approach, on an equal basis, the processes of science and technology which are their common birthright.

The challenges facing humanity in its religious life, if different in character, are equally daunting. For the vast majority of the world's population, the idea that human nature has a spiritual dimension - indeed that its fundamental identity is spiritual - is a truth requiring no demonstration. Its enduring achievements in law, the fine arts, and the civilising of humanity give substance and meaning to history. In one form or another its promptings are a daily influence in the lives of most people on earth.

Efforts of any kind to promote human progress must seek to tap capacities so universal and so immensely creative. Why, then, have spiritual issues facing humanity not been central to the development discourse? Why have most of the priorities - indeed most of the underlying assumptions - of the international development agenda been determined by materialistic world views to which only small minorities of the earth's population subscribe? How much weight can be placed on a professed devotion to the principle of universal participation that denies the validity of the participants' defining cultural experience?

Since spiritual and moral issues have historically been bound up with contending theological doctrines which are not susceptible to objective proof, it may be argued that these issues lie outside development concerns. There is a measure of truth in the argument that dogmatic influences have nurtured social conflict and blocked human progress. Exponents of the world's various theological systems bear a heavy responsibility for the disrepute into which faith itself has fallen. However, the sole effect of discouraging the investigation of spiritual reality and ignoring the deepest roots of human motivation has been to deliver the shaping of humanity's future into a new orthodoxy which argues that truth is amoral and facts are independent of values.

Many of the greatest achievements of religion have been moral in character. Through its teachings and through the examples of human lives illumined by these teachings, masses of people in all ages and lands have developed the capacity to love. They have learned to discipline the animal side of their natures, to make great sacrifices for the common good, to practise forgiveness, generosity and trust, and to use wealth and other resources in ways that serve the advancement of civilisation. Institutional systems have been devised to translate these moral advances into the norms of social life on a vast scale. However obscured by dogma and sectarian conflict, the spiritual impulses set in motion by Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus and Muhammad have been the chief influence in the civilising of human character.

Since the challenge is the empowerment of humankind through a vast increase in access to knowledge, the strategy that can make this possible must be constructed around a dialogue between science and religion. In every sphere of human activity, the insights and skills that represent scientific accomplishment must look to the force of spiritual commitment and moral principle to ensure their appropriate application. The extent to which individuals and institutions can contribute to human progress will be determined by their devotion to truth and their detachment from the promptings of their own interests and passions, unclouded by prejudices of race, culture, sex or sectarian belief.

V

The value of material benefits and endeavours lies not only in providing for humanity's basic needs in housing, food, health care, etc., but in extending the reach of human abilities. The challenge to economic thinking is to accept this purpose of development. Here the need for a rigorous dialogue between the work of science and the insights of religion is apparent if economics and the related sciences are to free themselves from materialism and fulfil their potential as tools vital to achieving human well-being in the full sense of the term.

A major reason why poverty is not being relieved is that scientific and technological advances respond to a set of priorities only tangentially related to the real interests of humankind. A radical reordering will be required if the burden of poverty is finally to be lifted from the world. Such an achievement demands a determined quest for appropriate values. Religion will be severely handicapped in contributing to this undertaking so long as it is held prisoner by sectarian doctrines which cannot distinguish between contentment and mere passivity and which teach that poverty is an inherent feature of earthly life. To participate effectively in the struggle to bring material well-being to humanity, the religious spirit must find - in the Source of inspiration from which it flows - new spiritual concepts and principles relevant to an age that seeks to establish unity and justice in human affairs.

Unemployment raises similar issues. The concept of work has largely been reduced to that of gainful employment aimed at acquiring the means for the consumption of available goods. The inadequacy of this conception can be read in the apathy of large numbers of the employed in every land and the demoralisation of the growing armies of the unemployed.

The world is in urgent need of a new "work ethic". Human beings do express the immense capacities latent within them through productive work designed to meet their own needs and those of others. In acting thus they become participants in the advancement of civilisation and fulfil purposes that unite them with others. To the extent that work is consciously undertaken in a spirit of service to humanity it is a form of prayer, a means of worshipping God. No narrower a perspective will ever call up from the people of the world the magnitude of effort and commitment that the economic tasks ahead will require.

A challenge of similar nature faces economic thinking as a result of the environmental crisis. The fallacy that there is no limit to nature's capacity to fulfil every demand made on it by human beings has now been exposed. A culture which attaches absolute value to expansion, to acquisition, and to the satisfaction of people's wants is being compelled to recognise that such goals are not, by themselves, realistic guides to policy. Recognition that creation is an organic whole and that humanity has the responsibility to care for this whole, welcome as it is, does not represent an influence which can by itself establish in the consciousness of people a new system of values. Only an understanding that is scientific and spiritual in the fullest sense will empower the human race to assume trusteeship.

Qualities of character such as the capacity for contentment, the welcoming of moral discipline and devotion to duty are even more vital today. Here again religion's challenge is to free itself from the obsessions of the past: contentment is not fatalism, morality has nothing in common with life-denying puritanism. A genuine devotion to duty brings feelings not of self-righteousness but of self-worth.

Another challenge to science and religion is the principle of the equality of the sexes. The rational soul has no sex, and whatever social inequalities may have been dictated by the survival requirements of the past cannot be justified at a time when humanity stands at the threshold of maturity. A commitment to the establishment of full equality between men and women, in all departments of life and at every level of society, will be central to the success of efforts to conceive and implement a strategy of global development.

The challenge goes beyond ensuring an equitable distribution of opportunity and access to all avenues of economic endeavour, important as they are. It calls for the full participation of a range of human experience and insight largely excluded in the past. Society will find itself increasingly challenged to develop new economic models shaped by insights that arise from a sympathetic understanding of a shared experience, from viewing human beings in relation to others, and from a recognition of the centrality to social well-being of the family and the community. Such an intellectual breakthrough - strongly altruistic rather than self-centred in focus - must draw heavily on both the spiritual and scientific sensibilities of the race, and millennia of experience have prepared women to make crucial contributions to the common effort.

VI

Contemplating a transformation of society on this scale raises both the question of the power that can be harnessed to its accomplishment and the authority to exercise that power. These familiar terms also stand in urgent need of redefinition. Throughout history, power has largely been interpreted as the advantage enjoyed by persons or groups, or the means to be used against others. Its chief effect has been to confer the ability to acquire, surpass, dominate, resist or win.

The results have been ruinous setbacks in human well-being and extraordinary advances in civilisation. When most of the pressing problems are global in nature, the idea of power as advantage for various segments of the human family is a profoundly mistaken theory and of no practical service to the social and economic development of the planet. In its traditional competitive expression, power has become irrelevant to the needs of humanity's future, and its habits and attitudes have reached the outer limits of effectiveness.

Humanity has always been able to conceive of power in other forms critical to its hopes. Perhaps the most obvious example has been the power of truth itself, an agent of change associated with some of the greatest advances in the philosophical, religious, artistic and scientific expression of the human race. Force of character, and the influence of example, whether in the lives of human beings or societies are other means of mobilising human response. Almost wholly unappreciated is the magnitude of the force that will be generated by the achievement of unity, an influence "so powerful", in Bahá'u'lláh's words, "that it can illuminate the whole Earth."

To elicit and direct the latent potentialities of the world's peoples, the institutions of authority in society will need to win the confidence, respect and genuine support of those whose actions they seek to govern; to consult openly and to the fullest extent possible with all whose interests are affected by decision making; to assess in an objective manner both the real needs and aspirations of the communities they serve; to benefit from scientific and moral advancement in order to make appropriate use of the community's resources, including the energies of its members. No single principle of effective authority is so important as giving priority to building and maintaining unity among the members of a society and the members of its administrative institutions. Reference has already been made to the associated issue of commitment to the search for justice in all matters.

Clearly such principles can operate only within a culture that is essentially democratic in spirit and method. This is not to endorse the ideology of partisanship that has everywhere boldly assumed democracy's name and which, despite impressive contributions to human progress in the past, today finds itself mired in the cynicism, apathy and corruption to which it has given rise. In selecting those who are to take collective decisions on its behalf, society does not need and is not well served by the political theatre of nominations, candidature, electioneering and solicitation. It lies within the capacity of all people, as they become progressively educated and convinced that their real development interests are being served by programmes proposed to them, to adopt electoral procedures that will gradually refine the selection of their decision-making bodies.

As the integration of humanity gains momentum, those who are selected will increasingly have to see all their efforts in a global perspective. Not only at the national, but also at the local level, the elected governors of human affairs should, in Bahá'u'lláh's view, consider themselves responsible for the welfare of all humankind.

VII

The task of creating a global development strategy constitutes a challenge to reshape fundamentally all the institutions of society. The actors to whom the challenge addresses itself are all of the inhabitants of the planet: the generality of humankind, members of governing institutions at all levels, persons serving in agencies of international co-ordination, scientists and social thinkers, all those endowed with artistic talents, or with access to the media of communication, and leaders of non-governmental organisations. The response called for must base itself on an unconditioned recognition of the oneness of humankind, a commitment to the establishment of justice as the organising principle of society, and a determination to exploit to their utmost the possibilities that a systematic dialogue between the scientific and religious genius of the race can bring to the building of human capacity. The enterprise requires a radical rethinking of most of the concepts and assumptions currently governing social and economic life. It must be wedded to a conviction that, however long the process and whatever setbacks may be encountered, the governance of human affairs can be conducted along lines that serve humanity's real needs.

Only if humanity's collective childhood has indeed come to an end and the age of its adulthood is dawning does such a prospect represent more than another utopian mirage. To imagine that an effort of the magnitude envisioned here can be summoned up by despondent and mutually antagonistic peoples and nations runs counter to the whole of received wisdom. Only if, as Bahá'u'lláh asserts to be the case, the course of social evolution has arrived at a decisive turning point, can such a possibility be conceived. A profound conviction that just so great a transformation in human consciousness is underway has inspired the views set forth in this statement. To all who recognise in it familiar promptings from within their own hearts, Bahá:'u'lláh's words bring assurance that God has, in this matchless day, endowed humanity with spiritual resources fully equal to the challenge.

This abridgement of the contents of the statement
"The Prosperity of Humankind"
(Bahá'í International Community, 1995) was prepared as an aid to its study by the
Baháí Information Office, 27 Rutland Gate, London, SW7 1PD.


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