What do we want?! Er, when do we want it?! Now, obviously. We don't want it gradually. Because while you might be tempted to say that what we all want is love, or what we all think is a nice idea is peace and what we'd all settle for is cold hard cash, the truth of trying to build a brave new world is that what we most want is justice. We long for life to be fair. Because it mostly just really isn't.
So what shape is the hopeful human tomorrow really, if it isn't ultimately a just one? This is where all our lay lines of hope converge, in the emotional singularity of justice.
But is justice equal opportunites for development or equal representation? Equal voice? Equal power? And how the hell do we create equality when most circumstances are not just comparing apples and oranges – which are both roughly fist-sized sweetish fruit – but apples and hang gliders? Oranges and orangutans.
Our finer moments of enlightenment, of great exhibitions, technological wonders and explorations of nature do seem spoiled by our habitually darker instincts. Crimes against ourselves. We see-saw between night and day constantly it seems.
Is the human thirst for justice really about a hunger for balance? A longing for order in the chaos of us that is at the root of all our persistent daft dreams of utopia?
And yet, whenever corruption wins and jokers get out of jail free, we say: Typical. Nothing changes.
If we’re even going to scratch the surface of this subject, let’s hope life’s handed us lemons. Because you can make cakes with lemon zest. I’m Timo Peach. Let us all eat cake.
In this episode of Unsee The Future, we’re going to be trying to close down corrupt administrations, bring back the dead, get everyone fed and some sharp threads, activate decent universal broadband and finally get you signed to a wealthy independent record label. And teach the world to stop projecting. And to sing in perfect harmony.
From great innovation fayres to artistic movements championing the natural world, humans aspire to rise above things, it seems. And it’s hardly surprising in a way – have you seen Newhaven? Well, the point is you probably haven’t, you’ve probably only seen the A259 and the awful port, as you’re dreaming of Dieppe. You might be surprised with a little bicycling around outside the fuggy traffic queue of your expectations.
But, we do like to disconnect from ugly truths, and if I am to park up my floating bubble pod of nicely upholstered fatheaded ignorance for a moment and even consider how to drift over this episode’s topic, I’ll have to admit up front that I won’t do it justice. I should just ask you: What is your number one justice issue? And simply listen. Taking time to listen to each other’s stories might be all that’s really needed to sort out this one. If we did it every day.
With the relatively easy freedom I happened to be born into politically, socially, sexually, I’ve sometimes felt I haven’t personally had to fight for much. But as we’ve established, guilt doesn’t get us anywhere really, not like empathy. And besides I can smell cakes in the oven. So let’s imagine there is some sense to be made of the human longing for fairness, as we peer over our half-moons at the court room and ask the young legal intern to refresh the elevenses plate for us and the whole gallery.
If our sense of entitlement to a fair hearing comes from anywhere, it seems to come from our expectations. Which is weird really, because a cynic would say we can’t possibly have been looking at the world very clearly if we still expect anything to be fair.
Yet, it does seem that something in us longs to be rescued from something.
There are two UN Global Goals, almost at the completion of our turn about the lot of them, that essentially combine to give us one word at the heart of the entire plan to save ourselves from the Now of fearsome realities – and the word is justice. Because all we long for, are fighting for and statistically will be held accountable for, in the face of the sheer rareness of life in the universe, all of it is really about rebalancing all that we value in our lives. Our very lives themselves. And if justice is about anything, it is about seeing – it is about recognition.
The UN addresses the word in its goal for Peace, Justice And Strong Institutions. But also, I think, in its goal for Reduced Inequalities.
As they put it: “Compassion and a strong moral compass is essential to every democratic society. Yet, persecution, injustice and abuse still runs rampant and is tearing at the very fabric of civilization. We must ensure that we have strong institutions, global standards of justice, and a commitment to peace everywhere.”
But before you hoist the flag of the United Federation of Planets and start filling out your Starfleet application form, as they also say: “Too much of the world’s wealth is held by a very small group of people. This often leads to financial and social discrimination. In order for nations to flourish, equality and prosperity must be available to everyone – regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs or economic status. When every individual is self sufficient, the entire world prospers”.
Together, these goals get to the nub of it all. Surely. That we care most about getting a fair share, and that, when we don’t, we create problems for ourselves. Often badly destabilising problems. Planet-destroying problems. If you want to build your Star Trek future to get out and explore strange new worlds, these two goals might be your social dilithium matrix, to regulate the power flows of this one.
But if life is essentially not fair, how pie in the sky is any serious hope to get pie dished out fairly? Or cake. We’re a long way from having food replicators.
When we stop to consider such a massive philosophical question, what turn out to be our real hopes for any future of human justice? Are we talking physical resources or feelings? Does money always balance out inequalities? And, y’know, why are we bothering with this sort of utopian unicorn hunting? Is the grand aim of this really to try to promote global stability – to really achieve balance? To do that, should we be all taking spiritual retreats and digital detoxes, closing our Facebook acounts and taking professional sabaticals to really go get into fell walking and kale and possibly finally try mind-expanding substances to see if we can at least begin to ask the right question of life the universe and everything? ..Or have I immediately gone too far?
Well, as ever, considering the future starts with looking at the trends of our now. So let’s continue to crib from the homework of the UN and look at what problems its two goals are broken down to tackle.
Ah. Well that’s good. Because scanning through the targets here it looks like we are facing inequalities across gender, race, class and geography without even drawing a breath. Cup of tea?
Some of those targets to injustice boil down to some absurdly simple sounding headlines. If the challenge is as basic as trying to reduce gun violence around the world, for example, we are in trouble. Because in the most loudly democratic country on the planet, only the children seem willing to tackle the US epidemic of gun violence. So what hope “combating organised crime and illicit financial and arms flows” or “substancially reducing corruption and bribery” or trying to ensure: “responsive, inclusive and representative decision making”? When American teens actually do participate in democracy, the gun lobby derides and intimidates them. Which rings horribly with the idea of “protecting children from abuse, exploitation, trafficking and violence”. Doesn’t matter that I’m conflating issues there, I think the words conflate themselves.
A big part of this is simply engagement, however. Reducing discriminatory laws is perhaps the outer layer of getting people to even consider investing any time in wanting to engage in political processes or trusting the police. But developing “universal legal identity” as the UN puts it likely works hand in hand with the aim to make it ever easier to simply access information publically.
Problem is, this does all quickly get institutionalised. Because if running a group of humans like a society works best when they all believe that society is reasonably fair to all of them, managing that takes systems. Administration. Booths and forms and computer networks and people to oversee who gets… wait.
THAT’s not utopia, is it? Beaurocracy? Why can’t we just take off our clothes, love the one we’re with and be happy with just enough, man?
It’s a beautiful dream, you daft young adorable idealist. But I’ll tell you why it doesn’t work like that. One word. Beginning with G. No – not greed. That’s the boringly central injustice of the dystopian future – the one built on knowingly cynical inequality. The word I’m thinking of is something we can’t help yearning for, falling in love with, precisely when we hope for something better, when we’ve glimpsed the need for ideals. For I think the big problem with the utopian tomorrow is always bloody gurus.
Journalism. Now there is a litmus test for justice. That is all about recognition – reporting facts – and it is supposed to be fair. Rooting out unfairness, in fact; the simple act of not reporting crimes against someone or certain ‘types’ of people is seen as an injustice while it is reporters who can break silences and call out crimes against communities. Against humanity. How much air time is given to one group of people over another? Statistical minority groups within nations tend to be under-represented in news and storytelling, of course, giving those communities a building sense of injustice about everyone else’s ignorance concerning them – ignoring of them. If such imbalances do then get addressed, there can then be a reaction from others in the accordingly delineated majority who feel they are beginning to see an unjust imbalance of representation against them.
You can name your global conflict of choice here. From immigration spikes to actual wars, it’s perceptions of injustice – of stories being rewritten – that tend to fuel problems between peoples. And it’s proved jolly effective to lever to advantage by leaders. Or just by media owners wanting to manipulate markets.
If you were going to pick an instant global conflict of choice, then Israel is likely to top the illustrative list, as it seems impossible to strike a fair balance everyone can agree on in even talking about the situation at the heart of the Middle East’s modern story. Is the great in justice the nakba or the holocaust? The numbers of children dead at Israeli Defence Force hands or the blood of indiscriminate terrorism on the hands of Hamas or old Fatar? Is it the unseen hand of Shia Iran manipulating all or the unchallenged influence of Sunni Saudi Arabia? If you can’t have peace without justice, as the Archbishop of Galillee once put it, whose do we champion first?
Interesting that this posterchild for insoluble conflict, soaked in suffering affecting all quarters, does have its list of big-hitting personalities rallying followers almost like cults. David Ben Gurion, Yaser Arafat, and would-be followers in big footsteps like Benjamin Netinyahu. But there’s something in our brains that can really amplify our obvious hopes for strongmen in times of conflict. Something weird in us that might twang back up the timeline of our collective consciousness to a primal story locked into us.
If there’s one documentary I’ve seen recently that seems to strike a fascinating balance between two sides in a remarkable conflict, it is the Duplas brother’s six-part story Wild Wild Country. A story that illustrates strikingly the pitfalls of utpopian dreams. And the complexities of real world ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
It concerns a chapter of mid-west American history linked to India that appears to have washed across the news around the world at the time, but about which I had never heard a thing; I think much of this film’s popularity comes from what a striking sense of discovery this whole story is to many agawp at it. Because while this could be a story painted as a clash of ethno-spiritual cultures, it seems from the very inception of this particular telling of it to be an amplified farse – of mobilised small armies based on ridiculous misunderstanding.
It’s a story of a cult. A religious group that grew in the late sixties from an ashram in Pune, sort of just down the road from Mumbai, and which relocated to Oregon, lock stock and, in the end, almost both barrels. A cult that bought an old ranch in the early 1980s – supposedly in the middle of nowhere – and started building a self sufficient city in the scrubland hills. A religious group of smiling, young free-lovers who managed to instantly annoy the new neighbours. And manage it so badly it escalated into chemical attacks, armed militia, planned assasinations and mobilising the national guard. All while wearing maroon. A group of cosmic explorers following the guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
He was the architypal guru to look at. Beard. All about the beard. And the orbular eyes benignly looking, always looking. The armour-plated fleet of Rolls Royces. The words few and thought about. Then the words so few he was silent for four years. But it wasn’t silence that made his name. It was a challenging of the religious status quo in India that ultimately changed his name from Chandra Mohan Jain to single-word icon Osho.
As a young man he was apparently restless, curious and disruptive in his thinking. And he went on to share teachings that lit the imaginations of people from all over the world, at just the time people were hungry for something more from life. The irony is that his teachings, while dressed to the nines in mystic-looking garb that would have seemed liberating to young hippies trying to drop out of the world machine and find consciousness, were actually courting capitalism. He made no apologies about wanting those Rollers.
And it makes for an interesting tone to this community. They’re a sweary and unapologetic lot in the endless hours of selfying video they seemed to (in the end helpfully) shoot about themselves. Mostly smiling and always in the same palette of regal colours, through the sickly greenified VHS wobbles, they are a group of seekers who managed to pool resources and skills with such energy that they built an entire incorporated town with all its infrastructure out of nothing on a bit of farming wasteland, in what must have seemed like five mintues flat to the elderly locals in the neighbouring little Oregon town of Antelope.
But while the news reports at the time made this story all about the sex cult weirdos who were threatening America, and while the Duplas Bros make the story essentially about Bhagwan’s cult- and conflict-defining indominatable first officer and protoge, Ma Anand Sheela – a force of nature so unyielding she is indeed the most dramatically compelling character in the cast of them – the silent centre of gravity to this story for me is him. Bhagwan. Because why the hell did everyone worship him so much they turned blind to other people?
Guardian writer Sam Wollaston met Noa Maxwell, after reviewing the Netflix documentary. He mentioned his interest in the life of the actual commune, which doesn’t get especially deep attention in the edit, but to me too seems to be the real story implied heavily behind the conflict with the locals: Who joins a cult? And who did all those kids grow into? Wollaston asked the same question in his review – and Maxwell responded. “They grew into me. I was there.”
His story is of a middle class British family leaving London in the 70s for the good life. Buying a farmstead in the country and raising a bit of livestock and growing some produce. A call from an ecstatic friend in India had them visit with curiosity to discover this answer to life that their friend was evangelising. And something about the ashram in Pune that they found themselves in, young Noa too, changed their lives and they moved out there.
His story continues into a family split up fast by the free love and the expectations. Of remarkable freedom for him as a boy, but a sort of fearsome freedom. The sort that skips over boundaries without really understanding them. He came home from India barely able to read and write, so lax was the schooling, as articulate and curious as he is today, Wollaston observes in their meeting in a hip cafe in Notting Hill. And the real story under the bonnet is perhaps of people beginning to wonder if they’d lost themselves, trying to find themselves by conforming so harshly.
“I never showed upset” says Maxwell. “The narrative – particularly from my dad – was: this is fantastic, you’re fantastic. So I showed fantastic. I know my mum was struggling. She has said since she was already massively questioning what we’d done”.
What was it about Bhagwan that changed people’s lives so? I wonder if it was the good old fashioned combination of some enlightening ideas and inspiring charisma. But at a time when the idea of connecting things, seeing old languages of religion as just as much a problem as empty consumer living, was radical. Still a time of utopian grand plans – people longing for someone to give a tidy answer they could enact. To be surrounded by people all wanting to be so free, all feeling so connected.
It’s beautiful. But it’s a hankering after Paradise. To go back. Un-eat the apple, even though you think you’re gaining enlightenment. The strongest word underpinning every action of the Rajneeshees in Wild Wild Country to me is… immaturity. They behave like entitled children in this film. And it almost overnight became Lord of the flies.
Noa sites his astonishment, after some time relocated to Rajneeshpuram, at meeting outsiders who weren’t idiots, so much better than everyone else did his maroon community, the sanyassins, consider themselves. “Noa was amazed, when he did get out, meeting a friend of his mum’s for example, that she could be articulate and emotionally intelligent” says Wollaston. “I thought unless you were a sannyasin, that was impossible, you would just be a kind of drone” Noa said to him.
It is this conflict of outlooks that the documentary focuses on, as the quiet folk of little Antelope become increasingly intimidated by the followers of Osho and everything escalates to, well, utter craziness. But for me, that’s not the real story. Just a hook. And Noa Maxwell, right there at the time, exactly my own age, agrees.
“That is interesting, but the inside story is more interesting – of how you end up with lots of intelligent middle-class people like my family going into where they got to, the heart of darkness. How does that happen? It’s like an ideal is bigger than reality and can make you lose your sense of justice and what’s right in the world.”
For him, much was learned he says from a childhood without boundaries, but it took him a lifetime to work himself back together from it. But it’s Bhagwan himself he finds difficult now, compelling as he was.
“I think without doubt he was deeply culpable, guilty of neglect of his people and did massive damage to many of them.”
The injustices here are numerous and illustrative. For Noa’s mother, for him, for various members of the sect that might have felt robbed or blinded by such decontextual devotion to a bloke. A bloke with some enlightened ideas and human limitations. But the injustice triggering the whole conflict that undid the community at Rajneeshpuram by 1985 was essentially a blindness to the locals. For all its enlightenment, Rajneeshism was an old fashioned 20th century utopia – a childish clique, uninterested in the truth found oustide its own temples. A cosy club.
It made me think of Israel, at one point, because a phrase in common currency around the time of the Balfour Declaration was this: “A land with no people for a people with no land”. Implying to the locals of Palestine a mandate to self rule when Britain took over the region from the Ottomans during the first world war, the main aim was to help establish a new Jewish homeland and the two cultures collided in conflict at the founding of the modern state after the second world war. And the indignation of the locals, Arabs and others like the Bedouin, is still rooted today in the same basic problem – “You didn’t even recognise us as being there.”
“It was a ghost town” said the Rajneeshees of Antelope.
“Er, we were very actually here, actually” said the people of Antelope.
Ring any bells elsewhere too?
Yuh. It’s all a bit awks, isn’t it, but there were Americans living in the Americas for thousands of years before they were rebranded to the Americas. People positively native to the land, in fact. That generations of European immigrants to the contintent ignored and subjugated and plundered and infected and have barely said a single sorry for to this day. Like the powder keg of the Balkans in the 1990s, we should know by now that calmly neighbourly streets can become war zones fast when old wounds are not healed.
Recognition. The balm of justice, you might say. And recognition starts with brokering relationship.
The challenge is not simply to begin a just path in a conflict, though, is it. The challenge is to inculcate it – enshrine it in law. But wanting representation in law presupposes having any laws in the first place.
Who dispenses the law? Because someone surely has to, right?
Who the hell can we ever trust with that? Is it any wonder we picture somone as ruthless and autonomous as Judge Dredd doing it in the future?
Much of the issue of justice is simply about the law, of course – trying to simply maintain or even establish a proper rule of it across the world. Hardly a small task. The World Justice Project has codified the definition of such aims into four criteria any country must meet together in order to be on the right track, including:
1. The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law.
2. The laws are clear, publicized, stable, fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.
3. The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, fair, and efficient.
4. Access to justice is provided by competent, independent, and ethical adjudicators, attorneys or representatives, and judicial officers who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
To try to get a picture of how we’re doing planet wide on such lofty hopes, the WJP has developed an Index it measures constant research against, which: “Measures rule of law adherence in 113 countries and jurisdictions worldwide based on more than 110,000 household and 3,000 expert surveys.”
The picture isn’t currently encouraging, to get right to it.
“More countries’ overall rule of law score declined (34%) than improved (29%) as compared to their 2016 Index scores—a troubling trend” they say simply. “Thirty-seven percent of countries’ overall rule of law score remained the same.”
According to their modes of measurement, the greatest decline was in fundamental rights – your core freedoms of expression – in with 73 of the 113 nations declined, while the second greatest factor of decline was contraints on government, with 64 of these countries going backwards on that score.
In the Rule of Law charts, the Philipines were the biggest negative mover – dropping 18 positions. If this was purely an index of international diplomacy this would definitely ring bells as President Rodrigo Duterte is not exactly known for his tact. Praising Hitler’s genocide of the Jews would seem like the only indicator you really need here, but he’s joked about rape, called open season for murdering anyone linked to drugs and generally sworn at most of the rest of the world’s leaders. As both head of state and ruler of the government, he’s another potty-mouther of our times who seems to have appealed to voters with his ‘candour’. Which continues to tell you everything you need to know about the state of the world as things have been going.
But Duterte Harry has his hands as full as dirty. In an obsession with drug wars he essentially missed the mark on Islamic terrorism and lost the southern city of Marawi to seige for five months and now, aas the FCO puts it: “Martial law is in place across the whole of Mindanao” for the rest of the year while: “A ‘state of national emergency on account of lawless violence’ remains in place across the rest of the country.”
Political analyst Tony Lavina thinks Duterte is close to consolidating his role as a dictator. As he told German international broadcaster DW: “President Duterte governs like a mayor. There is no plan, no vision for long-term leadership. He relies on instinct and will act on triggers that will put his power in question”. Referring to how institutions like the Filipino Supreme Court were being undermined through the impeachment of the chief justice, he added simply: “A dictatorship never ends well.”
It’s boringly normal, isn’t it? Who is mad enough to run for highest office? Usually the basically mad.
Afghanistan, Cambodia and finally President Maduro’s Venezuela bottom out the top 113 as the worst countries on the list for law and order. And this is partly because this last country is so divided – the successor to the partly venerated late Hugo Chavez lacks his charisma and has lacked much of his oil money too, as barrel prices fell in recent years taking 95% of the country’s GDP downwards with it fast. Hyperinflation is so bad the country is in such regular food shortages Kellogg’s can’t even afford to make Cornlakes there any more. Rumour of coups are built on the idea that while old communists value the supposedly strong leadership of the United Socialist Party’s nearly twenty years in power over the central American state, the rest of the nation has felt it’s democracy eroded as the price. Now, all bets are off, as President Maduro calls a snap election for the end of May this year which everyone expects to be more heavily rigged than Alonso de Ojeda‘s caravel. So much so that even don of all things above board Forty Five is threatening Venezuela with oil sanctions.
At the other end of the chaos, you might not be surprised to learn that Finland, Norway and at the top Denmark lead the list of the most lawly and orderly Earth nations currently.
Such resilient progress can trigger old Remoaners like me to hanker after the halcyon days of turning a blind eye to the European Union’s bookish cronyism to just enjoy its lovely parks and cycle lanes. But whatever can be learned from socialist policies integrating with good business to create both good standards of welfare and decent opportunities, the tremours underneath the EU, that helped to shake the UK free of it, may be from some fundamental senses of injustice unaddressed.
Nothing will test a politician like immigration. How to play the game to multiple human crowds? Ultimately, you pick a crowd that you hope will out number the other combined crowds at election time and muddle through a message you hope they’ll connect with. Usually based around some version of Bloody Foreginers, Eh.
But if there’s one thing we should be mentally limbering up to get used to more and more, it is migration. Because more and more of us are likely to be on the move in very inconveniently sudden numbers. Like a community arriving in the desert with an entire town overnight. Except not in the desert. In your suburb. Without the cheery maroon civil engineers to build all the new streets and plumbing.
Refugeeism is always a consequence of something. Well, I mean everything is a consequence of something, obviously, but let’s not get finicky – those streams of people are coming from somewhere, and for a reason. And they are, awkwardly enough, fellow people with stories.
The EU has, as part of the alliance of globalising nations, assisted in a number of pocket wars since I’ve been alive. Security is no lightweight bit of admin for leaders, trying to protect lots of corporate and voters’ interests. Fighting terrorism from global networks like Aal-Qaeda and laterly Daesh, the NATO and G-various security council nations have felt compelled to protect their economic visions of the future from the alien utopian dreams of such Islamist groups. Dreams to repulse and destroy ‘invading’ conqistadores and colonials who have, they feel, left destruction of every kind from their interactions with the region since the days of Empire. In the great caliphatic conflict they’ve been trying to unfold, it’s true that one side holds barbaric violence dearer to its ideology than the other, but the other does have an arms industry worth trillions kind of stoking the whole thing. Because, whatever vision you’re fighting for the whole thing ends up in blowing things up and shooting people in the end.
Out of wars, whether noble defenses of identity or righteous responses to attack, there always stream people fleeing the war zones. And from just one story of many on Earth at the moment, but a significant one to many nations, millions of people have streamed from Syria, displaced by drought, war and economic disaster. Millions of people crossing boundaries to escape death. Something so intense, who of us can keep up with its true emotional value?
There is one situation that I seem to glimpse frequently that hasn’t gone away, because of a loose connection I have with someone on Facebook. And she has been living on a front line for a few years of this conflict. A line that the EU draws in the sand of Greece’s beaches. Golden holiday destinations that have piled up with suffering and loss, amplifying injustices separating everyone involved from each other somehow.
Philippa Kempson and her family live on Lesbos. And as a foreign national to the island, she has been a target for abuse from some of the locals who feel overwhelmed with the tide of refugees washing up on their shores and swelling the transit camp, Moira, to bursting point. What Philippa feels, is frequently overwhelmed with the the helplessness of humanity.
Today, she posted this:
“I seem to pass everyday in a state of anger and disbelief! Just today 18 bodies were recovered from two separate boats sinking while trying to reach Greece!
The media, if they even bother to report it, will call them migrants. Like they are doing this out of choice, like some kind of package deal for people from OTHER places.
If they mention it they won’t mention the children cast into the darkness alone in the middle of the night! If they mention it they will not mention the terror these people have fled!
Everyday i get people saying to me that the crisis is over, that it is in someway ok now!! Well the children and families that die trying to get to safety every day cant tell you that it is not over, but the over 9000 people imprisoned on this island alone will tell you that this is not over!
These are humans, these are people, they have fathers and mothers, they have people who love them.
They have lives ahead of them that we have taken.
If they survive the sea then we take their dignity and their future!
If they survive the sea then we separate families and make it impossible to rejoin loved ones!
If the sea does not destroy them then they are destroyed on land!
Where is their safety?
Where is their future?
Where are their human rights?
The answer is simple i think, they do not have any of these because the world does not see them as human, as people!! At some point our privilege made us superior! Where we were born made us more human?
More questions than answers, more anger and disbelief…….“
If we are going to tackle global injustice, we are going to have to tackle the way we are used to seeing the world. And the answer won’t be to run away to a cult for enlightenment, or finding new strongmen to worship. To rescue us. The answer will have to involve taking responsibility like adults for truly waking up. Waking up to how brainwashed we’ve been by our religious values – how trapped we are in the temple of our economics.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Article 1, of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. If you want hopey-changey, this is the founding document of modern times. Are you old enough to not take the very phrase Human Rights for granted? Or to even consider a world where this idea is not the touchstone for common values in the way we believe we are supposed to be treating each other?
It was published in Paris in 1948, after the formation of the United Nations, at the end of the second world war. Half a century of warring over ideologies had resulted in the genocide of the Jews, along with gypsy communites, the gay, the disabled and others by the Nazis – 6million people exterminated systematically, ideologically. And evidently enough global leaders trying to rebuild after all this, with horror-fatigued populations to care for, felt enough was enough. We needed some vision. Some hope, in the face of our awful apparent reality.
Interesting to consider where this might have come from, though. Not simply to imagine a world before there was something as basic seeming to liberal minds as a global human rights declaration. But to imagine people actually attempting to delineate any notion of truly human values in less ‘civilised’ times historically.
Well, I mean. How far back do you want to go? Voltaire? Shakespeare? Leonardo Bruni? Jesus? Aristotle? I dunno, the founders of Jainism? You’re already well past two and a half thousand years ago. Where do you want to stop?
The Human Rights library has a little dusty corner of the internet with an interesting way of putting a little perspective on it:
“Throughout much of history, people acquired rights and responsibilities through their membership in a group – a family, indigenous nation, religion, class, community, or state. Most societies have had traditions similar to the “golden rule” of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Hindu Vedas, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, the Bible, the Quran (Koran), and the Analects of Confucius are five of the oldest written sources which address questions of people’s duties, rights, and responsibilities. In addition, the Inca and Aztec codes of conduct and justice and an Iroquois Constitution were Native American sources that existed well before the 18th century. In fact, all societies, whether in oral or written tradition, have had systems of propriety and justice as well as ways of tending to the health and welfare of their members.”
If you think back to more ‘barbarian’ times, it’s tempting from your bean bag ordering organic tofu to imagine modernity invented decency. But humans actually seem to have long longed for a life free enough to potter around in the garden sometimes. Decency, values… they are quite relative to context and we can simply go blind to the ghastly things we live with every day around our higher hopes.
What dirty, unjust, sickness-inducing things do you just not notice every day living your life? Now, in the digitally driven 21st century.
Streets clogged with petrol and diesel engines? Streets lined with homeless? Plastic wrapped around absolutely everything we ever touch? Blowing around our streets and washing up on beaches all over the world. People, washing up on beaches. Garment factories in Bangladesh that you never see, making everything you ever wear? Paying its workers what? The conditions of animals bread in boxes as ‘products’ to grind into what you eat? Along with what preservatives and chemicals to make them look appetising and rot less quickly. The culture of drink, turning everyone into meat and ordinary town centres into the flashes of hell from Event Horizon. Every Saturday. The culture of objectification, comodity, ownership? The mindset of something fueling so much sexual abuse in the shadows some police services can’t keep up. States of mind, outlooks, scanning strangers and reducing them to race, shape, class, and feeling violence rise before a word is exchanged. The pandemic of mental unwellness crippling millions, from childhood to old age. Children cutting themselves. Men cutting women. Young people strapping explosives to themselves in shopping malls.
Let’s face it, we barely take notice of the bin men.
Now go read the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Its 30 articles might give you a new feeling about us. Reverence.
The blindnesses we have to ghastly things today are just part of being human. Of course they are – this isn’t you going to hell, it’s all of us. Because we have to emotionally edit or we’d go mad. I’ll be walking past people and not getting around to things until I die in my hypocracy. The practical challenge and – this is my point across our whole series – the unprecidented opportunity for humankind right at the doorstep of us, Generation Now, is to begin to tackle real justice for ourselves at last by beginning to put the world around us all together into our minds a bit more consciously. Ordinary, fatheaded, you and me. Ordinary suffering, lost-feeling you and me.
Now, I’m personally a typical secular modernist in lots of daily ways I don’t think about. I’m no hippy, and I’ve never properly yearned for nirvana – to be beamed out of all this fartiness into the cosmos. So, I’m not sure how soon I’m going to transcend and reach enlightenment; I’ve never quite comfortably lost myself among the happy clappers; I always wonder what they’re not telling me. But, I have had some unexpected spiritual experiences that have shaped my outlook, despite my natural spiritual indolence. I mean, that’s another book to write entirely – and probably only right at the end of a long life to hope to make much sense of it. But I do remember the first time I sat somewhere supposedly un-spiritual seeming and could quietly, suddenly imagine that scene happening in a more cosmic setting.
No, I hadn’t been smoking anything. I barely drank in those days.
And it was nothing dramatic. Don’t expect my memoirs to be interesting at all if they’re not the augmented version with extended alien abduction sequences. But at a nightclub in my student years, somewhere in middle England, the music just kind of filtered down in the mix a little in my perception and everything probably filmically went slo-mo too, while we’re doing this, and I could simply just imagine something divine over this ordinary, drearily hedonistic scene. Noisy beats, awkward dancing and sticky carpets alike. Nowhere is off-limits. Everything is connected. Whatever stories you personally may attach to the unseen to make sense of it.
Nothing is really happening in a box, whether made of acacia, cardboard or neurons.
The point being that the fresh breeze on your face when you leave the warmth of the revival hall prayers, or the communal ecstatic dancing and all the weirdness you realise you are missing and the moment where you actually feel you belong, feel peace… that fresh breeze doesn’t have to feel like it’s waking you up from a fantasy. It’s perhaps a good way to remember that the fantastical runs through every fibre of the cosmos., from the moments where you’re lost in worship to the moment you realise you’re lost on an industrial estate on a Tuesday afternoon with a wrong number from the depot. Or the moments you just feel lost. Your own beliefs – your own values – can kind of run through everything too, however you feel. I suppose it was a formative little moment when I was a lot younger, realising this. If love is love, it just is. However crap the scenery.
There’s a lot of light pollution blocking out the stars, but you bet they’re always there trying to remind you of the sheer scale of your context. Even staring across the benefits desk on a Monday morning. From whichever side.
I think for us today, our blindnesses to things – to people, in other words – they’re usually in some way linked to some aspect of one thing. Crappy 3D glasses we forget we’re wearing. Economics.
We don’t tend to listen to people with different levels of economic power to us, and we don’t tend to see the processes and people that bring us our symbols of prosperity, at whatever level. And, of course, it does seem like representation under law is often tied to who has the money – if only to afford the lawyers.
The regular drivers of not just lack of engagement but active crime are economic, of course. Around the world, income inequalities are staggering, but this isn’t only down to local pirate kings hoarding all the loot – it’s the uncomfortable regular fallout of the wider culture of, yep, you guessed it comrades, capitalism.
Pffft. I mean.
Where to start?
Talk Poverty invited thinking readers and writers to consider their own top ten solutions to fighting economic inequality a couple of years back and the resulting lists accord with various sensible things the UN might champion. And it’s all kinda socialist, with people repeating calls to dignifying, stabilising measures like raising minimum wages, supporting training and being prepared to invest in both infrastructure and just subsidising jobs to keep people employed. Y’know. The very opposite of the Forty Five administration’s business at the moment it seems, sending their clownish front man out to spout constant attention-grabbers while other work is done more quietly, as social action super group Anonymous featuring Noam Chomsky put it.
Now, of course, socialism doesn’t work, right? Well, it’s just that, the point of old socialism was to tackle a basic injustice in the working economic system – workers getting screwed over horribly. What the unions and the governments of the people purported to do was give that very central thing needed for fairness – representation. And millions of us seem to be losing what representation we had. I can’t help feeling we should be taking note of this kind of thing.
But, the old ping pong of left-right political jaw aches always bounces back to the unfairness of hand-outs. And of their propensity to lock people into need. And if this appears true at personal level, driving the repo van to pay friendly visits to the benefit scroungers every day, it rings uncomfortably true at international level too. No person, family or state should be depending on charity, surely.
Increasing developmental assistance to try to bring up flagging nations is no long-term plan. Quite apart from trying to guarantee the practically fair management and deployment of charity funding into desperate needs around the world, we all know it’s a dependency that doesn’t help develop independence for people or countries past the short term. Was the massively hopey-changey love-in of Live Aid, in reality, a bit of a disaster? And not just for your ears.
Well, few things are simple in the fallout, and you bet charities in general fill gaps of need, No, the real problem I think is with the way we value things generally.
It all comes down to money, in the end. Everyone wanting to follow it. But this is just the way the world works, isn’t it? People who catch the money don’t care much about the people who don’t. How do we change that?
Across the episodes of Unsee The Future, I’ve been discovering themes. In our look at Health, we saw that so much of the unwellness of humans today is mental. It’s a pandemic, yes, of mental health problems that we are barely scratching the surface of addressing. Barely beginning to wake up to talking about honestly. While some are asking a little more consciously, is depression usually just a chemically induced experience? and finding research suggesting there’s not half as much evidence for it as the multi-million dollar big pharma companies suggest, whatever your management routine for your head, I think we’re all certainly having to manage our psychological contexts as well. And if there’s one word driving a lot of our disconnection, and our mental exersions – it might be expectations.
Our expectations of lifestyle are certainly feeding the Climate crisis, our less than healthy Food markets, our demand for Energy. But so many of the emotional expectations we labour under lead to the fundamental injustices of conflict between people around the world, driving the models of our Education and perhaps right at the heart of us, our stories of gender, as we saw in our last two episodes on Sexuality.
In many ways, we are products simply of our physical contexts. Which is why the pursuit of the smart city is no idle utopian white paper. Design lead thinking is going to save us from many daily things that are slowly killing us, because bad design tangles our minds as we try to interact with things. Good design, human-shaped design, smooths things out. Imagine more of your complex modern day smoothed out. Linked to a new level of the internet like the blockchain, this could actually encourage community political engagement and ever greater transparency, by making public information verifiably – incorruptably – easy to find. Which would essentially lead to greater emotional ownership of spaces – and of the ideas of places. Identities of who we are where we live. That’s so potentially powerful, we might even stop feeling we ever have to use the word brands again.
That is all trying to happen. Where technology meets human truth and can unlock it. The ultimate expression of this will be Doctor James Burke’s nano fabricators. Replicators, to you and me. It’s the basis of the Star Trek future for a good reason – once you can manipulate the sub atomic to make anything you need, the entire basis of competition disappears. Everyone has what they need.
But it’s like those health augmentations we half dream of and half fear that will prolong our mortality into superhuman lifespans – the real health of us will have to be developed long before we’ll be ready to drive that kind of upgrading of ourselves. Long before the technical advances to prolong life into absurd longevity, our aim should be to see our health improving across the globe because we have begun to change our holistic outlook. And similarly, we’ll crash the Earth’s ecosystem long before we develop replicators if we don’t first tackle the real psychology at work in our lives – why we want things.
Competition is the energiser of the markets that have made us rich. But has it also made us sick? Are our economics like an addiction? We know why we went there, but we have to go to rehab now. We have to begin a new life on the other side of the semi-colon. A life that bears the fruit of child self harming becoming a thing of the past, violence against women disappearing, suicide rates dropping, rates of heart disease and stroke coming down noticeably in A&Es and GP surgeries.
At the heart of the UN’s Global Goals is a truth of us. A broken human mindset, driving all the problems the goals tackle. And surrounding that mindset is the flip side of the coin – the instinct to come up with grand plans to make our lives better. There is our cause for hope – the SDGs remind us that we are creatures who fashion it. Hope.
Fanning out as symptoms of that broken story of us, blinding us, our global problems are stoked it seems to me by our expectations. A mindset driven enormously by ideas of masculinity and femininity above all, perhaps. Leading to great injustices across the scales of our living as we deal with the greatest injustice of all.
Comparison. Is that the great injustice? Is the great cause to shift our mindset from trying to keep up with each other to trying to lift each other up? Recognition of each other – because we learn to recognise what we ourselves have too.
Perhaps the most interesting dynamic to consider in the human sense of justice is not our ability to switch off our humanity when we’ve shouted enough about our own wounds and pride, but how we can FEEL a cause for someone else. Empathy. Feeling it. For someone else. It’s like a magic web connecting us with hope everywhere.
Whether any higher being will ever be capable of judging humankind is a mystery. But it’s interesting to imagine why they are there in our myths, stretching back millennia. In the pantheon of gods and superheroes wrestling with our worthiness to be saved, the great judgement of us is really the great opportunity. To stand not in the dock but at the judge’s table, and ask ourselves: “When did we see the best of us hungry, naked, ashamed and turn you away? When we did it to the least of us.”
It’ll take more than great speeches. Or pompous podcasts. But if we’re going to play to anything, it should surely be the gallery – in the great exhibition of us, it will be new ways of seeing that save us from condemnation. It will be art that helps us truly justify ourselves. Perhaps most especially, the art of listening. Because this may help us finally begin to recognise ourselves.
That could change what we even want. And that could change everything.
How did a religious group create a town in the Oregon Hills?
How do we measure law and order around the planet today?
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