Saving the World, or What’s Left of It

There is a lot happening in the world today that ought to make us think carefully about the ways we’d like to see the 21st Century shape up, and how we might be able to help influence its direction.

Many would say that there is nothing we can do about it anyway, so who cares? I don’t buy that. I may go out with a whimper, but I’ll be thumping and banging every inch of the way.  
I’m very much in agreement with the apocryphal chap who said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for men of good will to remain silent,” or words to that effect. To hold otherwise is to abdicate all responsibility for our future and our fellows, and I submit to you that those who take that position are men of no will at all, good or bad. Put even more succinctly, if we don’t make an effort, who will?

There are basic issues that need to be addressed worldwide. Human rights are at risk in most countries, even–to a degree–in my own. We Americans have yet to decide if we will continue to embrace the Code of Hammurabi, first set forth in the Babylonian civilization of 2500 BCE–best encapsulated in the “Eye for an eye” philosophy–or if we will, instead, follow the mandate of the Christian New Testament, wherein Jesus’ words are, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also…” (MAT 5:38-39), nor do we seem able to decide about the US Constitution.

Clearly, there must be a middle ground. Human instinct dictates that we act in self-defense, and all systems of law provide for acts of violence to that purpose. When, however, does self-defense end and revenge begin? What, exactly, do we think was meant by that “Thou Shalt Not Kill” stuff?

The abolition of capital punishment, I believe, separates civilized societies from the others–and my country has, for the most part, not yet chosen to join the ranks of civilization. As a Buddhist, I find the concept of a predominantly Christian nation flouting the laws of their own God confusing, at best.

We have also to consider the other aspects of human rights: rights of women; the right of all people to a decent standard of living; the right to education; the right to health care; the responsibility of developed countries in assisting the development of the “third world,” and–not to be forgotten–our responsibilities to our own countries and their peoples [plural intentional], and the rights of the Southern Nations based on their numbers, rather than the numbers of our guns.

We have yet to ascertain our overall attitudes toward human fetuses, and now we suddenly have thrust upon us the need to decide even more fundamental human rights issues: the “humanness” of groups of cells that can be so identified only by their genetic makeup, and our ethical responsibilities on their behalf. This is complicated by an abysmal lack of scientific understanding on the part of most of the citizens who will, by their influence on legislators, ultimately help decide these issues. Seldom in my life–perhaps never–have I witnessed so much ignorance influencing the ideas of so many.

We either care about these and the many other issues facing us in the first decade of the 21st Century, or we do not. We are either interested in educating ourselves about them, or in continuing in whatever state of blissful denial we now enjoy. The future of human rights in the entire world depends, in great measure, on the ability of perhaps 20% of the global population to make well-reasoned decisions based on fact rather than superstition and ignorance. So far, it is not looking good.


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