Living Ethics: The Way of Wholeness
by Donivan Bessinger
[Exit menu]

Introduction

to Emerging From Chaos: Wholeness, Ethic, and New World Order, 1993.

New World Order

Once again civilization has been brought to war by a despot. The war in progress at the time of this writing, January 1991, is not one of the serially numbered world wars, but one which merits a new designation. Perhaps if we learn our lessons properly, it could be a unique event, not needing a number, the first and prayerfully last of its kind.

This new war is a world war in that people worldwide react to the wail of air raid sirens in Tel Aviv, Dhahran, and Riyahd, and watch as Iraqi missles fall and Patriot missles rise to intercept them, or most of them. People worldwide cringe with the correspondents exposed on rooftops, whose gas-masked faces and muffled voices give new meaning to "real time" reporting of death brought live into prime time domestic experience.

It is also a world war in the very real sense that the world is collectively confronting a single despot, attempting to contain tyranny at the regional level in hopes of establishing at last a "new world order" of peaceful and mutually supportive relationships among all peoples of the world.

Collective world action of this type and magnitude is unprecedented. A number of nations have committed troops and armaments to the United Nations cause. A larger circle has participated in some way in the prewar diplomatic efforts to avoid hostilities. Various others, even though non-combatant, are helping to meet the economic costs of the military effort.

Virtually all of the United Nations have joined in the resolutions which condemn the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces, and authorize the military response. These collective actions of "the world against Saddam" have been made possible by the collapse of long-standing cold war polarities. Hardly more than a year ago we watched enthralled as exultant citizens hammered down a wall of treachery which has long divided east and west sectors, not merely of Berlin, but of world ideology. We had heard proclaimed the triumph of capitalism over communism and of democracy over despotism.

However, and particularly in the United States, we have also seen the ascendancy of the doctrine of individual rights over collective responsibilities. A creed of individual freedom for economic "competition" has fostered a government policy of deregulation, so that during the past decade all fetters have been removed from rampant greed. It is not surprising that the treasuries of financial institutions (and even of religious television ministries) have been looted, or that, worshipping at the newly gilded altar of self, overextended entrepreneurs are collapsing towers of empire around themselves. Nor does one wonder that longstanding hatred by management and unions for each other, fueled by greed, has played the major role in destroying a historic airline company.

Is it not unexpected that there has been a rise in political graft. My own state legislature is currently towelling away the spatter of continuing indictments of prominent legislators who have been splashing exuberantly in a cesspool of bribery. The Congress not long ago saw the resignation of House leadership and is currently trying senators for multiple breaches of "congressional ethics," which a cynical public has come to think of as an oxymoron.

During this period, there have been other evidences of a significant shift of the collective psyche. In politics, there has been increasingly shrill debate centered around the concerns of single issue constituencies, and a corresponding decrease in public awareness that society is the organism on whose healthy functioning the success of individual interests depends. In public discourse, ethnicism dominates over pluralism. In the global "public square" there are increasing clashes between the demands of competing fundamentalisms, and, at least in Europe and North America, an increase in hate crimes and public expressions of bigotry.

There has also been increasing appetite for violence as entertainment, in both video and cinema. Well before the Iraqi war, even the Discovery Channel, which has been distinguished by its documentary programming highlighting human interactions with the harmonious natural world, moved films on modern weaponry and military aviation into prime time. It and the "Arts & Entertainment" cable network had increased programming of Viet Nam and World War II combat film, Hitler biographies, and Nazi history. It is not surprising that Saddam Hussein has occasioned a great boost in sales of video war games. How are we to reconcile these trends with movement toward a new world order? Do we expect political systems to correct these collective psychological problems? Can political systems restructure human nature, or must they be responsive to it?

It is very encouraging that the United Nations is playing a new and invigorated role in coordinating collective action for peacemaking, and that the current crisis has evoked excellent cooperation among nations of all continents, even nations formerly opposed ideologically. But it remains unclear how the new world order will be defined, and of what it will consist. Perhaps some envision new political structures, or new empowerment of existing structures, or new structures in international law.

Sovereignty

The development of international law over the centuries has seen a progression from a law of competing sovereigns to a law of sovereign nations. In medieval times, war was the normal state of relations whether or not hostilities were in progress. Individual persons were subjects of a sovereign, and had only such privileges as it pleased the sovereign to grant. Safe conduct for international travel and trade was by no means expected, and on the high seas a vessel was subject only to the law of its own sovereign, or its sovereign captain.

Treaties between sovereigns gradually established international norms for commerce and other peaceful national interaction, but they were based on the rights of sovereigns rather than of peoples. Magna Carta asserted certain rights of subjects of the sovereign, but it was the American experience which replaced the law of the sovereign with a law of the people. The people became the sovereign. However, the sovereignty of such a nation in international relations rested, and rests, not on the concept of the sovereignty of its people, but on that people's power, both economic and military, to command respect for its cause.

The political world today is a collection of sovereign nations of mixed heritage and type. Though most modern states publicly express some respect for the concept of democracy, there remain many states in which the people are the subjects of a ruler who, though not necessarily a monarch, nonetheless is "sovereign," holding power against the will of the people by force of arms or other means of intimidation and exploitation. Such "sovereign states" have the same status in international law as constitutional republics which derive sovereignty from the consent of their people.

If a new order were to be conceived as a political and legal structure built only on the old platform of protecting the sovereignty of nations rather than on the needs of peoples, its narrow spectrum of enforcement mechanisms will place it always at risk for invoking force. That presumes a power concentration which is itself dangerous. While some sort of military mechanism must be available for emergencies such as the present one, a "new world order" based ultimately on force of arms is not likely to be new or orderly.

Synthesis

At the same time that the world is seeking better political solutions globally, the world of knowledge is undergoing a grand evolutionary synthesis of new information from quantum physics, cosmology, biological evolution, genetics, ecology, and psychology. That new synthesis points toward an understanding of the world as holistically and organically interactive, in which all levels of the complex life system are interdependent, and in which survival requires the maintenance of the equilibrium of the whole.

If we can collectively adopt this new understanding and adapt it to the problems of global society, our new structure of world order will be not merely a politico-legal architecture, but an organic architecture. The term evokes the theme of Frank Lloyd Wright's work, in which function takes precedence over stylistic form, and the integration of the structure with its people and its site takes precedence over artistic doctrine.

Similarly, a global organic architecture would be defined by its understandings of the homeostatic needs of all peoples and all life, rather than by old doctrines of sovereignty. If we are to affirm a new world order (and equally importantly, a new domestic order), we must reexamine, not merely our laws, but our worldview. We must come to an organic understanding of ourselves as free individuals in relationship to global society.

The present study is dedicated to that end. For the past five years, I have been working on a synthesis of current knowledge as the basis for a theory of ethics. I expected to present the study in two small volumes: Wholeness and Ethic presenting the worldview of ethics, and Living Ethics examining ethics in the light of life systems science. However, given recent world events, it seems more appropriate to present them together in the context of our very urgent search for a new approach to human relationships.

It is not easy to prove the validity of such a synthesis of knowledge, for worldviews do not lend themselves to reductive syllogisms. A comprehensive integration of knowledge must be proved by the successful fit of the pieces in the whole. Of course holism is not opposed to reductionism for it is research into reductive detail which provides the data to compose the whole, and a whole cannot exclude its parts.

Nor can such a synthesis be devoid of opinion. A synthesis is an opinion about how facts fit together. Facts not synthesized are mere data -- garbage out for garbage in, perhaps. The tests of opinion are whether it is informed by facts, and whether it expands to contain new information and coherently encompass the whole.

An orderly and integrated global society will rest on our individual recognition of the internal mechanisms by which we seek and participate in the order of the whole. It will rest on our ability to effect individual syntheses of spirit and reason. Ultimately that synthesis is not made in the structure of this book but in the mind of the reader. For all of these reasons, the style is informational rather than argumentative, and draws heavily on both intuition and reason.

If we are to achieve a new world order which leads (regardless of the details of its political structure) to lasting peace and cooperation among peoples, we must find the language to reaffirm the human spirit and the oneness of humanity. This can be no "secular" humanism. If we are to be nourished by the wellspring of the human spirit we must come to terms with the human unconscious and integrate the power of myth with the power of reason. It is for that reason that I have given considerable attention to the psychological dynamics of ethics.

Nor can the synthesis be sectarian. It must harmonize the spiritual aspirations of all peoples. I am reminded of the noted clergyman of my own tradition, Phillips Brooks of Boston, who raised controversy in the last century with the premise that the whole human race, not merely the organized church, is the agent for the accomplishment of divine purpose on Earth. One of his themes was "the spirit of man is the candle of the Lord." The advance of knowledge in the century since confirms that we must be guided by that broad spirit of oneness in shared purpose, and seek together, regardless of sectarian affiliations or lack of them, to bring into balance the affairs of mankind and the rest of creation. It is in that spirit that this study is offered.


[Contents page] , [TOP] , [Chapter 1 ]

Copyright 1993. All rights reserved.