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Planetary Humanism

Editorial
by Paul Kurtz


The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 24, Number 1.


This magazine often turns its critical eye to issues of public concern neglected by the mass media. I should point out, however, that the heart of our editorial mission is to highlight affirmative alternatives. We are not simply debunkers of the religious-moral mythologies of the day; instead we wish to suggest positive policies that we hope can enhance the public good. Some readers may disagree with our recommendations and find them provocative; we offer them as a contribution to constructive ethical dialogue.

I wish to revisit one area that we have discussed in Free Inquiry in the past, but that needs—in our judgment—to be restated; that is, the intrinsic relevance of ethical principles and values to Planetary Humanism. By this I mean that as humanists we are keenly aware of the interdependence of all regions of the world. We recognize that all humans share a common planetary habitat and that our moral obligations do not end at the boundaries of our own nation-states, but encompass the entire globe and every person on it.

Much of this was spelled out in Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call for a New Planetary Humanism, which was published in these pages in the fall of 1999.1 This Manifesto was endorsed by many distinguished humanists, and has been translated into eighteen languages (including Spanish, German, Russian, Serbian, Polish, Arabic, and Hindi). Alas, Manifesto 2000 has been largely ignored in the United States itself, especially by political leaders.

I traveled to Europe twice in the summer and fall of 2003. Visiting France, England, Poland, and Serbia, I was overwhelmed by the extent of opposition to American foreign policies, which were considered outrageously chauvinistic. America's unilateral use of military power and its bypassing of the United Nations were especially viewed with alarm. In view of this, I think that secular humanists need to redouble our efforts in the United States on behalf of the planetary community.

This is all spelled out in Humanist Manifesto 2000. The underlying ethical principle of Planetary Humanism "is the need to respect the dignity and worth of all persons in the world community."2 This means that we ought to be concerned with the well-being of every person on the planet, as far as we can, and in protecting and enhancing his or her rights and responsibilities.

To realize this objective, Humanist Manifesto 2000 presented a "planetary bill of rights and responsibilities." It also offered a "new global agenda." Concretely, it maintained that the world needs to develop new planetary institutions: "We need now more than ever a world body that represents the people of the world rather than nation states."3 Thus we urged that at some point in the future we need "to establish an effective World Parliament" that is elected by the people of the world and is more effective that the General Assembly, which is made up of the independent nation-states of the United Nations—in effect an international bicameral legislature. This would include two bodies: a new Parliament (following the European model) and a General Assembly.

The Manifesto crucially points out that "the world needs a workable security system to resolve military conflicts that threaten the peace." Regrettably, the United States has assumed the role of policeman, reserving unto itself the right to launch pre-emptive wars as it did in Iraq. Humanist Manifesto 2000 recommended that we employ the United Nations to maintain collective security, and that "the veto in the Security Council by the Big Five needs to be repealed."4 This provision, written into the charter of the UN fifty-eight years ago, granted disproportionate power to the victors of World War II. To be effective in the contemporary world, the Security Council needs to be updated, expanded, and strengthened.

The Manifesto also urged that "we develop an effective world court and international judiciary with sufficient power to enforce its rulings." Powerful conservative forces in the United States—such as Senator Helms during the Clinton presidency and the Bush administration today—have flaunted efforts to uphold the institutions of international law. The United States still does not recognize the legality of the World Court.

The Manifesto observed that "the world needs a planetary environmental monitoring agency on the transnational level" with teeth in order to maintain the integrity of our planetary habitat. To leave this to voluntary compliance is surely insufficient. The violations of the Kyoto Treaty by the United States, Russia, and other counties, and America's refusal to ratify it, are unfortunate.

In its most far-reaching proposal, Humanist Manifesto 2000 boldly recommends the enactment of "an international system of taxation in order to assist the underdeveloped sectors of the human family and to fulfill social needs not fulfilled by market forces." This suggested a tax levied "on the GNP of all nations" (.007 percent at first), the proceeds of which would be used to mitigate the vast disparities between the poor and affluent societies of the globe. This would accelerate economic and social development, the maintenance of health and sanitation, and the eradication of diseases such as AIDS and malaria, so urgently needed.

The Manifesto further recommends "some regulation of multinational corporations and state monopolies." The rationale for state monopolies has been replaced by market economies, which are far more productive. On the other hand, global conglomerates have themselves become so powerful and extensive as to undermine competition and elude meaningful regulation by national governments. Hence there is some need for the enforcement of transnational laws, especially where the vital welfare of the world community is at stake.

Finally, the Manifesto declares that there is a pressing need to "keep alive a free market of ideas," respecting diversity of opinion and cherishing the right of dissent. Fortunately, dictatorial state monopolies throughout the world are being eroded and democratic governments are emerging everywhere. For this process to continue, countries such as China and those in the Islamic world need to democratize their political institutions. But similar considerations apply to the established democracies. We need to appreciate the importance of open societies in the free planetary community.

Unfortunately, as we have observed in the pages of Free Inquiry, more needs to be done in democratic free market societies because of the increasing concentration of ownership of the media of communication so that fewer and fewer voices are heard. Witness NBC's recent acquisition of Vivendi Universal. But this process is happening everywhere. Italy's president and private media mogul Silvio Berlusconi virtually dominates Italian commercial television. Similarly, there is increased conglomerate control of media in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Free Inquiry has long opposed this, and it has especially deplored the fact that the scientific, rationalistic, humanistic viewpoint is so often ignored or under-represented in the mass media.

We are encouraged that, at long last, the American public seems to be recognizing this vexing problem. There has been broad opposition to new rules proposed by Michael Powell and the Federal Communications Commission that would further loosen regulation and contribute to even greater concentration in media ownership and control. Whether the U.S. Congress and/or the courts will limit this process is still uncertain. The same battle needs to be waged in all of the democracies. We hope this battle can be won.

In spite of these shortcomings on the global scene, economic, political, cultural, and social progress can continue to provide a healthier, happier, and fuller life for more and more citizens of the world. Humanist Manifesto 2000 closes with an optimistic declaration, which provides an alternative to the pessimistic and nihilistic voices of gloom and doom: 

Although many problems may seem intractable, we have good reasons to believe that we can marshal our best talents to solve them, and that by goodwill and dedication a better life is attainable by more and more members of the human community. Planetary Humanism holds forth great promise for humankind.

The future can be wholesome and bountiful, and it can open up new, daring, and exciting vistas. Planetary Humanism can contribute significantly to the development of the positive attitude so necessary if we are to realize the unparalleled opportunities that await humankind in the third millennium and beyond.

It ends with this clarion call to all sectors of the world community:

We invite other men and women to join with us in working for a better world in the planetary society that is now emerging.

Notes

1. Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call for a New Planetary Humanism was published in a paperback edition in 2000 by Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York.

2. Humanist Manifesto 2000, p. 35.

3. Ibid., p. 56.

4. Ibid., p. 58.


Paul Kurtz is editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry, professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and chair of the Center for Inquiry.


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