WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO CHANGE THE WORLD?
Here is a question that many of us have pondered, and for the most part considered almost too big to contemplate. However, when looked at from the perspective of spiritual reality, we arrive, by way of a response, at two things that work in tandem in relation to this question: consciousness and practice. Or, put another way, values and behavior. To change the world, life must learn to relate differently to life, both in feeling and in action. This is a generalization that is simple to say yet huge in the complexity of its realization. What can be said, however, is that in order to be effective, a change in consciousness must precede action if it is to be lasting.
The present writing aims to look briefly at certain aspects of this change on both levels - the level of consciousness and the level of practice - inspired in great measure by a UN report presented recently to
Kofi Annan by the staff of the Millenium Project, whose goal it was to find a way to implement the UN's Millenium Development Goals. The Millenium Project Report is an example of a multi-level practice which, if put into effect, could change the conditions of life for billions of people on the earth.
Such a broad-based plan for change, while sweeping in its recommendations, is not likely to gain widespread support right away - not until the consciousness of wealthier nations and of people in general shifts in the direction of making it both viable and necessary. Such a shift has not yet arrived for the many. Yet, with the increase of spiritual light already present on the earth, there is the potential for creating the value-context from which true change in practice can occur in the not-too-distant future - occurring through life responding differently to life.
Here, then, are two parts of a discussion in response to the question: "What Would it Take to Change the World?" The first: The UN Millenium Project Report; the second, The Advent of Light.
PART I. THE UN MILLENIUM PROJECT REPORT
'Utopia' refers to a hypothetical perfect society. It has also been used to describe actual communities founded in attempts to create such a society. The adjective 'utopian' is often used to refer to good but (physically, socially, economically, or politically) impossible proposals, or at least ones that are very difficult to implement."
But what if the very values of such a society - the values of unity with other souls who inhabit the earth, with the earth itself, with God, and with the inhabited solar system and galaxy - could become real, that is, could become felt and embodied? Then such a utopian society could come into existence because it would no longer correspond to what could not be, but to what could be.
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A breath of hope has come to the world in the form of the UN "Millenium Project Report," a report that has been three years in the making that has the possibility of shaping future economic and trade relations among nations so that extreme poverty is halved by the year 2015 and eliminated altogether by 2025. This is the inspired hope of the UN-defined Millenium Development Goals which this report attempts to implement. It comes at a time when more than one billion of the world's six billion people live on less that $1 day, and 2.7 billion live on less than $2 a day
The report's scope is huge, yet its suggestions - including a primary one which recommends that rich countries double their investments in poor countries - are emminently concrete and practical. These suggestions evolved out of a multi-level task force which researched numerous areas in which change needed to occur in order to address global issues of poverty. What has been put into words here are things that have been known about for years, yet have not been put into effect since neither the money nor the political will of nations was there to do so.
The 74-page report synthesizes 3,000 pages of findings by 265 experts. Its conclusions - that drastically reducing poverty in its many guises - hunger, illiteracy, disease - is "utterly affordable" and can begin now. In another time and reality it would be on the front page of every newspaper everywhere. But instead, it has received little press since it is only a 'report' and since the disillusionment of decades (some might call it the practical requirements of change) have not caused many to get excited about it. In fact, a number of critiques of the report have called it 'unrealistic' and 'utopian'. Nevertheless, in conception and in the ways in which it interlocks areas that need to change simultaneously, it is worthy of excitement, because whatever creates hope for the world and the possibility of relief from extreme poverty for the billions who live under it, is worthy of applause.
A New York Times summary of the report states:
"The report of the United Nations Millennium Project, which was prepared under the stewardship of Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University, advocates trade reforms to level the international playing field, as well a sweeping array of spending on, among other things, health, education, rural development, slum upgrading, roads and scientific research. Such an effort, the report said, would lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty."
"The worldwide outpouring of grief and aid since a huge tsunami killed more than 150,000 people in Asia and Africa last month has stirred hope here that the same wellspring of empathy can be tapped for what Professor Sachs called "the silent tsunami" of global poverty that kills more than 150,000 children every month from malaria alone."
The Project Report requires wealthier nations to double the amount of aid they are presently giving to poorer countries, bringing the percentage of GNP allocated for foreign assistance from an average of 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent, a figure which is still less than the 0.7 percent agreed to when these nations met at the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and established a program for action called 'Agenda 21'.
The NY Times article goes on to say,
"In July, Britain will be host to a summit meeting of industrialized countries that will spotlight global poverty, particularly in Africa... There will also be a United Nations summit on development in September, in which "world leaders will gather... to take stock of progress toward the antipoverty goals they set in 2000."
Both meetings have the possibility of considering the 17 "quick wins" that the Project Report suggests could immediately be implemented in " at least a dozen poor, well-governed nations that donors are confident will use the money wisely. (Ghana, Mozambique, Mali, Senegal and Tanzania are among those most often mentioned.). These "quick wins" are specific policies that would swiftly translate into millions of improved and saved lives. Among them are:
- mass distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and medicines to combat malaria, a leading killer of children;
- elimination of fees for primary schools, with lost revenue replaced by donors;
- expansion of school meals programs to hungry areas;
- providing regular deworming medicines to schoolchildren in affected areas to improve school attendance and health;
- distribution of free or subsidized fertilizer to impoverished African farmers; and
- expanded treatment of people with AIDS and tuberculosis."
Kofi Annan says of the Millenium Development Goals that they are feasible, not utopian or out-of-reach. However, there are numerous critics who disagree. In addition, as stated above, there is, indeed, a question as to whether the wealthier nations of the world are ready to respond to the report's suggestions.
Some of the criticisms come from development experts "who were not on the Millennium Project team (who) reacted to (it) with comments that ranged from harshly critical to cautiously supportive.
"William Easterly, an economics professor at New York University, said an incremental approach with more modest goals - for example, the use of vaccinations to curtail childhood deaths from measles - would have been more effective than that of the report.
Its approach is a sort of utopian central planning by global bureaucrats (italics mine), a crash program like a Great Leap Forward for poor countries," he said. "This will not work any better than central planning by bureaucrats has worked anywhere else, which is to say not at all."
"Nancy Birdsall, who heads the Center for Global Development in Washington and was a leader of the project's education task force said "she worried that the report did not sufficiently emphasize that many difficult social and political changes having nothing to do with money will have to be made by the developing countries themselves to reduce poverty." (NY Times, Jan. 17, 2005).
Since the labeling of the report as 'utopian' appears in a variety of guises, let us see what this word means:
"In 1515, Thomas More wrote a book that was to have a significant impact on Western thought. Its title was Utopia, a neologism coined by More from Greek. The word 'utopia' comes from two words, 'ou' meaning 'no' and 'topos' meaning 'place'. Utopia, therefore, is 'no place' - a place that doesn't exist... a society that is only a possibility to be strived for rather than ever actualized."
As defined by another source, "Utopia refers to a hypothetical perfect society... The adjective 'utopian' is often used to refer to good but (physically, socially, economically, or politically) impossible proposals, or at least ones that are very difficult to implement."
These are the definitions we have lived with for centuries concerning a society that is good but unattainable. And, for the most part, such a conclusion has been correct, since the values necessary for creating such a society were not present and could not be present.
But what if these very values - the values of unity with other souls who inhabit the earth, with the earth itself, with God, by whatever name God is called, and with the inhabited solar system and galaxy - could become real, that is, could become felt and embodied. Then such a utopian society could come into existence because it would no longer correspond to what could not be, but to what could be.
What is 'utopian' throughout history becomes real when the 'advent of light' begins to work its effect upon the world, creating a shift in awareness of huge proportions concerning what we are doing on this planet and who and what we are. Such a shift has already begun for some, but not for enough of the world's powerful and wealthy so that the lofty goals of the Millenium Report can easily come into being.
Nevertheless, what is not here today, may be so tomorrow. In the presence of greater light, consciousness becomes a more powerful tool for spiritual evolution, both for oneself and for the planet as a whole. Put differently, ideas that are light-filled, in the presence of greater surrounding light, have greater power to bring about change. That is the reason that the UN's Millenium Project Report may achieve a different response in the not-too-distant future. It is also the reason why we each need to be careful of what we think as well as of what we do. Increasingly today, not only our actions, but our thoughts, too, have a greater ability to affect others.
To return to the substance of the Report, at the moment it is hard to tell whether there will be a concerted effort by wealthier nations to meet the Millenium Development Goals. If the response of the rich to the current tsunami crisis is any indication, the response to the report may also be ambivalent. For even in relation to the tsunami-afflicted nations, aid, while plentiful, still comes with conditions that qualify its value and usefulness.
For example, in the case of Asian nations affected by the tsunami, the question of debt relief for these countries was recently brought before creditor nations who are members of the 'Paris Club': the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the US. This group meets about 10 times a year to discuss debts owed to them. During a recent meeting, a decision was made to freeze the $5bn dollars of debt owed to the group of tsunami-affected nations, for repayment at a later date. Though many campaigners petitioned for the straight-out cancellation of debt altogether, this was not on the table for discussion. A BBC article called: "Q&A: The Weight of Debt" (Jan. 12, 2005), written the day before the Paris Club met, reported:
"Many are calling for all debts owed by developing nations to be cancelled, saying that repayment costs draw vital cash from social and development projects."
And from Oxfam, an international organization deeply committed to finding "lasting solutions to poverty, suffering and injustice":
"For the world's poorest countries to divert vitally needed resources to rich creditors rather than spending (these) on the health or education of their citizens is both immoral and economically irrational."
However, the Paris Club meeting did not have the cancellation of debt for affected nations on its agenda.
"A write-off was not thought to be under consideration even though the $5bn owing for 2005 would be, in purely financial terms, insignificant for the rich creditor nations." (BBC News, Jan. 13, 2005).
The difference between freezing debt and cancelling it is huge. Poorer nations who receive a great deal of foreign aid are often unable to use it fully to expand their economies since they are simultaneously paying back the immense amount that they owe to their creditors. (See: The Economics of Giving). Often, amongst the poorest nations, the amount of debt being repayed per year is equal to or greater than the amount of assistance being offered. This is what makes the Paris Club decision and that of other donor nations so ambiguous.
Clearly, we have yet to arrive at a time when 'global self-interest' outweighs national self-interest, or when the pure motive of generosity outweighs the conditional motive of 'what will I get in return'? This transition is part of what is discussed below in "The Advent of Light." Meanwhile, the Millenium Project Report is an example of what might happen if the world could put into practice what has been conceived of as emminently possible by scientists, naturalists, economists, etc. from around the world. It is there as a road to the future that can be taken when we are ready.
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New report to Annan proposes solutions to problems of world poverty. (UN News Centre, Jan. 17, 2005)
UN Agencies vow to implement millenium development report (Jan. 18, 2005)