WEEK 6: My proposals for a better world

My proposals for a better world – London, May 18, 1992

Humanity is drifting dangerously in an uncharted sea, having lost any sense of direction as a whole, and without a compass to guide it.

Although we are recognizing the new situation, its dimensions and its problems, no one can answer the simplest questions – where are we going, what do we want, how do we see ourselves, i.e. humanity, even only ten years hence? The old answers are no longer convincing.

Many of us are locked by habit, precedent and convenience into antiquated ways of thought, stereotyped images, unable to distinguish between the often-conflicting requirements of the moment versus the future, and very largely lacking the means – intellectual, physical, organizational or administrative – to assess, analyse, to relate in informed discussion, nor to reach comprehensive decisions.

 

Our problems

We all know the problems that face us. They are: pollution and degradation of air, water, earth, of man, woman and child; decimation of species and habitat; alienation of Nature; increase of disease and crime and wanton violence; problems – urban and social, but also rural; personal and cultural breakdown – psychological, spriritual, moral, aesthetic; educational problems, in all their manifold aspects – physical, intellectual, intuitive; feeding the legitimate thirst of our senses with false and poisonous substitute nutriment… we are aware of all this and yet we cannot grasp the many strands we must handle to weave the tapestry of our own lives, both individually and collectively.

I have already hinted at two principles categories: the private and the public, the here and now as opposed to the more distant and omnipresent, the tangible and material as opposed to the spiritual and affective, the State as opposed to the Culture.

Humanity has changed radically from an ethos concerned largely with the relationship of man to nature, of man to God, of man to the unknowable, of man to his own specific culture, of the relationship of his very own hands and his senses to the creative and the ordinary tasks he was called upon or called upon himself to do.

In the course of the transformation into modern “advanced” man, he has progressively realized the increasing advantages of growing, ever larger inter-cultural, inter-national cooperation; he has also interposed many separations which have become blockages between the direct relationship of hands to task, of feeling to fulfilment, of man to nature – to his God. Taboos have become religions, scripture and finally laws, cumbersomely administered.

 

Culture

In this context, I would like, first of all, to define the word culture. Culture is everything which determines our mode of expression and which distinguishes one group of beings from another, in contradistinction to competing nationalisms which tend towards uniformity and the flattening out of variety.

The one, culture, defines the very way each person expresses his feelings and thoughts about himself, his sense of values, his relationship to other people, to earth and its inhabitants, from languages to the crafts, to the arts, to his style of living and thinking, his dress, his food, his imagery, superstitions, beliefs – his poems, his myths, his symbols – usually attached to a particular place or small region, or nomadic and nostalgic, attached to the firmament and the open country. Culture radiates from a centre.

The other, nationalism, defines the forces which oblige a variety of cultures to live under one flag or one religion, a particular State or Church. It is measured by power, conquest, subjugation, exploitation through arms or tools – guns, money – and a conviction of superiority, as much in the universality of its beliefs, marked by the emergence of single Gods from multiple Ones, by single currencies from multiple ones, as from a vindicated superiority based upon the success of its technology, weapons, commerce, and the spread of its language, and its own morals. This mode of existence is dedicated to the strengthening, the defense and the expansion of the frontiers, physical boundaries of a given power.

To put it in a few words: a culture radiates from a centre and permeates adjacent cultures; a power consolidates a given area within defined frontiers constantly readjusted by war.

The solution?

The question is: how do we protect and cultivate the dignity, autonomy, the independence of cultures in a world increasingly dominated by and reduced to the most crude and basic urges – greed, fear and sex – unsublimated, even barely disguised, and now a recipe for increasing chaos?

Is the problem not that of finding and creating the “juste milieu” – the climate, intellectual, physical, and spiritual – the structures – representative, administrative, and executive – the formation – logical and intuitive, conceptual and tactile – which would do justice to and would respect the demands of the whole of our nature?

It is not necessary to discard the ritual of State, Church and Law; in fact, it seems essential to me to retain them. But its content must be thoroughly rethought, recasted and rebuilt. If we do not follow this procedure for transformation, we will face the chaos of sudden revolutions now threatening.

On can only command Nature by obeying its laws. Likewise, there can be no acceptable progressing future without an honestly recognized and understood past, which lends the spring-board and the sense of direction to the future.

First of all, in our thinking we must try to distinguish between culture and power. In a civilized world we should no longer have to confuse the two. It should no longer be necessary to assume that a culture goes hand-in-hand with armed militancy. The dignity, autonomy and the independence of a culture should not depend upon its own exclusive apparati of State, i.e. army, foreign office, etc.

 

Powers

In the matter of power, however, our national units, our great States, our countries have in many respects lost the last vestige of sovereignty they ever possessed. Thus, it is inevitable that we are proceeding in the direction of the Confederation or the Federation of States, many of which are already global.

Thus we already have three tiers of human association, i.e. the Culture, the State and the Federation of States.

Hitherto cultures have been at the mercy of Powers. It is essential that, as we grow in amplitude in the one direction, our roots grow in depth in the other.

 

Representation in Parliament has hitherto favoured the play for power among various competitive interests, but Parliament has rarely heard the voice of the human being as he is, apart from power and money, economic interests, and defense.

In Parliament we have our “right” and our “left”, traditionally the one representing the doctrine of the stronger, independent and better able to look after himself, and the other doctrine of the weaker (formally and globally stronger in numbers), requiring protection, planning, the application of theories of justice, of fairness. Both are subject to the virus of unrestricted power, private initiative degenerating into Fascism, care and concern degenerating into the other most hideous forms of oppression.

Today, in civilized countries, the contrats are nowhere as fierce for each and both partake of each other and discuss alternatives and compromise.

But cultures are left largely unrepresented, and today it is essential to rescue the human being, his family and children, his dignity along with a reconciliation with Nature, and the unknowable – or God –, for these have preceded us and will ultimately succeed us.

 

My proposal

I would, therefore, propose that at the levels of State and Federation, we institute in addition to the usual House of elected representatives, as in the House of Commons or Congress, another House, another “Chambre des Députés”, representating cultures, with their bonds to earth and sky; that, say, the cultures of Europe be represented by men and women nominated by their people, and several cultures joining to nominate a spokesman. This House would correspond to the House of Lords or the Senate, but would be more attuned to the problems of our day.

A clear division of labour and responsibility must be established between the two.

Politicians would sit in the on House, delegates in the other. I feel that politics should be practised by people with professions, so as not to make politics a profession, i.e. a surveyor, a painter, a craftsman, even a musician would run for office and be elected for, say, a two-year period, after which he or she would return to his or her profession. This would obviate the growing dependence on politics as the sole support for life and ambition.

The other House, in which delegates of cultures would sit, would be responsible for the protection of given cultures, their modes of education, sports, their traditions, languages, religions, holidays as determined by each. However, these must never be hostile to a neighbouring culture or prejudiced against the binding tenets of the larger units.

Measures to be taken

Certain issues may partake of both the economic factors and the cultural, a discussion between the two Houses would ensure a fair solution.

It is absolutely essential, however, that certain practices and types of exploitation be generally and completely outlawaed, be they of men, or women, or children, of animals, air, water, of the fertility of land. It is essential, for instance, to ensure the conservation of species, and severe limits should be put on the size of mono-crops (as well as the misuse of genetic discoveries) – if possible, worldwide.

The measures to be taken should certainly include limits on tourism, on production and dissemination of pollutants, on types of propaganda and all the contemporary influences of communications, electronic, subliminal, or overt, of sheer noise, which desecrate our lives.

Decisions taken in Parliament would have to be ratified by both houses. They would have to consider, for instance, the inherent fault in the policy and the doctrine of constant material growth, of quantity at the expense of quality, of life as of production. The only possible way can persuade and convince our acquisitive, warped societies to renounce part of their vested interest in unqualified growth is to offer in return, for what may appear as immediate sacrifice, a definite improvement in quality for ourselves, our children and global life, as opposed to further unrestrained exploitation and debasement of Nature, its resources, its living beings.

 

European cooperation

Certainly, only a cooperating European Community can establish Commissions concerned with, say:

  • The waters of Europe (underground and on the surface), including the course of water from the snow of Alpine regions to lakes, rivers and deltas, from the evapotranspiration of plants to the purifying process of each waste water collector, all these waters must be totally protected. The commission should support and rely on such private initiative as “Alp-Action”, but it would have the official clout to take decisions and enforce the urgent measures.
  • The fertility of the earth and the protection of the species adapted to it would be the responsibility of yet another Commission, appointed by our second House to take measures for protecting and restoring to earth, its flora and fauna.
  • Our second House would also mobilize Amnesty, a private organization which could form the guarding nucleus of a Commission concerned with the spread and distribution, the variety of fears, threats, abuse in Europe, ranging from the psychological to the physical.
  • There are already private and semi-public organisations like World Health, but they have little clout. A Commission for Disease and Health would draw upon many sources to guide, to educate as well as to protect the peoples of Europe and adjacent regions.
  • Other Commissions responsible to our second House would study the problem of human time, lives and money spent in counter-productive, wasteful or degrading occupation, and with the redistribution, the re-training of skills.
  • The arts have been debased into the questionable function of some superfluous extravagance – I am thinking of music and the other arts in schools, and as the creative expression of what really distinguishes the human being from other creation. Singing, painting, fashioning, architecture, etc… are not economic concerns: they are essential human arts required, as play and discipline, from the earliest years, just as therapeutic knowledge which is used for the well-being of people and point to the desire to be mutually useful to each other.
  • Commissions on European travel and the movement of goods and people in the fastest, noiseless, vibrationless, most efficient and economical way possible would constitute the aims of yet another Commission serving our second House. – Switzerland is building a tunnel between Basel and Lugano on the principle of magnetic, frictionless propulsion invented by Braithwaite, an Englishman of my acquaintance.
  • Sub-cultures, a result for our particular societies, should be the subject of a Commission responsible for assessing and guiding the needs of an “unemployment” culture, a violent culture, a culture of ruthlessness, impatience, and superficiality.

A global restructuring

Certainly, no Parliament has as yet given itself the task of implementing measures which all our hearts, minds, our knowledge and determination to address these problems, except to mistake them largely for economic problems, on the assumption that a little more money will cure these evils. This approach will not succeed; only a second Parliament on a European scale might conceivably and successfully handle such essentially human matters.

We will have to call into question the practices of industry, of commerce, of agriculture, of defense, of values, beliefs, education, of government bureaucracy, of sheer size. We must equally cultivate a deep respect for serenity, for peace, the pursuit of knowledge, the exploration of hypotheses in all fields of human thought and experience.

I feel that if such a system, incorporating the twinned worlds of power and culture, had existed a few years ago, the tragedy of Yugoslavia might have been averted.

A stand against nationalism

The procedure I propose is, I believe, our protection against the danger of a new round of growing nationalism in Europe. Actually, the European Community is as much a return to all that bound us together in the past – the Judeo-Christian faiths, from ancient Israel, Rome, Byzantium – the Greek and the Roman civilizations, embracing our world from India to Iceland – our Renaissance, our languages, even our wars which, in a way, could be seen as civil wars.

Certainly, Latin and Greek were the European languages and should be reinstituted in schools. Only in Luxemburg are they still obligatory. In Europe until the rise of the nation-state, travel was unencumbered by passports; scholars, knowledge, fashion, styles were freely interchanged. Vienna was the centre of the two axes, East-West and North-South. England and Spain became the repositories of the richest assortment of assimilated civilizations in the world – in language, traditions, customs; in Spain embracing Mohammedan and African, in England, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norman.

What wealth, what knowledge, what beauty, binding us as much with pride as with guilt to Asia, India, and the peoples of the Americas!

My violin and my feelings

I have spoken from my heart, the heart of a European. I love the countries, the regions, the cultures of Europe, which I came to know at an early age. I adore their music, their literatures, their Nature, their people. As an American born of Russian-Crimean Jewish parents, I embrace the whole of Europe from both sides as well as from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.

At home and attached to every part of this most precious and treasured peninsula, and knowing it as well as my native America, I am not only formally British and Swiss but in addition informally and with all my heart a European.

These, alongside with that instrument of music, the violin, a key to the soul of every people, are my credentials.