Is Humanity Psychologically Capable of Building a Fairer World?

The United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda was held from 25 to 27 September 2015 in New York. The summit adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve.

The summit set out the following vision for a more peaceful, sustainable and equal world:

  • We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive. We envisage a world free of fear and violence. A world with universal literacy. A world with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels, to health care and social protection, where physical, mental and social well-being are assured. A world where we reaffirm our commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and where there is improved hygiene; and where food is sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious. A world where human habitats are safe, resilient and sustainable and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.
  • We envisage a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination; of respect for race, ethnicity and cultural diversity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential and contributing to shared prosperity. A world which invests in its children and in which every child grows up free from violence and exploitation. A world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed. A just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met.
  • We envisage a world in which every country enjoys sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all. A world in which consumption and production patterns and use of all natural resources – from air to land, from rivers, lakes and aquifers to oceans and seas – are sustainable. One in which democracy, good governance and the rule of law as well as an enabling environment at national and international levels, are essential for sustainable development, including sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and the eradication of poverty and hunger. One in which development and the application of technology are climate-sensitive, respect biodiversity and are resilient. One in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living species are protected.

At the present time, when our headlines are filled with the barbarity of ISIS, continuing economic crises, a flood of humanity fleeing war in the Middle East, a return to cold war tensions between Russia and the West, and anxieties about the intentions of a rising China, the question we collectively face is this:

Is humanity psychologically capable of building a fairer world?

Please have your say by adding your view below. Thank you.

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9 thoughts on “Is Humanity Psychologically Capable of Building a Fairer World?

  1. Dear Correspondent,

    Looking at the world at present the answer has to be ‘It doesn’t look like it’.
    Steve Taylor, in his book ‘The Fall’, considers that the human race went mad, to a significant degree, about 6 thousand years ago when it started having wars. Before that it was peaceful.
    Certainly one has to question the sanity of humanity which tolerates, in the name of peace, threatening to incinerate millions of innocent civilians, by holding over them arsenals of nuclear weapons destructive enough to wipe out all life on the planet several times over.

    Jim McCluskey.
    Twickenham,
    Middx. TW1 2LN

    • Thank you for your comment Jim. It reminded me of growing up in the 1970s when the fear of nuclear war was very real. While that fear is less pervasive today, the threat is still very real. As Einstein said the invention of nuclear weapons changed everything except the way we think, and a new way of thinking is needed if humankind is to survive.

      • The fear is less because the public are kept in the dark about the dangers. with 9 nuclear weapons states and thousands of weapons held in hair-trigger alert it is now as dangerous as it was during the cold war.

        B/w Jim..

  2. I agree with Margaret that beliefs have to change, the values that can be universally accepted and acted upon. The question becomes who is to provide what you list as desirables. If some people work harder and smarter to create the necessities, but their reward is to have their output taken away from them by some ruling elite and given to those who are “poor and hungry” (a group of every society that keeps growing in number like locusts who consume all that the world can produce) or otherwise designated as recipients, then the hardworking productive segments of society are in effect slaves. That will not long endure. Let us define fairness first.

    In any event, the first thing to stop is war, the inflicting of violence, harm and death by some people on other people. That has to stop now. Taking by force and fraud has to stop now. There can be no such form of democracy where some groups or individuals can vote to destroy other groups or individuals. There can be no fairness as long as some people are only a resource to be exploited by other people, and as long as envy of those who have earned and produced more, and thus have greater rewards and riches, are seen as exploiters and bad guys rather than the benefactors of the rest of the world. Envy is the root of all evil. It leads to greed (not to be confused with ethical ambition of achievement) and deceit, tyranny and aggression, expropriation and death.

    We must rethink our beliefs and end violence against others in all its forms.

    • Thank you for your comments Margaret and memehunter. I agree that our beliefs and behaviour are deeply connected. I think that there is also a lot of evidence to suggest that our beliefs and behaviours depend critically on the context within which we grow up and live our daily lives. Just think back a few centuries, when poverty was almost universal, life expectancy was low, and disease and early death were the norm. States then also lacked the resources to enforce the rule of law. As a result, violence was much higher, slavery was widely accepted as the norm, and women were dismissed as inferior to men.
      If we fast forward to today, in many rich countries the context has changed enormously and so too have the beliefs of the majority. The dire conditions that prevailed centuries ago however can still be found in many parts of the world – particularly in the poorest nations. Because of the context and the absence of effective systems of law enforcement, many beliefs – of women’s inferiority for example – and practices – such as widespread exploitation of the poorest people – persist.
      I’d be interested in your views, but I think human nature for most of the human race is variable and highly dependent on the context we develop within. If we are to change human behaviour for the better we must also change the world in which we live.

  3. Humanity is no individual possessing a specific psychology of its own. One can’t analyze, therefore, if human psychology is capable of ensuring a fairer world or not. In fact, issues and conflicts arise only because there are 7 billion people each having their specific needs, desires and beliefs.

    Coming to some particulars, it is the liberal democracy of the West that waged war against Iraq for no appreciable reason and thus provoked the formation of ISIS. Imitation of western democracy yields very little fruit in underdeveloped countries for the very idea legitimizes existing nation states and their borders — ensures the security and wealth of rich nations while encouraging trade and commerce across borders with the singular objective and demonstrable result of obstructing prosperity for the poor and inflating the riches of the rich.

    True democracy implies citizens electing world-wide leaders who in turn will be forced to deliver high taxation of the rich and redistribution of the same to the poor, till the time the poor manage to give proper education and health care to their children.

    This wouldn’t happen unless there is some kind of new development such as the abrupt new discoveries of the workings of the material world seen in the last few centuries. Whatever economic benefit and resources possible with these technological discoveries have already been garnered by a few sections of people. So let’s wait for some other new breakthroughs to happen.

    Without anything of the kind happening Millennium Development Goals can only be sweet-nothings.

  4. Hi Ian,

    It is a very interesting question indeed. However, I would argue that it is probably better to reframe the question in a different way to gain a better understanding of the nature of this problem.
    To be able to discuss this question effectively, we have to figure out what would be the desirable human psychology in order to achieve a fairer world? From the perspective of social psychology, we can probably discuss notions in social psychology such as social group conflicts, prejudice, heresterotypes etc. From the perspective of cognitive psychology, we can probably discuss how the perception of fairness, moral aspects of fairness etc. As you have probably noticed, the minute you make this question formal, you start to become distant from a simple, straightforward answer. Furthermore, even when we have all reached a consensus on what would the desirable human psychology, the actual influence of this might be very small.

    From the perspectives of both traditional Chinese culture and the ideas from Buddhism, it is considered that human psychology are innately flawed and our wisdom is insufficient to see this. Therefore, we need to constantly monitor our tiniest ideas and desires to gain real insights of ourselves and others. The method to achieve including the well-known meditation. Furthermore, to build a better society, each of us in the society need to make an effort, not just in terms of helping others, but also in terms of constant self-monitoring and self-discipline to be a living example for others. Essentially, this is the essence of Chinese culture. In other words, “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

    To summarize, I think that we are innately flawed psychologically. However, if every individual makes a real effort to perfect themselves (by adopting Confucius and Budda’s approaches), the world would be much a much fairer place.

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