The fetish of exaggerated individualism is driving us to extinction
“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” — (Gleanings from the writings of Baha’u’llah CXXXI)
I have been watching in terror as reports from those who study our world’s land based and ocean ecosystems, have grown increasingly dire in their warnings. Yet the world seems to blithely go on its way in a fossil fuel drunken haze. Recently this situation has been effectively summed up in this CNN presentation:
The extinction crisis is far worse than you think
Frogs, coral, elephants -- all are on the brink. Three quarters of species could disappear. Why is this happening? CNN…
The natural and unnatural problems which seem to be coming to a head are traceable to the manifest truth of Baha’u’llah’s statement made over 150 years ago. Only now I am afraid it's not just the “peace and security” that is at stake, it's our very survival as species. According to the current rate of environmental degradation it would seem that human beings have about 10–20 years to address this before it is too late. In all our deliberations about climate change, and the rapid wholesale destruction of the habitat for our very existence, what seems neglected is the fact that all these issues require very complex and collective action of all humans on this planet to resolve. Relying on periodically negotiated international agreements while a good thing, is just not sufficient.
The fetish of exaggerated individualism is driving us to extinction. We in the United States seem to be in the vanguard of advocates for this type of atomization of humanity. We see this embodied in our overly compartmentalized suburban living spaces, social life and automobile centric transportation systems. This is also expressed in our growing rejection of all privileged viewpoints. So for example, conclusions drawn from a large scientific consensus are rejected as ‘elitist’ conspiracies upon which outright lies and quackery are permitted to cast doubt.
The ideal of ‘rugged’ individualism resonates deeply in the American psyche. The notion of the self-sufficient homesteader, the iconoclast who challenges the establishment is part of how Americana is defined. It is part of what has driven American antipathy towards internationalism, from George Washington’s famous admonition against foreign entanglements to the rejection of the League of Nations and post World War I isolationism.
We only acceded to internationalism during and after World War II, as a justified crusade against what was seen as the threat of exaggerated communalism embodied in Fascism and later Communist internationalism. The end of the cold war brought the ideal of American exceptionalism, we wanted the rule of law for other nations but not ourselves. This manifested itself in the visions of a Pax-Americana given by the Project for a New American Century. The upshot of course, easily predictable, was that none of the other great world powers saw fit to abide by the rule of law either, thus destabilizing global affairs.
However time is running out very fast. The earth cannot sustain humanity’s protracted adolescences any longer. We have to grow up and now or we are dead. Shoghi Effendi the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, presciently observed over a generation ago, “The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 202)
The fetish of absolute national sovereignty, in lieu of a global rule of law threatens humanity’s existence. There is the obvious problem of international anarchy and its ultimate fruit of war, which the unfettered autonomy of nation states bring. However in addition to this, is the problems of gross economic disparity and the distortion of natural resource utilization and pollution. So the fact of globalized movement of goods and capital without the globalized movement of labor or the rule of uniform labor and environmental laws has destroyed or stagnated the growth of the politically stabilizing middle class while permitting the growth of absurd amounts of wealth by a very small privileged global class. Judging by the timing of the disconnect between productivity and real wage compensation and the onset of relative exponential growth in CEO compensation (see fig. 1 and 2), one can estimate that this probably occurred by about the mid 1970’s.
Additionally this shift has led to the offshoring of pollution. So we find an attendant massive shift in environmental costs from the developed countries. This is epitomized by the current share of global mercury production (see fig 3). I find it ironic that the labor movement in the US has been so effectively scapegoated for the collapse of manufacturing jobs, that even those who directly benefited from this movement, have been persuaded to vilify it. The labor movement’s corruption and ‘greediness’ have been blamed for job losses and the destruction of the US manufacturing base. They are held up as responsible for destroying US competitiveness against what amounts to off shore slave labor and environmental pillage. The result of this intellectual dissonance is that even those whose very economic survival depends on the power of collective action have become the most vocal advocates for the extreme atomization of human affairs.
It should be obvious that one of the important competitive advantages of the human species, is our ability for collective action and unity. On this basis successive stages of civilization have been built. However we are at a state of technology and population density that a single coherent global civilization with its attendant mechanisms for global governance are in dire need of being established. Otherwise our proliferating existence on this planet will operate more like an incoherent malignant virus or cancer which will ultimately kill its host and itself in the process. What is needed is a kind of global governance articulated so clearly over 30 years ago in the Promise of World Peace statement, issued by the institution which itself was established by the pen of Baha’u’llah.
For a more measured analysis of some of these issues, also see the statement of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015: Shared Vision, Shared Volition: Choosing Our Global Future Together