My interest in how societies might advance to higher plateaus of citizen achievement and “happiness”, began prior to my acceptance into graduate school. Experiences in the business world for a short time before then, made me abundantly aware of social inequities, discrimination and unjust and unfair practices. The property management industry and the residential insurance industry were my introductions to the world of marketing and finance. It didn’t take me very long to begin to see inherent endemic injustices and to conclude that many social problems had their origins in an economic system that strongly favored the class already holding the reigns of power to the detriment of those who had little, if any, say so. It became clear to me that the rules of society were designed to benefit those who were powerful and influential. Those in positions of authority were able to continue in that role because they designed a system to keep them there at the same time preventing most everyone else from penetrating their circles of influence.
We have been a disposable society for the last hundred or so yrs. Other developed countries have been much more environmentally responsible by recycling their organic waste as a matter of consistent practice. We, here in the US, have, for the most part, only quite recently found that practice to be an effective resource for gardening and a way to lighten our waste load, except of course, for visionaries like Helen and Scott Nearing who had espoused the benefits of organic gardening since the early 1900’s. Of course, they were also socialists as were most of their intellectual contemporaries. It’s interesting how much of their thinking was tied to compassion and respect and a responsibility to cure injustices. The modern environmental movement is largely based on the sense that we are responsible for how the planet is used and we are intent on making sure it’s not further exploited. The same motivation is tied to how we should be seeing after the needs of our fellow citizens. There is a definitive connection between how we feel about environmental injustice and our outrage over human rights abuse.
The “greatest good for the greatest number” should be our gold standard (not ever reached, but certainly attainable in our society), and, of course, we’re left w/ the question “How in the hell do we get there?” Since “greatest number” is an expression of democracy, we move toward providing ALL basic needs and ALL human rights to those who do not currently enjoy them. The masses being deprived of human dignity by those who knowingly and unknowingly, exploit them, have the moral obligation to insist on their rightful position. The few who gain wealth off the sweat of the many and the limited planetary resources, are guilty of perpetuating the status quo for their own greedy purposes. Their motivations are vastly out of scale while the deprived are unable to meet their minimal obligations to themselves and their loved ones.
Self interest is ultimately self-destructive. Our strengths are in community, the sharing of resources and the compassion we have for the earth and all its inhabitants. Planetary healing is largely dependent on economic democracy. Hunger, homelessness, disease and hopelessness are ultimately environmental problems. If we are unable to insure the health and welfare of our citizens, how can we possibly begin to meet long range goals of clean air, water and soil ? Addressing social problems and satisfying human needs must be a major part of our vision toward healing the planet. Being an environmentalist is NOT a selfish endeavor. We are environmentalists for a greater cause than our own individual concerns. The betterment of the whole is the overriding issue not just what we may personally gain from our goal. As such, our goal is beneficial to all and has planetary consequences. A healthy planet occupied by healthy and protected citizens is the end game.
Social, economic and environmental justice are all part of the same package that can define our lives and prescribe what we want the world to look like. Because the DEscription at times, seems far away from the PREscription, we can get discouraged, depressed, overwhelmed and under-motivated. Social activists now see the connection between their causes and fighting for a clean environment. Environmental racism and classism have clearly shown that battling for human dignity is additionally about environmental quality. Progressive groups have been forming alliances to address their respective issues and we are now seeing organizations with varying agendas, speak out on issues other than those they originally intended to influence. Our alliances will be of tremendous value in these reactionary times. We are not without the potential for influencing the world for the sake of the world.
I’d recently been in contact with the Greater Good Science Center out of Berkeley, CA doing research on compassionate living. It turns out that “happiness” is strongly related to being compassionate – that the most satisfied people are also the most compassionate in how they deal with the world on a daily basis. For me this calls to mind the research of Abraham Maslow and the concept of self-actualization and that of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Apparently, the more compassionate you are, the more self-actualized you are and therefore the “happier” you are in terms of life fulfillment. Kohlberg’s highest level of moral development includes compassion and a sense of what is necessary to reach “greatest good for greatest number”. “Happiness” and contentment with our lives is, therefore a product of living compassionately. We are not compassionate because we want to be happy. We are happy because we are first and foremost compassionate. Interestingly, there are ways to actually become more compassionate and couldn’t we all use more of that in our lives?
The Eco-topia we strive to achieve has, as a primary component, the respect for human dignity and the social mechanism for ALL citizens to live healthy and productive lives. We at Terra Advocati believe that cooperative, community based systems are what is needed to achieve environmental quality and social equality. With alliance building, perseverance and a dedication to a compassionate lifestyle, the vision will become the reality.
We are Terra Advocati and we welcome your compassionate participation in creating a world our progeny will thank us for helping to create.