[Back to Challenges]

Responding to the Challenges

We can describe the basic challenge we face like this:

  • we seek to understand the world (including ourselves) better
  • so that we can work to make the world a better place (and to make us better people)
  • while we avoid the dangers posed by our proposed changes.

Talking With Each Other

We can improve our understanding through talking with one another:

  • by talking about our ideas so they can be shared and improved,
  • by telling our stories so the ideas can be grounded in the real world, and
  • by sharing our fears, so that others can understand the things which constrain us. 

When talking about possible solutions, we need to avoid the two big dangers: on the one hand we can be too idealistic; on the other, we can be too pragmatic.

  • An idealistic attempt to create unity.  At the one extreme, people try to produce a perfect society: they aim for a united world, where everybody functions in perfect harmony.  In this vision, everyone works together, all for a single purpose, and disagreement is not allowed; the world is carefully regulated, a place where each person plays the part which the whole society requires of them.
  • A pragmatic acceptance of division.  At the other extreme, people settle for simply fixing the worst consequences of our current system, which they see as a divided world where everybody in conflict. In this vision, we work together for temporary, selfish reasons, simply because we must; the world is a jungle, 'red in tooth and claw'; in the end it is 'every man for himself'.
  • A balanced recognition of diversity.  Our vision is of a middle way: one where difference does not lead to disagreement, nor variety lead to conflict.  We believe we can learn from and live with one another, without needing to agree with one another on every point.  We aim to address not only the injustices and failings produced by the present system, but also the structural problems which create those injustices and failings, as we seek to move towards a society which is better for everyone, and better for the planet.

Systems and Society

The problems we face are primarily seen in the systems we operate, rather than the people who operate them.

Yes, some people are bad - cruel, selfish and insensitive.  And most of us are selfish and insensitive at times.  But most of the problems which most of us face are not caused by bad people seeking to do bad things: they are caused by people who are mostly good, doing their best within systems which don't work (either for the majority of people or for the environment), people who are operating with a limited understanding and from a limited perspective (see What Makes the World Worse).

It is really hard to change these systems.  We struggle even to understand them: they are formed from laws and customs and culture, from our expectations and the physical environment we inherit and create, from habits and assumptions, from hopes, dreams, promises and commitments, from fear of the unknown and fear of strangers, from ignorance and confusion, and much else. 

There is no agreement about what a perfect society might look like - one person's dream is another person's nightmare, and few of us would like to live in the 'perfect' societies of Plato's Republic or Moore's Utopia.  It is much easier to create imaginary dystopias which repel most people.

On the other hand, there are clear structural problems within our society which harm people and damage the world, so as well as patching up the current problems, we can seek to make the structural problems less of a problem.  And maybe, if we can move in the direction of a more just and more sustainable society, we might find new people are able to contribute, and new possibilities can be found to address problems which seem beyond us at present.

And one thing seems clear: we will not succeed in solving our problems unless we learn to work together, with all our differences.  Everybody is needed; so please contribute your ideas and perspectives.  And those contributions need to include constructive criticism: we need to understand the downsides and disadvantages of the solutions being proposed, so those weaknesses can be addressed - or, at least, taken into account.