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.
We can improve our understanding through talking with one another - by talking about our ideas so they can be shared and improved, and by telling our stories so the ideas can be grounded in the real world. When talking about ideas, there are two big dangers: on the one hand we can be too pragmatic; on the other, we can be too idealistic.
- Unity. At the one extreme, people believe in a united world, with everybody in perfect harmony. In this vision, everyone works together, all for a single purpose, and disagreement is not allowed; the world is a carefully regulated society, in which each person plays the part which the whole society requires of them.
- Division. At the other extreme, people believe in a divided world, with everybody in conflict. In this vision, we work together for temporary, selfish reasons, because we must; the world is a jungle, 'red in tooth and claw'; in the end it is 'every man for himself'.
- 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.
The same basic choices face us when we attempt to describe what we are aiming for.
- At the one extreme, people attempt to describe a perfect society.
- At the other extreme, people settle for simply fixing the worst consequences of our current system.
- Our vision is of a middle way: to address not only the injustices and failings produced by the present system, but also the structural problems which create those injustices and failings.
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. 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 most people or for the environment.
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 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 - we certainly don't want to live in the 'perfect' societies of Plato's Republic or Moore's Utopia. 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 taken into account and perhaps countered.