I had a rude awakening a few weeks ago. It probably started some time during the last school year, but it came to a head a few weeks ago. The reality of, what I considered at the time, to be a bleak future sunk in and it was like a huge Linus cloud decided to rain all over my parade. I decided to go to school to learn how to be an effective leader to help our civilization become sustainable, just, equitable, fair and all the other normative and evaluative qualities necessary to ensure not only survival of our species, but a good quality of life as well. Therein lays the issue because in order to figure a way out of the injustices that our civilization suffers, one must first understand those injustices. It makes no sense to attempt to address a problem before the problem is fully understood because then more problems are likely to be created in the process. At least that is the logic behind why I decided to major in both History and Philosophy.
As I began to learn about all of the injustices that are currently occurring to people all over the planet and even to the planet itself, which in turn visits injustice upon the marginalized communities or our planet, but then I also see this pattern repeatedly played out throughout history. Concomitantly, I also discover the stories of several figures who have attempted to inform many leaders and populations throughout time of the dire consequences of particular policies to little avail. Sure, they may have had some success; African Americans are no longer slaves and Women have earned the right to vote in most societies. These examples are particularly acute and salient being an African American male in the United States. However, by simply grazing through one introduction a person can become acquainted with a new form of Jim Crow and legalized slavery that reveals that African Americans are still not truly free of the oppressive nature of the system, but rather, that it has only taken on another form. Just as important, while women can vote, they are still treated as second class citizens and are consistently paid only 3/4 that of men, even when they do the same jobs, in the same companies, have comparable educations and levels of outputs; the only difference is their genders. So, while on the surface it appears that success have been made in terms of justice, the situation is really just rearranged to limit power in some other less obvious manner and people are still oppressed and suppressed and thus, suffer from injustice.
In the past, when a society or civilization was facing similar crises, the collapse of their system, it did not also include the collapse of every civilization on the planet, and possible the destruction of the planet itself. This is not the case in the world we live in today with the set of circumstances that we are currently confronting. Yet, instead of the people coming together to address the problems we are pulling further apart from one another, stratifying and polarizing our societies both internally and between societies themselves. This is only exacerbating the problems and factors that led to the crises in the first place. I am referring specifically to the competition for the acquisition and control of limited resources and land, wherein this competition is driving a wedge between those with access and control of resources and those without. This is of course completely consistent with the ideology of conquest and by corollary, capitalism. However, this is inconsistent with any theory of justice unless one can somehow manage to make the successful claim that the powerful controlling the resources is somehow for the benefit of those who are not in control of the resources. For this claim to be substantiated though, it would have to be shown that the people who are not in control of the resources are actually being benefitted, and the evidence shows that it is quite the contrary. Poverty and famines are rampant throughout the non-industrial regions of the world, the wars fought for the control of these resources continue to murder thousands of innocent people, and those who stand in opposition to this system are systematically silenced and in some extreme cases are removed.
To make matters even worse, the environment we depend on for our survival is being damaged to the point that it is about to cross the threshold of repair. This means, that even if somehow we as a civilization we able to cease all our wars, provide food for all those who need it and to redistribute the wealth into a manner that is more equitable, that if the practices we currently employ in terms of production are not changed, that we will still perish. This drastic change requires that the way of life and standard of living that most of the industrialized and post-industrialized regions of the planet will be irrevocably altered, and most likely decreased. This proposition in itself is contradictory to human nature, at least as we understand because it means that people will have to make an active choice to harm themselves or alternatively, that a governmental institution imposes these alterations on them. In either case, this will prove to be problematic.
On the one hand, people tend to act in their own immediate self-interests. This is especially the case in industrial and post-industrial societies and is extreme in the United States where people tend not to be socialized to sacrifice of themselves for the greater good. For most people it is almost nearly impossible to submit to a diminished existence today for a better future for their children. They can however, save money today, or suffer through a college education for the hope of their own future benefit, so it must be possible for people to do this for future generations, but as yet, we have not witnessed this occur on a massive enough scale to make a difference in the course that our civilization is on. It seems that the problem lays in the situation that has been set up, that people can stay off the immediate benefit for their own future benefit, but once they are no longer the one receiving the benefit a road block is encountered and the suffering of future generations is discounted. Thus, it does not seem likely that this level of change will occur voluntarily unless something very paramount occurs to encourage people to institute this type of move on their own or it is somehow made to benefit them in the near future.
On the other hand, though governments do have the power to impose such a dramatic change in the lives of the people that they govern, but not only would this be political suicide for any pundit that proposes it, but we would likely experience a global civil war. The justification for these claims follows directly from the previous discussion of self-interests. When the people see that their self-interests are not being served and their own existence is being discounted for future generations civil unrest will emerge. If the people have the power to impeach, then this is the likely outcome, which will subsequently be followed a repeal of any enactment the former government instituted. If they do not have the power to impeach, then the most likely outcome is an internal implosion as civil war erupts. If this outcome seems to be overstating the point and reaching beyond the premises, then all one has to do is acknowledge that the corporations, who are the ones controlling the resources and land are also in control of vast mercenary armies. Once this is acknowledged, then it will become apparent that if their claim to control of those resources is subverted that they will be the ones following their ideological bend and leading the revolt.
In either case, it is certain that there is an uphill battle when we are addressing the environmental crises that we are confronting as a civilization. It is a fact that the planet is warming and it is also a fact that much of the warming is human caused. This means that our cumulative use of fossil fuel and coal and nuclear power because of our civilization’s dependency on energy to function at a consistent standard of living is destroying the planet. It is at the very least, destroying the conditions that make life for humans, and creatures like humans possible. There are many options on the table that address many of the issues which have already been mentioned, but nonetheless, the harm that is requisite cannot be fully overcome, so there is pushback against any of it. Yet, while there is inaction because those in industrial and post-industrial societies do not want to manage a reduced standard of living for a period of time, those who are not privileged enough to live in those societies are suffering today. It also means, that as the polar icecaps melt because the planet is warming that the oceans will continue to rise and many of the coastal and island regions will soon be uninhabitable.
Many of these island regions are home to marginalized groups of people and as such do not have the resources necessary to defend themselves. This alone reveals that the actions of those in control of the resources are not managing the system so as to provide benefit to those not in control of the resource. Furthermore, it reveals that a harm is being done to these marginalized groups of people, so those, myself included, are blameworthy and responsible for this harm; however, unintended it may be claimed to be.
Nothing about these circumstances is consistent with utilitarianism, libertarianism, virtue ethics, deontology or any moral framework that I have thus far encountered. Utilitarianism is all about the Greatest Happiness Principle and provided the maximum benefit to the majority. However, the actions of the many now are making harm for the many in the future and that is something that is inconsistent with the calculus. Libertarianism is all about self-interests, but only insofar as no harm is being done. However, are harm is clearly being done now and will continue to escalate if our behaviors do not change. In virtue ethics, what is proposed is to considered what the virtuous person would do given the constraints of any particular situation in accordance with the flourishing of the human society. However, as I have clearly identified, the actions of our civilization are contradictory to the flourishing of our society. And lastly, deontology is focused on rules and the only rule that is necessary to point to is that it is wrong to cause unjust harm. That of itself reveals a contradiction and makes the behaviors of this civilization inconsistent with the moral framework. But, furthermore it also suggests that people should not be used as mere means, and if we are subjecting not only the marginalized groups of people today but also future generations to harm for our own personal benefit, then this also make the actions inconsistent with deontological constraints. Thus, in consideration of any moral constraints, the behaviors of our civilization are immoral, and as such are unjust.
Thus, we come back to the Linus cloud that hovered above my head pouring down onto my soul threatening to smite my fire. I began to think that what I am learning and the path that I have identified is correct for my life is pointless. I forgot that the logic of the plan is to first, understand the situation before I begin to devise a solution to the problems, so that we do not create unintended problems in the process. Well, I am learning about the problems we are currently confronting, as well as, the problems that we face attempting to solve the original set of problems. Although, addressing the concerns of the future does seem bleak, it is not without hope. The most important thing that I or anyone else can do right now is to inform ourselves and to inform those around us about the reality of our circumstances. Then and only then, can we devise a plan of action together because it will require all of us to address these problems. Only together can we make this world more sustainable, just, equitable, fair and all the other normative and evaluative qualities necessary to ensure not only the survival of our species, but a good quality of life for everyone and all the species we share this planet with
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