Today in our deeply troubled world  several problems have reached a situation where the basic life-nurturing conditions of our planet are threatened. These include serious environmental problems like climate change and the accumulation and the race for weapons of mass destruction. In addition there are the long-persisting problems of injustice, inequality and exploitation which are  perhaps the most common cause of distress for hundreds of millions of people. Crime and violence , (more generally oppressive relationships), including violence against women and children, are another cause of massive distress in daily life. The distress suffered by life-forms other than human beings– mammals,  birds or others—appears to be even much higher than that suffered by human beings.

Efforts are being made all the time with increasing levels of supposed expertise and sophistication to find solutions to all these problems, but the net result overall at world level appears to be that all these problems have been increasing, although sometimes these may take a different form as a result of the solutions sought. Certainly it is true of some of the most serious problems mentioned above that the overall trend seems to be increasing. It is even more obvious for many life-forms other than human beings that the threats to their life and the distress caused to them has been increasing.

Why are some of the most serious problems as well as the threats and distress associated with them increasing despite all the expertise of increasing sophistication applied at ever-higher levels for finding solutions for them and the availability of huge sums of money for this?

One important reason is that various problems are seen in isolation from each other and  narrow, reductionist solutions are suggested for each problem by experts who are so specialized that they can not or do not see the bigger picture beyond their narrow specialization. Hence efforts to check climate change become almost entirely centered on technologies  for reducing GHG emissions. Efforts for reducing risks of weapons of mass destruction are centered almost entirely on international treaties, or on certain important technical factors needed for checking accidents or accidental use. The response of exploitation of workers is seen in better laws to protect labor. The solution to very horribly shameful crimes against women is seen in more stringent punishments for this.

All these responses make a lot of sense to most people at first glance and hence attract a lot of support. But all this has been tried out for long years now without leading to any significant improvement. So clearly something very important is being left out in these and other similar responses. Of course it is self-evident that reduction of GHG emissions is crucial for checking climate change, but beyond stating such obvious facts, in the context of this and other serious problems, what is being left out and neglected?

While all these problems of climate change, weapons of mass destruction, exploitation and injustice , many kinds of serious crime,  violence against women and children ( in particular) appear at first glance to be very different from each other and are certainly treated as such, at another level all these are rooted in high distorted value systems widely prevalent in human societies. As long as these value systems are not challenged and changed, these problems will remain or intensify in some form or other. As long as highly distorted  values prevail to a dominating extent in human societies, these will be reflected in the form of very serious problems resulting in massive distress and threats.

It is a very commonly spread human value, for example, for a man to believe that the most important goal of his life is to try to acquire the most wealth, income, comforts and sensual pleasures for himself. A related value is that within his domain he should try to occupy the highest possible post or get the most fame. Not many persons may declare this very openly but the number of persons who act in accordance with this value is very high. The acceptance of this value is not discouraged in most important institutions of human life like family and school; in fact it is often encouraged in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Now once this value is deeply assimilated, it is only one step ahead for a man to convince himself that as arranging somehow the most wealth and pleasure is anyway the most precious concern of his life, he should not hesitate to use any wrong or unethical means to achieve his goal. If this involves tripping or harming a competitor in this highly competitive world, then this person feels he is quite justified in doing so. In any case  no-holds  barred competitiveness is quite commonly encouraged in educational institutions, including some of the most prestigious ones, as well as in the high-paying corporate sector increasingly seen as the most aspiring goal by youth.

It is only a logical step further to believe that in the pursuit of self-interests of money and pleasure, it is perfectly all right to harm others. This value when it reaches a large number of people in a society starts having very harmful social consequences. A person feels justified in inflicting a lot of harm on others if it is demanded by his high-paying job. Another person in a powerful position sees nothing wrong in inciting a quarrel between two groups if he feels he can benefit from this. A dominant person sees nothing wrong in encroaching a village pond despite knowing well that this will increase water scarcity for the entire village. Powerful persons start seeing even their close relationships only from the point of enhancing their own pleasure and self-interest, resulting ultimately in serious distortions causing much distress.

When persons with such distorted values become dominant in certain groups then the actions of entire groups become highly harmful . If such persons become dominant in a village or city then very harmful actions are taken at this level. If such persons not only increase to some extent but what may be more important also occupy very powerful positions  in a country then again at a country level very harmful actions are likely to emerge. The possibilities of such persons becoming more powerful and occupying more powerful positions is high as by the very nature of their thinking they are more used to and more proficient in pushing aside others by fair means or foul, more likely latter than former. In this way highly distorted values can become the dominant values of a society.

Distorted values and the associated never-ending greed, self-centered approach concentrating on material wealth and sensual pleasure, the associated values of trying to dominate and oppress others are a root cause of much of the distress, violence and ecological ruin of our world.

Now imagine if instead there is a very widespread value system based on welfare of all people and all forms of life and on protection of nature. In this value system reducing the distress of others, non-violence, honesty, mutual help and welfare of all get the most importance. In societies where such a value system is cherished and promoted with continuity, generally and at the level of most important institutions like family and school/college, it is likely that even without coercive laws exploitation,  oppression,  crimes,  weaponization and destruction of nature are likely to be at very low levels.

Hence it is clear that to find effective solutions for the biggest problems of our world at the base conducive value systems of justice, equality, peace, democracy and protection of nature and bio-diversity have to be created and nurtured with continuity and dedication.

Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements. Web-site



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