There is so much strife in the world today. Sixty-five million people are refugees and looking for a better place where they could bring up their children in safety. The refugees often assume the nations of the European Union are shining examples of a “humane” society.
I wonder where they got that idea from? We, in the West, believe that the Western nations have indeed achieved a high level of human existence. We convinced ourselves, that since the end of the 18th Century, and the birth of the Enlightenment, we had turned the corner to a better world populated by enlightened people. We thought we had become more humane.
The educational reforms following the Enlightenment produced a better-educated populace. Research and inventions pushed us progressively towards a capitalist society in which the majority of people were indeed better off in the material sense. But the seeming progress also brought extreme poverty in its wake. Henry George wrote about the reasons behind this development in his Progress and Poverty.
The rise of capitalism brought us two terrible world wars and we still live in the aftermath of those wars. That there is something wrong with Capitalism was recognised by a group of people who were members of the so-called “Frankfurt School“. Capitalism is not interested in a humane society. Its interests lay in making a profit in the shortest of time possible. Never mind the victims of this system. Exploitation does not lend itself to “humane” behaviour. The two world wars and the ideologies espoused by some societies surely put an end to the notion of a humane society.
Seventy-one years after the end of World War II we can see the inhumane behaviour of our fellow men in action all over the world. In the Middle East, every group attacks any other group with a ferocity that reminds us of the Middle Ages.
Nevertheless, people all over the world are still dreaming of a better, peaceful world in which they can expect humane behaviour. But we are still waiting for such a humane society.
Can we ever hope to achieve a humane society, where love and kindness rules?
The reality of the present is always against such a hope. The reality of the present demands struggle. And as we struggle we alienate others and therefore create the conditions for future struggles.
We struggle because of our pessimistic view of our future. This view is the result of our fears. Our imagination regarding the future has two sides: a positive one, hope and a negative one, fear. Fear is a more instinctive emotion. Hope is an act of faith and not so easily achieved.
The people with a negative view of the future will build barriers, physical or psychological. For some people, it pays to nourish and spread fear and keep the masses bound to the grindstone of debt and consumption.
A humane society would be a simpler one than the one we have now, that is for sure. Perhaps we would have to throw out the smartphones first. We are addicted to the modern world of gadgets and apps. We are hooked on technology and are not a humane society. While we look at the flickering screen of our smartphone we don’t even notice the person next to us. A recent power blackout in South Australia, due to a massive storm, started a political discussion along party lines because someone has to be blamed.
We lock up people in detention centres when they flee to our shores because life in their own societies became intolerable, partly because of our actions and interferences.
All this shows that our “humane” behaviour is just a thin veneer covering our inhumane capacity for greed and domination of others.
No, we are not a humane society. Not yet by any means.