Creating a better society is a difficult undertaking. For thousands of years, thousands of idealists have attempted to improve society at large in thousands of ways. In established societies, every one of these efforts has either ended in failure, or, sometimes, partial, gradual success. Optimists say that it is inevitable that society will improve in every way for the better, but that such things take time, which is why the record of human progress is so unimpressive. A realist might say that it is by no means guaranteed that society will improve for the better. Some societies, as in the famous case of the Roman Empire, go into decline and become worse and worse until they simply collapse or are destroyed. There are some signs that modern industrialized society in this age of information is improving in some respects. Racial conflicts, though still an issue, have been resolved to a greater degree than ever before. Gay rights issues have been advanced to a surprising degree in recent years. And religious tolerance, though it has recently taken a step back in the form of escalating conflicts between some militant orthodox groups and some more secular and liberal social groups around the world, is still relatively high in comparison with some other eras of human history, at least in countries whose societies have managed to advance past the middle ages.
On the other hand, there are some constant, enduring problems throughout the world’s industrialized societies that seem not to be improving and may even in many respects be getting worse. The first and most difficult and enduring of these is the dominance of powerful economic interests who put their desire for money far ahead of their consideration for the common good. Many of these interests have no reservations whatsoever about destroying nature and the environment to the last possible degree in pursuit of profit. They attempt to justify this by pointing out that their efforts make them rich and create jobs for others, even though a very high number of those jobs increasingly pay poorly, and are increasingly performed in undeveloped countries under dangerous and exhausting conditions for wages that are just above the level of slavery. What the corporate leaders who control these economic interests care about is not humanity or the greater good, but their own self-serving, egotistical, status seeking, and materialistic ways. They essentially believe in a sort of social law of the jungle, where the strong and clever should triumph and be rewarded with power, status, and money and those not as strong or clever should be doomed to suffer a lesser fate.
The desire to dominate can be a powerful sort of atavistic desire. Amongst animals that live in groups, it often emerges in a natural way. Packs of wolves have their “alpha” status males and females. Gorillas have their “silverback” leaders. Even fish and reptiles compete and fight with their own kind for dominance in group settings. And, though a human instinct for such things can be seen in settings such as playgrounds where children bully each other, show off, and compete for a place in the social pecking order, it needs to be seen and recognized that, in human beings, these instincts are lower instincts, and that they can and should be set aside. Animals may act in accordance with a certain instinctive nature, but the behavior of human beings can be informed and educated, and molded into a higher and more educated way of cooperation, informed by intelligence and principle, where the strong do not bully and exploit the weak, but cooperation and preservation of the greater good become values that replace the desire for dominance. This can only happen where people do as Jesus taught, and do their best to be loving toward others, and are honest about what kind of behaviors are not acceptable amongst people who try to make a real effort to lovingly serve the greater good. To build huge personal kingdoms on earth and lord status and possessions over the rest of society in the self-indulgent and show-offish way that many rich and famous people do as a matter of course is an unloving, unchristian practice that does not reflect consideration for the greater good, regardless of the false and hollow arguments that some people use to defend such behaviors. Such behaviors reflect only the desire to inflate ego through personal feelings of domination, and a low mindset of callous and indifferent selfishness and self-satisfaction.
The modern economic world, unfortunately, is often controlled by those who have not advanced beyond the childish values of the schoolyard where dominance, bullying, and showing off pervade. Of course, not all people who are in business think in purely selfish terms. Many would like to do things in a way that considers the greater good to a greater degree. The problem is that these businesses have increasingly been put out of business in recent years by huge conglomerates that do business in the most greedy, least ethical way. It costs more to pay employees a living wage, buy supplies from ethical suppliers, obey laws, and try to do business in a way that reflects some level of consideration for common decency. And because the consuming public tends to be apathetic and ignorant, and prefers to buy what is cheapest or most stylish rather than what is sold and produced in an ethical manner, ethical businesses have tended to fail more and more in recent years as unethical businesses have found more and more ways to circumvent and violate the laws put in place by society for the purpose of protecting the greater good. There is no more delusional belief in the world than the belief that the “Free Markets” are some sort of wonderful haven of goodness in the world, or that they will somehow uplift humanity as long as they are left to function without interference. Anyone who looks at things realistically can see that as plainly as the sun in the sky. Some people persist in childish delusions to the contrary, because it serves their selfish interests to pretend that day is night and night is day.
In the industrialized republics, there are always political voices working to curb the destructive policies of exploitive and greedy business interests. Sometimes, these progressive interests achieve some seemingly impressive political victories. But recent times have shown that these victories are often only temporary. The forces of great wealth and greed, though smaller in number than the general populace, have several advantages in a competitive, adversarial political system. One is that they have a great deal of money, and money is a form of power that they use to buy political influence in a way that is far out of proportion to their numbers or what their rights ought to be in systems of government that are supposed to be “of the People”. Another is that they tend to be highly unethical, and unethical, cheating competitive practices very often defeat opponents who play by the rules. The greatest advantage that the forces of greed possess, however, is, again, the ignorance and apathy of much of the general public, the people who fail to see or seek the greater good and imagine that the ignorant ways of the past are good enough. The general public could ask for and receive far better, wiser, and more ethical leadership, and public policies that truly serve the greater good instead of the interests of the wealthy few, but they do not get these things because far too many people do not see the need for them, do not care enough to ask for them, and do not really even know what kind of social policies serve the greater good.
There are no easy ways to see the common good better served in such circumstances. During the past century, left wing interests seized power in a number of places in the world. In an attempt to liberate the many from exploitation by the few, they imposed various systems of communism upon entire nations. But the ways of communism failed. They failed because small cabals attempted to force them upon large groups of people who did not understand them and were not ready for them. The cabals ended up resorting to repressive and often exploitive ways that made them resemble the selfish, unethical, and exploitive rulers that they had overthrown. The people at large became hostile or indifferent to these kinds of communist systems, and justifiably so. Without society at large making an effort to support these corrupt systems, communism collapsed on itself.
Here in the 21st century, capitalism has essentially conquered the developed world, and as it becomes the global system, checks on the power of capitalism such as labor unions are becoming weaker, and laws and regulatory government organizations are being systematically undermined. There are those who claim that this worldwide trend toward “globalization” will eventually bring universal prosperity to the entire world. The evidence clearly does not support this claim. It says the opposite. Here in the present day United States, the world’s most powerful economic interest and a supposed model and haven for “prosperity”, one in every four children now lives in poverty, and one in every four workers now makes less than $10 an hour. The working classes are now less well off than they were fifty years ago, not more so. The rich, however, are getting richer. The richest two percent of the population now has more wealth than the entire poorest fifty percent combined. Globalization is not working for the great majority. Those who defend the system say that everyone should be willing to start at the bottom and work their way up in a system of competition. But it makes far more ethical sense to have a system where everything, from the beginning, is based on a balanced consideration of what every member of society needs. The purpose of money should be to provide the basic needs of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter, with a little left over for some form of entertainment. There is no real ethical justification for a small group of individuals grabbing up thousands of times more money than what they need so that they can put things that they do not need on display to show others how wonderful they are. And such stupidities and inequities are not “the price that we have to pay for living in a ‘free’ society”. Nor does placing restrictions on such things turn the society that one lives in into a “totalitarian state”. Every society that has ever existed has placed restrictions on the behavior of its citizens. These restrictions are known as laws, and they reflect the higher understanding that certain behaviors that damage the overall public interest should be restricted in the name of the greater good. The social structure provides benefits to its citizens, and it has the right to ask for some restrictions on behavior in exchange for those benefits. No society has ever had absolute freedom. That would be anarchy, which is the same as having no social structure at all. Just as criminals must be restricted by laws from preying on the weak, capitalists should be restricted by laws from taking far more than what they need and treating everyone and everything else with the basest inconsideration. The correct way to structure society and its laws is to balance individual freedom with restrictions on behavior in the form of laws. As with every other consideration in life, the failure to strike a balance is eventually suicidal.
How can the problems of modern society be overcome in this present day setting? The most obvious answer is for the consciousness and values of the individuals that make up society to be raised. When this happens, government will naturally follow. But there is no way to force such a process, and the process is slow, while the destruction caused by naked greed and inconsideration for the greater good seems to move faster and faster and become greater and greater all the time. There are some alternative solutions to the problem worth considering. One solution that is worth considering is the formation of small societies that are committed to living in accordance with ethical values that serve the greater good. The individuals that make up such groups must be committed, from the beginning, to living in an ethical way, and must accordingly be willing to sacrifice the more childish values of competition, greed, and status-seeking. While groups that remain connected to the mainstream economic system can do this to a degree, it is possible, though more difficult, for groups to create their own systems for producing and procuring food, clothing, and shelter. By becoming independent of the mainstream economic system, social groups can become immune to the corrupting economic influences typical of modern industrialized society, where people unthinkingly do various forms of damage to the environment and the greater good ever day simply by buying things that are produced by unethical means. Groups such as the first Christians, who were also the world’s first communists according to historians, have actually successfully created alternative societies in a number of settings throughout the history of the world. When collective systems are implemented on a small scale by and for those who have a strong desire to make them work for ethical or religious reasons, such systems have been proven to work for as long as their members stay committed to making them work.
There are difficulties with attempting to implement such systems. Sacrifices must be made. Some conveniences, such as the latest mobile phones and other gadgets, may not be readily obtainable or sustainable in such settings. If such sub-societies produce all their own food, clothing and shelter, these products may have to be less sophisticated than what is available in more complex, specialized societies. Creating a system of industrial cooperatives that trade with one another to produce different, various goods is one alternative that has been suggested to creating a number of small societies that produce everything for themselves. In a system of connected cooperatives, the goods produced could be modernized to a greater degree, and day-to-day life would not have to return to the ways of working the land for sustenance. More people would likely be willing to participate in such a system, as it could be made to be something closer to modern industrialized society than a small collective that has to produce everything for itself. But this model also presents problems and challenges of its own, as all social structures do. To even begin the process, land, some infrastructure, intelligent leadership, and a group of people committed to the process have to come together. As in all human settings, such problems can only be addressed by a combination of strong effort, good will, and intelligence.
If society is to become better, and reflect higher values and a higher consciousness as time passes, attention will have to be paid to the creation of systems where the ambitious few are prevented from attempting to dominate and exploit society at large. Such problems will have to be addressed in a creative manner. To simply expect and wait for them to go away on their own soon is a mindset that seems tempting, but it is also a mindset that is almost certainly unrealistic.