I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the bitter division in US politics and how the internet is making everyone an extremist. I can’t help but think civilization, in many ways, has all been here before.
When online, many people treat each other quite poorly – we label the “us” vs “them”, choose condemnation over collaboration, and mimc other’s negative behaviors into a collective death spiral.
What could make people act nicer? What has historically done so?
Our weakening institutions are of interest, especially institutionalized religion. I don’t believe people need religion to be good, but perhaps some people do need religion to default to good behavior. Perhaps the weekly jolt of indoctrination makes them habitually more likely to practice goodness.
The Golden Rule
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself.”
There are hundreds of variations – in essentially every religion in the world, the “Golden Rule” pops up early in its history. Perhaps we’ve all been here before.
Perhaps as the first tribes of people came into contact with others, their differences led them to amplify their division, create enemies, and promote destruction. And then, spread across the world in hundreds of different ways, maybe we learned.
Is the Golden Rule a “counter-algorithm” to mitigate our tribal weaknesses?
Declaration of a Global Ethic
While rabbit-holing around the rule’s origins, I came across the 1993 “Declaration of a Global Ethic” – a document espousing what we as individuals in society must do to heal and make progress.
It was a collaboration of 143 different religious leaders.
Here is a section I like in particular:
We are interdependent. Each of us depends on the well-being of the whole, and so we have respect for the community of living beings, for people, animals, and plants, and for the preservation of Earth, the air, water and soil. We take individual responsibility for all we do. All our decisions, actions, and failures to act have consequences.
We must treat others as we wish others to treat us. We make a commitment to respect life and dignity, individuality and diversity, so that every person is treated humanely, without exception. We must have patience and acceptance. We must be able to forgive, learning form the past but never allowing ourselves to be enslaved by memories of hate. Opening our hearts to one another, we must sink our narrow differences for the cause of world community, practicing a culture of solidarity and relatedness.
We consider humankind a family. We must strive to be kind and generous. We must not live for ourselves alone, but should also serve others, never forgetting the children, the aged, the poor, the suffering, the disabled, the refugees and the lonely. No person should ever be considered or treated as a second-class citizen, or be exploited in any way whatsoever. There should be equal partnership between men and women. We must not commit any kind of sexual immorality. We must put behind us all forms of domination or abuse.
We commit ourselves to a culture of non-violence, respect, justice, and peace. We shall not oppress, injure, torture, or kill other human beings, forsaking violence as a means of settling differences.
We must strive for a just social and economic order, in which everyone has an equal chance to reach full potential as a human being. We must speak and act truthfully and with compassion, dealing fairly with all, and avoiding prejudice and hatred. We must not steal. We must move beyond the dominance of greed for power, prestige, money, and consumption to make a just and peaceful world.
Earth cannot be changed for the better unless the consciousness of individuals is changed first. We pledge to increase our awareness by disciplining our minds, by meditation, by prayer, or by positive thinking. Without risk and a readiness to sacrifice there can be no fundamental change in our situation. Therefore we commit ourselves to this global ethic, to understanding one another, and to socially beneficial, peace-fostering, and nature-friendly ways of life.
We invite all people, whether religious or not, to do the same.
If we all followed the above principles, the world would look a heck of a lot different.
Someday we’ll get there.