Howard Richards
Professor, Earlham College, Peace and Global Justice Studies


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A Philosophy for Peace and Justice
III. Letters from Quebec: A Philosophy for Peace and Justice.

Preface

 

Life would be much easier and happier if individuals and institutions were guided by principles of cooperation and sharing. This statement is true by definition, according to the ordinary meanings of its words.

 

I will not discuss the ordinary meanings of each and every term in my first sentence, but I will observe that "cooperation and sharing" means working together and facilitating each other's access to resources, and, normally, doing so for some constructive purpose, to meet some need. They mean, thus by extension, acting in ways that make life easier and happier.

 

It is therefore logical to cooperate and to share. It would be logical --the way I am using the word "logical" is not the only possible way to use it, but it is an ancient and still defensible one-- for people to help each other, each doing her or his part, to do those things that contribute to making their own and others' lives easier and happier.    If ideals of cooperation and sharing guided people to do the things that need to be done, then life would be easier and happier, because      --here I insist on the obvious because the significance of the obvious is so often overlooked -- because the things that need to be done would be done.

 

The answers to questions about what is needed, and what is perhaps only wanted but not really needed, are often neither obvious nor uncontroversial. I want to insist that humans should not postpone cooperation and sharing until we reach agreement on those answers, and indeed I do not believe we ever w.111.  Helping each other and supporting each other is part of creating a respectful atmosphere in which humanity's endless philosophical conversation about essentially contested concepts, such as "needs, 11 "God'11   "sex,"   "art,"    "democracy,"     "science,"     "health,      "spirituality,"      "rights," and so on        and on...     can happily continue ' and I, for one, have a lot to    say concerning the themes of that endless conversation, starting, here, with "needs."

 

I want to say, to begin, that what needs to be done to make human life easier and happier is to some extent the same everywhere and not a matter of choice. The hum4an species is subject to attack by bacteria; to flu and cold viruses, pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis; to pain, accident, deterioration, and disease.  The body requires air, water, and food.  The soul requires love and appreciation.  Nature imposes certain species-wide tasks upon humanity, as species-wide needs.

 

Human life is, moreover, embedded in the living systems of the biosphere which include the air, the waters, the sunlight, the soil, and the living plant and animal forms.  Making human life easier and happier --indeed making it possible for human life to continue at all-- cannot be separated from the care and nurture of the biosphere in which our particular species lives and moves and has its being. Maintaining the health of the earth community is another task nature has set for humanity. It is our task because it is our' responsibility. It is our responsibility because of our power.   Today the future of any species other than our own -- whether it will go extinct, whether it will be bred along new lines, whether it will multiply and prosper, whether it will      -- be genetically altered-depends far more on its interaction with us than on natural selection.

 

What needs to be done, however, to some extent is not uniform and is a matter of choice.   Human needs are not just the common needs of all living things, nor are they just the common needs of our species.  There are varying needs of people of different cultures and subcultures, and of different temperaments, needs of ethnicities and faiths and groups of different sizes, down to the personally cultivated lifestyle, the unique way of walking and talking, of thinking, of smiling; down to each individual's practice of the art of living.     To live, to be, people need, precise, choices. Without social identity and freedom, the type y of life characteristic of our species does not happen.

 

If individuals and institutions were guided by concepts of cooperation and sharing, then energy and resources would be channeled:

n      to meeting human needs.

n      to living in harmony with the living systems of the earth.

n      to encouraging the free and creative flowering of each kind of person, and of each person.

 

Life would continue to be, no doubt, hard enough, but it would@ not be as hard as it is for most people now.  Questions about whether people really need God, or sexual satisfaction, or children, or automobiles, or air conditioning, would continue to be as hotly debated as they are now, but the debaters would be happier.  And there is nothing at all in the atmosphere of the planet, nothing in the nitrogen, nothing in the oxygen, nothing in the carbon dioxide, nothing in the rare gasses, that prevents us human beings from changing our behavior and our institutions in order to make life easier. There is nothing in the waters, nothing in the seas that cover three fourths of the earth, nothing in the fresh water lakes and rivers, nothing in the polar ice, nothing in the clouds, nothing in the rain, which compels As to refrain from making the world a happier place. There is nothing in the earth, nothing in igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic rock, which keeps us from cooperating and sharing. Nothing in the sunlight. Nothing in plants or animals.

 

There is nothing in all of nature that prevents individuals and institutions from being guided by principles of cooperation and sharing, except: ourselves.