|III. Letters from Quebec: A Philosophy for Peace and Justice.
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
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
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,"
"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
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:
to meeting human needs.
to living in harmony with the living systems of the
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.