Concern for the Future
By J.G. Bennett (from a lecture in London, 1972)
THERE IS A CRISIS, and it is a crisis of people. We are not able to live in such a way that We can avoid the troubles that threaten us. Therefore, if we’re going to think and talk about the future, we must first think and talk about people. What kind of people are we? Am I the kind of person who is responsible for there being wars on the earth, for there being injustice?
I may think I am not that kind of person. I am not a belligerent person, I don’t even wish to have any thing to do with war. I have not wish to impose myself on other people. But if I look at my behavior and I see that I take more than my share of what there is in the world, let us say that I am able to eat all not only that I need, but even all that I want of food, that I am able to provide myself with comforts that couldn’t possibly be available on the same scale to everyone else in the world, then I am contributing to the whole injustice of the world.
All of us are in this position of making our contribution to the intolerance, injustice, and imbalance of the world and essentially there is no difference between us. We may see exaggerated manifestations and we may condemn those in whom these manifestations are so violent that we see the consequences of them. Say this group of people is responsible for the killing, that group of people is responsible for intolerance, another for taking undue advantage of material power, but essentially we are not different. Not in so far as we also take advantage of our strengths to the extent that we are able to do so under the social constraint of fear. We can’t make a start unless we are prepared to see ourselves and recognize that everyone of us –the most just, the most tolerant, the most pacific is making his or her contribution to the total injustice and intolerance of the world. Unless we see this, then we haven’t really a starting point. Because if we think that we can solve the world problem in terms of other people being different while we remain the same, we shall certainly get nowhere.
One of the principles of change is that we are not able to change other people, but there is a possibility that we can change ourselves, and therefore that is the possibility that we should explore and not concern ourselves with the defects of other people and the consequences of their defects in term of social injustice and the rest. There is another principle of change and that is that change can only be proportionate to the amount of force which is put into it; but forceful change can only be effectual and positive if there is an equal response to it. That is revolutionary and violent change can only be destructive and therefore even if an enormous force for change were at our disposal, we couldn’t use it suddenly or immediately without producing destruction. This principle of change also means that one cannot the present but there is the possibility of changing the future. I am going to speak in terms of these two principle, first of all that we cannot change other but there is a possibility of changing ourselves: and that we cannot change the present but there is a possibility of changing the future.
Now, is change of ourselves a significant and worthwhile undertaking?
I am one small unit in a vast society. What is the benefit if I become more just, more tolerant, and more self restrained, better able to understand and sympathize with other people?
What good can I do if I accept the principle that I can’t change what is going on around me? Here we must at least have one little look at history and recognize that change has always come from small minorities; that the really great changes have only come gradually. Change is in the nature of harvest, the seeds of which have first to be sown, then go through the whole process of lying for a time within the ground, of germinating, of appearing above the earth and finally in its own season giving the harvest. This is how change have been.
Now we’re at another period of great confusion and crisis and the first thing that I want to say about this is that I believe that only ideas- only Ideas that really penetrate into people and for which they’re prepared to work and suffer –can change the future and also change the people themselves. I am going to talk about this in a more specific way. We are now passing into a period when the attention of the individual and the doctrine of right of the individual have clearly become so exaggerated that now it’s producing its own opposite. We are through this concern with the individual, losing our concern for the human race, losing our concern for the future. We need now to develop a new kind of concern, that is a concern for life, a concern for the future, a concern for the human race and be prepared to make sacrifice for the sake of this concern but this does mean a very great and very difficult change that we have to see whether we’re able to face in ourselves, that is, a change in our attitude towards the power and the strength that we have, not only as groups, as human race but also as individual.
Probably not consciously, but certainly no less strongly, we still hold to the doctrine that might is right, that what I can do I have the right to do. If I have the power to have two, three or four cars and produce four times as much pollution of the atmosphere as somebody who have only one, then I also have the right to do it. If I have the power to provide myself with all the food and comfort that I wish for, then I also have the right to do it.
This belief that what we can do we have the right to do is so deeply ingrained in us that it would require a long process, perhaps just as long as the process by which the respect for the individual was slowly engendered in the human race two thousand, five hundred years ago, to come to an understanding that we human beings cannot live by the principle that might is right and that what I can do I am entitled to do. But if we’re to arrive at this, or perhaps prepare for a future in which there will be an acceptance of obligations rather than assertion of right, what are we to do about ourselves?
Anyone who can observe impartially his own behavior and the behavior of those around him can see that it is so deeply imbedded in us, that we can make whatever demands we’re able to enforce, that we can’t easily shed this. And the difficult for us is not only that this conviction that we’re entitled to do what we can do is ingrained in us, but we’re not even aware of it. We do not even see how we’re constantly living by this principle and that we ourselves are creating this very state of crisis, this very disorder that we ourselves are constantly condemning.