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The Quest for Justice, Part II


The Global Justice Index: A Work in Progress

Sam Keen attempts a worldwide "Dow" — an indicator of political, economic, and environmental justice for all. We're asking you: What works? What's missing?

If we extrapolate present trends into the future, the 21st century seems already doomed to be a time of tyrannical corporate economics, a widening gap between the rich and the poor, domination of the powerless many by the superpowerful few, ecological decline, violent fundamentalism, and free-lance terrorism. But there may be another way to calculate our future possibilities. The mystical, psychoanalytic, and spiritual traditions insist that hope is born precisely at the moment when it seems least likely. The owl of Minerva takes flight when it is darkest. We heed the call of wisdom only when there is nothing left to do.

I suggest there is a viable candidate for a new organizing paradigm, a vocation for the 21st century. The unifying principle we seek is not to be found in an overarching global organization, a world government, a world religion, or some new spiritual consensus, but in the humus that is the foundation of all human community — the ancient, unfulfilled vision of justice for all. We can tolerate any amount of diversity in religion, styles of government, and economic systems so long as we cooperate in making progress toward global justice.

Applying the notion of justice to our global political, economic, and ecological problems is a mind-boggling task — so many questions, so few answers. But one day, as I was puzzling over what constitutes our basic civil obligation to one another in a global community, I was interrupted by an announcement on the news that the Dow Jones index had risen 103 points to 10,387. Immediately, I slipped into a fantasy. What if we were to construct a Global Justice Index that would be published daily along with the Dow? Such an index might force us to define, monitor, and report the advance or decline of political, economic, and ecological justice.

Constructing such an index was beyond my capacities. Consulting friends who were experts in law, economics, and ecology, I discovered that it was beyond theirs, too. Yet the idea wouldn't go away. So, following the maxim "fools rush in where angels fear to tread," I have persevered. I hope to simply jump-start the process, so grab a pencil — or free up your email &$151 and let's create a blueprint for what might become a more just world.

Section One

Half a century ago, the United Nations boldly attempted to extend the notion of basic human rights beyond the confines of sovereign states with its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Forsaking the old theological sanctions for justice, the Preamble appealed to the pragmatic need for a social contract. If you want freedom, justice, and peace, then you must recognize the inalienable rights of all members of the human family. To avoid tyranny and the necessity of rebellion, human rights must be protected by law.

Unfortunately, both the success and the reasons for failure of the United Nations effort are obvious in the Declaration. After affirming the rights to equality before the law, freedom of movement, assembly, privacy, etc., the Declaration goes on to a near-utopian vision of the elements necessary for individual fulfillment. In other words, it confuses what is good with what is right. For instance, it asserts that everyone has the right to work, protection from unemployment, rest and leisure, periodic paid holidays, food, clothing, housing, medical care, social services, free and compulsory elementary education, etc.

Many of these items are unlikely to be realized any time soon, but a realistic political justice index might be constructed based on the United States Bill of Rights, which spells out the rights necessary to live in a political community. They are, in short, the sine qua non of the social contract that ought to be guaranteed to all citizens by the global community. By this measure, what are the indicators of progress or regress?

Sam Keen, whose Psychology Today conversations brought Joseph Campbell, Norman O. Brown, and other seminal thinkers to national attention, holds two M.A.s in theology from Harvard and a Princeton Ph.D. in philosophy. His books include the best-seller Fire in the Belly, Hymns to an Unknown God, and his most recent, Learning to Fly: Trapeze – Fear, Trust, and the Joy of Letting Go.

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