A common theme persisting in today’s society is that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of human civilisation as we know it. We are constantly being told that we are destroying the planet and destroying ourselves, and that the all-conquering forces of capitalism are to blame. As the debate over climate change, international terrorism and, more recently, economic stability and development has developed I have come to question such notions. In fact, right here and right now, I say such a notion is flawed and unsustainable. This is the first in a series of posts which will argue that, contrary to popular belief, the sky is not falling. Today I will introduce what I call the Societal Advancement Theory, and discuss the issue of technological advancement and poverty in the developed world.
The Societal Advancement Theory
I believe that the state of the world we live in is not as bad as some people, normally motivated by self-interest and ideology, make it out to be. This is what I call the Societal Advancement Theory. The Societal Advancement Theory posits that the world is constantly developing and constantly improving. At its very core is the understanding that the human mind, working with the support of the spiritual “universe”, has a remarkable ability to provide solutions to the problems that the world faces. Society is on a constant path of improvement. This improvement may be difficult to witness at any given point in time, but by taking a contextual assessment and combining this with an understanding of human history, the notion that society continues to improve is impossible to ignore. Further, it argues that human society should not be measured in terms of material wealth. Instead, the true state of any given society is measured in terms of its spiritual wealth – by which I mean the extent to which the conscious energy of that society is being devoted to living a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Without question, the world we live in faces a lot of challenges. There is no disputing that. However, it is also without doubt that we live in a world that is far superior to any other point in time of human existence. The technological and economic developments of the past century have lifted unprecedented numbers of people out of poverty and provided riches to millions throughout the world that would make paupers out of even the wealthiest ancient Kings and Queens.
If you do not believe me, then consider this: I am 25, yet I can remember a world without computers, without the internet, without mobile phones, and without 24/7 cable television. Today, most people would struggle to survive a week without such luxuries. Living conditions, health, and human equality are vastly superior to the situation that existed 100 years ago. We have made incredible advancements in health, resulting in the eradication of many extremely deadly diseases; eduction, resulting in a more intelligent, skilled, and prosperous society; and human rights, with the rights of woman, homosexuals, minorities, and all ethnic groups recognised widely throughout the western world, and growing parts of the developing world.
Poverty in the Developed World
None of this is to deny that there is not great poverty, great injustice, and great inequality in this world. There is, and the problems are serious. However, it is dangerous to ascribe these qualities to every third world country, and every third world community. In fact, we even consider there to be widespread poverty in the developed world. Africa and Asia are experiencing a rising middle class and in our own backyard, we are fortunate enough to live in a society which provides a basic level of support to those most in need.
I work in one of the poorest areas of New Zealand and I do not see true poverty. I see people who do not have everything I have – but what I do see are people who drive cars, who can afford to buy fast food, alcohol and cigarettes, who have the internet and cable television. People who can afford to spend money on clothes, and food, and even put a lazy $10 on the lotteries every week. This is not poverty. In one of the poorest parts of New Zealand, people have access to shelter, food, clothing, clean water, a free (or at least heavily subsidised) healthcare system, and free education up until the age of 18. It is also true that 40% of New Zealanders pay no net tax. This is not poverty. It is not utopian, but it is not poverty.
A New Approach
What should concern policy makers is not the extent of relative poverty within a society (material wealth), but rather the extent to which its citizens are living a meaningful and fulfilling life (spiritual wealth). Society will continue to advance, bringing more opportunities and more wealth to more people around the world. As technology automates more processes, and reduces our working day, we have more time to consider and reflect on our spiritual wealth. The more we reflect on, and seek to improve, our spiritual wealth, the more likely we are to achieve growth in our material wealth (and a more equitable growth at that). Both material and spiritual wealth are inter-dependent, and we ignore one in favour of another at out peril.