There is a wide-spread sense that our current poltical, economic and cultural systems are failing us. Environmental degredation, economic injustice, social alienation, and political estrangement are pandemic. We are enmeshed in a level of consumerism that is environmentally destructive and unsustainable. Governments and corporations seem to lack the power and/or will to aid the masses of people negatively affected by these economic, environmental, and social conditions. Although they hold radically differing perspectives on the nature and cause of the problems, radical activists, Fundamentalist Christians, liberal and conservative commentators alike present rigorous critiques of the current state of our society. Regardless of our chosen cosmology or moral framework, if we recognize the suffering that exists in the world today and have the time and energy, we have no choice but to act.
But what is the right direction for our actions? There is an existing statement of the collective wisdom of human society which can serve as an entry point to this question. (It must be noted that this document was created by a small group of privileged people in a closed setting. It is not the voice of a broad or pluralistic demographic representation of race, class and gender.) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1948 states the following:
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control." Article 25. (1) The Assembly also stated that member nations of the UN should see to it that the Declaration "be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories." http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
Disseminating and displaying is one thing; implementing is another. So who is responsible for carrying this out? National governments, private corporations, and the free-market economic system have all failed to implement this radically sensible call to action. Our large-scale socio-economic and political systems, both public and private, have failed to provide for our collective human needs. If we continue to see ourselves as subjects in those systems rather than as empowered participants in providing for our own welfare, our needs will likely continue to go unmet. When it comes down to it, we are responsible for our own welfare: a responsibility we have been neglecting. Not the "boot-straps" kind of individualistic and selfishly motivated responsibility that ignores the inherently unjust and unsustainable nature of our economic systems. These systems are fundamentally flawed in that they propose exponential and ever expanding growth within the confines of a limited-resource system. No, our own welfare is fully intertwined with and dependent upon the welfare of those with whom we are economically and socially interconnected; our fellow planetary citizens. If we are to be truly self-interested, then the good we do for ourselves must also be for the good of all beings.
What if everyone, for no other reason than being alive, was guaranteed basic rights to "food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security..."? How would people live differently? Vast amounts of human energy and creativity would be released without the pressure and anxiety of making ends meet. What would it look like if groups of people began taking responsibility for making this a reality? With this question we begin to remember, rethink, and reenvision the concept of community.
What if our communities relied upon people investing their labor in concert with others and In the absence of economic pressure and anxiety. This community-invested labor feels meaningful, satisfying, and is an expression of love and appreciation. Groups of people can then begin to meet their basic needs outside of the failing socio-economic system, instead relying on internalized local systems of mutual support.
Models of such systems already exist; mostly in small, self-contained, rural communities. These communities have been and continue to be important centers of experimentation and learning. But given the current environmental, economic, and political state on the planet, this is no longer enough. An ever increasing percentage of the world's population live in urban or sub-urban environments (an estimated 75% by the year 2050), and are increasingly unable to provide for their basic needs under the current poltical/economic system.
Our political and economic systems are falling ever shorter of meeting the basic needs of the majority of the world's population. Bringing these principles of mutual aid and decentralized economic systems to networks of small groups in urban settings is a critical next step in our planetary evolution.