is sometimes assumed that either human nature or a set of permanent or
relatively permanent socioeconomic conditions predetermine an upper limit
to the potential social level of compassion and social concord--within
nations and between nations, and in the world as a whole. This chapter
challenges some of these assumptions, and argues that the potential degree
of compassion reflected in the global polity is not determined by the
level of compassion at present or in the past.
Specifically, three beliefs or social conceptions that need to be challenged and overcome for universal compassion to be more fully conceived and realized are: (1) cynicism about the potential for significant social change; (2) a belief in scarcity, that there are insufficient resources available to satisfy everyone's basic needs; and (3) a belief in the inevitability of violence. Each of these beliefs will be examined below.
What is Realistic?
of introduction, it will be helpful to reflect on the role of political
beliefs in creating social reality, and thus in enabling or limiting the
potential for social change.
of the changeable logic structure of any given society--including global
society--are what sociologist Alvin Gouldner, has called "background
assumptions,' the "unpostulated and unlabeled" assumptions that underlie
our conceptions of society. He labels these "background assumptions" because
"they provide the background out of which the postulations in part emerge
and, on the other hand, not being expressly formulated, they remain the
background of the (people)'s attention." The background assumptions of
a concept of social reality include theories of cosmology, physics and
metaphysics, human nature and society, logic and justice, and so on. Background
assumptions contribute in a large way to the acceptance or rejection of
a social theory by its hearers or readers. A "social theory," he writes,
" is more likely to be accepted by those who share the theory's background
assumptions and find them agreeable." (Gouldner, 1970: 29)
Limiting Beliefs and Universal Compassion
There are many beliefs about the nature of human beings and society that limit individual and collective initiative toward universal compassion. Three such beliefs will be addressed below: social cynicsm, the belief in the inevitability of violence, and a belief in scarcity of resources. It will be argued that currently-prevalent social cynicism is a choice along a social optimism-pessimism continuum and represents more a social mood than an accurate perception of social reality; that current levels of violence are not inevitable and can potentially be drastically reduced; and that scarcity is a social convention rather than a social reality. By helping to challenge limiting beliefs and social assumptions, it is hoped that these excerpts will encourage those who wish to work for the realization of universal compassion. Only when people believe that something is possible will they strive for it.
Click on the links below to read responses to these attitudes and beliefs.
© 2002 Joel Federman