Dear World Leaders (political or spiritual, captains of industry, power-brokers, oligarchs, tyrants, megalomaniacs, and such):
On behalf of what I think is the vast majority of human beings on this planet I would like to say: "Enough!". Enough of the wars and destruction, enough of the greed and the crimes, enough of the racism, discrimination and violence directed at us, your companions on this celestial ride we call life; enough of the rigid orthodoxy and blind allegiances that bring so much cold-hearted suffering into our lives; enough of the power-grabbing lies, deception, and manipulation that seem to bring so many of you such pleasure. We, the average, good-hearted people around the globe who approach our daily lives with integrity, effort, common-sense, and kindness, we have had enough. We are tired of being your ego’s collateral damage.
And so I am writing this to you as a fellow human being, as someone who cares about people and is concerned about the future of our world. I doubt my words will be as compelling as I would like, but pretend this simple message is being shouted in your face by someone who you respect: IT IS TIME TO CHANGE! Seriously! It is time to stop destroying each other. We look to you for leadership, but we do not want you to lead us to oblivion! So now is the time to place intelligence before ignorance, to place peace before power and profit, and to place compassion before cruelty. It is time to be considerate of the future, to cooperate and find a way to make a world in which we are all able to thrive and to also leave something worthwhile on our planet for future generations. You may chuckle inwardly to yourself at such a thought but don’t: it doesn't have to be a naive wish - it just takes intelligent leadership.
We know there are many great leaders out there who want to make the world a better and safer place (in reading this, though, don't assume you are one of them!). What's most maddening and frightening, however, is to realize how such a relatively small number of you in your greedy, small-minded, power-lusting ways can wreak such chaos, fear, poverty and sadness in this world. Yet it appears that for some of you that is your goal and our reality. You might claim that you care about the well-being of those you lead, but the evidence shows a criminal disregard for anyone but yourself. The greatest weapon of mass destruction is the human ego - you need to get yours in check.
For those of you inclined to corruption, despotism and brutality, or those who are wealth gluttons, or those chained to a brain-halting worldview, I don't know what it will take to reach into your mind and heart to change, and am doubtful you have the capacity to do so. However, I feel compelled to write because I want you to know this: outside of your self-obsessed silo, in all five continents of this planet, there is a world full of people who continue to seek understanding and are willing to change and work together to make a civilized global community. In that wide world we believe in our goodness, in human potential, and in keeping our world safe and healthy. We behave and work with integrity. We believe that in the core of each human is a shared bond that connects us and is greater than our differences. We know that what differences exist can be overcome through honest communication, through the free exchange of ideas, and access to education. We know that we can live in peace and order if given the chance. That's the future we want. We want to be led by people who feel the same. Why oh why are so many of you intent on screwing it up for everyone?
You may argue that the chaos you create cannot be helped, that it is just the way the world and/or human beings work: that for centuries and even millennia human beings have fought and struggled against each other. Those touchy-feely ideas about love and peace are nice but the pursuit of power, money and control is all that really matters. It’s what makes the world go ‘round, right? Power grabbing, manipulation, and self-righteous violence are just the tools with which people in your positions are forced to operate. It’s all just a game that must be played. Rules can shift and don’t really matter if you can get away with it. The winners are the ones with the power or money, regardless of how dirty they play. And you, dear Leader, with your narrow self-interest and over-confidence, you must play, must win, must feed that ego.
Well - such fun and games may have had their place in the olden days but they have run their course and now we - humanity - we are at a turning point. While the rest of us mature and learn more about our world and each other you remain like self-absorbed children, dangerous children, with no sense of the greater world around them or empathy for others. However, while you bend the rules and bully the rest of us to preserve what you think is rightfully yours, we do all we can to move forward with intelligence, understanding, and moderation. Ultimately, you are the ones falling behind - our fear is that with your trigger-happy short-sighted arrogance you will drag us down with you.
Humanity is constantly changing and from time to time there is a moment of great upheaval in our worldview. This could be one of those times. We, the down-to-earth and reasonable people of this planet accept that change must come: we know that we have reached a point in human history where our understanding, common sense, and plain decency cry out in recognition that the greediness, bloodshed, hatred and suffering pursued and unleashed by many of you and your predecessors is pointless and must stop. It really is time to make a better world. For those of you Leaders who understand this too we applaud and support your efforts to bring change. As for the rest of you... it is very much time to stop being bad humans!
Human civilization is certainly at a crossroads: time and history have pushed us to a point now where we are globalized, where communication and transportation allow us to know and see what is happening in every corner of the world with relative ease. Although our diversity is amazing, the differences between cultures and traditions are made even more evident through these global connections. Change and uncertainty can be frightening - and sadly it seems many of you take advantage of that fear. Fearing the “other” is very profitable, whether in the media, at the ballot box, the boardroom, the war-room, and even the pulpit. Yet at the same time, I believe that people in all parts of our globe really just wish for the same thing: we want to live in peace and with dignity; we want to be valued and respected. We do not want to be fed lies or face violence simply for being who we are: the argument must change from us versus them to us, together. The future of the world can not be continuous warfare, trade wars, poverty, oppression and other deprivations. Such a world might bring power and wealth to a small percentage of you, but it is not an option for our future. There is no choice but to change - we need leaders with the maturity and strength of character to work cooperatively and graciously with others to find positive solutions to current problems in the world.
I believe, and many others I hope would agree, that if human beings are going to survive then mutual understanding and cooperation, reaching across communities and borders, is the only way forward. I was imagining the other day (bear with me here as I am not sure how many of you are capable of fanciful thoughts) - wouldn’t it be interesting if there was some advanced alien species out there in space who had studied life forms in situations like ours:
- an intelligent species expands across the planet;
- pockets of civilization develop each with their own worldview, traditions and technology;
- ultimately these cultures bump into each other and clash and merge and change until a handful of dominant ones remain;
- and then it’s decision time: learn to live together or destroy each other and the planet.
So let’s say this alien species has studied 100 planets with life forms like ours. Of those 60% find a way to move on and thrive, living together on a healthy planet. The rest fold up and die, or set themselves back several millennia. Perhaps those aliens are studying us - where will we fall in their results? I feel like that’s the decision point in which we find ourselves.
To survive we need leaders who share a modern vision of the world and who want to change it for the better. We need leaders who act with integrity. We need leaders who are open to change. More than anything we need leaders who care for other people and care about life on our planet. If you are the kind of leader who only operates with arrogance and narrow-mindedness then you are of the kind that pose the greatest threat to the prosperity and security of your fellow citizens. It can not continue. Instead, we look to you to base your motivations and actions on a deep understanding of human affairs and the human heart, balancing reason and kindness, enabling trust, and with sincere respect for each individual living on this planet. You can no longer operate in the narrow silos of a selfish ego, corrupt government or greedy boardroom, nor a superstitious dogma, or simply be uninformed or ill-advised. You can still have an exceptionally good life - there can always be room for personal advancement and success. However, your primary job as a leader, regardless of your sphere of influence, should be to put the needs of others ahead of your own and explore all the ways you can to bring the “good life” to as many people as possible, based on a modern understanding of what it is to be human in our world. Unfortunately, based on the actions of so many of you, it is painfully discouraging to consider how incapable you are at showing any kind of empathy for your fellow human beings. I can only hope that in the near future such a devastating character flaw will not allow you to have any kind of influential role in our world.
A better world might seem far-fetched and yet - after 10,000 years of “modern” human civilization it is all stuff we know and yet consistently find a way to mess up. Primarily that mess falls at your feet and those of your predecessors, dear Leaders. That is to say, you are failing us, our world, and ultimately yourself. Do you really want to go down in history as the selfish losers who destroyed humanity and life on this planet?
So what do we do? What do we need you to do? The simplest thing that I can think of, something we all should aim for, is to support human progress. It seems like an easy concept and one that is hard to deny as an objective and yet… so much madness in the world, it seems to me, is derived from an unwillingness to move forward, a failure to acknowledge and adapt to the changes wrought by new knowledge, by fear of change, and by self-centred motivations that block progress. However, if we can set human progress as the ongoing principle that guides us then we can shine its light on the arrogance, cruelty, and unfairness practiced around the globe at all levels of society and lay that at your feet, dear Leaders, to ask: What is the point of this? How and who does this help? Why are you doing this? Hopefully you are not the weak-minded breed of leader who is afraid of such questions (and yet I think many of you are).
Human progress is what we do. It happens every day. Look at our history! It is the root of all our successes. In general we move forward though we’ve had our share of setbacks too - it is how we learn. Human progress is about knowledge and change. It is reasoning. It is thoughtfulness. It is seeking to understand ourselves better in connection with our world. It is creativity. It is innovation. It is a challenge. It is perseverance. It is compassion for those who need our help and the willingness to provide it. It is fairness. It is self-sacrifice. It is free from ideology, free from political slants left or right, free from religious interference. It is ongoing and will continue to challenge existing beliefs and transform our world. Many of you, I believe, think that human progress only belongs to a certain skin colour, or a certain ethnicity, or a certain religion, even in some cases to a certain sex. However, to rational eyes there is only one human family, and all progress is shared progress. It is nothing to fear, dear Leaders, unless you are the kind whose position, power or wealth depends on blocking it at every turn.
I'm sure others can do so more eloquently but let me try, in this letter, to advance the idea of human progress as a force that motivates you, that creates a foundation for your actions - the inspirational idea with which you lead us to a better future.
In my opinion, human progress has a number of key components that enable it to advance. Here are the main ones as I see them which, after thousands of years of knowledge seeking, struggle, battles and debate by our ancestors, our progress has been wrought.
The first component is science. Science is undeniably linked with human progress and because of the way it works I would like to hold it up as a reliable, unbiased process for learning, decision-making and change-making.
Science without doubt lays the foundation for understanding our world. It existed before we had a name for it, and the scientific method, the disciplined use of observation and reason, stands as one of humanity's greatest achievements. If somehow any of you do not recall, the point of the scientific method is to seek an objective and practical understanding of our world (including us). It does this by asking hard questions, finding answers through various methods, and sharing what is learned in order for others to review and question the conclusions. Being open to questions is a key point: good science is not afraid of questions, it demands them. Our scientific successes, and the human progress that has resulted from it, are a product of this process.
Formalizing the scientific method as was done several centuries ago has led to huge leaps forward in understanding our world and how to live in it. Its theories and conclusions are trustworthy and can be relied upon to make advances in numerous sectors: health and medicine, agriculture, engineering, manufacturing, telecommunications. Science is a tool that grounds our decisions with objectivity, not superstition. It helps us to understand our real world and ourselves as best we can, with factual information, not wishful thinking or ancient ideas that no longer make sense. To how many of you Leaders can we apply that standard?
Often science asks us to question our beliefs and accepted wisdom. That is a good thing: if an old idea is disproven through scientific, objective analysis then it is something which we should no longer use to support important decisions. Now, if you are someone who insists that science does not work, then I respectfully ask that you stop using your smartphone and your computer, that you turn off your electricity and running water, that you stop going to doctors for care or receiving any medicine that gets you through the day, that you stop using planes, trains, and automobiles, that you eat only what you can grow, and most importantly that you lay down your weapons of mass destruction - because all of these are the fruits of science and have no place in your old world existence. As an aside, let’s not forget, in democratic countries, it was the use of science and reason by liberal thinking reformers that brought the transformative ideas of equal rights and equal opportunity that revolutionized western government over two hundred years ago.
While we are speaking of scientific facts, another kind of fact needs to be acknowledged too: the kind of fact related to human activities and interactions - historical facts, documented facts. Certain things cannot be disputed: the date of my birth is a fact; soybean exports from Brazil to China is a fact; laws enacted by a legislative assembly are facts; the Jewish holocaust of World War Two is a fact; if who said what at a certain time and place can be verified and proven then it becomes fact. When actions or events can be supported with unbiased and undeniable evidence then they must be recognized as truthful.
I understand how many of you Leaders feel threatened by certain facts: they can undermine long held beliefs that sustain your role and power, beliefs that you can use to manipulate the people whose support you want. It is not easy to change - but as leaders whose goal is to make the world a better safer place for everyone, you must find a way to move forward: human progress, and a good life for more people, depend on it.
Also connected to science is recognizing our relationship with the natural world. I note this because, due to our exceptional self-awareness, for much of history we human beings have tended to see ourselves as existing outside of the natural world. However, we cannot ignore our biology. To do so is perilous: everything you love, dear Leaders, for good or selfish reasons, is contingent upon a world in which we can live.
Acknowledging our biology has implications for how we live in our world and how we understand ourselves. Admitting we need clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, along with every other creature on this planet, necessarily impacts the laws, industries, and general functioning of our society. It impacts the healthcare we can provide, how we educate, and helps us understand the complexity of our desires and relationships. It could even help us to better understand your motivations, dear Leaders, such as why so many of you use violence and deceit to rule your roost.
As the most intelligent species on this planet we are duty-bound to preserve this miraculous, bountiful gift of life: to waste it in the mad pursuit of power and wealth would be a sad indictment of our selfish human egos. When science informs us, particularly policy-makers and industry, that certain industrial practices have a negative impact on the health of the planet (including people and other creatures) and solutions are developed and enforced to mitigate the impact, it is not a personal attack on your business or your right to profit: it is merely human progress offering new knowledge about our world and how we can best live in and sustain it.
The second key component of human progress is the recognition of human equality. It is a fundamental premise with which, unfortunately, many of you and many others continue to struggle. It does seem, however, that as human intelligence grows, the undeniable trajectory of our history is towards recognizing the basic equality of each human being. That trajectory is powered by the reasoning and objectivity of both science and philosophy, not to mention common sense.
The circumstances into which one is born on this planet will vary, but as our understanding about human-ness has increased over time so has the recognition that we are all born with the same genetics and the same potential. We all deserve the right to pursue happiness in the way that best suits us, without causing harm to others in pursuit of the same. Time and geography have shaped our history such that different pockets of civilization have progressed at different paces, but that does not diminish the value of any person, regardless of their language, customs, sex, eye colour, height, or skin colour. It seems obvious… but why do we struggle so much, dear Leaders? Is it not time to ensure that all people are provided with a basic level of dignity with which to live?
Cultures and ideas criss-cross geography in our modern world at a dizzying pace, accenting both our similarities and our differences. However, globalization is not a recent phenomenon: it began at the dawn of human civilization and will continue. Rather than fear it, we must strive to understand its implications and determine how to move forward with peaceful and common objectives that respect our fundamental equality. It will not be easy: customs and traditions will continue changing, new ideas will cause disruption until they too become commonplace, ready to be challenged by new perspectives. It will take true leadership to guide us through the difficult but necessary changes required to make a better world. If you disagree, dear Leader, if there is no circumstance under which you’d accept reaching common ground across borders and cultures, can you explain to me and your fellow citizens why? What could be your motivation in preventing the arrival of more peace, equality, and understanding in the world? How do you justify that?
On a different note, and to avoid some misunderstanding about equality, which no doubt some of you would want to point out, the equality to which I refer is one of rights before the law and of opportunity: just being born human makes us equal with all others and should guarantee certain rights regardless of skin colour, language, wealth, culture, sexual orientation, etc. I would like to add, there should be a right to a basic level of dignity - food, shelter, health, and safety. I think we all have the right to not suffer. That doesn't mean we are all born with equal abilities or talents, or that every idea or ideology that spills out of our minds has equal merit: equal rights means our value as a human being needs to be respected and upheld. There is plenty of room for different levels of success, monetary or otherwise, based on hard work, innovation, talent, merit, or inclination.
A third component of human progress is the freedom of expression or, to say it another way, the freedom to think. The capacity of human beings to communicate with each other the way we do, to transmit complex thoughts, ideas, emotions, is an amazing skill. It seems silly to note it but I will: throughout human history our ability to communicate has been one of, if not the most important tools that has lead to the development of our modern human civilization. Freedom to express oneself allows us to share new ideas, new techniques, new understanding and it allows us to question the same things, whether new or old. Again, the ability to ask questions on any matter, to debate the good and bad merits of anything, should be a fundamental right in all societies and is essential for human progress. When discussed honestly, with an open mind and respect for facts, some ideas shine while others fade into history as merit-less or as quaint notions of a bygone era. The path of human progress is filled with the marker stones of those who dared to ask questions and seek a better and honest understanding of our world.
It is clear that many of you dislike free thinkers and free speech because they are dangerous to you. They can call into question the old props that support you. They can lead to the exposure of truths that reveal your corrupt motivations and the dirty deeds you undertake to maintain them. It’s frightening to consider how many good people have suffered and died because you are so afraid of your own truth, afraid of the rottenness within your heart being revealed. In the future I can only hope people like you have no path to leadership of any sort.
Science, equality, free expression - there it is dear Leaders, the gateway to a better world, where human beings across the globe work cooperatively to create a society that is mutually beneficial and respectful to all. I would like to think it is inevitable but when I consider the entrenched power and influence you have, as well as the tools of violence that many of you have at your disposal, it is frightening to ponder a future where your positions and dogmas are challenged, even to a relatively small degree. When your ego rules and, combined with a terrible lack of empathy, is used to undermine the common good, restrict opportunity, or destroy lives, you become monsters, not humans.
However - maybe a better world really is inevitable. Many decent people around the globe are determined to find solutions to improve life on this planet. That is human progress. Together we continue to get smarter, share our knowledge, and discover the connections we have with each other. At the same time, more and more people are seeing through your selfish, bullying ways, dear Leaders. Your dark secrets are coming to light and you will no longer be able to hide them in the shadows and dark alleyways of your life. When it becomes clear how far short you fall in terms of the basic human decency by which the vast majority of us are able live then you will be swept aside like irrelevant dust as the rest of us move on to pursue more important matters. History will condemn, if not erase you. Is that what you want?
Perhaps this is a good place to end. There is one last key point I would like to make though, which is this: if anything I’ve written has resonated with you in a positive way then it is important to recognize that setting human progress as the guiding principle that informs your actions is just the beginning. Doing so means we must constantly question and adapt our worldview to the things we learn, and within that worldview adjust the laws and institutions that govern day to day life so that it rings true for the majority of people. Instead of reading tweets about who has the biggest missiles, or which immigrants are the most evil, or that the left are snowflakes, or that the right are rednecks, it would be wonderful to hear real topics discussed by our Leaders with objectivity and a level of depth that respects their complexity. Here are several:
- What form of government best supports human progress?
- What is the best way to manage the economy and wealth creation in order to ensure a baseline of dignity to all people?
- Is one of democracy’s roles to regulate greed?
- Is religious dogma a threat to human progress?
- What needs to happen to ensure that the rights of nations, trade laws, and the rights of individuals are equally respected and international conflicts avoided?
We need brave leaders who want to face these questions and are humble enough to work with others to solve them. You cannot be afraid of what you hear in response; you cannot be afraid of facts; you cannot be afraid to admit you don’t know; you cannot be afraid to change; you can not be afraid of compromise. Just be human, like the rest of us.
Human progress asks us to live with uncertainty and change: human beings are really not very good at that. In the long view of our history though it is clear that change has been a constant theme. Taking that perspective, although it might be difficult for each generation, we must recognize that the changes we live through push us forward: through this great pageantry of human folly and floundering we have managed to accomplish wonderful things! Individually, each one of us is a biochemical marvel wired to ponder ourselves and our world. The point of all human activity should be to ensure that each of us, in our brief lifetime, is able to experience this living world to the fullest extent.
So dear Leaders, once again on behalf of what I hope are the vast majority of human beings, I ask that you not be leaders whose narrow and corrupt self-interest turn you into villains. Be heroes instead: heroes of understanding, compassion, and restraint, heroes in a life-affirming belief in the good potential of human beings and respect for the magnitude and fragility of life on this planet.
Yours truly, a concerned human,