Many Voices, One Song



Dr. Anthony G. Payne



At the heart of each of us are 3 primal drives that give rise to and inform most, if not all of the human behavior (Individually and collectively).  Click here to read . In science and many other fields, reductionism of this sort helps us see what is fundamental to many aspects of reality. However, while "unified field theories" in physics, psychology, or what-have-you make explicable what was previously inexplicable, unveiling a beauty and simplicity beneath the surface that is awe-inspiring and even fruitful at many levels, it isn't always possible to take mechanism (however meaningful or purposeful) and forge tools or methods from it that advance human culture.


For example, consider the Periodic Table or the alphabet.   For all the richness inherent in them as foundational, they gain their greatest utility in combination. Elements combine to make compounds that are the building blocks of all things. Letters take on a power to transform or inform when combined into units with an agreed connection to physical objects, abstract ideas and such.   We can take physical elements and build skyscrapers on the one hand, and thermonuclear bombs on the other. And with words we can fashion social orders that champion freedom, fairness and tolerance on the one hand, "empire and death camps on the other, "and many permutations in between.


However, knowing the underlying or fundamental mechanisms or laws from which our world proceeds can favorably influence the social, political and economic tapestry we weave.  Consider the 3 primal drives: All of us want to acquire certain basic things crucial to survival (and more), preserve what we manage to gather about us, and perpetuate it so as to benefit our progeny and the community that nurtures and protects them. We can do this using rational and moral means so that fairness and mutual benefit are emphasized, or we can opt for something else entirely.


From village to nation-state to confederations of nation-states, all kinds of mechanisms and structures have been fashioned to facilitate the satisfaction of human drives and needs.   Some are met through local means, some through national devices, some transnational, while others are met or placated or constrained through religious or fraternal franchises, committees or unions convened for specific ends, and so forth.   However, they all deal with meeting or satisfying some aspect of the human condition, and this most often through the allocation and judicious use of material and/or human resources.


In a way, all these various local entities and networks of entities (state, national or transnational) are functional algorithms of a sort– means of solving problems and/or meeting needs and/or helping folks cope -- through semi-invariant procedures.  Some merely point the way to viable solutions and are thus more heuristic in nature.  And some combine elements of both (Known as a "heuristic algorithm" or of being "algorithmic" in scientific parlance).


Those mechanisms, approaches and institutions (Hereafter referred to as "devices") that give us a leg up in meeting needs, solving problems, and coping do us an additional service when they facilitate helping us create meaning for our lives or at least set the stage for freeing us to do so.  Consider the "welfare office experience": The monies that keep indigent people alive is welcome, yes but is oftentimes delivered with out the warmth, concern or guidance that helps steer folks onto the road to self-sufficiency.   A church, synagogue or mosque that provides money or food to the disadvantaged often adds a needed "human touch" missing from government offices.


While most of us would readily agree with the idea that these devices could be improved or reformed, powerful arguments exist indicating that many of them should be scrapped or abolished altogether.   Like musicians trying to finely tune their instruments, we are perennially engaged in trying to achieve the most appealing, melodic tones possible.   Somehow we hope that between local efforts and national ones, the resultant symphony will be a harmonious and beautiful.


Of course, in order to create a wondrous symphonic work, the members of the orchestra (people and the society they comprise) must agree on how the orchestra will be run, how the music will be written and revised, and who will set the pace for the ensemble (The orchestra leader).   In the United States, we advocate specific mechanisms for both preserving individually, maximizing creative freedom, and yet steering the whole towards a harmonious work as opposed to a raucous "noise fest".  The American way, as it were, is built on democratic principles and capitalism. The Japanese way, on the other hand, embraces democracy and capitalism, but has a strong element of conformity to what "the group" (society) deems in the best interests of all.  Many countries in the EU favor a social democracy approach that offers varying degrees of "cradle to grave" care for its citizenry. Singapore is authoritarian in orientation.  Iran embraces an Islamic theocracy.  Cuba has a dictator.


Each of these has its devices for handling resources and meeting the basic needs of its citizenry.   Some work fairly well, though they foster inequities and the marginalization of certain classes, ethnic or racial subgroups, or the like.   For example, the American democracy has built, finagled, and (yes) grabbed tremendous power and wealth, but not without creating all kinds of inequities and injustices both at home and abroad.   The American people are arguably the most materially prosperous people in history, yet have a healthcare system that in many ways trails behind the Canadians, Japanese and others.  Americans buy and mortgage more and more material things, yet are more depressed and anxiety ridden than perhaps at any point in the past century.  Life grows longer and in some ways more secure, but quantity appears to be ascendant over quality.  The capitalistic spirit – unbridled competition -- the gridiron mentality -- has permeated everything from the boardroom to the bedroom to the playground.  The American system appears poised to fulfill Karl Marx's prediction that capitalism corrupts, implodes, and then collapses (This is not to argue that necessarily offered a better set of devices for meeting a peoples needs and potentialities. But his extrapolations – his predictions – do seem uncannily accurate).


The Japanese democratic experiment, on the other hand, has managed to create and sustain a middle class that encompasses 95% of her people, made comprehensive national health care available to most, and has forged a social order that has one of the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world.  There are signs that these devices are beginning to falter, but even so the Japanese willingness to adapt to contingency coupled with the group-driven ethic of their hardworking people may patch up and keep the Japanese sociopolitical engine running far into the future.


While the devices that help the democracies press forward appear to work well to varying degrees, the same can not be said of dictatorships (secular and theocratic). One of the major flaws inherent to all totalitarian systems is that the devices that help the people meet their needs belong to a political machine that imposes a reality on people that is at variance with their nature.  Hit, cage or force an animal to follow a specific agenda or pattern that is inconsistent with or even contrary to its nature, and you will eventually get a depressed, disgruntled, angry animal that snarls and strikes back as best it can.  People, of course can and do adapt to this unnatural social "machinery", but not without experiencing various kinds of emotional and mental pain and angst.   Quality and quantity of life are compromised in lands ruled by the shackle and whip, where people conform solely out of fear of the horrors that await dissenters in state-sanctioned torture chambers and prisons.   The leaders of these malignant enterprises also appear given to define or impose what they feel makes life meaningful -- or at the very least interpret from religious or secular sources or both what gives life meaning.  


State-sanctioned devices and the political machine that creates and/or sustains them generally should not engage in attempts to define (much less impose) what gives life meaning.   They can provide purpose in many instances or foster conditions that are conducive to finding purpose, but not meaning itself. And truly progressive governments will strive to achieve and maintain conditions that are in harmony with human nature, that help folks meet their basic needs in a fair and equitable fashion, and which affords their citizenry the opportunity to seek out what gives their lives meaning.  Of course, a congress or parliament comprised of elected representatives of the people can't help but reflect some shared and individual notions of what gives life meaning, though prudent governmental bodies strive to limit such influence in making laws and such.   To do otherwise risks having a minority viewpoint compromise the best interests of the majority or vice versa.  


But what of private or sectarian devices?  We all have them.  They are our means of coping, meeting our basic needs, even flourishing – be they religious, secular or a blend of both.  Most of us belong to a local band (Think back to the symphony analogy)  – a small collective or branch of a larger one whose devices we utilize or become a part of in order to achieve certain ends (Material and otherwise).  So long as these bands do not inflict harm or violate the laws the citizenry has agree to live by, such devices thrive and fulfill the purposes ordained by their constituency (They are "moral").   Up to and including providing meaning in life or facilitating finding such meaning. They may be playing different tunes, yes, but as they compete in the "marketplace of ideas" most wisely choose not to play a tune that attracts rather than offends those outside the band (If not for the sake of tolerance, then to keep from scaring off prospective converts or members).


The question arises, could all the bands (peoples) of the world tool together a musical piece that would be played by all – without sacrificing or compromising their individual, favored anthems and tunes?  Can the world community achieve a utopian harmony and maintain it?



I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing


During 1971 Coca Cola launched a commercial that featured a musical group called "The New Seekers" singing a cheery, upbeat tune titled "I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)."  The lyrics include ones that beautifully capture the appeal of a utopian kind of harmony: 



I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms and keep it company
I'd like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills "Ah, peace throughout the land"

Exactly what is involved in collectively writing (as it were) a global song of harmony?  Which is to say, transcending the many differences, xenophobic and ethnocentric tendencies, religious quarrels, and such within and between nations and groups, in order to achieve a peaceful, peace-loving and peace-preserving global community?


Too,"well".utopian?!   I'm sure the creation of an enduring democracy in a land of people boasting a multitude of languages, cultural traditions, and religions must have seemed just as unlikely back in the 18th century.   But the American experiment took root and flourished.   How did a nation of diverse nations succeed in forging a viable social and political order that basically (though gradually and haltingly) subsumed and bound together all its constituents, worked to transcend differences (though not without great pain), and maintain a species of harmony that (though often frayed) has yet to come unraveled?


Is the American system the end result of good geography, good ideas and good luck (As in seizing opportunities)?   In part, yes.   But from its birth there was laid a foundation without which the many strands would have been unlikely to be wound together to form the one strong rope it has become:  An express vision or template that all who call themselves Americans would embrace and defend. This vision or template included many elements such as the preeminence of basic articulated freedoms and rights for all; the rule of law; a democratically elected, representative government with constraints on the power exercised by its main branches; and so forth.


 Now this is not to say that the success of the "American way" is a mandate for it to become the "Global Way".   But there are principles and ideas that can be extracted from the American experience, as well as that of other successful nations and collectives, which could form the core of a global vision or template.


Do I propose to now lay before you the framework for such a transnational vision or template?   In a word, no.   The purpose I have in mind for this brief foray into "politics" is to (hopefully) get you thinking and talking about the foundational elements that should go into the composition of a transcendent "global symphony".  Surely it must be a work that is written by all the peoples of the world and not imposed by the powerful or any one interest or confederation of interests.   For if it can't be freely and joyously sung by everyone, it is almost certain to spawn misery and darkness.  If it is not a universal symphony,  " may well be a funeral dirge.


Submitted for your consideration on May 31st 2004 – Memorial Day (USA) – a day for reflection and moving forward – by Dr. Anthony G. Payne ("The Wizard Who Came From The Sky")


© 2004 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne.   All rights reserved worldwide. 





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