[An excerpt from Mikhail Gorbachev's new book The Search for a New Beginning: Developing a New Civilization, inspired by the State of the World Forum in September 95 in San Francisco. This excerpt was printed in Noetic Sciences Review, Autumn edition.]


by Mikhail Gorbachev

One of the paradoxes of the twentieth centry is the gap between humankind's amazing technological achievements and the often deplorable state of the human spirit and human morality. We saw the collapse of the attempt that was made in Soviet Russia and other countries to construct a "new system of values" and to impose on people norms of behavior that were said to reflect their true interest. In reality, this attempt "to make humankind happy" resulted in something totally unacceptable to the civilized world: namely, humanity's alienation from property and power, making the individual a "cog in the wheel" of a thoroughly ideologized machinery of the state.

On the other hand, it is increasingly evident that the values of the Western world are becoming more and more anachronistic. Their Golden Age is in the past; they cannot assure a dependable future for the human race.

We should take a sober and unprejudiced view of the strengths and weaknesses of collectivism, which is fraught with dictatorship. But what about the individualism of Western culture? At the very least, something will have to be done about its purely consumerist orientation that emphasizes "having" rather than "being", acquiring and possessing rather than revealing the real potential of humanity.

Today, humankind is facing a choice. It is time for every individual, nation and state to rethink its place and role in world affairs. We need an intellectual breakthrough into a new dimension. And that means that the state of the human spirit assumes paramount importance. The roles of culture, religion, science, and education must grow enormously. The responsibility of the centers of humanity's intellectual, scientific, and religious development is immense and must be given preeminence.

The future of human society will not be defined in terms of capitalism versus socialism. It was that dichotomy that caused the division of the world community into two blocs and brought about so many catastrophic consequences. We need to find a paradigm that will integrate all the achievements of the human mind and human action, irrespective of which ideology or political movement can be credited with them. This paradigm can only be based on the common values that humankind has developed over many centuries. The search for a new paradigm should be a search for synthesis, for what is common to and unites people, countries, and nations, rather than what divides them.

The search for such a synthesis can succeed if the following conditions are met.

When I speak of a new synthesis, of the need for increasing unity and interdependence, I am not calling for a kind of universal leveling, sameness or uniformity. I do not accept a civilization that would be like a huge historic steamroller, flattening out everything. Who would need such a new civilization, and why even call it new? By no means do I want all countries and nations to become alike. I think that the civilization to which we all belong is one of great multiplicity. And that is a souce of its strength, the basis for the exchange of cultural values, for comparing methods of organization and ways of living.

The philosophy of the twenty-first century must be grounded in a philosophy of diversity. If life as such is the highest value, then even more precious is the singular identity of every nation and every race as a unique creation of nature and human history.

At the same time, we must begin to define certain moral maxims or ethical commandments that constitute values common to all humankind. It is my view that the individual's attitude toward nature must become one of the principal criteria for ensuring the maintenance of morality. Today it is not enough to say "Thou shalt not kill". Ecological education implies, above all, respect and love for every living being. It is here that ecological culture interfaces with religion.

The beauty and uniqueness of life lies in the unity of diversity. Self-identification - of every individual and of the many different nations, ethnic groups and nationalities - is the crucial condition for preserving life on Earth. Struggles and conflicts burn out the diversity of life, leaving a social wasteland in their wake. Honoring diversity and honoring the Earth create the basis for genuine unity.
Copyright & copy; by Harper San Francisco.