Thursday, October 25, 2012

dignity of difference

I’ve just finished Jonathan Sacks’ book entitled “The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilisations” – written in 2002 as a response to the 9/11 tragedy. It’s a brave, radical, intelligent and hopeful book from an orthodox Jewish leader (and someone who, I think, is often regarded as a conservative thinker)… he wants to celebrate the differences among religious traditions and use them to enlarge, not stunt, our humanity.
The book is full of thought-provoking comments and quotes – and, I kept having to remind myself that it was written TEN years ago. I’m afraid I’m one of those annoying people who often underlines memorable passages in pencil and the first half of the book, in particular, is full of marked sentences! Here are just a few examples… (most of you will, no doubt, stop reading at this point - which would be a shame as they provided me with MUCH food for thought):
·   “Television, with its emphasis on the visual, creates a culture of sight rather than sound – the image speaks louder than the word. Images invoke emotion. They do not , of themselves, generate understanding. The result is that the most visual protest, the angriest voice and the most extreme slogan. If confrontation is news and conciliation is not, we will have a culture of confrontation”.
·     “On the one hand, globalisation is bringing us closer together than ever before, interweaving our lives, nationally and internationally, in complex and inextricable ways. On the other, a new tribalism – a regression to older and more fractious loyalties – is driving us ever more angrily apart”.
·     “Society depends on the existence of certain relationships that stand outside economic calculation: among them, families, communities, congregations and voluntary associations. These are the institutions of civil society, and they have become seriously eroded in consumption-driven cultures”.
·     “Globalisation has immensely differential and destabilising effects. Its benefits are not spread evenly. There are winners and losers, within and between countries. The ‘digital divide’ has heightened inequalities. The average North American consumes five times more than a Mexican, ten times more than a Chinese, 30 times more than an Indian…”.
·     “One way or another, the two most influential actors – states and markets – have effectively marginalised ethical considerations from their decision-making procedures. The same is true about the most important newcomer to the international stage: the global corporation. Today, the large multinationals wield enormous power. Of the hundred largest economies today, 51 are corporations and only 49 are nation-states”.
·     “A consumer society is kept going by an endless process of stimulating, satisfying, and re-stimulating desire. It is more like an addiction than a quest for fulfilment”.
·     “We will need to understand that just as the natural environment depends on biodiversity, so the human environment depends on cultural diversity, because no one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth; no one civilisation encompasses all the spiritual, ethical and artistic expressions of mankind”.
·     “Morality has had a hard time of it in the past half-century. It has come to represent everything we believe ourselves to have been liberated from: authority, repression, the delay of instinctual gratification, all that went with the religious, puritanical, Victorian culture of our grandparents. Virtues once thought admirable – modesty, humility, discretion, restraint – are now dusty exhibits in a museum of the cultural curiosities. Words like ‘duty’, ‘obligation’, ‘judgement’, ‘wisdom’ either carry a negative charge or no meaning at all”.
·     “In 1968, 75% of college freshmen listed ‘developing a meaningful philosophy of life’ as very important, while only 41% said the same for ‘being well off financially’. Three decades later, the percentages had been reversed”.
·     “International trade and global financial markets are very good at generating wealth, but they cannot take care of other social needs, such as the preservation of peace, alleviation of poverty, protection of the environment, labour conditions, or human rights – what are generally known as ‘public goods’” (George Soros).
·     “There is a real and present danger that the market, left to its own devices, will continue to concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands, leaving whole nations destitute and significant numbers of people, even within advanced economies, without stable employment, income or prospects. Envy, anger and the sheer sense of injustice are fertile soil for the growth of protest, violence and terror from which, given the openness on which globalisation depends, none of us are immune”.
PS: well done if you made it to the end!

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