Activism

5 Ways to Achieve World Peace and Prosperity -- Yes, It's Possible

Peace and prosperity are not impossible. They can be attained through the realization of five fundamental freedoms, for all people, everywhere in the world.

Editor's Note:The following is excerpted from 2048: Humanity's Agreement to Live Together, by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, copyright 2010.

One of the most pernicious myths is that peace and prosperity are hopelessly complicated and unattainable. 2048 dispels myths. This is untrue. Peace and prosperity can be attained through the realization of five basic fundamental freedoms, for all people, everywhere in the world. They are: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, freedom for the environment, and freedom from fear. Of course, other rights are needed too, but these five fundamental freedoms establish a framework within which other rights can flourish. If our international community remembers these Five Freedoms, and if they become a regular part of our daily lives, then collectively we will carry the core of 2048 in our minds and they will become our way of life.

Please look at your hand for a moment. Hold it up, palm facing you. We all have five fingers, but the first we call a thumb. In appearance it looks different. It stands out. And it is strong. It represents freedom of speech, the idea that stands out, that stands up to dishonesty and corruption.

Next, look at your index finger. We point with this one. It gives us direction. It represents freedom of religion. Each of us is free to choose our own direction, with or without God, and for those who decide that God is their guide, then they are free to have their own relationship with God without the state telling them what that relationship must be. Interference by the state pollutes the relationship with God.

Third is the middle finger, the longest of all. It represents freedom from want, the long road of existence, and the certainty that there will be food, water, shelter, education, and health care for every one of us no matter where we may be on that road.

Next, for many of us, is the marriage ring finger, either the right or the left hand, and for all of us, a finger with a direct link to our nervous system. It represents freedom for the environment. Life. We all have a direct link to the Earth and the ecosystem of which we are a part. When the life of the Earth is spoiled, our lives are spoiled.

Finally, there is our “little finger,” shorter and smaller than the rest. It represents freedom from fear. It’s the “finale” of our hand, our reward. All the others lead to this one.

As you take a look at your hand and recount the Five Freedoms, remember that you didn’t ask for that hand, you were born with it. So too, you do not have to ask for the Five Freedoms, you were born with them. They are five freedoms for all!

Four of these Five Freedoms originated with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. He stated the following in his State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress in January 1941:

We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms:

The first is freedom of speech and expression — 
everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want — everywhere in 
the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear — everywhere in 
the world.

The beauty of these Four Freedoms is that they are an outline of an agreement for humanity. The Four Freedoms are a social formula. When we, the people of our international community, have created a social order whereby all people enjoy the first three freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from want — then we will have created a society where we can all share in the fourth freedom, freedom from fear. This formula was born out of a desire not just to end World War II, but as President Roosevelt said “to end the beginning of all wars.” This quote and the Four Freedoms are engraved in granite at the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. They are a guiding light for 2048.

I recall being at the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., at dusk one evening. It is an outdoor memorial with a mix of monuments, trees, and waterfalls. The many cherry trees were in blossom and a light drizzle gilded the petals with water. My friend and I stood before a large stone wall, perhaps 30 feet high, with the Four Freedoms engraved in large letters on it. At that moment a group of twenty-five or thirty middle-school students, 12 to 14 years old, of all different races — black, white, Latino, Asian — came to the wall.

They were from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States, but the rights on that wall applied to any visitor from anywhere in the world. The students laughed and formed small groups to have their pictures taken in front of these freedoms. After the flashes stopped, several turned to touch the wall and run their fingers through the carved grooves of the letters on it. The connection for my friend Bart, who is black, and me, white, was clear: It didn’t matter what color they were, what sex, what religion or what nation they were from — the rights on that wall must become as real in the lives of all people as they are to the fingertips of those children.

Fortunately, we need not wait for the children to grow old for the realization of the Four Freedoms. Roosevelt saw the Four Freedoms as achievable within a generation. Commenting on his speech, he said, “It is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.” Perhaps he was overly optimistic about the speed at which the Four Freedoms could be achieved everywhere in the world, but steady, immediate action is the message — not to put these rights off forever.

The Four Freedoms are the essence of a good life for all. They ensure the following: We can think freely, say and write what we want, and peacefully organize to protest; we can have a relationship with a god of our choosing, without interference by the state; we can live with security knowing that education and health care will always be available, regardless of circumstance; and finally we can live in peace, without fear of rampant crime and continuing war. In short, the Four Freedoms are the core of our social contract — our agreement about how we will live together.

President Roosevelt’s recitation of the phrase “everywhere in the world” at the end of each freedom is key. He was so adamant about these words that he handwrote them onto the pages of the speech he gave. He made it perfectly clear that the Four Freedoms were not just for Americans. His own speechwriters questioned him about this, saying that Americans wouldn’t be much concerned about the people in Java. Roosevelt’s response was that Americans had better care because we are all interconnected now. So as we strive for the Four Freedoms, we do so for all members of our international community. Security rests not in the well-being of one nation, but in the well-being of all nations.

In effect, the Four Freedoms were a New Deal for the world. Roosevelt had long been a champion of the common man in America. Through the New Deal in America, Roosevelt took the hard edges off of capitalism. He made sure that working people were not left destitute while wealth and power were consolidated into the hands of a few. With the Four Freedoms, he was expanding his gaze to all men and women, in all nations, to ensure that destitution did not befall anyone, for in destitution he saw the seeds of war. His wife, Eleanor, saw these seeds as well. In 1942 she wrote, “If we really do not mean that after this war we intend to see that people the world over have an opportunity to obtain a satisfactory life, then all we are doing is to prepare for a new war.” Recently we have seen the correctness of this insight in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda have grown from the soil of crushing poverty.

Soon after Roosevelt unveiled the Four Freedoms they were incorporated into a multinational wartime strategy. A superpower summit between Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt was held aboard American and British ships in the Atlantic Ocean, on August 10, 1941, eight months after Roosevelt stated the Four Freedoms in his State of the Union address. Roosevelt summoned great courage and strength to rise up out of his wheelchair and walk across a ship while it was at sea. Each footstep, with crutches, and braces on his legs, was a stride toward a new deal, a new contract, a new agreement for humanity.

The famous Atlantic Charter came out of Roosevelt’s meetings with Winston Churchill at sea, and the Four Freedoms were included in that Charter. Like the Four Freedoms speech, the Atlantic Charter was written for everyone. It envisioned a postwar social order “which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.” The embodiment of the Four Freedoms in the Atlantic Charter was a defining moment for the social contract between government and the common person.

While the Four Freedoms ensure dignity and cover most of our social contract among ourselves and our government, we also need a fifth freedom to preserve our planet, including the ecosystem that provides joy and beauty, and also sustains us: freedom for the environment. Just as our human DNA is 98.5 percent the same for all people in all countries, so too our well-being is intertwined with our physical environment.

Equally important, as we have learned from global warming, the health of our environment affects us all, everywhere, and therefore, as with the first Four Freedoms, freedom for the environment must also apply “everywhere in the world.” The demise of our planet’s ecosystem teaches us the folly of only working on local environmental issues while dramatic degradation takes place worldwide. I recall a lawsuit in which I represented an environmental group seeking to protect old growth forests. We won that lawsuit, but now, because of global warming, the temperatures are not dropping enough to kill the bugs that are today killing the trees. We can’t just protect the environment at the local level and expect to have a clean and healthy environment.

Furthermore, it’s time to discard the myth that we must be willing to sacrifice the environment for the sake of economic competition. What is needed is uniform, international regulation of the type that an International Convention would provide. Without an international approach there will always be pressures for some countries to sacrifice the environment to gain market advantage. Capitalism works well, but it also tends to create a race to the bottom when it comes to environmental protection.

Creating a fifth freedom for the environment is also harmonious with the other four freedoms. Often destruction of the environment results from the actions of impoverished people who are struggling to survive, whether by cutting down their local forest to an extent that it does not grow back, for example, or overfishing to where fish stocks do not come back. The lack of the first three freedoms, particularly freedom from want, can thus lead to the destruction of the environment. As we reach an agreement regarding the first Four Freedoms, well-being for all, the result is that the need to sacrifice the environment to survive is reduced. In this way, the Five Freedoms are intertwined and the success of each bolsters the others.

Given the strength and well-being that each of us will gain from five universal freedoms, it is also time to dispel another myth — that there is not enough to go around. We pay dearly for the myth that we can’t afford to have health care and education for all, and the myth that environmental protection is too costly. These myths are untrue. For example, studies have conclusively shown that not only will global warming cause serious suffering and diminishment of our daily lives, but it will cost us more to pick up the pieces after hurricanes, droughts, and flooding than it will cost to avoid these calamities. Similarly, while education may cost more initially, it creates good jobs to construct schools and results in highly productive workers. The net result of the implementation of 2048 is a financial savings in addition to fulfilling lives.

No Increase In Taxes

Furthermore, securing Five Freedoms for all will not require more taxes! All it will take is the reallocation of existing tax revenues. The real myth is that we must continue the way we are going. Our international community is spending $1.4 trillion a year on military expenditures. One percent of GNP for all countries is roughly $500 billion. Therefore, all it would take to bring about the full realization of the Five Freedoms and to usher in a new form of human security would be to reallocate $500 billion of military costs toward the realization of the Five Freedoms. That would leave $900 billion for military, more than enough!

The truth is that there is enough funding for the realization of fundamental human rights, including economic and social rights. The problem is those who are presently profiting do not want the public to believe there are sufficient funds for military and human rights because they have an interest in maintaining the status quo. It is time for the human rights community to have the strength and daring to band together so that we have the clout to stand up to this narrow-minded view.

One way that myths are perpetuated is by keeping people unaware of the truth. Today, for example, the United States gives only 0.17 percent, less than one-fifth of 1% of its GNP, to foreign aid, and much of this goes for military purposes, not education and health care. One percent of GNP is not too much to ask, particularly when greater security for ourselves and our children is the result. Just think of the cost if the bird flu or some other pandemic were to arise out of abject poverty in a poor country and then sweep the world, killing tens of millions in all countries and causing utter chaos and financial collapse because goods could no longer be produced and shipped in our global economy. A penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

People in the United States, on the whole, like people in all other countries, are fundamentally good and generous souls with whom you can sit and talk at their kitchen tables. Many do not know that their government gives less than one-fifth of 1% to foreign aid and is at the bottom for giving among developed countries. They probably also don’t know that the United States spends more on military than all other countries combined. Part of the role of 2048 is to help spread awareness. When people know the truth, they typically support reallocation of resources as part of our agreement to live together, in keeping with their self-interest and morals.

Awareness can be created with a small percentage of people. Just as it will only take 1% of GNP for the realization of education and health care for all, so too it will take only 1% of humanity to share the news of 2048. Word of mouth, spurred by our innate desire to live in peace and security instead of war and want, will spread the word. This 1% of humanity already exists within the arts and media, our nonprofit and for-profit businesses, our places of worship, our universities, and even our governments — now the Internet and 2048 are bringing all these communities together.

Knowledge of the Five Freedoms is essential to achieve this 1% “tipping point” for the success of 2048. Students and the public generally need to be able to recall the Five Freedoms just as easily as they can count the five fingers on their hand. As they learn their rights, they also come to expect them, both from one another and from their governments. What they expect today, they will demand tomorrow. The Five Freedoms are deeply held cultural values that lead to lasting results. Now, with the Five Freedoms for all etched firmly in mind, let us consider each of these freedoms individually.

J. Kirk Boyd is executive director of the 2048 Project. He teaches international human rights, civil rights, free speech and constitutional law at UC Berkeley.