The impact of the "once-in-a-century" financial meltdown has now spread to engulf the whole world. There are growing signs that the current financial turmoil is undermining the real economy, bringing about a global recession and driving up unemployment.
The main cause of the crisis can be traced to the dominance of speculative financial assets, whose scale has been variously estimated at four times the cumulative value of world GDP. But the deepest root of the crisis is an unhealthy fixation on the abstract and ultimately insubstantial signifier of wealth-currency.
Currency itself has virtually no use value; it has only exchange value. The financial markets divest it of any meaningful connection to concrete goods and services; thus, as an object of human desire, it has no real or inherent limits.
We have to ask if we as a society have not been caught up in what the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel described as the "spirit of abstraction," the essentially destructive process by which our conceptions of things are alienated from concrete realities.
The worship of money goes beyond desire for the merely material. It entraps and mesmerizes us, drawing us into modes of action we would otherwise avoid. The predominance of monetary interests has accentuated the negative aspects of capitalism such as global income disparity, unstable labor markets and environmental destruction. It is now apparent that the faith in free competition and markets to resolve all problems was misplaced; nothing in the world is so neatly preordained.
To ensure that any legal or institutional measures to rein in the excesses of capitalism are part of a long-term vision, it is imperative that we seek out a new way of thinking, a paradigm shift that will reach to the very foundation of human civilization.
The idea of "humanitarian competition" set out by the founding president of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944), can serve as such a paradigm. Makiguchi surveyed the grand flow of human history and identified the forms of competition-military, political and economic-that have prevailed in different periods. He concluded with a call for us to set our sights on the goal of humanitarian competition.
As a concept, humanitarian competition compels us to confront the reality of competition while ensuring that it is conducted firmly on the basis of humane values. In this way, it brings forth a synergistic reaction between humanitarian concerns and competitive energies.
In contrast to the universality claimed by ideology and currency stands "inner universality"-perspectives and principles that are rooted in the world of concrete realities and can only be developed from within. The truly important questions are always close at hand, in our tangible and immediate circumstances.
Makiguchi's approach is rooted in the kind of inner universality in which we plant our feet firmly in the actualities of the local community and seek to develop larger perspectives from that starting point. It is only by paying relentless attention to those realities that we can freely direct our thoughts and associations to the larger dimension. If we develop such fresh and vital imagination, we will be able to experience not only close friends but even the inhabitants of distant lands as neighbors.
This is the most effective antidote to the pathologies of our age. It is our most certain guarantee against the kinds of inversion in which people are sacrificed to ideology, all means being justified in the achievement of ends and the tangible present forgotten in the quest for a utopian future.
Sharing the Future
Three pillars can serve as the mainstays for transforming the unfolding global crisis into a catalyst for opening a new future for humanity: the sharing of action through tackling environmental problems, the sharing of responsibility through international cooperation on global public goods and the sharing of efforts for peace toward the abolition of nuclear arms.
Energy policy is clearly an area around which international cooperation can be built. Not only is securing adequate sources of energy a critical issue for developing and emerging countries; energy issues are also key to any effort by developed countries to effect the transition to a low-carbon no-waste society.
Recent developments toward this goal include the establishment of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (IPEEC). To further the work of these two organizations, an international sustainable energy agency should be created under the aegis of the United Nations so that international cooperation on energy policy can take firm root throughout the global community.
A key element of the second pillar-the sharing of responsibility through international cooperation on global public goods-would be the creation of a world food bank. Securing stable food supplies is essential to sustaining human life and human dignity; it must be the starting point for all our efforts to combat poverty.
To ensure secure access to food for all the world's people, we need to hold a certain amount of grain in reserve at all times as a global public good. These reserves could be distributed as emergency relief during a food crisis or released onto the market to stabilize prices.
Meanwhile, expanded use of innovative financing mechanisms such as international solidarity levies can raise funds for overcoming poverty and improving health care and sanitation in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The effort to develop innovative funding mechanisms can be thought of as a type of humanitarian competition, as various states constructively vie with one another to develop the most effective ideas and proposals.
The third pillar is the creation of international frameworks that facilitate the sharing of efforts for peace and the abolition of nuclear arms.
It is crucial that the U.S. and Russia, which between them account for 95 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal, immediately resume bilateral talks on nuclear disarmament. If the two nations could reach a basic agreement on bold new nuclear arms reductions, this would clearly demonstrate to the world their commitment to disarmament ahead of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.
Only when the nuclear-weapon states firmly set into motion good faith efforts toward disarmament will it be possible to obtain commitments from countries outside of the NPT framework on freezing nuclear weapon development programs and embarking on disarmament.
A parallel challenge that needs to be pursued is that of a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), which would comprehensively prohibit the development, testing, manufacture, possession, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. An NWC could function as an international norm exerting substantial influence on the behavior of the nuclear-weapon states, in the way the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has led even states not party to the treaty to announce a moratorium on nuclear testing.
Drawing on the experience of the initiatives taken by civil society in the campaigns for the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the calls for an NWC provide the opportunity for the people of the world to join in solidarity to lay siege to the very concept of nuclear weapons.
It was a surge in international public opinion against cluster munitions that led to the adoption of the convention banning them within an exceptionally short period of time last year. Nuclear arms are the most inhumane of all weapons; once again, the humanitarian imperative must prevail over the militarist principle.
Envisioning the Future
As a means of strengthening the UN, a key proposal would be the creation of a post of under-secretary-general for civil society relations. This should be a permanent post specifically dedicated to enhancing the standing of NGOs within the UN system and promoting partnership with them.
It is crucial that NGOs not be confined to the role of observers, but be recognized as indispensable partners in the work of the UN. The importance of their contributions is likely only to grow as the twenty-first century progresses.
Another key reform would be the creation of an office of global visioning in order to enable the UN to project and anticipate future trends and developments. It is essential that the UN be equipped with functions capable of offering future-oriented vision and action strategies based on what the world will look like fifty or a hundred years from now.
The SGI has consistently promoted initiatives to support the UN and has engaged in steadfast efforts to build a culture of peace through grassroots dialogue. Dialogue presents infinite possibilities; it is a challenge that can be taken up by anyone-any time-in order to realize the transformation from a culture of violence to a culture of peace.
Bound by a shared commitment to humanism and the greater good, the SGI's citizens' network has now expanded to 192 countries and territories around the world. We are determined to continue working in solidarity with people of good will everywhere toward the goal of a new era of peace and human flourishing.