KEYNOTE SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO FORUM 2000:
17 OCTOBER 2000, PRAGUE
SPIRITUAL AND ETHICAL FOUNDATION OF THE GLOBALISED WORLD.
Our world at the beginning of the new millennium is an entirely different place from the world that our grand-parents knew at the beginning of the last century. This is true not only of the fundamental technological progress that we have made during the past hundred years, but also of the enormous changes that have taken place in our spiritual and ethical orientation.
During the past century those of us who are fortunate enough to live in first world societies have achieved most of mankind’s ancient political and social goals.
- After centuries of repression and struggle, the citizens of first world countries enjoy political freedom. They live in universal democracies and are free to participate at all levels in the processes by which they are governed. Their political, economic and civil rights are protected by impartial courts.
- After generations of religious conflict and persecution, they have achieved their goal of religious freedom. They enjoy freedom of expression, religion and thought.
- They have also broken free from the fear of poverty and disease and now enjoy high levels of social and medical security that were undreamed of in previous centuries.
We have also made significant advances in our social and political attitudes since the beginning of this century:
- On the eve of the First World War, soldiers parading through the streets of London, Paris, Berlin and Moscow were cheered by enthusiastic crowds as they marched off to war. Many people still glorified the idea of war and the ideals of military conquest and martial valour. Eighty-six years later, hardly anyone believes that there is any merit in war of any kind. Any delusions which mankind had at the beginning of the century about the romance of war were swept away by its experiences in the trenches of the First World War; the devastation of the Second World War and in the jungles of South East Asia.
- At the turn of the century the role of women was restricted almost totally to the traditional tasks of home-making. Families were large and many children – and mothers – died in childbirth. Now, only a few generations later, the equality of men and women is accepted almost everywhere in principle – although still not sufficiently in practice.
- In 1900 Europe was the unquestioned master of most of the world. British, French, German and Dutch imperialists firmly believed that they had some special right and responsibility to rule over distant peoples – many of whom had civilisations older than their own. It was a time of unabashed imperialism and racism, of the unquestioned assumption of European superiority. Now, a century later, all the former colonies have gained their independence and racism and imperialism have been cast onto the ash-heap of history.
The social and political progress that we have made during the past century has led to the emergence of a growing global ethical consensus based largely on social rather than spiritual norms. The foundations of this new ethical system are the twin principles of equality and freedom. The new global ethics are accordingly strongly biased toward democracy, human rights; non-discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or social origin; and social responsibility. These tendencies have certainly led to a world that is more caring, more tolerant and more just.
On the other hand our rampant globalised consumer economy is eroding many of the elements from which we previously derived much of our personal meaning and purpose.
Our globalised world is driven overwhelmingly by materialism. It has one god – and fifteen percent is his profit. Increasingly, personal success is equated with wealth and the accumulation of material possessions and not with the more traditional values of service and personal integrity.
Globalisation is also imposing a new cultural uniformity on countries around the world with enormous implications for our personal spiritual development.
The rich cultural diversity of our planet is one of our greatest communal and personal heritages. However, as a result of globalisation a new international uniformity is developing in many areas that had previously been characterised by cultural diversity:
- new generations are growing up all around the world who watch the same TV shows as children; who adulate the same pop music and movie idols as teenagers and who follow the same soap operas as adults.
- Their understanding of the world is increasingly influenced by the same global news networks and commentators.
- They follow the same fashions and buy the same globally marketed products – whether they are the toys and T-shirts spawned by the latest Disney feature; jeans and perfumes from the fashion houses of Paris, Milan or New York or the most recent electronic consumer items from Japan or Korea.
- They do their shopping in the same malls; buy hamburgers from the same fast-food chains, and work in shiny office buildings which look the same from Shanghai to Buenos Aires; from Frankfurt to Singapore.
The result is the development of a new generation of global citizens whose attitudes, tastes and aspirations are increasingly uniform.
Everywhere regional and national cultures and identities are under pressure. It has been estimated that half of the world’s 6 000 languages will disappear during the next century. Our cultural diversity is now under greater threat than the bio-diversity of our planet.
Globalisation accordingly presents us with a great challenge:
the challenge of preserving and enhancing spiritual meaning in an increasingly materialistic and uniform world.
Our world is now overwhelmingly secular. Many of the moral and religious values upon which our families and societies were traditionally based are under serious threat – if they have not indeed already been swept aside.
- Throughout much of the Western world, churches are empty and society has entered what has been described as the ‘post Christian era’.
- In Europe, a large proportion of couples no longer go through the process of marriage. Everywhere the traditional concept of the nuclear family is under threat.
- In Germany, Italy, Russia and much of Eastern Europe populations are beginning to diminish as more and more people opt for smaller families – or for no families at all.
- The advent of the pill in the ‘sixties; the wide acceptance of sex outside of marriage and changing attitudes toward homosexuality have all contributed to a revolution in society’s attitudes to sexual morality.
- The Lady Chatterly’s Lover decision in the early sixties breached the traditional dam wall of taboo and propriety with which my generation grew up. Now, at any time our children are routinely exposed to a flood of obscenities and blasphemy on TV and in the movies that would have made earlier generations of sailors blush.
Many would argue that these developments are healthy and have helped to eliminate the hypocrisy and inhibitions that used to characterise the attitudes of former generations. They claim that they have introduced much more open, healthy and human approaches to many of our basic relationships. What they cannot deny, however, is that they represent a fundamental challenge to many of our traditional values and beliefs.
The reality is that the driving forces behind globalisation are economic, technological, materialistic and rational – and that these forces are often inimical to our search for spiritual meaning.
We must remember that human beings first came together in larger groups, not primarily for mutual protection or to improve their hunting and gathering potential, but because they depended on society for their very identity and meaning. As Aristotle pointed out more than two thousand years ago, outside society man is either an animal or a god. Throughout our history one of the prime functions of society has been the generation of meaning and identity for its members. It fulfilled this task by providing them with language and culture and by creating an environment in which myths, ritual and religion could flourish.
The religious impulse of our distant ancestors often had its root in their awe of the unknown; in the mysteries of the changing seasons and the movements of the sun, moon and stars; and in the eternal riddle of the beginning and end of life. But now, science has provided answers to many of these ancient mysteries. We now know why the seasons change and how the stars themselves were born. Scientists are unravelling the genetic secrets of life itself.
Our sense of the divine was underpinned by ceremony and taboo; by the strict observation of the Sabbath; by prohibitions in some faiths against uttering the name of God; and in others against depicting His image or even the image of men. In our age, our sense of the divine has been seriously eroded by our appetite for rational analysis and the familiarity bred by Hollywood epics and the mass commercialisation of religion.
Only a generation or two ago, our moral orientation was fixed by immutable commandments, of black and white notions of right and wrong. But in a world of relativistic values and situational morality, most of these commandments have been swept aside and reduced to the proposition that we may do whatever we like provided we do not harm anyone else.
In the past we derived so much of our meaning and purpose in life from the rich soil of our regional and national cultures; from our myths and from adherence to the religion into which we were born and raised. These factors inspired our art, our music and our literature and left us with a treasure house of meaning and beauty. Does the globalised culture have the capacity to do this? Is human society still fulfilling its primary function of generating meaning for its members?
At this time when more people are painting, sculpting, writing and composing music than at any time in our history why are we creating so little great art or music?
The average European worker, with his Volkswagen, TV, internet, global travel and medical care probably has a higher real standard of living than the Emperor Charles V in the 16th century. But what will be the purpose of his life during the new millennium – simply the acquisition of more and more material possessions and the pursuit of pleasure and leisure?
The reality is that the pace of our scientific and technological have far outstripped the pace of our spiritual development. During the new millennium one of our greatest challenges may well be to rediscover the spiritual truths that will provide us with meaning and purpose.
There are some things in our rapidly changing world that are constant from one generation to the next: these I believe are our core values. They provide us with solid ground above the flood of change. They give us a firm foundation in the midst of the maelstrom. When we seek for meaning in the globalised world of the new millennium we should return to these core values:
Honesty. Even in the globalised economy honesty will continue to provide the basis for business and personal communication.
Loyalty. Loyalty will still provide the glue that binds our personal and social relations and the strength that will enable them to withstand adversity and misfortune.
Compassion and generosity. In a world in which thousands of millions of people continue to live in poverty, tyranny and deprivation compassion and generosity will be the key to ensuring that all the people of our planet will one day share in the benefits of globalisation.
Diligence. In the fiercely competitive environment of the global economy, the ability to work hard and effectively will be more important than ever.
Courage. Despite the benefits that globalisation will bring, life will continue to confront us with threats and difficult decisions, moments when we will have to take risks and stand up for our beliefs
Justice. The success of societies, companies and individuals in the globalised world will continue to depend on their ability to treat citizens, employees and friends fairly and with justice.
Faith. Finally and most importantly, the truths that we derive from our religious faith are as valid and as central to our search for meaning today as they were when they were first expressed two thousand years ago. During the new millennium I am convinced that millions of people, searching for purpose amid the prosperity and materialism of the globalised economy will return to these truths.
No matter how much our world may change, these values will endure and will continue to provide us with the basis for all our relationships and the source of all our meaning and purpose.
In our ephemeral world the things that last will be great values and great ideas: twenty-four centuries ago the Athenian leader, Pericles said: “Make up your minds about this: your happiness depends on your being free; and your freedom depends on your being courageous”. In the past fifteen years people throughout the world, including our own people in South Africa, have repeatedly demonstrated the truth of Pericles statement – most recently in Yugoslavia. The massive marble columns of the Parthenon and the glorious buildings of the Acropolis have crumbled into ruins: but Pericles’ words remain as clear and true and fresh today as they were four centuries before the birth of Christ.
The sources of meaning in our rapidly changing world will continue to be timeless values and great and eternal ideas.