Several decades ago, I was engaged in selecting documents for publication on the workings of the German Foreign Office in the 1920s. I came across a memorandum written by a midlevel official about the League of Nations, the international organization that came into existence at the end of the First World War. The author of this memo regarded the international scene from the perspective of Realpolitik—the ultimate moral imperative of each sovereign political entity to pursue its own interests. He observed that history evidenced a natural evolution of political structures from smaller to larger units, and the next stage, which he perceived as evolving around him right then, was world government.
Many Germans were aggrieved by the imposed settlements that ended World War I, which they felt unjust and biased against their country. In the twilight years of the mid-1920s, when the Great Depression and the rise of the German Nazi Party were still unforeseen, this cool-thinking official and several others around him viewed the development of a more just and peaceful international order—one that included a process for peaceful conflict resolution—as perhaps the best path for regaining all the territories and resources that he felt Germany had lost unjustly in the punitive treaties ending that war. Despite the dismal collapse of such internationalist dreams soon afterward as the Second World War loomed, an expectation of the inevitability of ethical progression in international politics was harbored even in this unlikely place.
Having been raised a Friend, I assume a hopeful stance toward the future. Unlike many others, we generally presume that the human world is not meant to be adversarial. Even decision making by voting is rejected among Friends as unnecessarily confrontational. Friends participate in local and national elections, but often with misgivings since these contests, lawmaking, and even courts can be settings in which privilege is preserved and fought for.
One evening a few years ago, as I sat in silence at Southampton (Pa.) Meeting, my attention turned to a 12-Step poster on the wall, left behind by a Narcotics Anonymous group that meets weekly in our space. As I stared at it, I experienced a flash of insight—that our entire culture is addicted to competition and violence. My perception of them as a disease was new. It came to me in that moment that in order to move toward a more harmonious world like the one perhaps envisioned by that official in the German Foreign Office some 90 years ago, something akin to a 12-step program could be instrumental as we confront our inborn proclivity toward violence and war.
I imagined and counted up what the 12 steps might be, and a list quickly materialized. I refined it and shared it with friends, some of whom made suggestions and contributed specific language. The number of steps changed over time, and they shortened to 11 when I combined two of them.
I sense that a growing number of people understand that fundamental change is necessary for human survival. An initial step to achieve this change is to envision it, which is what I have done. I encourage others to do likewise.
My starting point has been a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1967, in which he named three central problems facing humanity: racial injustice, poverty, and war. He saw them as requiring solution together, an insight that has become a key gift to humanity.
As the human footprint on our planet has continued to grow in recent decades along with our human potential for destruction, this vision needs also to address a fourth central problem: our endangered global environment.
The following 11 steps take on all four of these issues. The initial steps are for individuals, while larger clusters of people will interact progressively through the list—and, for the final steps, the whole of humanity.
1. Clear One’s Presumptions
It’s time to acknowledge the integrity of the human family. Labels like “terrorists” and “enemies” place some individuals beyond our concern, but our nature requires that we not write off anyone. We can hold people accountable for destructive acts without labeling and stigmatizing them, since doing so undercuts our critical responsibility to include—and listen to—everyone.
2. Access Multiple Sources of Information
We can become sensitized to distortions in news coverage, ones that reveal the self-interest of forces in the media. We avoid segmented news channels where people of different persuasions retreat into cocoons of broadcast information designed to confirm their separate sets of biases.
We take in multiple sources of news, including ones anchored in different cultural perspectives. We deliberately seek out writers and acquaintances with whom we sometimes disagree.
We look for commentary that offers constructive directions rather than dwelling on the negative and manipulating fear.
3. Value Diversity
We confront racism, which persists as a central cause of conflict and oppression. We listen to the experience of people facing discrimination, ally ourselves with them, and practice inclusiveness.
We oppose discrimination based on gender and gender identity, and we acknowledge and familiarize ourselves with the perspectives of others.
We enable and encourage fluency in multiple languages.
We value and preserve variety in worldwide cultural practices and tastes, which are rich wells of human experience that can be threatened by global homogenization.
4. Practice Equality
We accord all humans full equal rights everywhere. We eliminate all kinds of second-class citizenship, including discrimination against noncitizens.
We reject punishment, a tool for willful control and manipulation of the less powerful, and we substitute for it the practices of restorative justice.
We honor the spiritual independence of children, support children’s rights, and prioritize education.
We take personal responsibility for the well-being of the whole of creation.
5. Strengthen Networks
We anchor personal security in long-term, resilient relationships among family, friends, and local communities, rather than in the accumulation of wealth.
We join support networks to undergird the raising of individual children, enhancing family relationships and offering broad cultural support.
We learn the concepts and structures of intentional communities.
6. Preserve the Environment
We value the worldwide diversity of species and pay attention to the size and impact of the human presence on the world ecosystem.
We implement an international carbon tax as a step to curtail global warming and the burning of fossil fuels, following a plan along the lines of the carbon fee and dividend of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
We expand energy conservation and foster the development of renewable energy.
We monitor the mining of rare elements and conserve supplies.
7. Pursue a Balanced Economy
We enable an economy that includes both entrepreneurship and centralized institutions, with the former respecting the public interest, and the latter maintaining transparency and evenhandedness.
We implement global uniform taxation to close international loopholes and tax dodges.
We set taxation levels adequate to fund desired common services and designed to trend toward an even distribution of wealth and the dissolution of national debt. We follow examples of this in Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right—and How We Can, Too by George Lakey.
We negotiate international trade agreements that protect consumers, workers, and the environment.
We reshape competitive business practices into consultative ones that eliminate self-interested bargaining and the buying of influence.
We offer free education at all levels of achievement.
We establish universal basic income and universal healthcare.
8. Strengthen Organs of Reconciliation
We assure transparency in all government operations.
We redesign judicial systems to minimize adversarial practices, and we institute paths for conflict resolution and restorative justice.
In criminal justice, we develop consequences for misdeeds that are not punitive or retributive, but instead address the needs of victims and the public. We pursue rehabilitation while assuring public safety.
When widespread misuse of power and injustice, such as racial, cultural, or gender discrimination, are uncovered, we establish truth and reconciliation commissions following the model of the ones used in the recovery from Apartheid in South Africa, where exposing the truth, not retribution, is the goal.
We regard the personal use of mood-altering drugs as a public health issue and not to be treated within the criminal justice system.
9. Establish Group Decision-Making Processes
We change the tone of political discourse from hostility and attack to one of seeking truth with respect and constructiveness.
We consider disagreement as an invitation to redefine questions and to delve deeper into facts.
We reshape adversarial political structures, parties, and even rhetoric into practices that promote wide participation and cooperation and enable the goals and interests of various groups to be listened to, heard, and acted upon.
We transform voting and elections into consultative practices. We explore the concepts and processes of sociocracy, holacracy, and double-linked representation.
10. Transform Military Institutions
We end the dependence of the worldwide economy on military spending and arms dealing. As the flywheel of job generation, income distribution, and economic stability, military contracts are replaced with public funding of constructive sectors of the economy and infrastructure.
We retrain military and police forces to be proficient in nonviolent methods, with the objective of assuring safety, not imposing the will of government. These forces will maintain respect for opponents even when under attack, will use non-lethal means and minimal force wherever possible, and will completely discontinue the use of destructive weaponry including bombs. For a prototype of these new forces, we will study the practices of Nonviolent Peaceforce (nonviolentpeaceforce.org).
We will use these newly trained nonviolent forces to intervene preemptively where violence can be anticipated.
11. Implement World Government
We will convert the United Nations from an alliance of states working for their own self-interest into an institution working for all the people on the planet. We will eliminate cultural chauvinism, racism, and partisan behavior rooted in fear and the discounting of others.
We will eliminate permanent membership in the UN Security Council, as well as the membership in it of individual states, and we will award membership to appointees of non-governmental organizations that possess expertise on issues of security. Henceforth, “security” will be understood to mean assurance of well-being, not military prowess.
When needed to maintain order, the Security Council will be empowered to employ forces that are trained in the principles and methods of nonviolence.
We will replace the UN General Assembly’s membership—currently, appointees of individual states—with appointees of local and midlevel nominating bodies representing the spectrum of experiences and skills in the world population. We will assign to this reconstituted General Assembly the appointment and oversight of the UN Secretariat, which has the task of shaping and maintaining a multi-leveled structure, from local to universal, of cultural, political, economic, and educational institutions.
We will found a new UN organ called the Council for Dispute Resolution with the responsibility of addressing all disputes that would otherwise be resolved by war. This assignment includes, for example, adjusting frontiers where environmental factors such as changing rainfall patterns dictate. The Council will comprise discerning participants appointed by the General Assembly from every cultural grouping across the globe, not from political or military leadership. These appointees will have sufficient opportunity to become familiar with each other and form trusting working relationships. Rather than by voicing competing arguments and voting, the Council will engage in fully transparent discussions, listen deeply, and build solutions together.