RECENT CONFERENCES


(CLICK on the DATE  to read the complete text.)

 

Saturday, August 4, 2012
 

Homo Digitalis, or Why do We Still Live in a Semi-Civilized World?

Conference of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)

Hotel Hilton-Bonaventure

Montreal, Quebec

 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 6:30 pm
United Universalist Church
Naples, Florida

 

Booksigning
The Code for Global Ethics
Tuesday, Dec.7, 2010- from noon to 2:00pm

Sunshine Booksellers
677 S. Collier Blvd.

Marco Island, FL


Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 6:30 pm
United Universalist Church
Naples, Florida

 

 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

AAI Conference
Hôtel Delta Centre-ville
777, rue University
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

 Atheism in a humanist civilisation


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Unitarian Church of Montreal

5035 Blvd De Maisonneuve West

Montreal, Quebec

Ethics from a Humanist Point of View


 Friday, June 4, 2010, 10:30 am:

“Can We Realistically Hope to Live in a Humanist Civilization?”

American Humanist Association's Annual Meeting

San Jose, California

 

 

Dimanche, le 25 avril 2010

« Les fondements d’une éthique humaniste pour l’avenir »

Les Dimanches philo,

La Compagnie des philosophes,

Longueuil, Québec

 


Friday, March 19, 2010

Florida Gulf Coast University (Renaissance Academy)

Luncheon Conference

“Economic Bubbles and Financial Crises, Past and Present”

http://www.thenewamericanempire.com/fgcu.htm

Marco Island Yacht Club, 12:00 noon


Thursday, May 7, 2009, !9:00

McGill University


Le jeudi 16 avril, 2009, 19h00

CÉGEP de Drummondville


Monday, Feb. 16, 2009, 10:30

“The Failures of US politicians and bankers

and their responsibility in the current global financial crisis”

American Association of University Women

Marco Island Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall

875 W. Elkam Circle

Marco Island, Florida

 


Le vendredi 13 février, 2009

Cliquez ICI pour visionner une VIDÉO de la conférence

« Les principes humanistes de moralité

 sans référence à des paradigmes religieux »

Les Sceptiques du Québec

Centre St-Pierre

1212 rue Panet

Montréal (Québec)

Le vendredi 6 février, 2009

«Les grands principes humanistes de moralité »

L’Association des Chercheurs et Chercheuses

en sciences de l’éducation_

de l’Université Laval (A.C.C.E.S.E.)

Amphithéâtre 1D_Pavillon De Koninck,

Université Laval, Québec


Le jeudi 29 janvier, 2009 à 19h00

« Le code pour une éthique globale »

L'Église unitarienne de Montréal

5035 De Maisonneuve Blvd. ouest

Montréal (Québec)

 

CONFERENCE TEXTS

 

 

Saturday October 2, 2010

 

AAI's annual North American convention 

 

Atheism in a Humanist Civilization

(The Code for Global Ethics)

 

by

Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay,

Emeritus professor, University of Montreal

Ph.D. Stanford University

Former president of the North American Economics

and Finance Ass'n

Author of the book “The Code for Global Ethics, Ten Humanist Principles”, 2010 [Prometheus Books, ISBN: 978-1616141721]

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works... They [religious people] made a human-like being with whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible.”

Stephen W. Hawking (1942-  ), British theoretical physicist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 "The Bible is a manual of bad morals [which] has a powerful influence on our culture and even our way of life...It is a catalog of cruelty and of what's worst in human nature. Without the Bible, we would be different and probably better people.”

Jose Saramago (1922-2010), 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature winner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 “Certain hierarchs of the Catholic Church in Latin America used prayer as an anesthesia to put the people to sleep. When they cannot dominate us with law, then comes prayer, and when they can’t humiliate or dominate us with prayer, then comes the gun.”

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, July 13, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Religion, comprises a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality, such as we find in an isolated form nowhere else but in amentia, in a state of blissful hallucinatory confusion.”

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Austrian philosophy and founder of psychanalysis

 

 

 

 

 

“The essential element of religious knowledge from an evolutionary perspective is not theology, but the practice of rules of moral, military and reproductive behavior, the distilled collective wisdom of leaders past and present, as to the guiding principles likely to ensure society’s survival… Beyond its role in strengthening the social fabric, religion exerts a cultural influence that has in effect become a defining factor of the world’s major civilizations.”

Nicholas Wade (The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolves and Why it Endures)

 

 

 

 

 

 "According to M-theory [an extension of string theory in which 11 dimensions are identified], ours is not the only universe. Instead, M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law."

Stephen W. Hawking, British cosmologist and physicist, 2010 (“The Universe in a Nutshell”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 We live in troubled times. It seems that the moral environment is deteriorating at a moment when problems are becoming increasingly serious and global in nature and when religious sentiment seems to be on the rise in some countries, especially in the United States, which happens to be the most heavily armed country in the world.

 

Political corruption, abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, unchecked greed, fraud and deception in the economic sphere, severe economic crises, social inequalities, intolerance toward individual choices, sex scandals in religious organizations, the disregard for environmental problems by many, the rise of religious absolutism, the return of wars of aggression (or of pre-emptive wars) and of blind terrorism are all indicators that human civilization is suffering badly.

 

What can humanism contribute in terms of ideas, words and principles to avoid going back to an age of obscurantism? In particular, what should the scope of human empathy be in an age of globalisation? —What are the universal humanist principles of ethics and why are they not more widely accepted and applied? Why can they be shown to be superior to any religon-based ethical principles? —Finally, what can we do to bring about a more humanist civilization?

 I- Preamble on the History of Quebec and the Importance of Religion in Politics

 During one hundred years, Quebec experienced a political system of creeping theocracy. This period, from 1840 to 1940, is called the Great Darkness. It followed the failed revolt of 1837-1839 against the British occupation, during which the Catholic Church took de facto control of everything that was important in the collective social life in Quebec, with the exception of the economy and of central politics: Education (while at the same time being opposed to compulsory education), hospitals, orphanages, charitable institutions or rehabilitation institutions and hospitals, etc.

 

In order to be in the good graces of the British Empire, the leaders of the Catholic church of the time rushed to excommunicate the patriotic leaders of the insurgency. Their clear purpose was to replace those civil leaders in the remnants of whatever the foreign occupant would concede to them in terms of autonomous political life.

 

Our native bishops were faithful servants of two foreign empires: the British Empire, which militarily occupied Quebec and the Roman Catholic Empire to whom they owed their primary allegiance.

 The religious theory of politics at the time was that political power came from God and that royal or imperial authorities were its rightful owners. The people had no right to self-government.

 Thus, on July 25, 1837, Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue (1777-1839), first bishop of Montreal, said the following regarding the Patriots: "It is never permissible to rebel against the legitimate authority, or violate any laws of the country ... it (is not) permissible to rebel against the government under which we are fortunate to live ...". For him, “the royal authority comes from God." —That's it. And God loves kings and queens! This explains why he hastened to excommunicate the Patriots after their defeat. Twelve of them were hanged, adding insult to injury.

 

But political power was not the exclusive domain of the British occupation. The Catholic Church and the Canadian Catholic hierarchy claimed for themselves a significant part of secular political power.

Bishop Louis-François Laflèche (1818-1898), the right arm of Bishop Ignace Bourget (1799-1885) was among the first to say that French-Canadians (the Quebecers of the time) forms a Catholic nation, that they have a providential mission to fulfill, and that therefore they owe their bishops—leaders by divine right of society—a most absolute submission, both in spiritual and in temporal matters. This, of course, under the tutelage of the military occupiers.

 

II- Religion in Contemporary United States

 And even today also, there are some American politicians and evangelists who openly call for the United States to become a latent theocratic society (contrary to the U.S. Constitution) just as Quebec was in the 19th Century. Just consider what an American Vice-president said in 1988:

“I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

George H. Bush, August 27, 1988

(declaration contrary to Article VI, section iii of the U. S. Constitution: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”)

 

Differences between Canada, the U.K. and the United States regarding scientific knowledge.

 

In July 2010, Angus Reid Public Opinion released the results of a poll conducted last year (2009) that asked Americans, Canadians, and Britons which of two statements comes closest to their views on the origins and development of human beings.

 

Here are the results in a summary:   CANADA    USA  UNITED KINGDOM

Humans evolved from less

advanced life forms over

millions of years                                    61%                    34%                  66%

                                                (Quebec 66%)

                                                      (Alberta 51%)

                                                      (Saskatchewan:50%)

 

God created human beings

in their present form within the

last10,000 years (idiot)                           24%                  47%                  16%

                                     (Quebec 17%)

                                                      (Alberta 31%)

                                                      (Saskatchewan:39%)

 

Not sure                                                      15%                  18%                  15%

 

And here are the U.S. results broken down by region:

 

                        USA      Northeast       Midwest         South            West

 

Humans evolved

from less advanced

life forms over

millions of years          34%                  43%         37%                  27%                  38%

 

 

God created human

beings in their present

form within the last

10,000 years                  47%                  38%         49%                  51%                  45%

 

Not sure                           18%                  19%         13%                  21%                  16%

___________________________________________________

Source: “Americans are Creationists; Britons and Canadians Side with Evolution”, Angus Reid Public Opinion, 2010

http://www.visioncritical.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/2010.07.15_Origin.pdf

 

In general, the younger people are and the more educated, the more they accept the scientific consensus about evolution. Conversely,  the older people are and the less educated, the more they tend to agree with the creationist legend.

 

III- Weaknesses of Organized Religions

 

Over the past decade, many authors have demonstrated the irrational and even destructive features of religion, of which there are some 1,250 denominations or sects according to some statisticians, and over 4,000 according to others. Therefore, many thanks go to Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, Onfray and others for their wits and their courage for speaking out about religions, and for exposing the emptiness of religious thought.

 

But this is not enough. More is needed and this for two reasons.

 

Like anything else that belongs to the realm of feelings and emotion, rather than reason, facts and abstract arguments often fail to change minds. In fact, they can produce the opposite effect: Show someone that his or her beliefs are false, and he or she may cling to them even more closely. Scientific experiments have shown such a psychological reality for many individuals.

 

For example, in a series of studies done in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. On the contrary, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs.

 

Especially in the religious sphere, but also in politics, facts don’t necessarily have the power to change minds. Often, this is quite the opposite. In such a context, rational arguments demonstrating the fallacies of certain beliefs are unlikely to influence many people.

 

Personally, I rarely use the religious term “atheism” as such in my most recent books. I prefer to raise the issue in rather general terms as a secular and independent humanist, while stressing the negative personal and social consequences of established religions, today of course, but also throughout history.

 

For example, in "The CODE for Global Ethics" (Prometheus, 2010), I raise a number of fundamental criticisms against established religions and their founding texts, with an emphasis on the failings of the three so-called Abrahamic religions, i.e. Judaism (Torah), Christianity (the Bible) and Islam (the Koran).

 

Basically, I criticize these three major religions for being in direct conflict with the scientific knowledge developed over the last four centuries. Indeed, the vision that people had of themselves about their place in the universe was forever turned upside down by three fundamental scientific breakthroughs:

 

- Galileo's proof, in 1632, that the Earth and humans were not the center of the Universe, as so-called holy books have asserted.

 

- Darwin's discovery, in 1859, (“On the Origin of Species”) that humans are not some unique god-like creatures among all species, destined to have eternal life, but are rather the outcome of a very long natural biological evolution, having evolved from other forms of life.

 

- The Watson-Crick-Wilkins-Franklin's discovery, in 1953, of the structure of the double helix DNA molecule (Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid) in each of the 46 chromosomes in human cells, and the devastating knowledge that humans share more than 98 percent of their genes with chimpanzees.

 

I would add, also, that ongoing research about how the human brain functions has cast new light on how some phenomena, such as different kinds of thoughts, including religious thoughts, are generated in different zones of the brain, an indication that all psychic phenomena have their origin in the brain.

 

Therefore, nobody can assert anymore that the Earth is the center of the Universe; nobody can claim that humans are unique in the scale of things; nobody can maintain that the human body and the human mind are two unrelated entities.

 

Nevertheless, these powerful organized religions continue to profess that:

1 - human beings have been placed at the center of the universe by mysterious divine forces, some 6,000 years ago, (a scientific error);

2 - the human mind is an entity that is independent of the human body. (Such a distinction has no scientific basis);

3 - it is permissible to persecute and even kill members of other religions or people who have other philosophies, in certain circumstances, based on the myth of so-called superior races or "chosen people";

4 - there is one ethics for individuals as individuals and another for persons who happen to be heads of state;

5 - and people should base their behavior on the fear of eternal punishment in a kind of extraterrestrial "Hell". (This ideology of hell, because of the hate and exclusion that it engendered against the "others", has been a major cause of numerous persecutions, religious wars and even genocides throughout human history.)

 

Let us say that religious faith in things without evidence makes fools of men.

 

That is why, because of all these errors, I prefer to reverse Immanuel Kant's position on religion, at least as far as ethics is concerned. For him, religious morality was the rationale that he advanced for keeping religious organizations. If you remember, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in his analysis of religions, came to the paradoxical conclusion that although the philosophical foundations of established religions were false, it was nevertheless necessary to accept them (the religions) because they were a necessary source of morality for men.

 

 —I am in agreement with Kant that many religions propose false and irrational beliefs and myths.

 

However, unlike Kant, who lived in the eighteenth century, my analysis of religion-based codes of ethics has led me to the conclusion that they are either fundamentally deficient and inadequate, or at the very least very incomplete, for a humanity which must live and survive in the new globalizing context.

 

Thus my first conclusion is that organized religions, far from being a reliable source of moral values, are rather, in many senses, a moral threat to humankind.

 

IV- The strength of organized religions: Do not underestimate the practical attraction of religion

 

Nature does not tolerate a vacuum. Indeed, we must recognize that religions have played an important if not central role in human evolution, and they continue to provide a host of important social and personal services to their adherents.

 

Therefore, it is important to realize that the reasons that motivate people to adhere to organized religions are not primarily theological but rather very practical and down-to-earth. I would say that organized religions are useful in the minds of some people, for at least four reasons:

 

1- They are useful, first and foremost, for an emotional and social reason, because people have a natural instinct to belong and to join, much more than they want to believe in a given set of metaphysical propositions.  People want to be part of a community. They want to connect (some like to hold hands and sing in a group). In sum, they like to belong to clubs, if the entry fee is not too high. In many societies, the most important social organizations are religious organizations. As a matter of fact, one is  “expected” to belong to them. Thus, one big contribution of churches, temples and mosques is the building of a community and the offer of rites of all sorts.

 

That is why for political leaders, religions have served very often as political tools to bring a needed cohesion and unity within their realm. They have been and they are still an important factor of community integration. That is also the reason why, in the past, political leaders doubled up as religious leaders. Political leaders receive legitimacy and support from organized religion.

 

2- The second reason is more rational. In many poor countries, religion is a provider of social welfare and an insurance against fear and uncertainly.

 

Indeed, for some people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, an important reason to adhere to or to remain an active member of an organized religion is to receive concrete social services and assistance, at a low cost, including rites of passage at birth or at death.

 

When the government is corrupt or nearly absent, some organized religions can become de facto governments in themselves by providing education, health care or social assistance. These are tangible benefits. This has nothing to do with an idyllic afterlife, but a lot to do with real social support. The lesson, however, is that religious organizations are in direct competition with state institutions, and where the latter are absent, incompetent or corrupt, the former take over.

 

3- A third reason that attracts people to organized religions is more emotional, and it is their promise, for some, of an afterlife. This is very easy to understand. Unless new research on other mammals reveals otherwise, homo sapiens seems to be the only species whose members know they are going to die. Thus, it is understandable that there is a demand for any form of drug that can help deal with this harsh reality. Religion is a cheap form of therapy against anxiety.

 

Indeed, the promise of an ever-lasting life can act as a drug to calm people's natural anxiety toward death. It has been said that religious temples are intellectual serotonin-manufacturing plants, providing a needed drug against human frailty.

 

The human brain has a lot of problems, from an emotional point of view, with the idea of death. It tends to revolt against the very idea. Soothing that fear of death is therefore a useful contribution on the part of religions. It remains, however, that the religion-based promise of eternal life is probably the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on humankind. Therefore, even though all religions, in my opinion, are peddlers of snake oil, they still have a bright future among the poorly educated of this world.

 

4- Finally, as I mentioned before, a fourth and more rational reason to cling to religion is related to ethics and morality. While some people may have serious doubts about religious metaphysical promises, they may still want to adhere to a religion because it is a source of principles of morality to be followed or to be taught to children.

 

It is this fourth contribution of religions that I tackle in my book. In terms of ethics and morality, at least, I think there are superior alternatives beyond anything that the established religions can provide.

 

On this last point, humanists have long argued that morality is a purely human concern and must be conceived independently of religious beliefs and dogmas. This does not eliminate the harsh reality of death, nor the obligation of governments to be competent in social affairs, nor the need for humanitarian organizations to celebrate the events of life. However, at least in terms of ethics, humanism is a superior alternative to anything that organized religions can offer.

 

V- A Superior Human Civilization

 

All of this led me, first, to wondering what a truly humanistic civilization would be, based on humanistic values and not on religious creeds? And if, as I think these humanist values are superior to any other moral system, why doesn't the world adopt basic humanist principles but instead seems to be moving presently away from humanism to embrace dangerous absolutist religious worldviews?

 

Let me answer the first question about what a humanist civilization would look like.

 

First and foremost, the scope of human empathy would be more universal and more comprehensive, and would not merely apply to some chosen people, to members of a particular religion or to persons belonging to a particular civilization.

 

In practice, this would require that we establish a higher threshold of human morality, beyond the traditional norm of the Golden Rule ("Treat others as you would have others treat you.") It would require that we adopt what I call a Super Golden Rule of humanist morality that incorporates the humanist rule of empathy: "Not only do to others as you would have them do to you, but also, do to others what you would wish to be done to you, if you were in their place." — Of course, the corollary also follows: “Don't do to others what you would not like to be done to you, if you were in their place.”

 [This is a far cry from the implicit rule that former President George W. Bush seems to have been following while in power: "Do unto others before they do unto you!"]

 

This is a general moral principle, which requires that we judge whether an act is moral or not as if we did not know in advance if it would apply to us or to others. Such a concept is analogous to John Rawls' famous “veil of ignorance” for distributive justice. Thus, racism is wrong because you would not want people to treat you badly if you were of another race; sexism is wrong because you would not want to be treated disrespectfully if you were of another sex; torture is wrong because you would not want to be tortured, etc.

 

In essence, in such a  humanist civilization,

• All human beings would be equal in dignity and in human rights.

• Life on this planet would not be devalued and seen as merely a preparation for a better life after death, somewhere beyond the clouds.

• The virtues of tolerance and of human liberty would be proclaimed and applied, subject only to the requirements of public order and the rule of law.

• Human solidarity and sharing would be better accepted as a protection against poverty and deprivation.

• The manipulation and domination of others through lies, propaganda, and exploitation schemes of all kinds would be less prevalent.

• There would be less reliance on superstition and religion to understand the Universe and to solve life's problems and more on reason, logic and science.

• Better care of the Earth's natural environment—land, soil, water, air and space—would be taken in order to bequeath a brighter heritage to future generations.

• We would have ended the primitive practice of resorting to violence or to wars to resolve differences and conflicts.

• There would be more genuine democracy in the organization of public affairs, according to individual freedom and responsibility.

• Governments and parents would see that their first and most important task is to help develop children's intelligence and talents through education.

 

As we can see, we do not currently live in a humanist civilization. The question is why?

 

After World War II and the adoption of the UN Charter and the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was widely believed that a more humanist civilization could replace political totalitarianism and the brutal wars that characterized the first part of the 20th century. We know today that this was not going to be the case, because wars of aggression and genocides have continued as if nothing had happened.

 

The old forms of fascism and of communism are less prevalent, but they seem to have been replaced by a new form of corporatocracy or corpocracy, in other words a form of shadow government where the CEOs of large companies, banks, conglomerates and other concerns take effective control of the electoral process, of the media, and even of the courts and of the governments. One could also describe this kind of system as a form of plutocracy, which is in itself a new form of fascism.

 

VI- Conclusion

 

I think that atheism as a denial of supernatural fables has a place in our societies. However, religious organizations are much more than sellers of serotonin to calm the anxiety of death. If they are to be replaced over time, and I think that on the whole they present a net negative influence on the evolution of our societies and of that of all humankind, a replacement must be found. Among other things, other institutions must provide the concrete services presently the realm of organized religions. In any case, in terms of ethics and morality, it is my contention that humanism is a much superior substitute for what they can offer.

 

Top of page

 

 

Conférence, le dimanche 25 avril, 2010

Les matinées philosophiques de La Compagnie des philosophes, Longueuil, Québec

Les fondements d'une éthique humaniste

 

pour l'avenir

 

par

 

Rodrigue Tremblay, Ph.D.

 

professeur émérite,

 

Université de Montréal

 

Auteur du livre « Le Code pour une éthique globale, Vers une civilisation humaniste »

 

2009 [Les Éditions Liber, ISBN: 978-2895781738]

 

et de la version américaine “The Code for Global Ethics, Ten Humanist Principles”,

 

2010 [Prometheus Books, ISBN: 978-1616141721]

 

 « Quand le pillage devient un moyen d'existence pour un groupe d'hommes qui vit au sein de la société, ce groupe finit par créer pour lui-même un système juridique qui autorise le pillage et un code moral qui le glorifie. »

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)

 

« La Bible est un manuel de mauvaises mœurs [qui] a une forte influence sur notre culture et même notre mode de vie ... C'est un catalogue de cruauté et de ce qu’il y a de pire dans la nature humaine. Sans la Bible, nous serions différents et les individus sans doute meilleurs. »

José Saramago, prix  Nobel de Littérature, 1998

 

« Je pense que tout bien pesé l’influence morale de la religion a été horrible. Les honnêtes gens peuvent bien se comporter et les mauvaises gens peuvent faire le mal avec ou sans la religion; mais pour que les gens honnêtes puissent faire le mal — il faut la religion. »

Steven Weinberg, prix Nobel de Physique, 1979

 

«Je pense que toutes les grandes religions du monde, le bouddhisme, l'hindouisme, le christianisme, l'islam et le communisme, sont à la fois fausses et nuisibles. [...] Je suis aussi fermement convaincu que les religions sont nuisibles que je le suis qu'elles sont fausses.»

Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), Prix Nobel de littérature en 1950, 1957, (tiré de My Religious Reminiscences)

 

Résumé

 

Nous vivons présentement une époque trouble. Il semble, en effet, que le contexte moral environnant se détériore au moment même où les problèmes sont de plus en plus globaux. Corruption politique, abus de pouvoir, mépris pour la primauté de la règle de droit, avidité incontrôlée, fraude et tromperie dans le domaine économique, graves crises économiques, inégalités sociales grandissantes, intolérance envers les choix individuels, scandales d'abus sexuels dans des organisations religieuses, mépris pour les problèmes environnementaux chez plusieurs, retour des absolutismes religieux, recours aux guerres d'agression (ou aux guerres préventives) et au terrorisme aveugle, ce sont là autant d'indicateurs que notre civilisation est présentement menacée.

 

Qu'est-ce que l'humanisme, en tant que philosophie, peut contribuer au chapitre des idées, des concepts et des principes pour éviter que l'on revienne à une ère d'obscurantisme? Tout particulièrement, quel devrait être le champ d'application de l'empathie humaine en cet âge de mondialisation? —En fait, quels sont les principes humanistes universels de base d'éthique humaine? Pourquoi ne sont-ils pas plus largement acceptées et appliquées? Pourquoi peut-il être démontré qu'ils sont supérieurs à tout code d'éthique à base religieuse? Et, finalement, que devons-nous faire pour créer une civilisation vraiment humaniste?

 

LA CONFÉRENCE :

 

Je voudrais débuter sur une note optimiste. En effet, en janvier dernier (2010), les scientifiques atomiques qui gèrent symboliquement l'horloge de la “Fin du monde” ("Doomsday clock") depuis 1947, laquelle indique à quel point l'humanité est près de l'auto-anéantissement, ont reculé l'horloge d'une minute, la fixant à six minutes avant minuit, plutôt qu'à cinq minutes avant minuit. Leur optimisme relatif serait fondé, selon eux, sur l'émergence d'une « nouvelle ère de coopération internationale et sur un changement d'orientation de la part du gouvernement américain envers les affaires internationales, laquelle serait due en partie à l'élection (du président américain Barack) Obama ». Ils ont même laissé entendre que « le réchauffement climatique est une menace plus importante maintenant que la guerre nucléaire. » Nous verrons bien si un tel regain de confiance est justifié ou non.

 

À mon sens, il existe de nombreuses autres raisons d'être moins optimiste, et même d'être carrément pessimiste, quant à l'orientation présente du monde. Pour toutes les raisons que j'ai évoquées plus haut, j'en suis arrivé à la conclusion que le monde a besoin aujourd'hui d'une nouvelle vision morale des choses, parce que la pensée dominante qui se réfère encore aujourd'hui à de vieux préceptes religieux sectaires est un facteur majeur de discorde et de destruction. Ma réponse est à l'effet qu'une vision des choses mieux adaptée à notre contexte de mondialisation se trouve justement dans la vision humaniste universelle du monde, tant pour comprendre les problèmes globaux que pour les résoudre.

 

 

Mes propos peuvent se regrouper autour de quatre grands thèmes.

 

Premièrement, la mondialisation grandissante des problèmes modernes. Deuxièmement, le champ d'application de la notion humaniste d'empathie humaine est aujourd'hui global, de tribal qu'il était autrefois. Troisièmement, il devient évident que la vision morale des choses à travers le prisme des grandes religions établies est devenu inadéquate, sinon contre-productif. Et, quatrièmement, comment pouvons-nous articuler des principes humanistes universels pour solutionner les problèmes humains.

 

I- Des problèmes planétaires

 

Les problèmes modernes qui menacent l'humanité ne sont pas seulement graves, mais ils sont aussi de plus en plus d'une nature globale. Et qui plus est, on a la nette sensation que les connaissances scientifiques et technologiques progressent plus rapidement que notre progrès moral et que notre capacité morale de les confronter et de les résoudre.

 

Au sommet de ces préoccupations, on retrouve les technologies de guerre et une volonté grandissante de s'en servir.

 

En effet, beaucoup pensaient que les guerres d'agression (ou les guerres préventives) avaient été abolies pour toujours avec l'adoption de la Charte des Nations Unies le 26 juin 1945, et avec la proclamation de la Charte de Nuremberg, le 8 août 1945. Mais les guerres d'agression continuent et ceux qui les lancent sont rarement punis, surtout s'ils sont à la tête de superpuissances. –Plusieurs avaient aussi cru que les dépressions économiques et les crises financières étaient choses du passé, à cause du filet de sécurité que la réglementation financière était supposée avoir érigé pour éviter les débordements du passé. Et bien, après vingt ans de déréglementation tout azimut, surtout aux États-Unis, centre financier du monde, nous sommes revenus subitement à une ère de laisser-faire débridé et à des effondrements financiers dévastateurs.

 

On a l'impression que l'humanité tend à retomber périodiquement dans ses vieux travers que sont les cycles de guerres et de désordres économiques. Et qui plus est, ces retours en arrière vers un passé peu agréable coïncident avec d'autres développements inquiétants, comme la propagation des armes nucléaires, la persistance d'une ignorance généralisée, l'accroissement des inégalités sociales et économiques, le mépris des principes démocratiques de base, l'augmentation de la pollution mondiale, et la pauvreté endémique que nous observons dans plusieurs régions du monde.

 

J'en veux comme exemple le cas d'espèce de l'ancien vice-président américain Dick Cheney qui s'est vanté du fait qu'un président américain pourrait détruire le monde de son propre chef. Il a dit : « Le Président [américain] a accès en tout temps à des codes nucléaires en cas d'une attaque nucléaire contre les États-Unis ... Il pourrait lancer la plus grande contre-attaque dévastatrice que le monde ait jamais vue ... Il n'a pas à consulter qui que ce soit, il n'a pas à consulter les membres du Congrès, il n'a pas à consulter les tribunaux, il détient tous les pouvoirs » (Dick Cheney, Vice-président de George W. Bush, le dimanche 21 décembre, 2008). C'est quelque chose. Personne n'a demandé à Cheney si détruire le monde était une action morale !

 

II- La portée actuelle de l'empathie humaine

 

Les cercles de l'empathie humaine se sont progressivement élargis au cours de l'évolution humaine.

 

1 - Tout d'abord, il y avait l'empathie au sein de la famille immédiate ou élargie dans le cadre de petites sociétés reposant sur l'agriculture, la cueillette ou la chasse avec un partage éthique parmi les membres de la famille, le sorcier jouant alors un rôle important dans l'explication des mystères du monde et en tant que communicateur oral.

 

2 – Par la suite vint l'empathie au sein d'une grande tribu ou d'un clan à l'intérieur duquel la religion joue un rôle important pour créer de la cohésion sociale et pour étendre la pratique de l'altruisme à des non-membres de la famille immédiate. La morale est implicitement conçue ici pour une société de co-religionnaires (des frères et sœurs au sein d'une sorte de religion d'état). On voit les autres, les étrangers ou les non-initiés avec une certaine suspicion, sinon de l'hostilité. On fait alors appel à une croyance commune dans des agents surnaturels tout-puissants (dieux, esprits, anges, démons ... etc.) pour expliquer les mystères du monde.

 

3 - Troisièmement, l'empathie s'exprime au sein d'un État-nation de plus en plus pluraliste et même d'un empire multiethnique, le gouvernement jouant le rôle traditionnel du père pour assurer la sécurité et pour imposer un certain niveau de partage entre tous les citoyens à l'intérieur d'un État-providence élargi. L'industrialisation augmente la productivité ouvrière et le niveau de vie moyen.

La science et la religion ou la superstition se concurrencent alors en tant que principales sources de connaissances humaines. La communication est de beaucoup facilitée par l'invention du mot imprimé, alors que le prélèvement de fonds par la taxation devient possible grâce à des techniques de comptabilité perfectionnées.

 

4 - En quatrième lieu, et je pense que c'est là où nous en sommes aujourd'hui, l'empathie est étendue à l'humanité tout entière, avec l'idée d'une humanité et d'une planète. La famille élargie est la famille humaine. L'industrialisation évolue de plus en plus vers l'économie du savoir tandis que les sources énergétiques se différencient. Il s'agit d'un monde de communication instantanée rendue possible grâce à l'Internet et les satellites ; c'est un monde d'interactions économiques et financières grandissantes et dans lequel la moralité est par nécessité de plus en plus centrée sur des valeurs universelles et sur la règle de droit.

 

III- Insuffisance d'une éthique fondée sur les religions

 

Les anciennes règles morales fondées sur la religion ne sont pas d'un grand secours pour résoudre les nouveaux problèmes mondiaux, essentiellement parce qu'elles appartiennent au passé reposant toujours sur la morale de groupe et parce que, malheureusement, ce sont des règles qui n'ont pas intégré les nouvelles connaissances scientifiques sur la nature humaine et sur la place véritable de l'être humain dans l'Univers.

 

En effet, quand on étudie de près les principes éthiques des grandes religions établies, lesquels reposent encore sur la notion exclusive du groupe des fidèles, il est évident qu'ils sont insuffisants et dépassés dans un monde où les frontières géographiques s'effacent ou disparaissent presque complètement. En fait, on peut démontrer que ces principes moraux obsolètes peuvent souvent constituer autant une partie, voire une cause des problèmes, qu'une contribution valable à leur solution.

 

Dans le contexte actuel, et surtout si nous voulons éviter de retomber à un âge d'obscurantisme, les idées, les concepts et les principes de base qui sont véhiculés ont leur importance. En fait, avant que n'apparaissent les mauvaises politiques, avant les guerres destructrices, il y a de mauvaises idées, de mauvais concepts et de mauvais principes moraux.

 

Il est erroné de croire que les idées, les concepts et les principes de base ont la même valeur intrinsèque. Il y a des idées, des concepts et des principes qui sont générateurs de connaissance, de liberté, de tolérance, et qui sont facteurs de démocratie et de prospérité. Il y a, d'autre part, des idées, des concepts et des principes qui vont dans la direction opposée, c’est-à-dire qu'ils mènent à l'obscurantisme, à l'asservissement, à la corporatocratie et à la pauvreté.

 

Il y a beaucoup de mauvaises idées, de mauvais concepts et de mauvais principes dans notre culture contemporaine, et nous ne devrions pas avoir peur de le dire. Ils sont des obstacles majeurs à la solution des grands problèmes mondiaux qui nous confrontent. C'est que les diverses visions du monde font beaucoup de différence. –D'énormes différences.

 

C'est ici que je renverse la position d'Emmanuel Kant sur la religion. Si vous vous souvenez, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), dans son analyse des religions, est arrivé à la conclusion paradoxale que, même si les fondements philosophiques des religions établies étaient faux, il a été néanmoins nécessaire de les accepter (les religions), parce qu'ils étaient une source nécessaire de la morale pour les hommes. -Je suis d'accord avec Kant que les religions sont généralement basées sur de fausses et irrationnelles croyances et des mythes. Cependant, contrairement à Kant, qui a vécu au 18e siècle, mon analyse des codes fondés sur la religion de l'éthique m'a conduit à la conclusion qu'ils sont fondamentalement, soit déficients et insuffisants, soit à tout le moins très incomplets, pour une humanité qui doit vivre et survivre dans le contexte actuel de mondialisation.

 

Ainsi, ma première conclusion est à l'effet que les grandes religions établies, loin d'être une source fiable de valeurs morales, sont plutôt aujourd'hui une menace morale pour l'humanité, —essentiellement parce qu'ils favorisent l'intolérance, le dualisme moral État-individu, l'anthropomorphisme, l'intimidation, et parce qu'ils établissent une séparation non-scientifique et arbitraire entre les fonctions physiologiques et intellectuelles du corps humain. À partir de ces erreurs de base découle toute une série de conséquences néfastes pour l'organisation des affaires humaines.

 

 

Soyons clairs. —Je reconnais et j'accepte d'emblée l'idée que les grandes religions ont contribué, dans le passé, à civiliser des peuples primitifs, analphabètes et ignares et les ont aidés à survivre en favorisant des liens de coopération entre les individus. Les êtres humains sont des animaux sociaux et, après des centaines de milliers d'années d'évolution, sinon des millions d'années, il y a un gène social dans chacun d'entre nous, lequel nous prédispose à vivre et à survivre au sein d'un groupe.

 

C'est pourquoi les religions établies jouent encore un rôle social et politique important dans de nombreuses sociétés, en regroupant les gens dans des organisations sociales qui dispensent des services de base (le mot «religion» dans sa racine latine signifie «lier ensemble»), et dans la promotion de la solidarité sociale (Voir: Nicholas Wade, The Faith Instinct, How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures, 2009). -Cela est indéniable. À certains égards, les religions organisées sont comme des clubs ou des partis politiques. Si l'on est libre d'y adhérer ou non, et si ces clubs sont en concurrence, il n'y a rien à redire.

 

Cependant, nous savons tous que ce n'est pas le cas dans de nombreuses sociétés où dominent des religions d'État ou des religions que je qualifie d'« impériales ». On est alors en face de puissants systèmes de pensée monopolisateurs qui peuvent tout aussi bien opprimer et écraser les gens que de les aider. En effet, nous observons souvent que les pays où la liberté humaine et le développement humain sont en manque sont souvent des pays qui ont une religion d'état opprimante. Bien sûr, les pays où règne une religion laïque totalitaire (sous le communisme ou le fascisme, par exemple) peuvent aussi produire les mêmes résultats. L'histoire du 20e siècle constitue un triste témoignage à cet égard.

 

Et c'est ici que l'humanisme peut être une source renouvelée de bonnes idées, de bons concepts et de bons principes. Je crois que l'humanisme est la meilleure source d'éthique et de morale humaine, non seulement pour le présent, mais, surtout, pour l'avenir.

 

Sur ce point, les humanistes ont longtemps prétendu que la morale est une préoccupation strictement humaine et qu'elle doit se concevoir indépendamment des croyances religieuses et de leurs dogmes. Ce principe a été clairement énoncé dans trois manifestes humanistes fondamentaux. Ce que j'essaie de faire est d'élaborer davantage sur la teneur de ces trois documents de base.

 

IV- Problèmes mondiaux mais pas de solutions globales

 

Permettez-moi de vous donner trois exemples où la dimension morale l'emporte sur la dimension technique ou la dimension religieuse pour les résoudre.

 

—Premièrement, prenons le cercle vicieux de la pauvreté, de la surpopulation et du sous-développement dans certains pays africains, comme au Rwanda, ou à Haïti dans les Caraïbes, par exemple. Les causes et les solutions d'un tel problème sont susceptibles d'être davantage culturelles et morales que techniques. Les pays occidentaux peuvent envoyer des missionnaires et de l'aide étrangère à ces pays, mais s'ils accompagnent ces aides avec une idéologie hostile à la contraception et à l'éducation des femmes, ils sont susceptibles d'aggraver les choses, au lieu de les améliorer. En effet, les expériences faites avec des animaux ont montré qu'une trop forte densité de population est source de conflits. En Rwanda, cela a conduit au génocide des Tutsis par les Hutus, en 1994.

 

—Un autre exemple où la dimension morale des choses l'emporte sur le côté technique pourrait être la relation incestueuse que l'on observe aux États-Unis entre, d'une part, la corruption politique, le lobbying illimité d'intérêts particuliers puissants, le complexe militaro-industriel, et d'autre part, les guerres à répétition. La population en général est rarement en faveur des guerres parce que c'est elle qui en fait les frais, soit par la mort de leurs enfants, soit par la hausse de leurs impôts. Mais les intérêts particuliers qui profitent économiquement et financièrement des guerres sont habituellement ceux qui s'en font les propagandistes les plus insistants. Par conséquent, pour résoudre le problème des guerres, en particulier des guerres d'agression, il est nécessaire de s'attaquer au problème moral en premier lieu.

 

À ce chapitre, on peut douter que les religions établies puissent être d'un grand secours. En effet, tout au long de l'histoire, il y eut une tendance récurrente qui poussa les adeptes de dieux différents, regroupés dans diverses religions impériales, à s'entretuer dans des guerres sanglantes, et j'ajouterais, inutiles. Sur ce plan, on peut dire que les religions établies peuvent tout autant être un facteur de guerre qu'un facteur de paix.

 

—Un autre exemple pourrait être le lien observé entre la corruption politique, l'avidité sans bornes, et la déréglementation financière tout azimut, d'une part, et les crises financières et économiques, d'autre part. Pourquoi des millions de gens doivent-ils souffrir lorsque le système politico-économique s'effondre à la suite d'abus de la part de certaines personnes ? Pour résoudre un tel problème, il faut aussi aller au-delà du problème technique et aborder la question morale.

 

En réalité, une analyse approfondie de l'éthique fondée sur la religion et des siècles de pratique désastreuse nous a enseigné qu'on ne peut pas compter sur cette source de moralité humaine pour empêcher l'émergence de difficultés fondamentales ou pour résoudre les problèmes une fois qu'ils existent, que ceux-ci aient trait au traitement discriminatoire des femmes, aux guerres d'agression ou de conquête, ou à l'avidité et à la corruption dans les officines dirigeantes.

 

Sur ce sujet de l'avidité et de la corruption, on doit constater que même dans le Nouveau Testament, supposément plus moral que l'Ancien Testament, on y dit noir sur blanc qu'il est bon de prendre aux pauvres pour donner aux riches et même de tuer. C'est dans la parabole des mines, dans Luc 19:24-27:

24...Et il dit à ceux qui se tenaient là : "Enlevez-lui sa mine (une ancienne pièce de monnaie), et donnez-la à celui qui a dix mines. "...

26..."Je vous le dis : à tout homme qui a, on donnera ; mais à celui qui a peu, on lui prendra même ce qu'il a. "

27... "Quant à mes ennemis, ceux qui n'ont pas voulu que je règne sur eux, amenez-les ici, et égorgez-les en ma présence."

 

Beau programme politique !

 

V- Problèmes fondamentaux avec l'éthique fondée sur la religion

 

Il y a deux problèmes fondamentaux avec l'éthique fondée sur la religion.

 

-Tout d'abord, nous pouvons dire que les fondements de l'éthique basée sur la religion sont en contradiction directe avec les connaissances scientifiques développées depuis quatre siècles. En effet, la vision que les êtres humains se faisaient d'eux-mêmes quant à leur place dans l'Univers a été à tout jamais chambardée par trois percées scientifiques fondamentales :

 

- La démonstration par Galilée, en 1632, que la Terre et les humains n'étaient pas au centre de l'Univers, comme les soi-disant livres saints l'avaient prétendu jusqu'à là.

- La découverte de Darwin, en 1859, ("De l'origine des espèces") que les humains n'étaient pas des créatures uniques faites à l'image de Dieu parmi toutes les espèces, destinés à vivre éternellement, mais étaient plutôt le produit d'une très longue évolution biologique naturelle, ayant évolué à partir d'autres espèces vivantes.

. - La découverte par Watson-Crick-Wilkins-Franklin, en 1953, de la structure de la molécule d'ADN en double hélice (acide désoxyribonucléique) dans chacun des 46 chromosomes présents dans les cellules humaines, et l'observation dévastatrice que les humains partageaient plus de 95 pour cent de leur ADN avec l'espèce rapprochée des chimpanzés.

 

J'ajouterais aussi que les recherches en cours sur le fonctionnement du cerveau humain ont jeté une lumière nouvelle sur la façon dont certains phénomènes psychiques, comme certains types de pensées, y compris les pensées religieuses, sont générés dans des zones différenciés du cerveau, une indication que tous les phénomènes psychiques originent du cerveau.

 

Par conséquent, personne ne peut plus prétendre aujourd'hui que la planète Terre est le centre de l'Univers ; personne ne peut prétendre que les humains sont uniques dans l'échelle biologique des choses ; personne ne peut plus prétendre que le corps humain et l'esprit humain sont deux entités indépendantes.

 

Ces nouvelles connaissances ont une influence majeure sur notre vision morale du monde. Les idées concernant l'existence d'un au-delà avec des récompenses ou des punitions extra-terrestres, celles qui concernent l'existence d'un paradis ou d'un enfer extra-terrestres, et celles qui propagent le mythe de soi-disant races ou « peuples élus », sont à peu près réduites à néant par les nouvelles connaissances scientifiques. Et cette connaissance ne peut être ignorée sous prétexte que la science et la religion appartiennent à deux mondes différents. Ils sont à la fois partie intégrante de l'expérience humaine, et ils doivent être conciliés.

 

-Un deuxième problème important avec la morale fondée sur les religions, c'est que leurs préceptes, telles que présentés dans ce qu'on appelle des livres « saints », sont au mieux très ambigus et, au pire, ils peuvent être fondamentalement immoraux. Comme José Saramago, l'écrivain portugais Prix Nobel de littérature, l'a bien résumé en ce qui concerne la Bible judaïque et chrétienne : « La Bible est un manuel de [mauvaises mœurs qui] a une grande influence sur notre culture et même sur notre mode de vie ... C'est un catalogue de cruautés et parmi de ce qu'il y a de pire dans la nature humaine. Sans la Bible, nous serions différents et probablement de meilleures personnes. »

 

Mais la nature ne tolère pas le vide.

 

Si l'on rejette le dogmatisme moral erroné des religions établies, et nous avons de nombreuses raisons de le faire, il devient primordial de lui trouver un substitut. Et c'est ici que l'humanisme universel et les principes humanistes de la vie en société peuvent être utiles en tant qu'alternative réaliste à la morale inadéquate des religions établies.

 

VI- Une moralité humaniste supérieure

 

La contradiction qui existe entre les problèmes modernes, les nouvelles connaissances scientifiques et l'insuffisance des sources traditionnelles de morale ou d'éthique, lesquelles reposent principalement sur la religion, m'a conduit à écrire un livre, “Le Code pour une éthique globale, vers une civilisation humaniste”, [ ISBN: 978-2895781738] préfacé par le Dr Paul Kurtz et publié en 2009 par la maison Liber et cette année, aux États-Unis, par la maison Prometheus Books [ ISBN: 978-1616141721].

 

Dans ce livre, je soulève un certain nombre de questions fondamentales, telles que : Pourquoi avons-nous ce sentiment de malaise que le monde est moins moral que ce qu'il devrait être ? En fait, ne peut-on pas parler d'une certaine faillite morale au plus haut niveau de nos sociétés, tant en politique qu'en affaires ?

 

Ou encore, pourquoi la remontée des religions, surtout celle des trois religions abrahamiques et prosélytistes (le judaïsme, le christianisme et l'islam) semble avoir coïncidé avec une baisse généralisée de la moralité humaine fondamentale, à un moment où des solutions mondiales aux problèmes mondiaux semblent s'imposer plus que jamais ? Est-ce que le monde se porterait mieux si nous adhérions aux principes humanistes universels ? Et, en bout de ligne, que pouvons-nous faire concrètement pour créer une civilisation humaniste ?

 

En général, lorsque les religions de toutes catégories confondues cessent d'être des instruments de spiritualité personnelle pour se politiser et devenir des systèmes d'état, elles perdent beaucoup de leur utilité pratique. En effet, il existe un énorme fossé entre la religion en tant que soutien au système politique, et la spiritualité et la moralité individuelles.

 

Le fondamentalisme religieux et les religions construites sur une base pyramidale, comme ce que l'on retrouve chez les religions abrahamiques, placent les individus dans une sorte de camisole de force intellectuelle et morale qui peut être un important facteur de déshumanisation. On peut douter que le fait de s'accrocher à des dogmes dépassés ou à des règles morales déficients soit la bonne façon de développer une riche spiritualité personnelle ou une éthique moderne.

 

Un code d'éthique essentiellement humaniste

 

Cela m'a conduit, d'une part, à me demander ce que peut offrir l'humanisme en tant que principes moraux de base, ou en tant que code moral, qui seraient mieux adaptés à nos problèmes actuels de plus en plus mondiaux ; et d'autre part, comment de tels principes peuvent se comparer à ce que les religions établies traditionnelles ont à offrir à partir de ce qu'on appelle des livres saints écrits il y a des millénaires, alors que les sociétés humaines en grande partie agricole étaient plus restreintes, et étaient davantage orientées vers la famille ou la tribu.

 

Fondamentalement, je m'interroge sur ce que serait une civilisation véritablement humaniste, fondée sur des valeurs humanistes ? Et si, comme je pense que les valeurs humanistes sont supérieures à tout autre système moral, pourquoi se fait-il que le monde n'adopte pas les principes humanistes de base et semble plutôt vouloir emprunter la voie dangereuse des visions religieuses et absolutistes du monde ?

 

Permettez-moi de répondre rapidement à la première question de ce qui serait une civilisation humaniste.

 

En tout premier lieu, le champ d'application de l'empathie humaine serait universel et global et ne se limiterait point à certaines personnes élues, aux membres d'une religion en particulier ou aux personnes appartenant à une civilisation particulière.

 

En pratique, cela exigerait que nous établissions un seuil plus élevé de morale humaine qui soit au-dessus de la norme traditionnelle de la règle d'or ( « Traitez les autres comme vous voudriez que les autres vous traitent. » ) Ceci exige, en fait, que nous adoptions ce que j'appelle une règle d'or suprême de moralité humaniste laquelle incorpore la règle humaniste d'empathie et que l’on peut formuler de la manière suivante : « Non seulement faites aux autres comme vous voudriez qu'ils vous fassent, mais aussi, faites aux autres ce que vous aimeriez qu'on fasse pour vous, si vous étiez à leur place. » —Bien entendu, le corollaire s'applique, c’est-à-dire: « Ne faites pas aux autres ce que vous ne voudriez pas qu'on vous fasse, si vous étiez à leur place."

 

 [Comme on le voit, on est loin de la règle implicite que l'ancien président américain George W. Bush semble avoir suivie quand il était au pouvoir : "Faites aux autres avant qu'ils ne vous le fassent à vous !"]

 

Il s'agit d'un principe moral qui exige que l'on juge si un acte est moral ou non comme si nous ne savions pas à l'avance si elle s'applique à nous ou à d'autres. C'est un concept qui est étroitement lié au fameux «voile d'ignorance» de John Rawls en tant que fondement de la justice distributive.

 

Ainsi, le racisme est mauvais parce que nous ne voudrions pas que les gens nous traitent mal si nous étions d'une autre race ; le sexisme est mauvais parce que nous ne voudrions pas être maltraités si nous étions d'un autre sexe ; la torture est mauvaise parce que nous ne voudrions pas être torturés, etc.

 

Dans une telle civilisation,

• Tous les êtres humains seraient reconnus égaux en dignité et en droits.

• La vie sur cette planète ne serait pas dévaluée et considérée simplement comme une préparation à une vie meilleure après la mort, quelque part au-delà des nuages.

• La vertu de tolérance et de liberté humaine serait proclamée et appliquée, sous réserve des exigences de l'ordre public.

 • La solidarité humaine et le partage seraient mieux acceptés comme un rempart contre la pauvreté et le dénuement.

 • La manipulation et la domination d'autrui par le mensonge, la propagande, et les systèmes d'exploitation de toutes sortes seraient moins répandus.

• On aurait moins recours à la superstition et à la religion pour comprendre l'Univers et résoudre les problèmes de la vie et l’on ferait usage davantage de la raison, de la logique et de la science.

• On ferait davantage attention à la pollution de l'environnement naturel des terres, des sols, de l'eau, de l'air et de l'espace, - afin de laisser un héritage valable aux générations futures.

• On mettrait fin à la pratique barbare de recourir à la violence ou aux guerres pour régler les différends et les conflits.

• Il y aurait davantage de démocratie réelle dans l'organisation des affaires publiques, en tenant compte de la liberté individuelle et de la responsabilité individuelle.

• Les gouvernements accepteraient que leur tâche première et la plus importante est de veiller à développer l'intelligence des enfants et leurs talents par l'éducation.

 

Comme on le voit, l'éthique humaniste va bien au-delà de la règle d'or d'éthique traditionnelle laquelle se limite à dire que chacun doit s'efforcer de traiter les autres comme il aimerait que les autres le traitent. En fait, la règle d'or suprême de la moralité humaniste, que je développe en détail dans le livre (voir chap. 3) est le fondement même de l’éthique humaniste universelle.

 

Mais, de toute évidence, nous ne vivons pas actuellement dans une civilisation humaniste. Pourquoi ?

 

Par exemple, après la Seconde Guerre mondiale et l'adoption de la Charte des Nations Unies et la proclamation de la Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme, on a cru qu'une civilisation humaniste pourrait remplacer le totalitarisme politique et la sauvagerie des guerres de la première partie du 20e siècle. On sait aujourd'hui que ce ne fut pas le cas, car les guerres et les génocides ont continué comme si rien n'était.

 

Le fascisme et le communisme sont bien sûr disparus, mais ils semblent avoir été remplacés dans nos pays par une nouvelle forme de corporatocratie ou de corpocratie, c’est-à-dire une forme de gouvernement où les sociétés des grandes entreprises, des banques, des conglomérats, et d'autres entreprises prennent le contrôle du processus électoral, des médias, et même des tribunaux et des gouvernements. On pourrait aussi qualifier ce genre de système de ploutocratie, ce qui est en soi une forme de fascisme.

 

Les façons de voir les règles humanistes d’éthique

 

Il y a plusieurs façons de diviser les règles humanistes d'une éthique globale. On peut distinguer entre les règles individuelles et les règles collectives. En effet, d'une part, nous pouvons dire que les règles humanistes 2, 3, 4, 5 et 6 s'appliquent principalement aux individus en tant que tels, alors que les règles humanistes 1, 7, 8, 9 et 10 s'appliquent principalement aux sociétés humaines ou des collectivités dans leur ensemble.

 

-Une autre façon de voir les choses est de diviser les règles humanistes entre ce que j'appellerais les règles naturelles de base, lesquelles relèvent de la morale naturelle (ne pas tuer, ne pas voler, ne pas mentir, partager avec autrui dans un esprit de justice et d'équité) et lesquelles se retrouvent aussi dans la plupart des codes moraux et qui s'appliquent principalement aux individus en tant que tels. Cette morale naturelle est dans notre sang, dans nos gènes, en tant que membres survivants de l'espèce humaine, à la suite d'un très long processus d'évolution. Elles apparaissent ici dans les règles n ° 2, n ° 4 et n ° 5.

 

-Cependant, d'autres règles de la morale humaniste privée et publique appartiennent à ce que j'appellerais une moralité humaniste apprise et plus avancée. Parce que, en général, elles ne s'imposent pas naturellement ; en tant que règles plus élevées d'éthique, elles doivent être apprises par l'éducation et par la persuasion, à la lumière de l’expérience historique, de la raison, du bon jugement et des connaissances scientifiques.

 

Telle est la règle qui proclame la dignité inhérente et l'égalité des êtres humains, quelle que soit leur race ou leur sexe (règle n ° 1). Par exemple, il est juste de dire que le principe de l'égalité entre les hommes et les femmes est loin d'être accepté dans le monde entier. En fait, la plupart des grandes religions le nient dans les faits, si ce n'est en droit.

 

—Les autres grands principes humanistes, comme la nécessité de la tolérance (règle n ° 3), le rejet des superstitions qui sont essentiellement le produit de l'ignorance (règle n ° 6), la nécessité de laisser aux générations futures un environnement propre (règle n ° 7), l'interdiction des guerres d'agression ou de conquête (règle n ° 8), ou la proclamation de la valeur humaine de la démocratie (règle n ° 9) et la valeur humaine de l'éducation pour tous (règle n ° 10), ne sont pas nécessairement inscrits dans la nature.

 

Par exemple, la dictature ou le gouvernement aristocratique peuvent s’établir tout aussi naturellement, ou même plus naturellement, que la démocratie. Après tout, la loi de la jungle et « la loi du plus fort » existent dans la nature.

 

En effet, quand on applique le principe d'empathie humaniste, on reconnaît que ses propres droits et ses propres besoins sont aussi ceux de tous les autres. Le principe d'empathie est le fondement de la règle de la tolérance dans notre monde complexe et pluraliste. En tant que tel, le droit fondamental à la liberté de conscience signifie que les gens ont droit à leurs propres pensées, à leurs croyances, à leur propre philosophie, et à leur propre religion. Les seules conditions pour assurer la paix sociale sont, primo, de ne pas imposer ses propres croyances aux autres et ne pas utiliser ces croyances pour encourager la violence et l'intolérance envers les autres de manière à perturber l'ordre public ou de manière à nier des droits constitutionnels et, secundo, que l'état soit neutre en matière de religion et de croyances. —Le fanatisme, l'extrémisme, et le prosélytisme sont à l'opposé de la tolérance, de la confiance et des attitudes d'ouverture d'esprit dans les relations humaines.

 

VII- Conclusion

 

Comme on le voit, la morale humaniste va plus loin que le simple fait de soulever la question de la perfectibilité morale de l'être humain ou même que de se demander si la nature humaine évolue trop lentement. Il est évident qu'il existe un fossé entre l'idéalisme utopique de perfection et une réalité remplie d'avidité et de cruauté. Personne ne le nie. Mais, même si nous acceptons que l'évolution morale de l'homme est nécessairement un processus très lent, cela ne signifie nullement que nous ne devrions pas tenter de développer de meilleurs codes moraux pour guider les actions et interactions humaines, avec des institutions appropriées.

 

Si l'être humain doit survivre et prospérer dans l'avenir, nous n'avons pas d'autre choix que de combler le fossé entre le genre de monde dans lequel nous voulons vivre et le monde réel que nous avons hérité à la naissance. Dans cette perspective, on pourrait franchir un premier pas important vers cet objectif si on adoptait plus largement les principes humanistes universels de vie en société.

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Can We Realistically Hope to Live in a Humanist Civilization?
by
Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay,
Emeritus professor, University of Montreal
Ph.D. Stanford University
Former president of the North American Economics
 and Finance Ass'n
Author of the book “The Code for Global Ethics, Ten Humanist Principles”, 2010 [Prometheus Books, ISBN: 978-1616141721]


"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it."
Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), French economist

"The Bible is a manual of bad morals [which] has a powerful influence on our culture and even our way of life...It is a catalog of cruelty and of what's worst in human nature. Without the Bible, we would be different and probably better people.”
Jose Saramago, 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature winner

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”
Steven Weinberg, 1979 Nobel Laureate in Physics


Abstract:

We live in troubled times. It seems that the moral environment is deteriorating at a moment when problems are increasingly becoming global in nature. Political corruption, abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, unchecked greed, fraud and deception in the economic sphere, severe economic crises, social inequalities, intolerance toward individual choices, the disregard for environmental problems by many, the rise of religious absolutism, the return of wars of aggression (or of pre-emptive wars) and of blind terrorism are all indicators that our civilization is suffering badly. What can humanism contribute in terms of ideas, words and principles to avoid going back to an age of obscurantism? Why are the basic humanist principles of ethics not more widely accepted and applied? What can we do to bring about a more humanist civilization?


Let me begin on an optimist note. Last January (2010), a group of Atomic Scientists pushed back the 1947 symbolic “Doomsday” clock that shows how close mankind is to self-annihilation to six minutes before midnight, from five minutes before. They cited a "new era of cooperation is a change in the U.S. government's orientation toward international affairs brought about in part by the election of (U.S. President Barack) Obama." They even hinted that "global warming is more of a threat now than nuclear war." We shall live to see if such a renewed confidence is justified or not.

There are many other reasons to be less optimistic, however, if not squarely pessimistic, as to the direction that human affairs are taking. My main message here is simple: The world needs a new worldview, because the prevailing religion-based worldview leads to divisiveness and destruction. And that better worldview is the universal humanist worldview.

For example, we thought that wars of aggression (or pre-emptive wars) had been abolished with the adoption of the United Nations Charter on June 26, 1945 and the issuance of the Nuremberg Charter on August 8, 1945. But wars of aggression persist and those who initiate them are rarely punished, especially if they are powerful. —We also thought that financial crises and the severe economic recessions and sometimes depressions they provoked were a thing of the past thanks to a protecting net of financial regulations designed to control greed and prevent a repeat of the past. Well, twenty years of wholesale deregulation has brought us back to an era of anything goes and financial collapse.

There seems to be a pattern here and that is that humanity seems unable to break out of a cycle of wars and economic crises.

And, these throwbacks to an unpalatable past coincide with other developments, such as the spread of nuclear weaponry, the persistence of ignorance, growing social and economic inequalities, disregard for basic democratic principles, the rise in global pollution, and the endemic poverty that we witness in many parts of the world.

Because of these frightening developments, it is not surprising that there is a resurgence of interest nowadays for questions of morality and of ethics. Why such a renew interest. —First, partly because many of our problems and threats are not only severe but they have also become global in nature. —Second, we seem to be unable to solve our global problem can also be due to the fact that our scientific and technological progress is advancing much faster than our moral progress, with the consequence that problems arise faster than our moral ability to face them and to solve them. —And third, this is partly due to the fact that the old religion-based morality rules are of little help in solving these new problems, basically because they belong to the past and because, unfortunately, they have not incorporated new scientific knowledge.

When one considers closely religion-based and group-based ethical principles, it is obvious that they are inadequate and out-of-dated in a world where geographic frontiers are made less significant or are disappearing all together. In fact, it can be shown that such outdated moral principles can often be as much a part or even a cause of the problems, than be valuable contribution in solving them.

In such environment, and especially if we want to avoid falling back to an age of obscurantism, ideas, words and fundamental principles matter and are important. That is because, before bad policies, before bad wars, there are bad ideas, bad words and bad principles. Indeed, ideas, words and principles are not equal. There are ideas, words and principles that can lead to enlightenment, to freedom, to tolerance, to democracy and to prosperity. There are, on the other hand, ideas, words and principles that lead in the opposite direction, i.e. to obscurantism, to enslavement, to corporatocracy and to poverty. There are lot of bad ideas, words and principles in contemporary culture, and we should not be afraid to say so. They are major obstacles in our efforts to solve basic global problems. In short, worldviews make a lot of difference. —A tremendous difference.

And that is here where humanism can be a source of good ideas, good words and good principles. It is because I believe that humanism is the best source for human ethics and morality, not just for now, but, above all, for the future.

On this score, humanists have long said that morality is a strictly human concern and should be independent of religious creeds and dogma. This principle was clearly articulated in the three fundamental Humanist Manifestos. What I am trying to do is to expand on these three wonderful documents.

Global Problems without Global Solutions
Let me give three examples where the moral dimension trumps the technical dimension or the religious dimension in solving them.

—First, consider the vicious cycle of poverty, overpopulation, underdevelopment in some African countries, such as in Ruwanda, or in Haiti in the Caribbeans, for example. The causes and solutions of such a problem are likely to be more cultural and moral than technical in nature. Western countries may send missionaries and foreign aid to these countries, but if they also send an ideology hostile to birth control and to the education of women, they are likely to make matters worse, not better. Indeed, experiences with animals have shown that too high a population density leads to conflicts. In Ruwanda, it led to the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus in 1994.

—An another example of morality vs technicalities could be the unhealthy link, in the United States, between political corruption, unlimited lobbying by special or vested interests, the industrial-military complex, and wars. The general population rarely wants wars because they are the ones who die and pay for them. But special interests who have a stake in wars do want them. Therefore, to solve the problem of war, especially of wars of aggression, it is necessary to tackle the moral problem first.

—Another example could be the link between political corruption, unchecked greed, abusive financial deregulation, and financial and economic crises. Why do people have to suffer when the politico-economic system collapses because of of a variety of abuses? To solve such a problem, one has also to rise above the technical problem to confront the moral problem.

But a close analysis of religion-based morality and centuries of disastrous practice has taught us that this source of human morality cannot be relied upon to prevent the emergence or to solve our more entrenched problems, be they related to the treatment of women, to wars or to unchecked greed.

In the latter example of greed and corruption, let's us remember what the supposedly more moral New Testament, as compared to the Old Testament, says about taking from the poor to give to the rich and about killing, in the parable of the minas, in Luke 19:24-27:
24... “Take his mina (an ancient money unit) away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ 26...‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. 27... But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.”

Fundamental Problems with Religion-based Morality


There are two fundamental problems with religion-based morality.

-First and foremost, we can say that the foundations of religion-based morality are in direct conflict with new scientific knowledge. Indeed, humans' vision of themselves in the Universe has been forever altered by three fundamental scientific breakthroughs:

- Galileo's proof, in 1632, that the Earth and humans were not the center of the Universe, as so-called holy books have pretended.
- Darwin's discovery, in 1859, (“On the Origin of Species”) that humans are not some unique god-like creatures among all species, destined to live forever, but are rather the outcome of a very long natural biological evolution.
- The Watson-Crick-Wilkins-Franklin's discovery, in 1953, of the structure of the double helix DNA molecule (Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid) in each of the 46 chromosomes in human cells, and the devastating knowledge that humans share more than 95 percent of the same genes as chimpanzees.
I would add, also, that ongoing research about how the human brain functions has cast new light on how some phenomena, such as different thoughts, including religious thoughts, are generated in different zones of the brain.

Therefore, nobody can claim anymore that the Earth is the center of the Universe; nobody can pretend that humans are unique in the scale of things; nobody can pretend that the human body and the human mind are two unrelated entities. This knowledge has tremendous consequences for our moral stance. The ideas of afterlife rewards or punishments, of the existence of a paradise or a hell, and the myth of so-called “chosen” people or races, are pretty much negated by scientific knowledge. And such knowledge cannot be ignored under the pretext that science and religion belong to two different worlds. They are both an integral part of the human experience and they must be reconciled.

-A second important problem with religion-based morality is that its precepts, as presented in so-called “holy” books are at best very ambiguous, and at worst, they can be fundamentally very immoral. As Jose Saramago, Portuguese Nobel Prize for Literature winner has summarized, in the case of the Bible: "The Bible is a manual of bad morals [which] has a powerful influence on our culture and even our way of life...It is a catalog of cruelty and of what's worst in human nature. Without the Bible, we would be different and probably better people.”

A Superior Humanism-based Morality


The contradiction between modern problems, new scientific knowledge and the inadequacy of our prevalent source of morality or of ethics, which are mainly religion-based, has led me to write a book, “The Code for GLOBAL ETHICS, Ten Humanist Principles”, [ISBN: 978-1616141721] prefaced by Dr. Paul Kurtz and published this year by Prometheus Books.

In this book, I ask a certain number of fundamental questions, such as: Why do we have this uneasy feeling that the world is less moral than it should be? In fact, can we not talk of a moral bankcrupcy at the highest levels of our societies, both in politics and in business? Or, again, why is it that the resurgence of religions, especially the three Abrahamic and proselytist religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) seems to have coincided with a drop of basic human morality at a time when global solutions to global problems are more accute than ever? Would the world be a better place if we adhere to universal humanist principles? And, what can be done realistically to bring about a humanist civilization?

In fact, my approach can be seen as parallel to that of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who, in his analysis of religions, came to the paradoxical conclusion that although the philosophical foundations of established religions were false, it was nevertheless necessary to accept them (the religions) because they were a necessary source of morality for men. I am in agreement with Kant that religions are usually based on  false beliefs and myths. However, unlike Kant, who lived in the eighteenth century, my analysis of religion-based codes of ethics has led me to the conclusion that they are fundamentally deficient and inadequate for a humanity which must live and survive in the new globalizing context. Thus, my first conclusion is that organized religions, far from being a reliable source of moral values, are rather a moral threat to humankind, essentially because they promote bigotry, moral dualism state-individual, anthropomorphism, intimidation, and an because they draw a non-scientific and arbitrary separation between the physiological and intellectural functions of the human body. From this flows a variety of adverse consequences for the organization of human affairs, consequences that I document in abundance in my book.

Let's be clear. I recognize and accept the proposition that organized religions have contributed, in the past, to civilize primitive and ignorant peoples and help them to survive by binding them into cooperative groups. Humans are social animals and there is a social gene in everyone of us that predisposes us to live within a group. That is why organized religions still play such an important social and political role in various societies, in bringing people together in social organizations that provide essential services (the word "religion" in its Latin root means "to bind together"), and in fostering social solidarity (See: Nicholas Wade's The Faith Instinct, How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures, 2009). —This is undeniable. In some ways, organized religions are like clubs or political parties. If one is free to join them or not, and if such clubs are in competition, there is nothing wrong with them.

However, we all know that this is not the case in many societies. State-run religions, in particular, are powerful monopoly thought-control systems that can be as well oppress and crush people than assist them. Indeed, we often observe that countries where human freedom and human development are the most lacking are also countries that have a oppressive state religion. Of course, countries that are established on totalitarian secular religions (communism, fascism, for example) can be as oppressive. The history of the 20th century is a sad testimony to this fact.

In general, when religions of all stripes cease to be instruments of personal spirituality and experience to morph into a politicized and state systems, they lose much of their overall usefulness. Indeed, there is a huge gap between religion as a system, individual spirituality and morality. Religious fundamentalism and rigidly pyramidized religions, not the least is the example of the Abrahamic religions, necessarily lock individuals in an intellectual and moral straitjacket that can dehumanize. Clinging to outdated dogma or to deficient moral rules are of no help in developing one's personal spirituality or a modern morality for that matter.

But nature does not tolerate a vacuum. If the flawed moral dogmatism of organized religion is put aside, and we have many reasons to do so, it becomes important to find a replacement. And that's here that humanism and universal humanist principles of living in society can be useful as a realistic and more modern alternative to flawed religion-based morality.


A Humanist Code of Global Ethics


This has led me to ask what can humanism offer as moral principes or as a moral code that would be more attuned to our current global problems as compare to what traditional organized religions have to offer with so-called holy books written millenia ago when societies were smaller, were family-oriented or tribe-oriented, and agricultural.

In essence, I am asking what would be a truly humanist civilization based on basic humanist values? And, if as I think that humanist values are superior to any other type, why is it that the world seems to be moving presently from humanism to embrace dangerous absolutist religious worldviews?

Let me answer the first question of what would a humanist civilization look like.

In such a civilization, • all human beings would be equal in dignity and in human rights. • Life on this planet would not be devalued and seen as only a preparation for a better life after death, somewhere beyond the clouds. • The virtue of tolerance and of human liberty would be proclaimed and applied, subject only to the requirements of public order. • Human solidarity and sharing would be better accepted as a protection against poverty and deprivation. • The manipulation and domination of others through lies, propaganda, and exploitation schemes of all kinds would be less prevalent. • There would be less reliance on superstition and religion to understand the Universe and to solve life's problems and more on reason, logic and science. • Better care of the Earth's natural environment—land, soil, water, air and space,— would be taken in order to bequeat a better heritage to future generations. • We would have ended the primitive practice of resorting to violence or to wars to resolve differences and conflicts. • There would be more genuine democracy in the organization of public affairs, according to individual freedom and responsibility. • Governments would see that their first and most important task is to help developing the children's intelligence and talents through education.

Obviously, we do not presently live in a  Humanist Civilization. Why is it so?

For example, after World War II and the adoption of the United Nations Charter and the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was hoped that a humanist civilization could replace political totalitarianism and the savagery of the wars waged during the first part of the 20th Century. The persistence of wars and genocides indicates that it was not. The disappearance of fascism and communism seems to have been replaced by a new form of corporatocracy or of corpocracy, i.e. a form of government where large business corporations, banks, conglomerates, and government-sponsored enterprises control the electoral process, the media, the courts and the government of a country. Such a system could also be called plutocracy, which is a form of fascism.

Let me point point out that humanist ethics goes beyond the natural Golden Rule (“Treat others as you would have others treat you.”) of human morality which stipulates that each one of us should attempt to treat others as we would have others treat us. Indeed, the Super Golden Rule of humanist morality that I develop in detail in the book (see chap. 3) can be framed this way: "Not only do to others as you would have them do to you, but also, do to others what you would wish to be done to you, if you were in their place." [GWB: "Do unto others before they do unto you."!!!!!]

—There are many ways to divide the humanist rules of global ethics. For one, we can say that humanist rules 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 apply principally to humans as individuals, while humanist rules 1, 7, 8, 9 and 10 apply primarily to human societies or collectivities.

—Another way to look at them is to divide humanist rules between what I would call the basic natural morality rules (not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, to share in a spirit of justice and fairness) that can be found in most moral codes and that apply primarily to individuals. Such natural morality is our blood, in our genes, as surviving members of the human species through a very long process of evolution. They appear here in rules # 2, #4 and # 5.

—However, other important humanist rules for private and public morality belong to what I would called a more advanced morality code. Because, in general, they do not come naturally, such more advanced rule of ethics have to be learnt through education and persuasion. Such is the rule of inherent dignity and equality of human beings (rule # 1). For example, it is fair to say that the principle of  equality between man and woman is far from being accepted over the world. In fact, most religions de facto refuse this principle.

—Other humanist principles, such as the necessity of tolerance (rule #3), the rejection of superstitions that come from ignorance (rule # 6), the need to leave to future generations a clean environment (rule # 7),  the outlawing of wars of aggression (rule #8), or the proclamation of the human value of democracy (rule #9) and the human value of education for all (rule #10) are not necessarily inscribed in nature. For example, dictatorship or aristocratic rule can come as naturally, or even more naturally, than democracry. After all, the law of the jungle and the rule that “might makes right” do exist.

In practice, these seven more advanced humanist rules (individual or collective) require that we move to a higher level of human morality that stands above the standard Golden Rule (“Treat others as you would have others treat you.”)  and adopt what I call a Super Golden Rule of humanist morality that incorporates a humanist rule of empathy: : "Not only do to others as you would have them do to you, but also, do to others what you would wish to be done to you, if you were in their place."

This is a moral principle which requires that we judge whether an act is moral or not as if we did not know in advance if it would apply to us or to others. This is a concept that is closely related to John Rawls' famous “veil of ignorance” for distributive justice. Thus, racism is wrong because you would not want people to treat you badly if you were of another race; sexism is wrong because you would not want to be treated disrespectfully if you were of another sex; torture is wrong because you would not want to be tortured, etc.

When one applies the humanist empathy principle, indeed, one recognizes that one's own rights and needs are also everyone else's rights and needs.  The empathy principle is the foundation for the rule of tolerance in our complex and pluralistic world. As such, the fundamental right of freedom of conscience means that people have a right to their own thoughts, their own beliefs, their own philosophy, and their own religion. The only requirement is that they do not impose these beliefs on others and do not use these beliefs to foster violence and intolerance toward others. Fanaticism, extremism, and proselytism are the opposite of tolerance, trust, and open-minded attitudes in human relations.

As we see, humanist morality goes further than raising the question of human moral perfectibility or even than asking if human nature is evoluating too slowly. It's obvious that there is a gulf between the idealism of utopian perfection and the human reality of greed and cruelty that surrounds us. Nobody denies that. But, even if we accept that human moral evolution is necessarily a very slow process, this does not mean that we should not attempt to develop better moral codes to guide human actions and interactions, with appropriate institutions.

If humans are to survive and prosper in the future, we have no other choice but to close the gap between the kind of world we would want to live in and the real world we inherit at birth. A more widespread acceptance of humanism and of universal humanist principles can be an important first step toward that goal.

Obstacles to Humanist Morality


This brings me to the second and last question, i.e. why is it that the world seems to be moving presently from humanism to embrace dangerous absolutist religious worldviews? My overall answer is that there are powerful interests, vested interests, to whom a world of moral chaos and moral morass is profitable.

 

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Le dimanche 25 avril, 2010
Les matinées philosophiques de La Compagnie des philosophes, Longueuil, Québec

Les fondements d'une éthique humaniste
pour l'avenir

par
Rodrigue Tremblay, Ph.D.
professeur émérite,
Université de Montréal
Auteur du livre « Le Code pour une éthique globale, Vers une civilisation humaniste »
2009 [Les Éditions Liber, ISBN: 978-2895781738]
et de la version américaine “The Code for Global Ethics, Ten Humanist Principles”,
2010 [Prometheus Books, ISBN: 978-1616141721]


 « Quand le pillage devient un moyen d'existence pour un groupe d'hommes qui vit au sein de la société, ce groupe finit par créer pour lui-même un système juridique qui autorise le pillage et un code moral qui le glorifie. »
Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)

« La Bible est un manuel de mauvaises mœurs [qui] a une forte influence sur notre culture et même notre mode de vie ... C'est un catalogue de cruauté et de ce qu’il y a de pire dans la nature humaine. Sans la Bible, nous serions différents et les individus sans doute meilleurs. »
José Saramago, prix  Nobel de Littérature, 1998

« Je pense que tout bien pesé l’influence morale de la religion a été horrible. Les honnêtes gens peuvent bien se comporter et les mauvaises gens peuvent faire le mal avec ou sans la religion; mais pour que les gens honnêtes puissent faire le mal — il faut la religion. »
Steven Weinberg, prix Nobel de Physique, 1979

«Je pense que toutes les grandes religions du monde, le bouddhisme, l'hindouisme, le christianisme, l'islam et le communisme, sont à la fois fausses et nuisibles. [...] Je suis aussi fermement convaincu que les religions sont nuisibles que je le suis qu'elles sont fausses.»
Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), Prix Nobel de littérature en 1950, 1957, (tiré de My Religious Reminiscences)

Résumé

Nous vivons présentement une époque trouble. Il semble, en effet, que le contexte moral environnant se détériore au moment même où les problèmes sont de plus en plus globaux. Corruption politique, abus de pouvoir, mépris pour la primauté de la règle de droit, avidité incontrôlée, fraude et tromperie dans le domaine économique, graves crises économiques, inégalités sociales grandissantes, intolérance envers les choix individuels, scandales d'abus sexuels dans des organisations religieuses, mépris pour les problèmes environnementaux chez plusieurs, retour des absolutismes religieux, recours aux guerres d'agression (ou aux guerres préventives) et au terrorisme aveugle, ce sont là autant d'indicateurs que notre civilisation est présentement menacée.

Qu'est-ce que l'humanisme, en tant que philosophie, peut contribuer au chapitre des idées, des concepts et des principes pour éviter que l'on revienne à une ère d'obscurantisme? Tout particulièrement, quel devrait être le champ d'application de l'empathie humaine en cet âge de mondialisation? —En fait, quels sont les principes humanistes universels de base d'éthique humaine? Pourquoi ne sont-ils pas plus largement acceptées et appliquées? Pourquoi peut-il être démontré qu'ils sont supérieurs à tout code d'éthique à base religieuse? Et, finalement, que devons-nous faire pour créer une civilisation vraiment humaniste?

LA CONFÉRENCE :

Je voudrais débuter sur une note optimiste. En effet, en janvier dernier (2010), les scientifiques atomiques qui gèrent symboliquement l'horloge de la “Fin du monde” ("Doomsday clock") depuis 1947, laquelle indique à quel point l'humanité est près de l'auto-anéantissement, ont reculé l'horloge d'une minute, la fixant à six minutes avant minuit, plutôt qu'à cinq minutes avant minuit. Leur optimisme relatif serait fondé, selon eux, sur l'émergence d'une « nouvelle ère de coopération internationale et sur un changement d'orientation de la part du gouvernement américain envers les affaires internationales, laquelle serait due en partie à l'élection (du président américain Barack) Obama ». Ils ont même laissé entendre que « le réchauffement climatique est une menace plus importante maintenant que la guerre nucléaire. » Nous verrons bien si un tel regain de confiance est justifié ou non.

À mon sens, il existe de nombreuses autres raisons d'être moins optimiste, et même d'être carrément pessimiste, quant à l'orientation présente du monde. Pour toutes les raisons que j'ai évoquées plus haut, j'en suis arrivé à la conclusion que le monde a besoin aujourd'hui d'une nouvelle vision morale des choses, parce que la pensée dominante qui se réfère encore aujourd'hui à de vieux préceptes religieux sectaires est un facteur majeur de discorde et de destruction. Ma réponse est à l'effet qu'une vision des choses mieux adaptée à notre contexte de mondialisation se trouve justement dans la vision humaniste universelle du monde, tant pour comprendre les problèmes globaux que pour les résoudre.


Mes propos peuvent se regrouper autour de quatre grands thèmes.

Premièrement, la mondialisation grandissante des problèmes modernes. Deuxièmement, le champ d'application de la notion humaniste d'empathie humaine est aujourd'hui global, de tribal qu'il était autrefois. Troisièmement, il devient évident que la vision morale des choses à travers le prisme des grandes religions établies est devenu inadéquate, sinon contre-productif. Et, quatrièmement, comment pouvons-nous articuler des principes humanistes universels pour solutionner les problèmes humains.

I- Des problèmes planétaires

Les problèmes modernes qui menacent l'humanité ne sont pas seulement graves, mais ils sont aussi de plus en plus d'une nature globale. Et qui plus est, on a la nette sensation que les connaissances scientifiques et technologiques progressent plus rapidement que notre progrès moral et que notre capacité morale de les confronter et de les résoudre.

Au sommet de ces préoccupations, on retrouve les technologies de guerre et une volonté grandissante de s'en servir.

En effet, beaucoup pensaient que les guerres d'agression (ou les guerres préventives) avaient été abolies pour toujours avec l'adoption de la Charte des Nations Unies le 26 juin 1945, et avec la proclamation de la Charte de Nuremberg, le 8 août 1945. Mais les guerres d'agression continuent et ceux qui les lancent sont rarement punis, surtout s'ils sont à la tête de superpuissances. –Plusieurs avaient aussi cru que les dépressions économiques et les crises financières étaient choses du passé, à cause du filet de sécurité que la réglementation financière était supposée avoir érigé pour éviter les débordements du passé. Et bien, après vingt ans de déréglementation tout azimut, surtout aux États-Unis, centre financier du monde, nous sommes revenus subitement à une ère de laisser-faire débridé et à des effondrements financiers dévastateurs.

On a l'impression que l'humanité tend à retomber périodiquement dans ses vieux travers que sont les cycles de guerres et de désordres économiques. Et qui plus est, ces retours en arrière vers un passé peu agréable coïncident avec d'autres développements inquiétants, comme la propagation des armes nucléaires, la persistance d'une ignorance généralisée, l'accroissement des inégalités sociales et économiques, le mépris des principes démocratiques de base, l'augmentation de la pollution mondiale, et la pauvreté endémique que nous observons dans plusieurs régions du monde.

J'en veux comme exemple le cas d'espèce de l'ancien vice-président américain Dick Cheney qui s'est vanté du fait qu'un président américain pourrait détruire le monde de son propre chef. Il a dit : « Le Président [américain] a accès en tout temps à des codes nucléaires en cas d'une attaque nucléaire contre les États-Unis ... Il pourrait lancer la plus grande contre-attaque dévastatrice que le monde ait jamais vue ... Il n'a pas à consulter qui que ce soit, il n'a pas à consulter les membres du Congrès, il n'a pas à consulter les tribunaux, il détient tous les pouvoirs » (Dick Cheney, Vice-président de George W. Bush, le dimanche 21 décembre, 2008). C'est quelque chose. Personne n'a demandé à Cheney si détruire le monde était une action morale !

II- La portée actuelle de l'empathie humaine

Les cercles de l'empathie humaine se sont progressivement élargis au cours de l'évolution humaine.

1 - Tout d'abord, il y avait l'empathie au sein de la famille immédiate ou élargie dans le cadre de petites sociétés reposant sur l'agriculture, la cueillette ou la chasse avec un partage éthique parmi les membres de la famille, le sorcier jouant alors un rôle important dans l'explication des mystères du monde et en tant que communicateur oral.

2 – Par la suite vint l'empathie au sein d'une grande tribu ou d'un clan à l'intérieur duquel la religion joue un rôle important pour créer de la cohésion sociale et pour étendre la pratique de l'altruisme à des non-membres de la famille immédiate. La morale est implicitement conçue ici pour une société de co-religionnaires (des frères et sœurs au sein d'une sorte de religion d'état). On voit les autres, les étrangers ou les non-initiés avec une certaine suspicion, sinon de l'hostilité. On fait alors appel à une croyance commune dans des agents surnaturels tout-puissants (dieux, esprits, anges, démons ... etc.) pour expliquer les mystères du monde.

3 - Troisièmement, l'empathie s'exprime au sein d'un État-nation de plus en plus pluraliste et même d'un empire multiethnique, le gouvernement jouant le rôle traditionnel du père pour assurer la sécurité et pour imposer un certain niveau de partage entre tous les citoyens à l'intérieur d'un État-providence élargi. L'industrialisation augmente la productivité ouvrière et le niveau de vie moyen.
La science et la religion ou la superstition se concurrencent alors en tant que principales sources de connaissances humaines. La communication est de beaucoup facilitée par l'invention du mot imprimé, alors que le prélèvement de fonds par la taxation devient possible grâce à des techniques de comptabilité perfectionnées.

4 - En quatrième lieu, et je pense que c'est là où nous en sommes aujourd'hui, l'empathie est étendue à l'humanité tout entière, avec l'idée d'une humanité et d'une planète. La famille élargie est la famille humaine. L'industrialisation évolue de plus en plus vers l'économie du savoir tandis que les sources énergétiques se différencient. Il s'agit d'un monde de communication instantanée rendue possible grâce à l'Internet et les satellites ; c'est un monde d'interactions économiques et financières grandissantes et dans lequel la moralité est par nécessité de plus en plus centrée sur des valeurs universelles et sur la règle de droit.

III- Insuffisance d'une éthique fondée sur les religions

Les anciennes règles morales fondées sur la religion ne sont pas d'un grand secours pour résoudre les nouveaux problèmes mondiaux, essentiellement parce qu'elles appartiennent au passé reposant toujours sur la morale de groupe et parce que, malheureusement, ce sont des règles qui n'ont pas intégré les nouvelles connaissances scientifiques sur la nature humaine et sur la place véritable de l'être humain dans l'Univers.

En effet, quand on étudie de près les principes éthiques des grandes religions établies, lesquels reposent encore sur la notion exclusive du groupe des fidèles, il est évident qu'ils sont insuffisants et dépassés dans un monde où les frontières géographiques s'effacent ou disparaissent presque complètement. En fait, on peut démontrer que ces principes moraux obsolètes peuvent souvent constituer autant une partie, voire une cause des problèmes, qu'une contribution valable à leur solution.

Dans le contexte actuel, et surtout si nous voulons éviter de retomber à un âge d'obscurantisme, les idées, les concepts et les principes de base qui sont véhiculés ont leur importance. En fait, avant que n'apparaissent les mauvaises politiques, avant les guerres destructrices, il y a de mauvaises idées, de mauvais concepts et de mauvais principes moraux.

Il est erroné de croire que les idées, les concepts et les principes de base ont la même valeur intrinsèque. Il y a des idées, des concepts et des principes qui sont générateurs de connaissance, de liberté, de tolérance, et qui sont facteurs de démocratie et de prospérité. Il y a, d'autre part, des idées, des concepts et des principes qui vont dans la direction opposée, c’est-à-dire qu'ils mènent à l'obscurantisme, à l'asservissement, à la corporatocratie et à la pauvreté.

Il y a beaucoup de mauvaises idées, de mauvais concepts et de mauvais principes dans notre culture contemporaine, et nous ne devrions pas avoir peur de le dire. Ils sont des obstacles majeurs à la solution des grands problèmes mondiaux qui nous confrontent. C'est que les diverses visions du monde font beaucoup de différence. –D'énormes différences.

C'est ici que je renverse la position d'Emmanuel Kant sur la religion. Si vous vous souvenez, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), dans son analyse des religions, est arrivé à la conclusion paradoxale que, même si les fondements philosophiques des religions établies étaient faux, il a été néanmoins nécessaire de les accepter (les religions), parce qu'ils étaient une source nécessaire de la morale pour les hommes. -Je suis d'accord avec Kant que les religions sont généralement basées sur de fausses et irrationnelles croyances et des mythes. Cependant, contrairement à Kant, qui a vécu au 18e siècle, mon analyse des codes fondés sur la religion de l'éthique m'a conduit à la conclusion qu'ils sont fondamentalement, soit déficients et insuffisants, soit à tout le moins très incomplets, pour une humanité qui doit vivre et survivre dans le contexte actuel de mondialisation.

Ainsi, ma première conclusion est à l'effet que les grandes religions établies, loin d'être une source fiable de valeurs morales, sont plutôt aujourd'hui une menace morale pour l'humanité, —essentiellement parce qu'ils favorisent l'intolérance, le dualisme moral État-individu, l'anthropomorphisme, l'intimidation, et parce qu'ils établissent une séparation non-scientifique et arbitraire entre les fonctions physiologiques et intellectuelles du corps humain. À partir de ces erreurs de base découle toute une série de conséquences néfastes pour l'organisation des affaires humaines.


Soyons clairs. —Je reconnais et j'accepte d'emblée l'idée que les grandes religions ont contribué, dans le passé, à civiliser des peuples primitifs, analphabètes et ignares et les ont aidés à survivre en favorisant des liens de coopération entre les individus. Les êtres humains sont des animaux sociaux et, après des centaines de milliers d'années d'évolution, sinon des millions d'années, il y a un gène social dans chacun d'entre nous, lequel nous prédispose à vivre et à survivre au sein d'un groupe.

C'est pourquoi les religions établies jouent encore un rôle social et politique important dans de nombreuses sociétés, en regroupant les gens dans des organisations sociales qui dispensent des services de base (le mot «religion» dans sa racine latine signifie «lier ensemble»), et dans la promotion de la solidarité sociale (Voir: Nicholas Wade, The Faith Instinct, How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures, 2009). -Cela est indéniable. À certains égards, les religions organisées sont comme des clubs ou des partis politiques. Si l'on est libre d'y adhérer ou non, et si ces clubs sont en concurrence, il n'y a rien à redire.

Cependant, nous savons tous que ce n'est pas le cas dans de nombreuses sociétés où dominent des religions d'État ou des religions que je qualifie d'« impériales ». On est alors en face de puissants systèmes de pensée monopolisateurs qui peuvent tout aussi bien opprimer et écraser les gens que de les aider. En effet, nous observons souvent que les pays où la liberté humaine et le développement humain sont en manque sont souvent des pays qui ont une religion d'état opprimante. Bien sûr, les pays où règne une religion laïque totalitaire (sous le communisme ou le fascisme, par exemple) peuvent aussi produire les mêmes résultats. L'histoire du 20e siècle constitue un triste témoignage à cet égard.

Et c'est ici que l'humanisme peut être une source renouvelée de bonnes idées, de bons concepts et de bons principes. Je crois que l'humanisme est la meilleure source d'éthique et de morale humaine, non seulement pour le présent, mais, surtout, pour l'avenir.

Sur ce point, les humanistes ont longtemps prétendu que la morale est une préoccupation strictement humaine et qu'elle doit se concevoir indépendamment des croyances religieuses et de leurs dogmes. Ce principe a été clairement énoncé dans trois manifestes humanistes fondamentaux. Ce que j'essaie de faire est d'élaborer davantage sur la teneur de ces trois documents de base.

IV- Problèmes mondiaux mais pas de solutions globales

Permettez-moi de vous donner trois exemples où la dimension morale l'emporte sur la dimension technique ou la dimension religieuse pour les résoudre.

—Premièrement, prenons le cercle vicieux de la pauvreté, de la surpopulation et du sous-développement dans certains pays africains, comme au Rwanda, ou à Haïti dans les Caraïbes, par exemple. Les causes et les solutions d'un tel problème sont susceptibles d'être davantage culturelles et morales que techniques. Les pays occidentaux peuvent envoyer des missionnaires et de l'aide étrangère à ces pays, mais s'ils accompagnent ces aides avec une idéologie hostile à la contraception et à l'éducation des femmes, ils sont susceptibles d'aggraver les choses, au lieu de les améliorer. En effet, les expériences faites avec des animaux ont montré qu'une trop forte densité de population est source de conflits. En Rwanda, cela a conduit au génocide des Tutsis par les Hutus, en 1994.

—Un autre exemple où la dimension morale des choses l'emporte sur le côté technique pourrait être la relation incestueuse que l'on observe aux États-Unis entre, d'une part, la corruption politique, le lobbying illimité d'intérêts particuliers puissants, le complexe militaro-industriel, et d'autre part, les guerres à répétition. La population en général est rarement en faveur des guerres parce que c'est elle qui en fait les frais, soit par la mort de leurs enfants, soit par la hausse de leurs impôts. Mais les intérêts particuliers qui profitent économiquement et financièrement des guerres sont habituellement ceux qui s'en font les propagandistes les plus insistants. Par conséquent, pour résoudre le problème des guerres, en particulier des guerres d'agression, il est nécessaire de s'attaquer au problème moral en premier lieu.

À ce chapitre, on peut douter que les religions établies puissent être d'un grand secours. En effet, tout au long de l'histoire, il y eut une tendance récurrente qui poussa les adeptes de dieux différents, regroupés dans diverses religions impériales, à s'entretuer dans des guerres sanglantes, et j'ajouterais, inutiles. Sur ce plan, on peut dire que les religions établies peuvent tout autant être un facteur de guerre qu'un facteur de paix.

—Un autre exemple pourrait être le lien observé entre la corruption politique, l'avidité sans bornes, et la déréglementation financière tout azimut, d'une part, et les crises financières et économiques, d'autre part. Pourquoi des millions de gens doivent-ils souffrir lorsque le système politico-économique s'effondre à la suite d'abus de la part de certaines personnes ? Pour résoudre un tel problème, il faut aussi aller au-delà du problème technique et aborder la question morale.

En réalité, une analyse approfondie de l'éthique fondée sur la religion et des siècles de pratique désastreuse nous a enseigné qu'on ne peut pas compter sur cette source de moralité humaine pour empêcher l'émergence de difficultés fondamentales ou pour résoudre les problèmes une fois qu'ils existent, que ceux-ci aient trait au traitement discriminatoire des femmes, aux guerres d'agression ou de conquête, ou à l'avidité et à la corruption dans les officines dirigeantes.

Sur ce sujet de l'avidité et de la corruption, on doit constater que même dans le Nouveau Testament, supposément plus moral que l'Ancien Testament, on y dit noir sur blanc qu'il est bon de prendre aux pauvres pour donner aux riches et même de tuer. C'est dans la parabole des mines, dans Luc 19:24-27:
24...Et il dit à ceux qui se tenaient là : "Enlevez-lui sa mine (une ancienne pièce de monnaie), et donnez-la à celui qui a dix mines. "...
26..."Je vous le dis : à tout homme qui a, on donnera ; mais à celui qui a peu, on lui prendra même ce qu'il a. "
27... "Quant à mes ennemis, ceux qui n'ont pas voulu que je règne sur eux, amenez-les ici, et égorgez-les en ma présence."

Beau programme politique !

V- Problèmes fondamentaux avec l'éthique fondée sur la religion

Il y a deux problèmes fondamentaux avec l'éthique fondée sur la religion.

-Tout d'abord, nous pouvons dire que les fondements de l'éthique basée sur la religion sont en contradiction directe avec les connaissances scientifiques développées depuis quatre siècles. En effet, la vision que les êtres humains se faisaient d'eux-mêmes quant à leur place dans l'Univers a été à tout jamais chambardée par trois percées scientifiques fondamentales :

- La démonstration par Galilée, en 1632, que la Terre et les humains n'étaient pas au centre de l'Univers, comme les soi-disant livres saints l'avaient prétendu jusqu'à là.
- La découverte de Darwin, en 1859, ("De l'origine des espèces") que les humains n'étaient pas des créatures uniques faites à l'image de Dieu parmi toutes les espèces, destinés à vivre éternellement, mais étaient plutôt le produit d'une très longue évolution biologique naturelle, ayant évolué à partir d'autres espèces vivantes.
. - La découverte par Watson-Crick-Wilkins-Franklin, en 1953, de la structure de la molécule d'ADN en double hélice (acide désoxyribonucléique) dans chacun des 46 chromosomes présents dans les cellules humaines, et l'observation dévastatrice que les humains partageaient plus de 95 pour cent de leur ADN avec l'espèce rapprochée des chimpanzés.

J'ajouterais aussi que les recherches en cours sur le fonctionnement du cerveau humain ont jeté une lumière nouvelle sur la façon dont certains phénomènes psychiques, comme certains types de pensées, y compris les pensées religieuses, sont générés dans des zones différenciés du cerveau, une indication que tous les phénomènes psychiques originent du cerveau.

Par conséquent, personne ne peut plus prétendre aujourd'hui que la planète Terre est le centre de l'Univers ; personne ne peut prétendre que les humains sont uniques dans l'échelle biologique des choses ; personne ne peut plus prétendre que le corps humain et l'esprit humain sont deux entités indépendantes.

Ces nouvelles connaissances ont une influence majeure sur notre vision morale du monde. Les idées concernant l'existence d'un au-delà avec des récompenses ou des punitions extra-terrestres, celles qui concernent l'existence d'un paradis ou d'un enfer extra-terrestres, et celles qui propagent le mythe de soi-disant races ou « peuples élus », sont à peu près réduites à néant par les nouvelles connaissances scientifiques. Et cette connaissance ne peut être ignorée sous prétexte que la science et la religion appartiennent à deux mondes différents. Ils sont à la fois partie intégrante de l'expérience humaine, et ils doivent être conciliés.

-Un deuxième problème important avec la morale fondée sur les religions, c'est que leurs préceptes, telles que présentés dans ce qu'on appelle des livres « saints », sont au mieux très ambigus et, au pire, ils peuvent être fondamentalement immoraux. Comme José Saramago, l'écrivain portugais Prix Nobel de littérature, l'a bien résumé en ce qui concerne la Bible judaïque et chrétienne : « La Bible est un manuel de [mauvaises mœurs qui] a une grande influence sur notre culture et même sur notre mode de vie ... C'est un catalogue de cruautés et parmi de ce qu'il y a de pire dans la nature humaine. Sans la Bible, nous serions différents et probablement de meilleures personnes. »

Mais la nature ne tolère pas le vide.

Si l'on rejette le dogmatisme moral erroné des religions établies, et nous avons de nombreuses raisons de le faire, il devient primordial de lui trouver un substitut. Et c'est ici que l'humanisme universel et les principes humanistes de la vie en société peuvent être utiles en tant qu'alternative réaliste à la morale inadéquate des religions établies.

VI- Une moralité humaniste supérieure

La contradiction qui existe entre les problèmes modernes, les nouvelles connaissances scientifiques et l'insuffisance des sources traditionnelles de morale ou d'éthique, lesquelles reposent principalement sur la religion, m'a conduit à écrire un livre, “Le Code pour une éthique globale, vers une civilisation humaniste”, [ ISBN: 978-2895781738] préfacé par le Dr Paul Kurtz et publié en 2009 par la maison Liber et cette année, aux États-Unis, par la maison Prometheus Books [ ISBN: 978-1616141721].

Dans ce livre, je soulève un certain nombre de questions fondamentales, telles que : Pourquoi avons-nous ce sentiment de malaise que le monde est moins moral que ce qu'il devrait être ? En fait, ne peut-on pas parler d'une certaine faillite morale au plus haut niveau de nos sociétés, tant en politique qu'en affaires ?

Ou encore, pourquoi la remontée des religions, surtout celle des trois religions abrahamiques et prosélytistes (le judaïsme, le christianisme et l'islam) semble avoir coïncidé avec une baisse généralisée de la moralité humaine fondamentale, à un moment où des solutions mondiales aux problèmes mondiaux semblent s'imposer plus que jamais ? Est-ce que le monde se porterait mieux si nous adhérions aux principes humanistes universels ? Et, en bout de ligne, que pouvons-nous faire concrètement pour créer une civilisation humaniste ?

En général, lorsque les religions de toutes catégories confondues cessent d'être des instruments de spiritualité personnelle pour se politiser et devenir des systèmes d'état, elles perdent beaucoup de leur utilité pratique. En effet, il existe un énorme fossé entre la religion en tant que soutien au système politique, et la spiritualité et la moralité individuelles.

Le fondamentalisme religieux et les religions construites sur une base pyramidale, comme ce que l'on retrouve chez les religions abrahamiques, placent les individus dans une sorte de camisole de force intellectuelle et morale qui peut être un important facteur de déshumanisation. On peut douter que le fait de s'accrocher à des dogmes dépassés ou à des règles morales déficients soit la bonne façon de développer une riche spiritualité personnelle ou une éthique moderne.

Un code d'éthique essentiellement humaniste

Cela m'a conduit, d'une part, à me demander ce que peut offrir l'humanisme en tant que principes moraux de base, ou en tant que code moral, qui seraient mieux adaptés à nos problèmes actuels de plus en plus mondiaux ; et d'autre part, comment de tels principes peuvent se comparer à ce que les religions établies traditionnelles ont à offrir à partir de ce qu'on appelle des livres saints écrits il y a des millénaires, alors que les sociétés humaines en grande partie agricole étaient plus restreintes, et étaient davantage orientées vers la famille ou la tribu.

Fondamentalement, je m'interroge sur ce que serait une civilisation véritablement humaniste, fondée sur des valeurs humanistes ? Et si, comme je pense que les valeurs humanistes sont supérieures à tout autre système moral, pourquoi se fait-il que le monde n'adopte pas les principes humanistes de base et semble plutôt vouloir emprunter la voie dangereuse des visions religieuses et absolutistes du monde ?

Permettez-moi de répondre rapidement à la première question de ce qui serait une civilisation humaniste.

En tout premier lieu, le champ d'application de l'empathie humaine serait universel et global et ne se limiterait point à certaines personnes élues, aux membres d'une religion en particulier ou aux personnes appartenant à une civilisation particulière.

En pratique, cela exigerait que nous établissions un seuil plus élevé de morale humaine qui soit au-dessus de la norme traditionnelle de la règle d'or ( « Traitez les autres comme vous voudriez que les autres vous traitent. » ) Ceci exige, en fait, que nous adoptions ce que j'appelle une règle d'or suprême de moralité humaniste laquelle incorpore la règle humaniste d'empathie et que l’on peut formuler de la manière suivante : « Non seulement faites aux autres comme vous voudriez qu'ils vous fassent, mais aussi, faites aux autres ce que vous aimeriez qu'on fasse pour vous, si vous étiez à leur place. » —Bien entendu, le corollaire s'applique, c’est-à-dire: « Ne faites pas aux autres ce que vous ne voudriez pas qu'on vous fasse, si vous étiez à leur place."

 [Comme on le voit, on est loin de la règle implicite que l'ancien président américain George W. Bush semble avoir suivie quand il était au pouvoir : "Faites aux autres avant qu'ils ne vous le fassent à vous !"]

Il s'agit d'un principe moral qui exige que l'on juge si un acte est moral ou non comme si nous ne savions pas à l'avance si elle s'applique à nous ou à d'autres. C'est un concept qui est étroitement lié au fameux «voile d'ignorance» de John Rawls en tant que fondement de la justice distributive.

Ainsi, le racisme est mauvais parce que nous ne voudrions pas que les gens nous traitent mal si nous étions d'une autre race ; le sexisme est mauvais parce que nous ne voudrions pas être maltraités si nous étions d'un autre sexe ; la torture est mauvaise parce que nous ne voudrions pas être torturés, etc.

Dans une telle civilisation,
• Tous les êtres humains seraient reconnus égaux en dignité et en droits.
• La vie sur cette planète ne serait pas dévaluée et considérée simplement comme une préparation à une vie meilleure après la mort, quelque part au-delà des nuages.
• La vertu de tolérance et de liberté humaine serait proclamée et appliquée, sous réserve des exigences de l'ordre public.
 • La solidarité humaine et le partage seraient mieux acceptés comme un rempart contre la pauvreté et le dénuement.
 • La manipulation et la domination d'autrui par le mensonge, la propagande, et les systèmes d'exploitation de toutes sortes seraient moins répandus.
• On aurait moins recours à la superstition et à la religion pour comprendre l'Univers et résoudre les problèmes de la vie et l’on ferait usage davantage de la raison, de la logique et de la science.
• On ferait davantage attention à la pollution de l'environnement naturel des terres, des sols, de l'eau, de l'air et de l'espace, - afin de laisser un héritage valable aux générations futures.
• On mettrait fin à la pratique barbare de recourir à la violence ou aux guerres pour régler les différends et les conflits.
• Il y aurait davantage de démocratie réelle dans l'organisation des affaires publiques, en tenant compte de la liberté individuelle et de la responsabilité individuelle.
• Les gouvernements accepteraient que leur tâche première et la plus importante est de veiller à développer l'intelligence des enfants et leurs talents par l'éducation.

Comme on le voit, l'éthique humaniste va bien au-delà de la règle d'or d'éthique traditionnelle laquelle se limite à dire que chacun doit s'efforcer de traiter les autres comme il aimerait que les autres le traitent. En fait, la règle d'or suprême de la moralité humaniste, que je développe en détail dans le livre (voir chap. 3) est le fondement même de l’éthique humaniste universelle.

Mais, de toute évidence, nous ne vivons pas actuellement dans une civilisation humaniste. Pourquoi ?

Par exemple, après la Seconde Guerre mondiale et l'adoption de la Charte des Nations Unies et la proclamation de la Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme, on a cru qu'une civilisation humaniste pourrait remplacer le totalitarisme politique et la sauvagerie des guerres de la première partie du 20e siècle. On sait aujourd'hui que ce ne fut pas le cas, car les guerres et les génocides ont continué comme si rien n'était.

Le fascisme et le communisme sont bien sûr disparus, mais ils semblent avoir été remplacés dans nos pays par une nouvelle forme de corporatocratie ou de corpocratie, c’est-à-dire une forme de gouvernement où les sociétés des grandes entreprises, des banques, des conglomérats, et d'autres entreprises prennent le contrôle du processus électoral, des médias, et même des tribunaux et des gouvernements. On pourrait aussi qualifier ce genre de système de ploutocratie, ce qui est en soi une forme de fascisme.

Les façons de voir les règles humanistes d’éthique

Il y a plusieurs façons de diviser les règles humanistes d'une éthique globale. On peut distinguer entre les règles individuelles et les règles collectives. En effet, d'une part, nous pouvons dire que les règles humanistes 2, 3, 4, 5 et 6 s'appliquent principalement aux individus en tant que tels, alors que les règles humanistes 1, 7, 8, 9 et 10 s'appliquent principalement aux sociétés humaines ou des collectivités dans leur ensemble.

-Une autre façon de voir les choses est de diviser les règles humanistes entre ce que j'appellerais les règles naturelles de base, lesquelles relèvent de la morale naturelle (ne pas tuer, ne pas voler, ne pas mentir, partager avec autrui dans un esprit de justice et d'équité) et lesquelles se retrouvent aussi dans la plupart des codes moraux et qui s'appliquent principalement aux individus en tant que tels. Cette morale naturelle est dans notre sang, dans nos gènes, en tant que membres survivants de l'espèce humaine, à la suite d'un très long processus d'évolution. Elles apparaissent ici dans les règles n ° 2, n ° 4 et n ° 5.

-Cependant, d'autres règles de la morale humaniste privée et publique appartiennent à ce que j'appellerais une moralité humaniste apprise et plus avancée. Parce que, en général, elles ne s'imposent pas naturellement ; en tant que règles plus élevées d'éthique, elles doivent être apprises par l'éducation et par la persuasion, à la lumière de l’expérience historique, de la raison, du bon jugement et des connaissances scientifiques.
 
Telle est la règle qui proclame la dignité inhérente et l'égalité des êtres humains, quelle que soit leur race ou leur sexe (règle n ° 1). Par exemple, il est juste de dire que le principe de l'égalité entre les hommes et les femmes est loin d'être accepté dans le monde entier. En fait, la plupart des grandes religions le nient dans les faits, si ce n'est en droit.

—Les autres grands principes humanistes, comme la nécessité de la tolérance (règle n ° 3), le rejet des superstitions qui sont essentiellement le produit de l'ignorance (règle n ° 6), la nécessité de laisser aux générations futures un environnement propre (règle n ° 7), l'interdiction des guerres d'agression ou de conquête (règle n ° 8), ou la proclamation de la valeur humaine de la démocratie (règle n ° 9) et la valeur humaine de l'éducation pour tous (règle n ° 10), ne sont pas nécessairement inscrits dans la nature.

Par exemple, la dictature ou le gouvernement aristocratique peuvent s’établir tout aussi naturellement, ou même plus naturellement, que la démocratie. Après tout, la loi de la jungle et « la loi du plus fort » existent dans la nature.

En effet, quand on applique le principe d'empathie humaniste, on reconnaît que ses propres droits et ses propres besoins sont aussi ceux de tous les autres. Le principe d'empathie est le fondement de la règle de la tolérance dans notre monde complexe et pluraliste. En tant que tel, le droit fondamental à la liberté de conscience signifie que les gens ont droit à leurs propres pensées, à leurs croyances, à leur propre philosophie, et à leur propre religion. Les seules conditions pour assurer la paix sociale sont, primo, de ne pas imposer ses propres croyances aux autres et ne pas utiliser ces croyances pour encourager la violence et l'intolérance envers les autres de manière à perturber l'ordre public ou de manière à nier des droits constitutionnels et, secundo, que l'état soit neutre en matière de religion et de croyances. —Le fanatisme, l'extrémisme, et le prosélytisme sont à l'opposé de la tolérance, de la confiance et des attitudes d'ouverture d'esprit dans les relations humaines.

VII- Conclusion

Comme on le voit, la morale humaniste va plus loin que le simple fait de soulever la question de la perfectibilité morale de l'être humain ou même que de se demander si la nature humaine évolue trop lentement. Il est évident qu'il existe un fossé entre l'idéalisme utopique de perfection et une réalité remplie d'avidité et de cruauté. Personne ne le nie. Mais, même si nous acceptons que l'évolution morale de l'homme est nécessairement un processus très lent, cela ne signifie nullement que nous ne devrions pas tenter de développer de meilleurs codes moraux pour guider les actions et interactions humaines, avec des institutions appropriées.

Si l'être humain doit survivre et prospérer dans l'avenir, nous n'avons pas d'autre choix que de combler le fossé entre le genre de monde dans lequel nous voulons vivre et le monde réel que nous avons hérité à la naissance. Dans cette perspective, on pourrait franchir un premier pas important vers cet objectif si on adoptait plus largement les principes humanistes universels de vie en société.

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 TEXT MARCH 19, 2010.doc

 

 Renaissance Academy (Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), Friday, March 19, 2010.


Economic Bubbles and Financial Crises, Past and Present:
The Collapse of Subprime Mortgage-Backed Derivatives, in 2007-09, and How the U.S. Government Became the de facto Private Government of Large Banks and Bailed them out of their Huge Gambling Debts

By

Dr. Rodrigue TREMBLAY, Ph.D.
Emeritus professor
University of Montreal



"It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning."
Henry Ford (1863-1947), American industrialist

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), French economist

"The normal functioning of our economy leads to financial trauma and crises, inflation, currency depreciations, unemployment and poverty in the middle of what could be virtually universal affluence-in short ... financially complex capitalism is inherently flawed."
Hyman Minsky, American economist

“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their money, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them, will deprive the people of their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd US President

"Of all the events and all of the things we've done in the last 18 months, the single one that makes me the angriest, that gives me the most angst, is the intervention with AIG... Here was a company [AIG] that made all kinds of unconscionable bets. Then, when those bets went wrong, we had a situation where the failure of that company would have brought down the financial system."
Ben Bernanke, U.S. Fed Chairman, Sunday April 12, 2009


I- Introduction
The outbreak of a severe worldwide financial crisis two years ago was a surprise to many people. Indeed, it was widely thought that financial crises and the severe economic recessions and sometimes depressions they provoked were a thing of the past, thanks to a protecting net of financial regulations designed to prevent a repeat of the past.

But here we are again, mired in the most severe economic crisis since the 1930s. We may ask why? The main reason is that the U.S economy, but also most of the world economy, have been subjected to a financial experiment that has turned sour. In fact, it has turned into a financial fiasco.

A new type of banking finance was invented and all the risks involved had not been properly assessed. For a while, a debt pyramid was allowed to grow, but it collapsed when its shaky foundation disintegrated.

Of course, there have been similar financial collapses in the past, and the overall cause is always the same: the financial sector takes too much risk and expands too much, creating a debt load for the economy that is unsustainable.

Before getting into the nitty gritty, I would like to put the current financial crisis into its larger context. I will first present a description and an overview of the financial situation that led to the crisis. Then, I will give you an analysis of why the financial crisis happened.

It is always fascinating for those like me who study business cycles and financial crises [http://www.TheNewAmericanEmpire.com/tremblay=1083] in our democratic capitalist system how they seem to reoccur every two generations, i.e. every 50 to 75 years, with some regularity, depending if the period includes or not a world war. It seems that what one generation learns the hard way is rapidly forgotten by the next generation, and the same errors are repeated over and again. One rarely experiences, as an adult, more than one of those financial tsunami in a lifetime. I will argue today that those in control in government and in banking have not totally learned the lessons of the current financial crisis, let alone the lessons of history about previous financial crises. —And I will attempt to explain why. A New York Times journalist, Andrew Sorkin, has written a minute by minute account of the 2007-09 financial crisis, titled “Too Big to Fail”. I encourage anyone among you, interested enough, to read his book. —It reads like a novel.

Therefore, what I would like to do to-day is to present in simple terms a big picture of the immediate and remote causes and consequences of the current financial crisis and of the subsequent deep economic recession that has followed.

PART I
PAST FINANCIAL CRISES

1. Causes and Consequences

What has taken place over the last few years will be studied and debated for years to come and is truly amazing. —Let me remind you that a financial crisis is for the economy the equivalent of  a heart attack for an individual: it stops credit from circulating in the economy and this could be deadly.

But, more precisely, why did the debt pyramid collapse? Why was the financial tail allowed to wag the economic dog?

I am first referring here to why traditional financial rules were abandoned and replaced by the rules of leverage finance.
Under the old traditional financial rules, indeed, a bank or a credit union would collect deposits or borrow in the open market, lend this money to investors, keep reserves for contingencies, and would hold onto the loans until maturity, in an ever repeating cycle. The merging of investment banking with commercial banking has caused an abandonment of the traditonal financial rules and their replacement by the rules of asset securitization [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Securitization]. Under these new rules, a bank still amasses money through deposits or borrowing, but it does not hold on the loans it makes. It takes a bunch of heterogeneous loans made by itself or by others, repackages and slices them up, and sells them as investment vehicles to third parties.

- Second, I am referring to why the debt level of home buyers was allowed to rise so much that it resulted in a housing asset bubble, leading to a subsequent meltdown.

- Third, I am also referring to why the credit markets froze and money markets stopped functioning, the world over, [http://www.TheNewAmericanEmpire.com/tremblay=1099] in the fall of 2008 when the third largest U.S investment bank, Lehman Brothers [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/15/business/15lehman.html?em], was allowed to go into bankcruptcy.

- And, fourth, I am  referring to why the large insurer American International Group (AIG) was bailed out by the U.S. government with an injection of $180 billion of taxpayers' money to pay the gambling debts of banks and speculators alike. This government bail-out of AIG and of large banks has created a huge transfer of wealth from the general population to the management of these banks and to speculators, while millions of Americans took heavy losses due to some 8 million forced home foreclosures so far, a number that is expected to surpass ten million this year or next.

Two fundamental questions also beg to be answered here:
a- What are the true causes of the current financial crisis and the subsequent deep economic recession?
And b- Could this disaster have been avoided if a more prudent approach had been followed?

2. Past Financial Crises that Resulted in Economic Depressions: 125 years ago and 70 years ago

Without going back too far in time, let me remind you of the last two major worldwide financial crises that beset the world economy over a century and a half and translated into economic depressions. It is disconcerting to observe that each financial crisis originates from some form of overextension of the financial sector.

-The first one is the 1873 financial crisis that precipitated the 1873-1880 depression. -The second one is the 1931 financial crisis that transformed the crash of 1929 into the 1929-39 depression. There were other serious financial crises in 1884, 1890, 1893, and 1907, but they did not result in economic depressions, only in economic downturns and relative stagnation.

Before central banks were created, financial crises were usually liquidity crises. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquidity_crisis] Indeed, when an economic downturn was about to take place and asset prices began to fall, there were typically banking panics or bank runs [http://www.answers.com/topic/bank-run] with people attempting to withdraw their deposits before a bank could fail under the weight of bad loans and illiquid assets. Nowadays, the threat of bank runs has been completely eliminated, at the depositors' level, with the creation of the FDIC-Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the advent of government-backed deposit insurance, in 1933. (In fact, these days, depositors do not make a run on a bank anymore; it is rather the bankers who sometimes make a run on their own banks, taking out huge bonuses at the expense of shareholders!)

Also, today, as the current crisis indicates, financial crises are more due to structural market dislocations and to solvency crises [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insolvency] (insufficiency of capital) than to purely liquidity crises (insufficiency of ready available cash). When liquidity is required to prevent the freezing of credit markets, central banks, as a lenders of last resort, are more ready to provide emergency liquidity through discount lending, so as to limit the negative effects of such market dislocations. Solvency issues are more difficult to tackle because they involve the very functioning of a capitalist market system in which insolvent units are supposed to be allowed to dissolve or be restructured. The too-big-to-fail banks problem is an example of such a dilemma.

For example, the financial  crisis of 1873 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panic_of_1873] began with the bankruptcy of the Philadelphia banking firm Jay Cooke & Company, on September 18, 1873. This bankruptcy was due to a lack of liquidity on the bank's part. Indeed, the Cooke & Co bank had its reserves invested nearly entirely in Northern Pacific Railroad bonds. When a run on the bank took place, the bank could not sell enough bonds to meet its obligations and it had to close its doors. This, is turn, brought about a stock market crash and a chain reaction of bank runs and failures. This led to a wave of financial and industrial bankruptcies that resulted in the 1873-1880 depression. The 1873 crisis was what I would called a standard vanilla-variety financial crisis. It was a liquidity-driven crisis.

In the U.S., the the Federal Reserve System [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Reserve_System] was created in 1913 with the express purpose of avoiding such liquidity-driven financial crises by having a lender-of-last-resort for banks in need of liquidity.

But what about the 1931 financial crisis? Why was it not avoided? Because, like the current financial crisis, it was both a liquidity crisis and a solvency crisis.
The 1931 financial crisis started in Europe, more precisely in Austria, and it spread quickly to London because of inter-bank loans. It began with the failure, in September 1931, of the big Austrian CreditAnstalt bank, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creditanstalt] owned by the Rothschild [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothschild - Rothschild_family_banks] family. This failure created a domino effect of financial collapses that spread quickly throughout the German, the British and the global financial system. Central banks at that time were slow to respond to the crisis and they let it develop to the point that the conflagration could no longer be stopped. In the U.S., the Fed did not act quickly enough to prevent a contraction in the money supply. Instead, it applied the wrong policy of raising interest rates at the wrong time, a move that made matters worse.

Why did it act that way? It was because the Gold Standard monetary system [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_standard] of the time required that the amount of credit the Federal Reserve could issue was partially backed by gold in its possession. The Fed raised interest rates and tightened credit in order to conserve its gold reserves, which had been depleted when its demand notes had been redeemed in gold. In order words, the Fed failed in the early 1930s to alleviate the liquidity crisis, which in turn, exacerbated the solvency crisis. This time, the Fed went the other way, trying to solve the liquidity crisis and the solvency crisis at the same time by creating loans against bad debts. More on that later.

3. General Causes of financial crises: Corruption, Greed (unrestrained egoism), and Debt; Accessory causes: Incompetence and Naivety

Total Debt in the economy

By 2005, the table was set for what could turn out to be the biggest financial mismanagement in history. It was the product of two interrelated bubbles:[ http://remington-work.blogspot.com/2007/12/two-bubbles-housing-and-financial.html] a housing bubble and a financial debt bubble.

The housing boom was fed by extraordinairily low interest rates and by lowered lending standards for mortgages. Indeed, from 2002 to 2005, under chairman Alan Greenspan, the Fed maintained excessive monetary liquidity in the financial system and short-term interest rates fell to 1 percent, with real interest rates negative.

Indeed, after the tech-bubble burst in 2001, and the March- November 2001 recession, the Greenspan Fed aggressively lowered the Federal Funds rate from 6.5 percent to 1 percent in 2004, the lowest it had been since 1958. It is widely accepted today that this aggressive monetary policy lasted too long and has played an important role in fueling the housing bubble.

But the housing bubble would have only been an above normal top within the 18-year Kuznets cycle [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_cycle], ( from a 1987 top to the 2005 top) if it had not been reinforced by an extraordinary debt bubble.

Indeed, before dealing with more specific causes of the current financial crisis that followed the housing and mortgage bubble that burst in 2006-07, let me elaborate on the issue of total debt [http://online.barrons.com/article/SB120251582071855267.html?mod=b_hpp_9_0002_b_this_weeks_magazine_home_right] in the economy, the dangerous process of debt deflation [http://www.rieti.go.jp/users/kobayashi-keiichiro/serial/en/02.html] and the dangerous credit crunch that usually follows. I will stress the fact here that the new financial products and practices invented from thin air over the last ten years or so—especially the insurance against the debt default of derivative products, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_security] with dubious value, in order to artificially maintain a borrower's high credit rating—have encouraged the present high and dangerous debt level in the economy.

Indeed, the ratio of total debt to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is now higher than it was in 1933, when it reached the lofty and unsustainable level of 299.8 percent. It took nearly twenty years to bring down the debt/GDP ratio to below 140 in 1952. In the second quarter of 2008, all debt records were broken when the total debt ratio in the U.S. registered at 356,7 percent of GDP. If the same process of unwinding of excessive debt level plays itself out this time, this could translate into a debt deflation process lasting possibly until 2027!

Today, the U.S. ratio of total debt [http://mwhodges.home.att.net/nat-debt/debt-nat.htm] ($57 trillion) to the economy (GDP: $14.5 trillion in 2009) is even higher today at 3.9, than it was before the onset of the crisis in 2007-08. To say it differently, let's say that it takes today nearly $4.00 of debt to create one dollar of GDP activity while it took only $1.40 of debt in the early 1950s to create one dollar of GDP activity. This is a reflection of how complex the financial system has become. Some of this financial complexity is good for a better managment of risk in the economy; but also, part of this debt level relative to the economy is excessive and reflects too much a casino like activity  that makes the economy vulnerable to financial collapses.

What this means, in reality, is that it takes today about $4.00 of debt to create one dollar of economic activity while it took only $1.40 of debt in the early 1950s to create one dollar of GDP activity. This shows how devastating it is for the real economy when financial flows are disrupted and when credit becomes unavailable. This is our situation today. Investors and producers have a lot of problems financing their projects. This is a big monkey on the back of the economy, and it is a source of economic stagnation.

That is why I would argue here that the problems of U.S. financial dysfunction in the U.S. economy and in other countries have not been solved. On the contrary, they have been swept under the large rug of even easier money and of even larger debts, which is only postponing a day of reckoning. And no meaningful financial reform seems to be coming from the gridlocked Washington D.C. political establishment.

For sure, the large Wall Street banks' bad gambling debts in the form of toxic securities have been transferred to the public sector (the Treasury and the Fed) and to the quasi public sector (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), but the overall debt load of the U.S. economy and excessive risk-taking by the banking sector has not been reduced; it has been increased. That is why I think the U.S. economy will remain vulnerable to the process of debt deflation in the coming years, and I would add, accompanied by possible inflation shocks and fiscal shocks in the form of higher taxes to service the debt load, both foreign and domestic.

Moral Dimension:
Greed (unrestrained egoism), and Debt; Accessory causes: Incompetence and Naivety

Among the general causes of financial crises, I mention at the top of the list the moral dimension. This is an issue that I explain more fully in my new book The Code for Global Ethics, (ISBN: 978-1616 14 17 21).

Indeed, I have come to believe that the fundamental causes of recurring financial crises and economic decline, every 50 to 75 years, are not primarily technical in nature, but are rather moral and ethical.
This takes two kinds of corruption or fraud.

First, consider the fraudulent practices of the U.S. mortgage industry and the U.S. banking industry when they engaged in subprime lending, selling adjustable-rate (ARMs), or interest-only or even negative-amortization subprime mortgages, with minimal or no down payments, to borrowers they knew could not pay them back if anything went wrong—such as a situation of rising interest rates, a situation of falling house prices and/or a situation of rising unemployment. Well, these three situations did unfold after the top of the housing bubble in 2005. So far, about 8 million foreclosures have already occurred. And it is expected that in 2010-11, the number of foreclosure filings could rise to another 3.5 to 4 million.

In the past, lenders of traditional mortgages would have been more prudent because they were the ultimate holders the mortgages. But with the new practice of financial securitization, primary mortgage lenders were not worried by the possible insolvency of borrowers, because they knew they could sell those risky subprime mortgages to other banks which ultimately sold them down-stream as some commercial-like paper to unaware investors. It was a form of “pass-the-buck” lending.

But for this to occur, some basic political corruption had to take place. Indeed, when the level of political corruption in government becomes very high, as it is the case in the United States presently, it becomes nearly unavoidable that political corruption and corporate greed will reinforce each other in a vicious cycle that is most destructive to a society and to an economy. Over the last twenty-years, and especially over the last ten years, this is what has happened in the United States and elsewhere. This was an era dominated by the ideology of “greed is good”. —[Greed was glorified in the 1987 movie “Wall St.” in which Michael Douglas, playing the character of Gordon Gekko, says: “Greed is good, Greed is right. Greed Works.”.

This was the prevailing ideology at the time. I won't deal here with the kind of intellectual corruption that supported the ideology that markets can do no wrong or that they are always “efficient”. In fact, markets are very imperfect; they are often under the control of monopolies or cartels, and sometimes, they do not function at all.

In the corporate world, greed and unrestrained egoism meant that making money at any cost and in any way, irrespective of any moral principles, became the acceptable practice. If this meant buying the influence of politicians with tons of cash to remove any barrier to speculation and fraudulous practices, so be it. In the political world, this means that the common good ceases being the compass guiding laws and policies, and private immediate interests for reelection become the paramount, if not the only objective of behavior. Money flows and money talks and those who refuse to play the game are quickly replaced with more malleable individuals.

For the last twenty-five some years, the United States has witnessed such a public moral degradation, culminating, I think, on Thursday, January 21 (2010) when the conservative John G. Roberts Jr U. S. Supreme Court's majority [http://www.TheNewAmericanEmpire.com/tremblay=1121] ruled that business corporations and labor unions can spend as much money as they like to buy political influence and clout, a throwback to the robber-barons worst days of corrupt politics of the nineteenth century. Nowadays, large corporations do not have a nationality. They operate around the world and their main goal is the pursuit of profit for their management and shareholders.

Such an historically bad decision may have definitely confirmed the implantation in the U.S. of a system of corporatocracy or of corpocracy, i.e. a form of government where large business corporations, banks, conglomerates, and government-sponsored enterprises control the electoral process, the media, the courts and the government of a country, thus depriving ordinary citizens of their democratic rights. Such a system could also be called plutocracy, which is a form of fascism.

That fateful January 2010 decision probably marks the top of a twenty-five year cycle of wholesale government deregulation in the United States and elsewhere. It can be seen, indeed, as the culmination of a whole string of deregulatory moves taken over the last twenty-five years and designed to enhance private special interests at the expense of the common good.

It will have tremendous political and social consequences, because the Roberts' Court majority decision opens even wider the floodgates of unlimited money-backed political corruption, and because by devaluating the importance of each American's vote in elections, it will feed cynicism and apathy among the population, always a sign of political decadence.

It would take a complete conference just to enumerate all the financial deregulation steps taken over the last twenty-five some years. Suffice it to mention here the most important and blatant ones.

It all began with rich individuals and corporations taking over the control of the electronic media. This was made possible by a move made by the Reagan administration in 1986 that abolished the “Fair Doctrine” requirements as a condition to obtain radio or television licenses.

That decision alone, more than any other, was instrumental in turning the public airwaves in the U. S. into an unrestrained space of money-backed propaganda and, in the process, in the demise of independent and objective journalism in the powerful electronic media.

PART II
THE 2007-2009 FINANCIAL CRISIS

4. The Direct Cause of the 2007-09 Financial Crisis

The current financial crisis is the result of twenty-five years of wholesale financial deregulation that has brought us back to an era of anything goes, similar to what prevailed during the era of the robber-barons in the last part of the 19th century. As a matter of fact, I see a lot of similarity between the long period of economic stagnation that prevailed in the last third of the 19th century and the situation at the beginning of the 21st century, which I see continuing for many years.

Indeed, there was a string of specific financial deregulation steps taken by the politicians that has paved the way for the current era of irresponsible Ponzi-scheme finance, of casino-like leverage banking practices and of the unhealthy concentration of wealth and income in a few hands. I will outline here five (5) of the most important financial deregulation steps taken before the outbreak of the 2007-09 crisis, and which played an important role in bringing it about.

Although there were public deregulation moves made before that date, the two most serious steps were taken in 1999-2000, at the advice of then Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, under an initiative of the Republican controlled Congress, and with the collaboration of the Democratic Clinton administration. Indeed, two fateful laws were passed to deregulate the American financial industry.

First, in 1999, the U. S. Congress passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act [http://banking.senate.gov/conf/] (GLBA) that, in effect, abolished most of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. [http://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/glass_steagall_act.asp] In the past, that law had prevented unregulated investment banking from merging with the regulated and government-insured commercial banking sector.

With the new law, the large unregulated Wall Street investment banks that underwrite corporate securities and the regulated commercial banks that take government-insured deposits, and some insurance companies as well, could tremendously enlarge the range of their financial and speculative activities.

There seems to exist a revolving door between Washington regulatory agencies and corporate America. For example, Wendy Gramm, wife of Texas Senator Phil Gramm, headed the Commodity Futures Exchange Commission. At Enron's request Enron became exempt from Commodity Futures Exchange Commission regulations in January 1993. Wendy Gramm resigned her position and six weeks later was appointed to the Enron board of directors.

Then, in a one-two punch, the lame-duck 2000 U. S. Congress went further and reintroduced legalized gambling into the financial sector, a prohibition that had been in place since after the 1907 financial crisis, when President Theodore Roosevelt (1858 –1919) was in office. Indeed, by adopting the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, [http://www.pianet.com/NewsCenter/BizPolitics/10-15-08-7.htm] Congress, and President Bill Clinton who signed it, exempted outright financial gambling from state gaming laws. With the new law, the entire American financial system could be turned into a large unregulated casino where everything goes (legally).

This move paved the way for transforming a financial instrument, the credit default swap (CDS) into a casino chip that speculators could play with to their advantage. More about that later.

- Another step toward a near complete public deregulation of previously regulated financial activities was taken in 2004, this time by the regulatory agency of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Indeed, on March 28, 2004, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), [http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/09/28/business/20080928-SEC-multimedia/index.html] led by former congressman and Bush-appointee Christopher Cox, removed the ceiling on the level of risk that the largest American investment banks (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns) could take on so-called securitized loans [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Securitization] and on their hedge fund operations. [http://www.amazon.com/Inside-House-Money-Traders-Profiting/dp/0471794473/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b/103-7927243-4175016]  

- A fourth legislative step was taken in April 2005 when a bill to limit access to bankruptcy protection (S 256) was sponsored by and passed with the support of the Republicans, but also of many conservative Democrats. With this bill, formally called the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, [] federal bankruptcy judges were in effect prevented from accepting court-approved plans to restructure mortgages before resorting to foreclosures, under Chapter 7 of the U.S. bankruptcy code. As a consequence, bill S 256 made the foreclosure of 2007-09 worse than it would have been if the old bankruptcy law had been in effect, i.e. allowing people to file under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code that permitted a reduction of some debts. [N.B.: According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the banking industry spent over $100 million in lobbying efforts to have bill S 56 passed].

- Finally, the Securities and Exchange Commission took the last step toward deregulating financial markets when in the month of July 2007, only weeks before the subprime financial crisis went into full gear, it removed  the “uptick” rule [http://www.thestockbandit.net/2007/07/03/short-selling-uptick-rule-ends/] for short selling any security, including for so-called asset-backed securitized securities.—The stage was set for the disaster to unfold. And it did. The end-result of all these deregulation policies was the de facto collapse of the American financial system in the fall of 2008.

Not that all that could not have been foreseen. A lot of other people saw the crisis coming. Ten years ago, in 2000, I myself wrote an article stating that some unregulated financial derivatives were a time bomb waiting to explode (Les Affaires, Les produits dérivés, 11 novembre 2000). Well, it took eight years, but it finally exploded on September 15, 2008, when the financial crisis reached its climatic stage. That is when the pyramid of unregulated credit derivatives, [http://www.1mtx.com/markets-trades/en/main/markets/derivatives/examples/credit.php] heavily concentrated on U.S. subprime mortgages, went crashing down under a wave of mortgage defaults and housing price declines that had not been anticipated, like a house of financial cards. There was no market for those artificial credit derivatives and investors worldwide ran in panic to the exit.

All these public deregulation steps were wrapped into an excessive easy monetary policy [http://www.britannica.com/bps/additionalcontent/18/26266306/RESPONDING-TO-CRISES] of the Greenspan-Bernanke Fed during the 2001-2004 period. Indeed, artificially low interest rates were a powerful encouragement for borrowers to take adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adjustable_rate_mortgage] at low rates for one or two years to be reset later at much higher rates. This was at a time when primary mortgage lenders were encouraged to lend to just about anybody, no matter the borrower's creditworthiness. In 2006, for example, about 25 percent of American mortgages were subprime loans and close to 20 percent were adjustable rate loans (the U.S. mortgage market is worth $14 trillion). Therefore, with nearly half of the mortgages issued being risky mortgages, it can be said that the economy was borrowing from the future to artificially boost the present economic conditions of the time. There are indications that this was done for political reasons.

In the end, many of the primary and secondary mortgage lenders such as Countrywide Financial, Washington Mutual, IndyMac, and ultimately Bear Stearns, collapsed. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_U.S._bank_failures] And Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest players in the U. S. mortgage market as insurers and secondary mortgage lenders, came very near to total collapse before the U.S government came to their rescue and invested $400 billion in them.

Many large Wall Street banks which had bundled and recycled primary mortgages bought from primary lenders into risky collateralized financial obligations, suffered tremendous losses on the credit derivative products they had underewriten and still had in stock. The largest U.S. insurance company, American American International Group [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_International_Group]  (AIG) which had insured many of the banks' credit derivative products through its Financial Products division, without adequate reserves or collateral, but with the blessing of credit rating agencies, also was on the brink of bankruptcy. This was a total financial mess.

5. The credit derivatives: The New Alchemy of “Structured” Finance.

Credit derivatives are the conduit through which the subprime mortgage crisis was allowed to build up. Indeed, the main reason for the lending recklessness that took place was the facility with which subprime lenders could sell their risky mortgages upstream to bigger players, investments banks for example, which undertook to buy them, pool them into mortgage bonds and re-channel them into new financial instruments through a process of aggressive securitization. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Securitization]

Credit derivatives come in acronyms like alphabet soup, but the most basic ones are:  
-The synthetic subprime collateralized debt obligations [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collateralized_debt_obligation] (CDOs), (or slices or tranches of amalgamated pools of subprime loans based on mostly interest-only second-handed mortgages, but also on other types of debts, such as credit card debts). CDOs are basically illiquid financial products because they usually can be bought or sold only through the entity that created them.
-And, the Credit Default Swaps, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_default_swap]  (CDSs). CDSs are insurance credit protection contracts offering protection against default on the interest or principal payments of a loan.

These credit derivatives belong to the class of  "structured investment vehicles" (SIVs), which themselves belong to the larger class of derivative products. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_security] [For reference, let us keep in mind that total derivative products around the world amount to more than $600 trillion, or more than 10 times the output of the global economy. This is a staggering overhang on the world economy when something goes wrong.]

The Collateralized Debt Obligations" (CDOs), for example, had the characteristics of short-term asset-based security [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asset-backed_security] that were backed by the underlying income-producing mortgage assets downstream and were graded according to a certain risk of default. —But, in order to have protection against default on interest or principal payments, and in order to justify high credit ratings, another financial instrument had to be invented. —The Credit Default Swap was born. There was a worldwide market for those CDS-insured CDOs. In fact, more than one trillion and a half dollars ($1,500.000,000,000) of these asset-backed financial products were sold, not only in the U.S., but all over the world. However, the market for such an artificial or somewhat fictitious financial instrument began to tighten significantly when the housing bubble burst in 2005 and 2006, as a wave of foreclosures and mortgage defaults hit the industry. It got worst after the August 2007 subprime crisis, and it became de facto frozen in the spring of 2008, after the demise of the investment bank Bear Stearns [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bear_Stearns], on March 15, 2008.

The CDS (credit default swap) market is an opaque and thinly traded over-the-counter market that is easily open to manipulation. At any moment in time, nobody really knows who owns or owes what to everybody else. Speculators buy those CDSs as if they were put options on the underlying bonds. When their prices go up, the price of the underlying bonds goes down, and a financial crisis ensues for the bond-issuing company or government. Together, CDOs and CDSs can make for a very toxic cocktail. —This is a clear case where the speculative financial tail moves everything else. Speculators are in control.

At the outset of the 2007-09 financial crisis, things went into a downward spiral, when the credit rating agencies [http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/04/02/8403416/index.htm] (Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch) decided that they had no choice but to lower their artificially high ratings on asset-based securities (ABS), and the prices of ABS plummeted. These credit rating agencies had competed between each other to give artificially high ratings to the new structured financial instruments, thus raking in large fees (as much as $25 million for each new deal).

Creating CDOs (i.e. packaging different debts together) was very profitable for banks, for some insurance companies that insured them while holding very little reserves, and for the credit agencies that rated them.

There was tremendous pressure and profitability to create those CDOs. This, in turn, encouraged the lowering of mortgage-lending standards all over the board with just interest loans, negative amortization loans and adjustable rate mortgages, which in turn led to the mortgage-default crisis, which in turn led to the credit derivative crisis.

The political side of the equation cannot be neglected either. Indeed, for many years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development exerted pressure on banks and on mortgage lenders generally to lend to unqualified borrowers in order to raise home ownership. Consider, for example, the Community Reinvestment Act, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Reinvestment_Act] passed in 1977, by which the Federal Housing Administration loosened down-payment standards for marginal borrowers. In 2003, President George W. Bush also signed “The American Dream Downpayment Act into law” (U.S. HUD 2003) that aimed at providing subprime mortgages to needy borrowers incapable of making down payments. Therefore, it can be said that while financial institutions profited tremendously from the subprime-led housing bubble, they were encouraged by politicians to make subprime loans for political or social reasons. For instance, by 2006, up to 40 percent of all mortgages were subprime or low-quality (Alt-A) mortgages. The banks' financial innovation was to transfer the increased risk to unsuspecting investors.

Who were these investors? They were mostly private companies, municipalities and universities, for example, who wished to obtain higher returns on their working balances. They bought the sliced CDOs as they would have common short-term commercial paper, not fully realizing that the banks which sold them were not guaranteeing them.

And it is because CDOs were sold by banks, many thought that these new financial products would be kept liquid (and somewhat implicitly guaranteed) by the underwriting banks. Their big advantage was that they carried a higher interest rate; the risk, of course, came from the fact that they were backed by longer term mortgages and the banks were not guaranteeing them. All this took place, one has to remember, during a period when the Greenspan Fed kept interest rates very low from June 2000 to September 2003 and everybody was in search of higher returns.

Where was the alchemy in all that? Essentially, it was in the transformation of risky subprime long-term mortgages into high yield liquid short-term paper. That is where the vulnerability of the financial sector rested.

When the credit derivative market collapsed in the fall of 2008, credit markets around the world froze because nobody wanted to lend money against the toxic CDO products. Nobody could trust [http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_14_03_02_yandle.pdf] anybody. Interest rates rose and stockmarkets crashed. This was a major financial shock.

When the creditworthiness of risky CDOs fell, the price of the insurance CDSs rose, an indication that problems were brewing. The CDOs and the CDSs are the two related, but unregulated and uncontrolled, beasts that nearly brought the world economy to its knees in 2008.

A few more words about the CDSs products, because they really were the corner stone of the financial pyramid that collapsed.

As I said, CDSs are insurance contracts that protect an insured party against the default of interest or principal payments on a loan. Corporations, municipalities and governments typically purchased this type of protection in order to lower their borrowing costs.

There are lot of structural problems with CDSs.

-First, although they are really insurance contracts, they are not typically written by insurance companies but by financial firms or subsidiaries. This means that they are not regulated under insurance laws, state or federal, especially as to the level of reserves required or as to offsetting insurance coverage necessary.

-Second, and as a consequence of the first weakness mentioned here, one does not need to have an insurable interest to purchase CDS insurance. (For example, it is not allowed to buy life insurance on a person with whom the buyer is not closely related. The same for a fire insurance policy on a home; one must be an owner to qualify).

But with CDSs, one may be an outsider, i.e. a speculator or a hedger, who has nothing to insure but is only interested in holding the CDS contract for financial gain. As a consequence, the total amount of CDS contracts issued can be much larger than the value of the insured security, four or five times larger. Then, CDSs become casino chips whose ultimate value is backed only by the issuer.—And this has consequences. In fact, the invention of CDSs has made the debt default crisis much worse by artificially maintaining the value of debts at a high level, thus creating bankruptcies all around. It is as if a system of fire insurance had resulted in increasing the incidence of fire. This is an example of a very bad financial innovation.

In fact, let me say that this is what drove General Motors to bankruptcy. Banks had transformed normal GM bonds into collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) by merging them with other debts, and these bonds had been insured against default with CDSs issued mainly by the Financial Products unit of the large insurance company American International Group (AIG). Speculators bought these CDSs in the hope that the underlying CDOs that incorporated GM bonds would fall if GM were to fail. In essence, the speculators were betting that GM would fail, and they were helping it to fail at the same time by selling short the very CDOs that incorporated GM debt while buying on leverage the CDSs on those CDOs.

When GM ran into financial troubles due to the recession and a drop in car sales, the value of GM bonds should have declined, allowing GM to buy them back at a lowered discount and enabling it to reduce its debt load and survive. But this time, thanks to the new securitization finance, more appropriately called “Ponzi-scheme finance” —an imprudent and possibly criminal type of finance in my opinion —things did not work out that way. GM's debts had been placed in packaged CDOs that were impossible to untangle, just as individual housing mortgages had been merged and packaged in sausage-like mortgage CDOs that could not be untangled if something were to go wrong.

CDS holders against CDO-GM bonds, both legitimate and gambling speculators, were insured against losses by AIG. And, as I will explain later, the Bush-Paulson administration guaranteed the value of all CDSs issued by AIG against CDO bonds, so the value of those bonds could not decline as they should have, and as they have in the past during an economic downturn. Besides, there are no open market for those CDOs, so nobody could know their real value.

—This is what forced General Motors to file for bankruptcy. It is the same cause that provoked eight million plus home foreclosures in the U.S. while there are much fewer foreclosures in Canada. For example, in the first quarter of 2008, 1.6 per cent of mortgages issued by Canada's top three sub-prime lenders were behind by at least three months. The equivalent rate was about 16 per cent in the U.S. As a consequence, house prices in Canada have been stable or rising. —In this light, the GM bankruptcy was less a normal bankruptcy than a financial assassination.

—Please note that by salvaging General Motors, the U.S. government paid twice: It paid in full the banks and the speculators who held CDSs on CDO-GM bonds; and it later paid to keep GM operating.

Mind you, the same thing that the new securitization finance did to U.S. homeowners and to GM is being done these days to Greece. Greece's government debt has been transformed into derivative products, insured with CDSs. Speculators are buying those Greek CDSs in the hope that the government of Greece will default on its debt.—This is the main reason behind the drop in the euro and of the pound sterling in the last few weeks. There is a fear of a domino effect, with many European countries defaulting if speculators begin attacking one country after another. This could even bring down the euro monetary union.

—This is a crazy and immoral system. The plot thickens even more with the rumor that AIG has been a major issuer of Greek CDSs. If this were true, it would mean that the U.S. taxpayers are paying for AIG's losses on Greek CDSs with U.S. bail-out funds, thus financing the possible collapse of the euro monetary zone! —This cannot be allowed to go on. There should be an international conference to stop the madness.

-This the reason I wrote on my international blog (www.TheNewAmericanEmpire.com/blog) that the international financial system has been transformed nowadays into a gigantic unregulated Casino that allows all types of Ponzi schemes to go on.

PART III
THE FINANCIAL SECTOR AS A CASINO

6. How Large Speculating Banks and Insurance Companies were Bailed Out with Public Money

What followed was as astonishing as the series of events that led to the crisis. Some of the large Wall Street banks, which had been the main underwriters of the toxic financial products, came out of their collapse nearly unscathed. Indeed, what we have witnessed over the last few years has been the wholesale bailout of some large Wall Street banks, at the expense of others, with public money under hardly any meaningful conditions.

Some have concluded that the practically unconditional bailouts of some of the “too-big-to-fail” banks can be seen as some form of state socialism for the rich, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism_for_the_rich_and_capitalism_for_the_poor] coupled with harsh and unregulated market capitalism for the poor, saddled as they are with unlimited home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies under a newly enacted and stricter bankruptcy law.

The epicenter of the unprecedented banking salvage operation is the Federal Reserve System, sort of a parallel government for the banks, with the power to impose hidden costs and hidden taxes on the economy. Even more than the Department of Treasury's generous Troubled Asset Relief Program [http://www.corpfinblog.com/2008/10/articles/federal-legislation/us-treasury-tarp-program-highlights-for-financial-institutions/] (TARP) of purchasing preferred equity in troubled banks, and other similar Treasury plans, [http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2009/02/10/geithenerbailout.html] that I will talk about later on, the bulk of the banking bailouts came from the Federal Reserve system, especially the bank-controlled New York Fed, in the form of many trillion dollars of guarantees, investments and loans at close to zero percent.

The list of the numerous Fed's bailout programs [http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=15350] is very long and very complicated and remains mostly off screen, because it is mostly camouflaged within a super-easy monetary policy. [http://www.investorwords.com/1630/easy_monetary_policy.html]

Without a doubt, the single bank that profited the most from the overall public rescue program [http://www.TheNewAmericanEmpire.com/tremblay=1109] was the large Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs, which became a commercial bank holding in the fall of 2008, in order to qualify. Goldman Sachs is also the bank that Secretary Henry (Hank) Paulson led until he became Treasury Secretary in 2006.

This is a bank that was deeply involved in the underwriting of subprime credit derivatives like CDOs and in the purchase of CDSs. It had a net worth of $42 billion on August 27, 2008, but was saddled with a CDO portfolio of $22 billion. Worse, it had invited some European banks to invest in CDOs with the understanding that such products were guaranteed and secured. Worse still, Goldman Sachs profited even more when, after realizing the fragility of the CDOs it was peddling to unsuspecting clients, began selling bundles of CDOs short (against the interest of its own clients) and speculated on the rising value of the CDSs by purchasing them. Thus, Goldman was making money as the entire subprime credit derivative market it had been instrumental in creating was folding! —One would hope that someone in Washington D.C. understands that.

One question must be answered. When did Goldman Sachs become directly involved in supervising, within the government, the very financial problem they had been deeply involved in creating? The fateful day was Tuesday, May 29, 2006, when President George W. Bush named Henry (Hank) Paulson, then Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Goldman Sachs, to be Secretary of the Treasury. He assumed his post on July 3, 2006, after confirmation by the Senate. Paulson's compensation package at Goldman Sachs was $38 million the preceding year, 2005. This was a reflection of the fact that Paulson had been a major architect in building the very profitable subprime mortgage-backed derivative business at Goldman Sachs.

More importantly, maybe, Paulson had also successfully lobbied the Bush administration and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, two years earlier, in 2004, to release the major investment houses from the net capital rule, i.e. the requirement that their brokerages hold reserve capital that limited their leverage and risk exposure. This made the subprime derivative business that much more profitable because investment banks like Goldman Sachs could rake in fees in selling various types of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) while holding very little reserves or collateral as counterparts. In 2004, also, Paulson was instrumental in having the SEC surpervision of big banks replaced by a program of voluntary regulation by the big banks themselves.

Moreover, having been named as head of the U.S. Treasury just when the number of home foreclosures was on the rise and the housing market was beginning to disintegrate after its peak in the spring of 2005, Paulson brought many key Goldman Sachs people with him. For a while, at least, the U.S. Treasury became a de facto Goldman Sachs officine. This proved to be very convenient when the financial crisis reached its climax in September 2008.

- A Mammoth Financial Conflict of Interest

With Goldman Sachs' Paulson in control of the U.S. Treasury, in 2006, it was as if the fox had been placed in charge of the financial chicken coop. Indeed, as Secretary of Treasury, Paulson was well placed to make sure that the large banks' bad loans could be nationalized (not the banks, only the bad loans!) and paid in full with taxpayers' money. And, that's precisely what happened.

As I have already said, the core of the crisis centered on the large insurance company AIG, which had insured large amounts of toxic subprime derivative CDO products against default, with the help of the credit rating agencies (Standard & Poor’s, Moodys, Fitch) which gave high credit ratings to these products. With the collapse of these products, AIG did not have enough funds to pay the holders of its CDS insurance contracts. The holders of CDSs, mainly banks and speculators, risked losing tremendously. At the time, as Fed chairman Ben Bernanke observed, “AIG Financial Products was basically an undercapitalized hedge fund that was attached to a large and stable insurance company.”

AIG's insurance proper subsidiaries were solvent; only the Financial Products unit was insolvent. AIG Financial Products was unregulated because federal law allowed AIG to choose its own regulator for its overextended unit. It had chosen the federal Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) which was not equiped to supervise AIG Financial's sophisticated products.

In normal circumstances, indeed, the fact that AIG didn't have the funds necessary to pay the large banks the insurance money (CDSs) on their depreciated and illiquid toxic securities (CDOs) meant that the banks were to lose tens of billion dollars, if not hundreds of billion dollars. And Goldman Sachs was to lose the most in money and in reputation because it was AIG's biggest client and because the European banks involved had often been brought into the fold at Goldman Sachs' request. But Goldman Sachs and its allied foreign banks did not lose one penny with the collapse of AIG, the cornerstone of the shaky U.S. financial system at the time. It is the government (the U.S. Treasury and the Fed) that supplied AIG's casino-like division, AIG  Financial Products, the money necessary to pay up the holders of CDSs.

Indeed, history will record that, in September 2008, the U.S. government and Secretary Henry Paulson decided to step in and provided the necessary funds and guarantees to AIG Financial Products, so that the big insurer could pay banks such as Goldman Sachs and Société Générale of France others—at 100 cents on the dollar—for the credit-default swaps they had purchased on their underwritten CDOs. In fact, the Goldman Sachs bank was one of the biggest recipients of the AIG money, receiving a check in the amount of $12.9 billion from AIG for its otherwise near worthless CDS paper.

Altogether, the insurance giant American International Group (AIG) which had sold billions of dollars of insurance guarantees on the Wall Street banks' risky mortgage-backed credit derivatives, and all the while keeping insufficient reserves, received a whopping $182.5 billion public bailout from the U.S. Treasury and the Fed to avoid bankruptcy. More than half of that amount, more than $90 billion, was used to pay the foreign and domestic banks for the CDS insurance contracts they had bought from AIG. Without the government intervention, payments on the CDSs would have been suspended sine die and the banks holding them would have received close to nothing.

Meanwhile, and because of this bailout money, the largest American banks are getting larger. [http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/shooting-banks] For example, in 2006, the combined assets of the U.S. six biggest banks (Citigroup, Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan) totaled 55 percent of U.S. GDP. In 2010, this ratio stands at 63 percent (it was only 17 percent of GDP in 1995).
Consider also another measure: In 2007, the four largest U.S. banks —(Citigroup, Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo) —held 32 percent of all deposits in FDIC-insured institutions. As of June 30, 2009, it was 39 percent.

Therefore, since the structural banking problems have not been solved but rather made worse, the crisis could flare up again anytime, either here, as a lot of commercial loans (office buildings, malls, hotels...etc) are on the brink of default and will likely default in the coming years, or elsewhere, with many European governments having their own subprime crisis and being attacked by CDS gamblers.

Let me make myself clear. —It would have been better if the problem had been avoided with more prudent government policies and banking practices. However, in the fall of 2008, the U.S. government had a responsibility, especially after the failure of Lehman Brothers [http://blogs.wsj.com/deals/2010/03/11/lehman-brothers-heres-a-copy-of-the-court-examiners-report/] on September 15th, to stabilize the financial system and to avoid a deeper and wider financial crisis. After all, it was a series of government policies and deregulation steps that paved the way to the housing bubble and to the meltdown, to the emergence of risky financial products and to the resulting financial crisis. [http://www.TheNewAmericanEmpire.com/tremblay=1102] It is how this was done that borders on the scandalous, not the goal itself of averting the financial crisis from spiraling out of control. For example, there was no need to pay billions of dollars to banks and speculators at 100 cents on the dollar for toxic and illiquid securities that were worth much, much less.

As an alternative way to obtain the same result, AIG could have been placed into receivership under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and its old subidiary, the Resolution Trust, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resolution_Trust_Corporation] used in the 1990s to wind down the Savings & Loans bad loans. In such circumtances, banks and speculators alike would have been forced to accept much reduced amounts on their CDSs. Also, receivership could have allowed AIG to change its management, and this would have erased the value of AIG's common shares. It would have also most likely prevented AIG and the benefiting large banks from going ahead and paying hundreds of millions in bonuses, after they had just been rescued from bankruptcy by the government.

Instead, some of the operators which were the most involved in creating and inderwriting the subprime credit derivatives, far from being penalized, were rather rewarded with hundreds of billion dollars in unconditional government largess. That's where and how the unwarranted transfer of wealth between the government (i.e. the taxpayers) and AIG and the large Wall Street banks took place. Nothing like that has ever existed in the entire history of finance.

In exchange for this unparalleled generosity, the U.S. government took (partial) control of AIG and now owns 79.9 percent of AIG equity. Why not 100 percent of equity, one may ask, since all the rescue money came from the government? It seems that, in 2008, the Bush administration wanted to preserve the appearance of private enterprise at AIG by letting its shareholders keep ownership of 20 percent of the company.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac placed under conservatorship

One week earlier, on September 7, 2008, Secretary Paulson and the Bush administration had gone one step further in the case of the large so-called government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fannie_Mae] (Federal National Mortgage Association: FNM) and Freddie Mac. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freddie_Mac] (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation: FRE) These two giants were also in financial trouble and close to insolvency. They received $200 billion each from the government against new preferred shares and warrants to buy common shares. This was done to prevent bankruptcy and to solidify their mortgage lending operations and their $5.3 trillion joint debt. But in exchange, they were placed into conservatorship, i.e. nearly nationalized, with the U.S government taking a 79.9 percent stake in the two mortgage giants. Thus the political fiction that the two firms were still “private” companies was again kept alive, even though all the money to sustain them came from the government. (N. B.: Conservatorship is a legal procedure wherewith an entity or organization is subjected to the legal control of an external entity or organization, known as a conservator. When banks and financial institutions are in financial trouble, they can be placed under the stricter legal procedure of receivership by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for banks, by the Office of Thrift Supervision, or by the FDIC-Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).


TABLE-1: AIG CDO-INSURED PORTFOLIO, NOVEMBER 10, 2008

Bank                                    $ billion

Soc. Générale                                16.5
Goldman Sachs                                14.0
Deutsche Bank                                  8,5
Merrill Lynch (B of A)                          6.2
Calyon                                          3.8
Ten other banks                                  8.8
Total                                        62.1
                                                
Source: Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), “Factors Affecting Efforts to Limit Payments to AIG Counterparties”, November 17, 2009, P. 20.
http://www.sigtarp.gov/reports/audit/2009/Factors_Affecting_Efforts_to_Limit_Payments_to_AIG_Counterparties.pdf


- The failure of Lehman Brothers [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2010/03/wall-street-abuzz-over-lehman-autopsy-report.html] on September 15, 2008.

One week later, however, things turned out differently. Indeed, probably the most damaging error made by the Bush-Paulson administration may have been letting the global investment bank Lehman Brothers fail ($691 billion of assets at the end of 2007 and a large issuer of CDSs), on Monday September 15, 2008, instead of placing it under government receivership. In fact, I happen to believe that the correct policy at the time should have been to place the most seriously crippled large money center banks which were de facto on the brink of bankruptcy into temporary administrative receivership, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Receiver_(legal)], rather than bail them out with trillions of dollars of public money that had to be borrowed by the U.S Treasury or printed outright by the Fed.

This fateful date of September 15, 2008, will likely be remembered in the future as the day when the financial crisis reached its climax. This was the largest failure of an investment bank since the collapse of Drexel Burnham Lambert in 1990. In contrast, the Fed and the U.S. Treasury moved quickly in mid-March (2008) to save a similar global investment bank in distress (but half the size of Lehman), Bear Stearns, by quickly lending and guaranteeing $29 billion to the large universal J. P. Morgan Chase bank in order to absorb it. —(N.B.: Let us keep in mind that it was the collapse, in June 2007, of two internal Bear Stearns hedge funds that had been heavily invested in mortgage securities that kicked off the severe market panic that unfolded in August 2007, and which later turned into a full-fledged international financial crisis).

Why was the same treatment not offered to Lehman? Possibly because of a personal lack of empathy between Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. (a former chief executive of rival investment bank Goldman Sachs) and Lehman's CEO Mr. Richard S. Fuld Jr., or possibly because the Bush administration wanted to make an example that not all investment banks, no matter how large, could count on being rescued by the government. The Bush administration did not even bother to appoint a trustee to supervise Lehman’s liquidation in order to make it orderly.

Such a liquidation of a large international bank, known for its worldwide interconnections and unsound banking practices, was nearly a repeat of the mistake made in letting the large Vienna-based CreditAnstalt bank fail, on May 13, 1931. This was a bank that had borrowed large amounts of money in London and in New York to finance its activities. Its failure created a domino effect among other international banks that had lent to each other in the international credit chain. So much so that the failure of the CreditAnstalt forced them to severely tighten their lending to absorb their sudden losses.

Seventy-seven years later, in 2008, the Bush administration's decision to let the Lehman Brothers bank fail without taking it over produced a similar ripple effect throughout the international financial system. And, perhaps more important politically, it signaled to the markets that the Bush administration was willing to let a dangerous debt deflation and an ominous credit crunch proceed. This may turn out to have been a most tragic mistake. These ripple effects have not ended, because many European countries are still in the throes of managing their derivative and sovereign debts. Countries such as Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal may have years of financial troubles ahead.

PART IV
POLITICAL DISFUNCTION

7. No Financial Reform in view: How the Banks can Control, or if need be, Succeed in Paralizing the U. S. Government

On paper, the Democrats control the White House, the House of Representatives with 256 members (out of 435 voting members) and the Senate with 57 seats (out of 100). But does the Democratic Party control the political agenda in Washington D.C.? The answer is no. In reality, it is rather a coalition that we can name “The Unified Corporate Party” (UCP) that controls the American political agenda. And that is true whoever occupies the White House, whether that person is a democrat or a neoconservative.

Why is this so? Essentially because the neoconservative Republican Party is ideologically unified along a pro-corporate and pro-Israel ideology, while the Democratic Party is really two parties in one. It has two wings with diverging ideological interests, one progressive and liberal, the other very conservative and nearly undistinguishable from the Republicans. For example, the Democratic Party includes a 68-member strong block of conservative so-called New Democrats. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Democrats]

Some of the New Democrats, for example, have strong links with the Wall Street lobbies and other special interest lobbies, with whom rests their basic loyalty. Some of the New Democrat representatives are even former Goldman Sachs investment bankers, such as first-term congressman Jim Himes from Connecticut. Moreover, Obama's own Chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was a member of the New Democrat group during his time in the House.

The members of this group, led by New York Representative Joseph Crowley and supported by President Barack Obama's Chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, are socially progressives, but on many economic and fiscal issues, they are really Republican-Democrats, primarily financed by Wall Street firms and other corporations. They frequently align themselves with other conservative democrats, such as the socially and economically conservative-leaning 54-strong so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Dog_Coalition] who are financed primarily by the health care industry and other special interests, and with the Republicans proper, thus creating a formidable de facto governing do-nothing Corporate Party. Therefore, we can say that presently, except for war, the United States has no functional government. It has instead a one-party system caught in institutional gridlock.

With nearly half of the Democrats in the House of Representatives being disguised Republicans, one can understand the idological disarray of the majority Democratic Party when time comes to govern and pass legislation. This is a party which is sabotaged from within by the New Democrats and the Blue Dog Democrats. The internal Democratic division, coupled with the U.S. Senate's 60 percent rule to stop a filibuster and to enact any meaningful legislation, means, in practice, that the Republicans are nearly always in charge of the political agenda in Washington D.C.

The most recent task of the New Democrats and the Blue Dog Democrats has been to block any meaningful reform of the broken U.S. financial system. They have torpedoed, with the help of their conservative Republican allies, most of the financial reform plans proposed so far, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. Business Week magazine [http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_02/b4162024080832.htm] has explained recently why this so, stating in so many words that the U.S. Congress is “In Wall Street's Pocket”. Therefore, we can say that everything seems to boil down to political corruption and ideological intransigeance.


PART V
POLITICAL DISFUNCTION

8. In the eye of the Hurricane: Five Additional Threats for the Future

We are presently at the tail-end of the long 60-year inflation-disinflation-deflation Kondratieff cycle
[http://www.thenewamericanempire.com/tremblay=1083] that began in 1949, when war-frozen prices were liberalized. That powerful long politico-financial cycle is winding down now. But it takes time to purge the economy of all the excesses accumulated over the last twenty-five years.

Besides what I have already mentioned, I see five major threats to our economic and financial prosperity in the near and not so near future:

• A major sovereign debt crisis in many parts of the world, especially in southern Europe;

•  A major commercial debt crisis and small bank crisis in the United States;

•  The historical high level of income inequality in the United States and elsewhere;

•  The aging of the population in the United States and elsewhere and a concomittent slowdown in private consumption.

• The over-heating Chinese economy, its undervalued currency, and a possible financial crisis in that country.

Indeed, let me begin with the demographic threat to economic growth in the next twenty years or so. We are presently entering, in most Western countries, a period during which the largest demographic cohort in the history of mankind, the post Word War II baby-boomer generation, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_Boom_Generation] has passed its spending peak. As a consequence, consumers will be less of a driving force behind economic growth in the coming years and other spending sources will have to be found, lest we enter into a period of relative economic stagnation [http://www.TheNewAmericanEmpire.com/tremblay=1113] and persistent high unemployment.

One such source in the past has been government spending on wars. I do hope that we will not go that route again, but it is surely possible. Some sectors of the economy bent on profiting from wars will undoubtedly push for that solution. A better way would be to reinvest domestically in public capital projects, as was done in the 1950s.

To prepare for the future, for example, we need tremendous investments in internet infrastructures, just as we needed inter-state highways in the 1950s. We need more investments in education and in health care infrastructures for the coming wave of aging individuals. Internationally, many countries are in dire need of productive investments. Advanced and maturing economies can provide this capital and the exports of goods, services, and technology that go with it. These could be the rational sources of economic growth of the future to create jobs and to improve standards of living. But, I repeat, wars should be avoided because they are a source of death, debt, and destruction, and the prosperity they create is factice and short-term.

Another medium-term threat is related to the current high income inequality in the United States and elsewhere. This is a barometer of future serious social unrest as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Indeed, one consequence of bad economic policies in the United States has been a rapid rise in income inequality between the very rich and other Americans. Over the last thirty years, there has been a dramatic increase in economic concentration of income and wealth in the U. S. From a peak just before the 1929 stock market crash, income inequality [http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/inequality-policy-2009-10.pdf] fell for thirty years until the 1950s, and was flat for twenty years thereafter until the late 1970s. Since the 1970s, however, inequality has skyrocketed, climbing back in thirty years to levels last seen in the late 1920s, when the top 1 percent of income earners reaped 20 percent of all incomes.

By 1979, for example, the top one percent of all U.S. taxpayers received about 8 percent of national income. But by 2007, the top one percent received over 18 percent, more than doubling its share. (If we include income from capital gains in the calculation, the increase in inequality is even sharper, with the top one percent capturing 10 percent of all income in 1979, but over 23 percent in 2007, as compare to 24 percent in 1929.)

Table-2: Share of Total Income, Top 1% (incomes above $398,900 in 2007) of U.S. Income Earners

1920: 20%

1979: 8%

2007: 18%
                
“Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States”, by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, 2009. http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2007.pdf

Today, we say that as far as income concentration is concerned, the U. S. is close to being back to where it was in the 1920s, before the Great Depression of 1929-1939, i.e. the top 1 percent receiving close to 25 percent of total U.S. income. (The top one tenth of one percent of Americans rake in 6 percent of total U.S. income.) As a consequence, the American middle class is being squeezed and is contracting fast at the expense of that 1 percent of the population. If history is a guide, the pendulum is about to swing back. How this is going to be done is the only thing which is not known.

A few words about two other crises that could unfold under our very eyes in the not-too-distant future, i.e. a sovereign debt crisis in Southern Europe and elsewhere and a commercial debt crisis and small bank crisis in the United States.

Historically, a serious structural worldwide financial crisis sooner or later results in debt defaults by some countries. This happened in 1833-37, 1870-90, 1932-1945, and it is to be expected that the number of countries that will renege on their foreign debt will increase in the coming years. A global debt bomb is hanging over Europe and other parts of the world. The euro zone itself may not survive the coming crisis.

And, I would not exclude some U. S. states from this default scenario, not even the U. S. federal government, with its trillion + dollar fiscal deficits for as long as we can see, even though it has the power to print dollars which are still accepted around the world. That is the reason why I expect the other financial shoe to drop in 2011-13. A major financial crisis, a major U.S dollar crisis (and the concommittent rise in the price of gold) and major bond and stock market crashes have a good chance to unfold in that time period.

More immediately, I mean this year and next (2010-11), there is a fair chance of a repeat on a relatively smaller scale of the private home foreclosure crisis of 2007-09, but this time in the commercial real estate (CRE) loan market. A lot of small and medium-sized American banks hold commercial debts for properties that are presently “underwater”, i.e. whose market value is inferior to the supporting debt.

Indeed, it is estimated that over the next five years, about $1.4 trillion in U.S. commercial real estate loans (land and construction loans of three to ten years) will reach the end of their terms and require new financing. But commercial property values have fallen more than 40 percent nationally since their 2007 peak, and nearly half of these commercial loans are presently "underwater” and are held by smaller regional and community banks all over the United States. Banks do not have to “mark to market” those loans, so the losses are spread over time. Come the time to renew those commercial loans, however, loan losses are unavoidable and will have to be realized. This will be a financial shock to as many as more than one third (3,000 banks ) of the some 8,400 FDIC-insured American commercial banks, with losses estimated to be on the order of $200 to $300 billion. The possible insolvency of so many small banks, as a result of their lack of capital, is bound to be a drag on many local economies.

VI- Conclusions

It seems to me that the U.S. financial system, and even the world financial system, have to be profoundly reformed, if they are to serve the real economy, rather than the contrary. If such a reform does not come about, however, I am afraid that we have entered a period of economic difficulties that may last many, many years. In fact, I think that the world economy stands today at the edge of a large precipice.

What type of reform? First of all, the packaging of different debts in impossible to untangle CDOs should be outlawed. These products are financial time-bombs waiting to explode in the real economy, not only in the United States, but around the world. Second, CDS insurance products should be issued only against insurable securities and not issued as casino chips in values much larger than the value of the insured securities (i.e. no so-called naked CDSs). In other words, the entire innovation of securitization finance has to be reviewed and reigned in before it does further damage.

However, if the U.S. Congress feels that this is too big a problem to tackle on its own, for different reasons, my third recommendation would be for the Obama administration and the EU to call for an international finance conference, preferably a G-20 conference, to adopt coordinated actions and propose legislation implemented to that effect.

So far, the steps taken to study the problem and to reform the system have been slow in coming and very timid. For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi intends to create a congressional panel (rather than an outside commission of inquiry) to investigate the causes of the US 2007-09 financial crisis. This would seem to me to be an inadequate and insufficient response to a crisis of this magnitude and severity.

Fourth, for the longer run, and regarding the toxic financial products that precipitated the crisis, one wonders why new medication pills or drugs have to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to make sure that they do not hurt the human body, while no similar requirements of the sort exist for new financial products to make sure that they are not going to be very harmful to the real economy.

There seems to be two different standards applied here. I personally think that there is a  need for a Financial Products Administration (FPA) in order to make sure that possibly toxic financial products are not made available to the public before having been fully tested for their absence of toxicity. It should be mandatory that risky financial products be tested and approved before being sold to the public.

Fifth, as for deposit-taking banks and investment banks, I happen to believe that the Glass-Steagal law should be brought back in full. It was a wise and prudent law that stabilized financial markets for three quarters of a century. Its near complete elimination in 1999 opened the floodgates of irresponsible financial gambling that nearly brought down the demise of the entire U.S. economy. I do not think the contemplated “Volcker rule” to prevent banks from operating their own hedge funds goes far enough, considering the magnitude of the problem.

—I was amazed when the Glass-Steagal act was de facto repealed in 1999, and I am still amazed that the very economist who was most instrumental in that repeal is currently President Obama's principal economic adviser (Larry Summers).

—As a general principle, it should be reaffirmed that finance is there to serve the needs of the real economy, and not the reverse.

—Finally, I would say that in economics, as in medicine, it is never too late to do the right thing. But if you don't, the disease may become progressively worse and it may become irreversible. I think that is where we stand today regarding the necessity to reform the financial system.
                                                
* Conference by Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay at the Renaissance Academy, Florida Gulf Coast University- FGCU, Florida, Friday, March 19, 2010

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Le 24 avril 2009

Les Sceptiques du Québec

 

 

Les principes humanistes de moralité

sans référence à des paradigmes religieux

 

Rodrigue Tremblay

Professeur émérite, Université de Montréal

Il y a quelques années, le professeur Tremblay a esquissé dix principes éthiques lors de son acceptation du prix Condorcet de philosophie politique, décerné par le Mouvement laïque québécois. Il a par la suite développé cette première ébauche dans un livre original et instructif sur des principes humanistes de vie en société : Le code pour une éthique globale1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question incontournable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’éthique représente une vielle et complexe question, débattue depuis des millénaires, poursuit Tremblay. Par exemple, il y a presque 4000 ans, Hammourabi, sixième roi de Babylone, avait codifié la règle « œil pour œil, dent pour dent », reprise plus tard par l’Ancien Testament. Et qui ne se souvient pas des dix commandements de Moïse ? Confucius, par ailleurs, en Chine, en avait édicté seize. Il y a aussi eu le code de Solon, référence centrale dans la philosophie grecque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puisque l’éthique traite de relations entre les humains, plusieurs économistes ont aussi abordé cette question. Adam Smith, l’un des fondateurs de la science économique, a écrit un ouvrage sur la « Théorie des sentiments moraux », dans lequel il pose la question : l’intérêt personnel peut-il être canalisé vers le bien commun par le truchement d’échanges économiques mutuellement bénéfiques ? Des réactions foncièrement égoïstes pourraient donner des résultats également rentables pour autrui et la société.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les constitutions nationales reposent aussi sur un code moral implicite qui influe sur les règles de gouvernance. Elles font parfois référence à une provenance divine sur laquelle se fonderait le pouvoir temporel, comme c’est le cas de la Constitution canadienne de 1982, tributaire d’un chef religieux : la reine d’Angleterre. D’autres pays, comme les États-Unis et la France, fondent heureusement le pouvoir de l’État sur la volonté des gouvernés.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le conférencier propose de donner d’abord un aperçu global du domaine de l’éthique qui imprègne les règles de vie entre humains et entre nations. Suivra une critique comparative des codes moraux à base religieuse ; elle ne mettra pas en doute la sincérité des croyants, mais s’opposera aux visées dominatrices de certaines religions sur l’espace public.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Évolution de la moralité

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’éthique regroupe les règles de comportement qu’on juge acceptables dans une société. La moralité se préoccupe de l’application de ses règles. Contrairement à l’économie qui vise la rationalité utilitariste des échanges entre humains, la morale tente de conjuguer raison et émotions dans les interactions entre individus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les codes moraux ont évolué depuis ces débuts de l’humanité, mais bénéficions-nous aujourd’hui de règles éthiques appropriées pour faire face à la mondialisation technologique, économique et culturelle déjà en cours ? Tremblay soutient que nous sommes présentement dans un cul-de-sac moral. Et nous nous y trouvons depuis le 20e siècle, dévasté de façon récurrente par de désastreuses guerres (dont deux mondiales), et d’horribles génocides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’humanité a besoin d’un code moral universel qui va au-delà des restrictions sectaires des différents codes moraux nationaux et religieux. Il n’y a pas de science spécifique à différentes nations : de science chinoise, indienne ou européenne, par exemple. Il n’est pas concevable que la science ne soit pas unique. De même, il ne devrait pas y avoir de code d’éthique particulier à certaines régions du globe. Les mêmes règles morales devraient s’appliquer aux individus comme aux nations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Considérations préliminaires

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tout d’abord, quelques considérations. Le conférencier a déjà mentionné que les progrès moraux retardent sur les avancées technologiques. Le développement (et l’usage) d’armes nucléaires trahit une immaturité éthique. On bombarde, encore aujourd’hui, les habitants de villes où l’on soupçonne que se cachent une armée ennemie ou des terroristes – tuant ainsi d’innombrables innocents citoyens sous de piètres justifications militaires (dommages « collatéraux ») ou sous la bête admission d’inévitables erreurs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les bénéfices de la mondialisation sont aussi très inégalement répartis entre les nations gagnantes et les nations perdantes qui, par le fait même, deviendront moins concurrentielles. Aucun organisme international ne compense les perdants ni ne les aide à mieux se positionner pour des négociations commerciales futures. Ces ratés du système freinent l’essor et les bénéfices de la mondialisation du commerce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La crise économique actuelle provient en grande partie de la déréglementation des marchés qui a permis – surtout aux États-Unis – une spéculation débridée soutenue par immoralité croissante du monde des affaires, encouragée par celle du monde politique. Depuis au moins une dizaine d’années, le climat politique moral se détériore dans ce pays dirigé par un président d’une grande médiocrité morale dont les mensonges avérés ont servi pour déclarer et poursuivre, sous de faux prétextes, d’illégales guerres meurtrières.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

De graves problèmes de santé mondiaux persistent et même s’amplifient à cause de schèmes éthiques médiévaux qui perdurent grâce à des codes moraux désuets. La position de certaines églises sur la contraception, par exemple, conduit à la surpopulation et à la dissémination du sida. L’Afrique, le continent le plus touché, se révèle aussi le plus religieux – à 97 % selon un dernier sondage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idéologies opposées

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ces problèmes résultent en partie du choc de trois idéologies opposées : capitalisme, socialisme et théocratie. Dans le capitalisme à l’américaine, le marché est dieu et ne peut se tromper. La cupidité devrait servir l’intérêt commun. On constate aujourd’hui que ce laisser-aller nous a conduits à une crise économique qui va probablement durer des années, comme celle de 1929.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Une version plus humaine de ce capitalisme s’est développée sous ce qu’il est convenu d’appeler la social-démocratie, dont le Canada et surtout le Québec font partie. Ce système rencontre toutefois présentement des difficultés, tels le vieillissement de la population, les coûts de santé astronomiques, des impôts élevés... Bien qu’imparfait, il semble donner une prospérité plus stable et plus humaine que le capitalisme débridé.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Une troisième voie a été suivie, depuis quelques décennies, par de nombreux pays qui se réfugient dans une théocratie religieuse pour échapper aux problèmes que pose la modernité.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commencée en Iran, en réaction au régime corrompu du Shah, elle s’est propagée à d’autres pays musulmans. Il faut reconnaître que cette main mise du religieux sur le domaine politique avait cours dans bien d’autres nations, dont le Québec, aux 19e et 20e siècles. À partir de 1840, et pendant un siècle, le Québec a été dirigé par un gouvernement ultramontain, pratiquement contrôlé par l’Église catholique dans les domaines de la santé, de l’éducation et de l’aide sociale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La religion peut servir de point de ralliement lorsque le gouvernement civil est faible ou ne répond plus aux besoins de la population. On observe aujourd’hui ce processus dans de nombreux pays, dont les pays musulmans où la véritable légitimité du pouvoir se retrouve assez souvent chez un chef religieux. Le conférencier estime que des objectifs politiques prévalent la plupart du temps sur les croyances religieuses dans ces luttes pour le pouvoir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insuffisances des codes moraux religieux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faisons d’abord une distinction entre les religions théistes occidentales et les religions asiatiques. Les religions abrahamiques (juive, chrétienne et musulmane) ont défendu très violemment leur spécificité face aux idéologies concurrentes. Les religions asiatiques (bouddhisme, confucianisme, hindouisme), par contre, démontrent moins d’agressivité et de prosélytisme, car leur approche repose plus sur une philosophie de vie que sur un dieu exclusif. Les lacunes qui suivent s’appliquent plus aux codes moraux des religions occidentales qu’à ceux des religions orientales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Première critique : les codes moraux religieux sont sectaires. Ils s’appliquent d’abord aux membres d’un groupe, mais rarement ou seulement partiellenent à l’extérieur du groupe. Ils favorisent la cohésion d’une ethnie en la distinguant des autres. On ne doit pas tuer ou voler les membres de sa communauté, mais envers les autres communautés, sous prétexte de se protéger, toutes les exactions sont permises, incluant génocide et conquêtes territoriales. L’idée réductrice d’un peuple « élu » n’a plus sa place sur une planète formée de régions interdépendantes. La mondialisation du commerce, des communications et de l’environnement ne permet plus ces réactions sectaires sans accabler toute l’humanité.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deuxième critique : les codes moraux religieux sont anthropocentriques. Ils reposent sur l’idée fausse – prétendument d’origine divine – que l’humain est au centre de l’Univers. On sait aujourd’hui que la Terre n’a pas de position privilégiée dans l’Univers ; elle tourne autour d’une petite étoile parmi des centaines de milliards d’autres. On sait que l’espèce humaine partage cette Terre avec des millions d’autres espèces issues d’ancêtres communs et qu’elle aurait bien pu ne pas être. Cette erreur d’anthropocentrisme a conduit les humains à se considérer les maîtres absolus de la planète au détriment des autres espèces et de l’environnement. Elle doit être dénoncée avec force pour arrêter et tenter de réparer les dommages causés à l’écosystème.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Troisième critique : les codes moraux religieux suivent un double standard. La moralité des citoyens entre eux diffère de celle des dirigeants vis-à-vis leurs citoyens, et à plus forte raison vis-à-vis les citoyens d’autres nations. Les dirigeants peuvent se comporter de façon immorale pour des raisons de bien public, d’ordre public ou de défense nationale. Pour forcer la reddition de l’armée japonaise, plus de 100 000 civils ont été tués par des bombes atomiques lancées par les États-Unis en 1945 sur les villes de Hiroshima et Nagasaki. Un crime horrible, mais jugé moralement acceptable par un code moral à double standard. Le message chrétien fondamentalement pacifiste sera dénaturé par son accession au statut de religion d’État. Pour un humaniste, tuer est un acte éminemment répréhensible et, a fortiori, tuer des centaines de milliers de personnes ; le concept de guerre « juste » n’existe pas, et rien ne peut justifier la torture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quatrième critique : les codes moraux religieux entretiennent l’idée d’une punition éternelle. Si cette règle s’applique à ceux qui ne font pas partie d’une religion occidentale, les deux tiers de l’humanité seraient condamnés à ce châtiment. Elle constitue un défaut majeur qui a été la source de frayeurs culpabilisantes pour les fidèles et de haine féroce envers les « autres » : pécheurs, païens, mécréants, sceptiques et libres penseurs. Se rendant compte de son impact négatif destructeur, l’Église anglicane a aboli « l’enfer » en 1995. Mais, d’autres religions l’ont conservé, perpétuant un mythe servant surtout à contrôler des populations non instruites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinquième critique : les codes moraux religieux s’appuient sur le faux dualisme corps-esprit. Il s’agit de l’idée que l’esprit existe indépendamment du corps (et le quittera à la mort). La science moderne a maintes fois prouvé que l’esprit dépend du fonctionnement adéquat du cerveau humain et meurt avec lui. Ce mythe, en apparence inoffensif, perpétue un mépris pernicieux pour le corps humain que la plupart des religions entretiennent. Il dévalorise le respect que tout être humain devrait apprécier de toutes les fonctions naturelles de son corps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Principes humanistes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les codes moraux religieux, embarrassés par ces importantes lacunes, souligne le conférencier, ne pourront créer le climat nécessaire à une collaboration mondiale essentielle pour surmonter les graves problèmes sociaux et environnementaux qui nous assaillent. Une approche différente doit progressivement s’imposer ; elle s’appuierait sur des principes humanistes déjà formulés par de nombreux philosophes anciens et récents, tels Socrate, Platon, Kant, Spinoza, Montaigne, Voltaire... et tout récemment Onfray. Ces anciens principes doivent être réexpliqués et même révisés à la lumière des nouvelles connaissances. Sous forme d’un décalogue, ils invitent à la réflexion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Proclamer la dignité et l’égalité

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chaque humain doit traiter les autres humains avec dignité, comme il aimerait lui-même être traité. Un principe analogue à la règle d’or : fais aux autres ce que tu aimerais qu’ils te fassent. Soumettre d’autres humains à la servitude enfreint directement ce principe. Empêcher les femmes de sortir de la maison et les filles d’aller à l’école nie leur liberté intrinsèque et leur droit au développement personnel. Quoiqu’en dit la Bible, il n’existe pas de race inférieure ni de « peuple élu », ni de terres données par Dieu à qui que ce soit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Respecter la vie et la propriété

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chaque individu a droit à la vie, son bien le plus cher. Tuer un homme, c’est lui enlever ce bien de façon irrévocable. La société repose aussi sur la possession de biens matériels qu’une personne peut échanger avec autrui dans un commerce équitable. Ces biens – si acquis de façon honorable, bien sûr – lui appartiennent en propre et doivent être respectés par les autres individus et la communauté.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Pratiquer la tolérance et l’ouverture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Démontrons une grande tolérance vis-à-vis la façon dont un individu gère sa propre vie, qu’il aime se teindre les cheveux verts ou préfère un partenaire amoureux de même sexe. Mais, cette ouverture d’esprit ne devrait pas s’étendre aux systèmes injustes, telle la Charia pour régler les causes de divorce au Canada qui a bien failli être acceptée en Ontario. Lorsqu’une liberté est perdue, il est presque impossible de la reprendre sans révolution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La tolérance envers une personne est aussi reliée à l’empathie qu’on a pour elle, soit notre capacité à se mettre à sa place. Par exemple, en tant que citoyens d’une ville, nous n’aimerions pas qu’une bombe la détruise complètement, de même que toute notre famille et tous les habitants de notre ville. Ce principe d’empathie lié à celui de la règle d’or, déjà mentionnée, constitue le fondement ultime du code moral humaniste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Partager avec les moins fortunés

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Il est louable d’aider les moins fortunés en partageant ce que la chance et nos efforts nous ont permis d’acquérir. Cette charité privée fait beaucoup de bien, mais elle n’est pas suffisante : seule une généreuse charité publique pourra arriver à compenser les malheurs des plus démunis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ce principe devrait aussi s’étendre aux nations du tiers monde qui ne pourront s’en sortir sans aide substantielle des pays riches. Le conférencier suggère même que les nations riches qui ne sont pas prêtes à donner un quart d’un pour cent de leur produit intérieur brut ne devraient pas avoir le droit d’être membre des Nations Unies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Ni dominer ni exploiter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La domination d’un groupe sur un autre groupe peut prendre plusieurs formes. Elle peut s’effectuer par le mensonge manipulateur : la prétention d’armes de destruction massive en Irak pour envahir ce pays en est un exemple récent. L’emprise qu’exercent certaines églises sur leurs fidèles constitue aussi une forme de domination – par le biais d’autorité divine et de fausses promesses. Un monopole permet également de dominer les autres citoyens en contrôlant les règles du jeu économique. Réitérons le principe d’égalité des chances pour tous, malmené par les pouvoirs et privilèges que s’arrogent les gagnants de l’heure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Recourir à la raison et à la science

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Il semble qu’il n’y ait que la raison et la science qui peuvent nous protéger de dangereuses superstitions et repousser les mythes séduisants qui nous sollicitent. Exercer son esprit critique demeure essentiel pour distinguer les vraies réponses des fausses dans notre compréhension de l’Univers et notre recherche de solutions efficaces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Conserver et améliorer l’environnement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notre planète constitue un habitat fragile aux ressources limitées. Pour notre bien propre et celui des générations futures, nous devons protéger son environnement et utiliser ses ressources avec discernement. Échouer dans ce projet de survie nous vouerait à une agonisante extinction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Rejeter toute violence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

En aucun cas, recourir à la violence peut-il constituer une réponse acceptable pour résoudre un différend, sauf en certains cas de légitime défense alors qu’aucune autre solution n’est possible. Les conflits trouvent leur plus satisfaisante résolution par la discussion et par la coopération. Il faut aussi comprendre que quand on prépare la guerre en s’armant jusqu’aux dents, on ne résistera pas longtemps à s’en servir lorsqu’un prétexte se présentera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Prôner une démocratie ouverte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Si le pouvoir dans une société est détenu par les personnes qui la composent, on a affaire à une démocratie. Bien sûr, il faudra qu’une constitution protège les droits individuels, sinon la majorité pourrait tyranniser une minorité ou un individu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La démocratie ouverte repose sur la laïcité de l’État, soit la séparation complète du religieux et du politique. Le dogmatisme des Églises ne s’accorde pas avec l’idéal démocratique de discussion et de compromis. Peu de gens se souviennent qu’au Québec l’Église catholique a fait abolir en 1876 le Ministère de l’instruction publique, car le clergé exigeait que l’éducation (de même que la santé et les services sociaux) relève exclusivement de lui. Ce n’est qu’en 1964, au moment de la Révolution tranquille, que le ministre Paul Gérin-Lajoie rétablit le Ministère de l’Éducation et en fit une responsabilité civile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Favoriser l’éducation universelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Une société juste et prospère dépend du niveau d’éducation de sa population. Idéalement, aucun enfant ne devrait être privé de s’instruire pour des raisons financières. Son épanouissement en tant qu’individu garantit aussi un plus grand bien-être pour l’humanité tout entière et pour les générations futures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’acquisition de connaissances morales autant que scientifiques conduit vers une plus grande liberté en permettant véritablement l’égalité des chances de réussite. La gratuité scolaire et un bon système d’éducation ont été le fondement du développement économique des sociétés modernes. L’ignorance a toujours conduit à la pauvreté, à l’esclavage et à l’obscurantisme. Malheureusement, les religions ont, en général, freiné le développement des connaissances scientifiques, autant parce que ces connaissances mettaient en danger certains dogmes que parce qu’elles avaient tendance à rendre la population moins facilement malléable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’humanité a besoin d’un nouveau code moral pour la guider dans une société qui a radicalement changé. Elle ne peut plus tirer sa moralité de règles sectaires inappropriées aux multiples interactions économiques et culturelles qui prévalent aujourd’hui. Celles-ci sont liées à la mondialisation croissante des marchés et aux échanges intensifs entre individus et nations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seule une éthique globale, mettant les valeurs humaines à l’avant-plan, pourra améliorer l’ensemble des conditions de vie sur la planète. On doit, bien sûr, conserver certains excellents principes de partage et de paix des grandes religions et philosophies de l’antiquité. Mais, tout appel au sectarisme, à l’exclusion, à la superstition et au dogmatisme propres aux religions devrait en être exclu. Ces lacunes des codes moraux religieux nous paralysent et nous empêchent de progresser. Développons un code pour une éthique globale, basé sur l’empathie, la raison et la science, termine Rodrigue Tremblay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Période de questions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La remontée du religieux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question : La décadence morale actuelle n’accompagne-t-elle pas le déclin des religions en Occident ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les religions ne sont pas actuellement en déclin, rectifie le conférencier. On pourrait même avancer que leur influence croît. Elles sont en progression dans le tiers monde, et même en Occident. Elles ont considérablement augmenté leur pouvoir aux États-Unis, surtout durant la dernière présidence. En France, le gouvernement présent commence à remettre en question la loi sur la laïcité de 1905, voulant ainsi accommoder le groupe musulman qui représente maintenant environ 10 % de la population.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Il faut demeurer vigilant. Même ici au Québec, les églises évangéliques se multiplient. Il nous faut contrecarrer ces avancées en démontrant que les principes moraux humanistes sont bien supérieurs aux principes religieux et devraient les remplacer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le progrès moral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question : Existe-t-il des périodes de l’histoire durant lesquelles les principes moraux n’auraient pas été bafoués ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oui, de telles périodes d’avancées morales existent, rappelle le conférencier. Il y a bien sûr eu la Renaissance qui a suivi la triste période ultra religieuse médiévale. Mais, c’est surtout au Siècle des Lumières qu’on a repris de vieux principes humanistes de la philosophie grecque, pratiquement oubliés, dont la démocratie. Ces mêmes principes ont été intégrés à la Constitution américaine. Les 18e et 19e siècles ont été une époque de progrès moral sans précédent, malgré la formation de grands empires coloniaux. Le siècle suivant a été désastreux : deux guerres mondiales, d’innombrables plus petites guerres (mais non moins meurtrières)  et de terribles génocides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Au milieu de ce 20e siècle, la formation des Nations Unies a redonné de l’espoir en proclamant de grands principes de liberté et de dignité humaines. L’État Providence est apparu en Occident ; un filet de sécurité pour les plus démunis s’est instauré. Toutefois, depuis 1980, on est redescendu dans un creux moral, alors que les défis économiques et environnementaux se font plus pressants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La tentation tribale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question : Les progressistes à travers les âges ont valorisé la sensibilité humaine plutôt qu’une morale guerrière sans égard pour les étrangers. Ne devrions-nous pas combattre cet instinct tribal plutôt que la morale religieuse elle-même qui, bien comprise, se fonde sur d’excellents principes humanistes ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Il existe une grande différence, reconnaît Tremblay, entre l’énoncé de grands principes et leur application dans un contexte politique. La lutte pour le pouvoir dénature leur bienveillance universelle originelle pour les réinterpréter en fonction de l’objectif politique à atteindre au détriment des populations considérées ennemies. Le dogmatisme religieux s’identifie alors facilement avec un camp ou l’autre dans une lutte de pouvoir, chacun pensant que Dieu est avec lui.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La tentation identitaire naturelle des nations est exacerbée par l’appartenance religieuse. On aura tendance à vanter le courage de son groupe, en oubliant que le groupe adverse a, lui aussi, des soldats aussi courageux qui combattent aussi pour de grands idéaux d’origine prétendument divine. Peu de peuples possédant un avantage technologique dans le domaine de l’armement ont résisté à s’en servir pour dominer les autres peuples, sous couvert de progrès civilisateur. Derrière les armées coloniales « civilisatrices » suivaient les missionnaires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’anarchie internationale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question : Les comportements immoraux des sociétés ne proviennent-ils pas d’un processus évolutif naturel inscrit dans nos gènes ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nos sociétés se sont construites grâce à une gestion efficace des impulsions négatives des membres qui les composent, reprend le conférencier. Ce contrôle s’opère entre individus de bonne volonté et par des lois qui régissent les échanges entre individus. Les êtres humains utilisent donc la raison pour s’assurer du bon fonctionnement de leur nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malheureusement, au niveau international, c’est souvent la loi du plus fort qui prévaut. Cette anarchie internationale crée et perpétue des conflits entre nations qui deviennent presque insolubles. En plus d’être hautement immorale, cette anarchie ne tient pas compte du fait qu’aucune nation ne vit en isolation des autres sur cette petite planète aux ressources limitées et à l’écologie fragile. Les principes humanistes de moralité s’appliquent autant aux nations qu’aux individus et proposent une solution alternative aux principes religieux dogmatiques qui nous ont fait si souvent défaut dans le passé.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remonter aux causes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question : En temps de prospérité, il est plus facile d’obtenir la collaboration d’autres nations parce que chacune peut largement en profiter. Par contre, en temps de crise économique, de ressources limitées, d’écologie menacée et de surpopulation ne sera-t-il pas très difficile de faire progresser les valeurs humanistes de partage et de bonne entente entre nations ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On peut être fataliste devant les énormes difficultés présentes, comme le sont, par exemple, les adeptes de religions qui attendent et, parfois même, souhaitent la fin du monde. Ou bien, on peut s’attaquer intelligemment aux causes de ces problèmes pour tenter de les résoudre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La surpopulation, par exemple, n’est pas un problème insoluble ; elle dépend, en grande partie, de l’ignorance de mesures contraceptives efficaces dont sont affligés des peuples entiers ; ignorance souvent due à une culture dépassée, au manque de ressources ou à une volonté politique et religieuse qui s’oppose à la contraception. On doit donc s’en remettre à l’intelligence humaine pour trouver des solutions efficaces. Il est toutefois difficile d’y arriver dans le carcan de règles dogmatiques culturelles ou religieuses. On doit s’inspirer de bons principes humanistes, eux-mêmes ouverts à la discussion et à l’amélioration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’humanisme civilisateur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question : Comme on l’a dit précédemment, l’évolution nous a construits avec une mentalité de guerrier. Ce n’est que par des efforts constants que nous pouvons nous élever au-dessus de ces instincts pour résoudre nos problèmes actuels avec notre raison. Si on cesse de s’éduquer à la pensée rationnelle, ne pensez-vous pas que nous retournerons rapidement à nos réflexes tribaux ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assurément, poursuit le conférencier. Notre bagage génétique est à 98 % semblable à celui des grands singes. Il nous est donc facile de nous laisser submerger par nos instincts primaires. Rappelons que notre cerveau est constitué de trois parties : le cerveau reptilien, le cerveau limbique et le néo-cortex. La partie reptilienne assure les fonctions vitales de l’organisme et répond compulsivement, entre autres, aux instincts de prédation. La partie limbique, que l’on partage avec les autres mammifères, est responsable de nos émotions. Et le néo-cortex, à l’ébauche chez les primates, nous permet le langage et la pensée abstraite. 

 

 
 

 

 

La civilisation est un événement récent dans toute l’histoire humaine de quelques millions d’années et elle demeure fragile. De même que la démocratie – tellement nouvelle qu’elle peine, même aujourd’hui, à s’imposer comme la meilleure façon de se gouverner. Il suffit d’élire des leaders qui n’adhèrent pas aux principes humanistes pour que les droits et libertés des individus soient bafoués dans ces pays, pour que la démocratie recule et l’obscurantisme s’installe. Le livre du conférencier a justement pour but de contribuer à faire mieux comprendre le point de vue humaniste en éthique.

 

Notes :

 

1. TREMBLAY, Rodrigue. Le code pour une éthique globale, vers une civilisation humaniste. Liber, Montréal, 2009, 287 p.

 

N. B. : Voir le site web du livre : http://www.lecodepouruneethiqueglobale.com/

Voir aussi le blogue international de l'auteur : http://www.thenewamericanempire.com/blog

 

Top of the page

 

 

 Saturday, August 4, 2012

 

Homo Digitalis, or Why do We Still Live in a Semi-Civilized World?

 

by

 

Rodrigue Tremblay,

Author of the book

“The Code for Global Ethics” (Prometheus)

And of the book in French

“Le Code pour une éthique globale” (Liber)

 

Conference of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Montreal (Quebec), August 4, 2012,  Hilton-Bonaventure Hotel, Montreal, Quebec.

 

 

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it."

Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), French economist

 

"There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no Third Worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems. One vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-varied, multi-national dominion of dollars."

Clip from the movie "Network" (American satirical film, 1976)

 

"Each candidate behaved well in the hope of being judged worthy of election. However, this system was disastrous when the city had become corrupt. For then it was not the most virtuous but the most powerful who stood for election, and the weak, even if virtuous, were too frightened to run for office."

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), Italian writer, statesman and political thinker, Florentine patriot, author of 'The Prince', 1512

 

“The survivors of a generation that has been of military age during a bout of war will be shy, for the rest of their lives, of bringing a repetition of this tragic experience either upon themselves or upon their children, and . . . therefore the psychological resistance of any move towards the breaking of a peace . . . is likely to be prohibitively strong until a new generation . . . has had time to grow up and to come into power. On the same showing, a bout of war, once precipitated, is likely to persist until the peace-bred generation that has light-heartedly run into war has been replaced, in its turn, by a war-worn generation.”

Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975), British historian, (A Study of History, Vol. 9, Oxford University Press, London, 1954)

 

 

Summary

 

We live in a troubled era. It seems indeed that the moral context around us deteriorates at the very time that problems have become increasingly global. Political corruption, abuse of power, disregard for the rule of law, unchecked greed, fraud and deception in the economic sphere, economic crises, growing social inequality, intolerance toward individual choices, sexual abuse scandals in organized religions, contempt for environmental issues by many, return of absolutist religions, illegal wars of aggression (or preemptive wars) and blind terrorism; these are some indicators that our civilization is now threatened. I believe in fact that it is only a semi-civilization. Communications technology is evolving much faster than the moral conscience of homo digitalis, with the consequence that feelings of empathy and of human solidarity are in decline, replaced by a conservative navel gazing and a growing individualism.

 

Faced with this phenomenon, what can humanism as a philosophy contribute in terms of ideas, concepts and principles to prevent a return to a dark age? Specifically, what should be the scope of human empathy in this age of globalization? -In fact, what are the basic universal human principles of human ethics? Why are they not more widely accepted and implemented? How can they be demonstrated to be superior to any code of ethics based on religion? And, finally, what should we do to create a truly humanist civilization?

 

 

I- The IHEU conference in Montreal on August 3-5, 2012 has the general theme of “Sex and Secularism”.

 

As for myself— and this could also be the case for you—I must confess that I have no special skills to handle such a specific theme, although I cannot say that I am completely disinterested in the topic. I am not, however, a fan of the Marquis de Sade!

 

Obviously, the word sex can be conceived in an individual sense or in a collective sense.

 

- In its individual sense, if one refers to how a person lives his or her own sexuality, it makes no more reference to women than to men. All must live - and survive - in different societies, some of which may be extremely religious and controlling, and others more secular and less interventionist.

- In its collective sense, if one refers to the discrimination based on sex and even the abuse that women, especially, have suffered and are still suffering in some societies, and even in some respects in our own, then it is truly a question that the humanist philosophy can handle.

 

I remain confident that these gender issues, in the collective sense, fit into the larger problem of the current state of the economic, political and moral systems of our current civilization.

 

In my book "The Code for Global Ethics", I make little reference to the question of sex as such, except as regards to the principle of human dignity which both women and men are entitled to. It's the same principle as the one about free choice and the one about tolerance the choices of others.

 

Throughout the book, I also strongly denounce the simplistic view that the so-called Abrahamic organized religions have established for the role of women in society. -I quote, for example, Paul of Tarsus in one of his Epistles: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” 1 Timothy 2: 11-12). You cannot have a better example of misogyny!

 

Therefore, if we want to oppose the secular or humanist vision of the role of women in society to the religious vision or conservative view, then the humanist principle of the equality of all human beings, man or woman, is in direct contradiction to the religious principles that assign to women a lower role in society than to men.

 

It is a fact that the large organized religions were founded by men, and that these religions have preserved principles and operating methods from the past that assign women to a subordinate social role. One need only look at how the hierarchies of Muslim and Catholic religions resist and are even openly hostile to the idea of having women in their midst.

 

Some myths, like those of the original sin or of Pandora's Box, according to which the misfortunes of humankind are supposed to have come from women, have long served as symbols or pretexts to despise women. They are also at the root of the obsession with sex that many organized religions still have today. —I say nothing, of course, about the myth of the Bible according to which the creation of Eve was made from one of Adam's ribs!

 

I am surprised that many women today are still ardent defenders of organized religions. This is either because they are unaware of the harm that those religions have done to women historically, or because they are forced to act this way, or again because they truly subscribe to the myths and fairy tales that organized religions convey.

 

********

 

II- Therefore, I would like to tackle a more general and a more global topic. So I shall frame my observations accordingly. Basically, I believe that we live presently in what I would call a semi-civilized world; and I would like to demonstrate it.

 

We live indeed in a troubled period. When we look around us and see what is happening, we really feel that everything is collapsing.

 

In a recent article, for example, it was said: "Indifference to the importance of ethics and the common good is the Holy Grail of modern finance."

 

In fact, I do not think it is only in financial matters that we are regressing morally, but in many other areas.

 

There is a risk, in my view, that this twenty-first century will be more like the nineteenth and be the opposite of the second half of the twentieth century, during which humanity made considerable progress regarding international law and individual and collective rights —including the right of education for all—the triumph of the democratic way of government over all others and a better distribution of the collective wealth.

 

Conversely, if we were to continue on the current trend, the twenty-first century would be a world in which militarized empires and financial empires impose their laws, where other types of empire would impose their backward and totalitarian religious doctrines, where a self-centered individualism would erode the social fabric based on empathy and solidarity, and where wealth and power in society would be unduly concentrated. And, if I may cite Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, this will also mean a more corrupt world.

 

Indeed, in many fields, we see that the priority given to human beings, the only moral agents, it must be emphasized, is being neglected and has even become secondary to other priorities that fall within a narrow ideology and are far from being moral. The consequence is that the public interest, the common good, is increasingly being sacrificed in favor of ideological interests and economic interests, when it is not in favor of systems that crush rather than free the people.

 

In short, I believe that at the beginning of this twenty-first century, we are in the midst of a moral and intellectual regression, as we move away gradually from the social and economic progress that was made during the twentieth century, and all that for a return to the jungle of the nineteenth century, when immoral and lawless empires controlled the planet and crushed peoples at will.

 

In some areas, notably regarding religion, there seems to be a wish to return to the darkness that existed before the eighteenth century, the century of the Enlightenment, that paved the way for the immense human progress the world has made since.

 

III- I see five main causes for this moral regression, if not an actual decline or even decadence in the march for human progress.

 

I summarize:

 

What I see is

- First, a poor model of economic development.

- Second. Our democracies, under the impact of technology, give more power to money and to those who control it.

- Third, the weakening of nation states.

- Fourth. As a result of modern communication technology, homo sapiens is becoming homo digitalis.

- Fifth. Finally, a fifth cause of the current decline is an old, religion-based moral code.

 

a - What about the current economic model based on globalization with hardly any restraints? For some thirty years now — and I blame some doctrinaire and apologist operators partly for this drift and also the influence of some economists who were too doctrinaire — we have adopted an economic development model in which people seem to count less and less and money counts more and more. The current economic model based on stateless capital is, in my opinion untenable, because it is a source of repeated crises that are nearly impossible to solve. – So, a bad business model to revisit.

 

b - Secondly, our political models, some dating back several centuries, are also outdated and counter-productive; they have changed little and have even worsened in the last thirty years. Indeed, their major shortcomings are now reinforced by the technology of communications. They give real power in our societies not to individuals, but to the occult forces of money whose privileges seem to have no limit.

– So, we are saddled with a bad political model that is in need of reform.

 

c - Thirdly, the weakening of nation states combined with the current explosion of world population, if not properly managed (we must prepare to have eight to ten billion world population in a few decades), may precipitate the world toward the lowest common denominator both socially and economically.

 

As a consequence of the bad economic model to which I refer, rather than privileging free trade in goods and services to raise standards of living (for my part I have always been a supporter of free trade), we have instead abolished for all practical purposes the borders of nation states for the benefit of faceless and stateless multinational corporations

 

In some quarters, we have confused the idea of free trade in goods and services according to the comparative advantages of each country with the idea that such comparative advantages do not count and that a country could abandon its industrial and technological advantages with impunity, with no risk to its standard of living. — This is simply false.

 

Countries that abandon their economic comparative advantages get poorer, even if some corporations and some banks can benefit from the situation. This is the big difference between the common good and special interests. Today, in many countries, it is special interests that dominate the public interest or the common good.

 

We have even put aside the idea of an industrial strategy for a country in the mistaken belief that markets, —free-for-all markets it must be said, working perfectly and self-regulating, would lead to the greatest common good if left alone. This is a view that does not square well with reality. The countries that do best presently, such as China or Brazil, are the very countries that have implemented a pro-active industrial strategy.

 

When companies can roam the globe in search of the lowest production cost and an almost complete absence of taxation, this means in practice the search for the lowest wages and the lowest tax rates and regulations. In 2011, in the United States for example, the entire corporate world paid 11 percent in federal and state taxes on profits, while the poorest twenty percent of Americans contributed 17 percent tax of their income.

 

A recent study indicates how the super-rich of this world avoid paying their fair taxation share. It is estimated that as much as $32,000 billion of their wealth is stashed away in tax havens. The same thing can be said for large international corporations. As long as these corporations do not repatriate the profits they make abroad, those profits may end up not being taxed at all.

 

For instance, this brings be to say that the U.S. does not have a deficit problem. It has a tax collection problem and the latter is because it has a political corruption problem.

 

There is no doubt that the combination of economic globalization and political corruption has shifted the tax burden in a very regressive way from companies to individuals in general, and towards the poor in particular.

 

And, when a badly designed immigration policy is also implemented, the demographic, social and economic balance in countries with high living standards is upset, and the result is magnified. We then witness a true economic disarmament of the states that translates into structural budget deficits and an exploding and uncontrollable public debt. We observe this currently in Europe and in North America. Both are regions where economic stagnation seems to be permanently installed and where western civilization is the most threatened and even endangered.

 

The economic model of excessive globalization is actually a return to the situation that prevailed in the nineteenth century, when the gold standard prevailed. This model is generating major economic and social inequalities in many countries. In fact, it is a model that is fundamentally hostile to the middle class, i.e. to most people, and which concentrates wealth and power in the hands of a fraction of the population (the famous 1%!) It is a source of income stagnation for most individuals.

 

Studies show, in fact, that intergenerational social mobility and equal opportunities in industrialized countries of America and Europe fall when economic and social inequalities grow, as it is the case presently.

 

Ultimately, this will translate into a loss of democracy, because there can be no true democracy in a country where the middle class is atrophied or absent and where a regime of systemic inequalities prevails.

 

Therefore, I come to the conclusion that the all-out economic globalization that is currently being imposed on countries is a failure. This is a bad economic model because it transfers the real power in our societies from the elected officials to the owners of capital who, themselves, use it to generate financial crises like the one the world has experienced since 2008.

 

In the beginning of my text, I cite the French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) who summarized a situation like the one we are saddled with: "When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it."

 

There is no better example of this wise maxim than the U.S. Supreme Court's corrupt decision two years ago (January 19, 2010) decreeing that financial and industrial corporations are not only legal entities that have been granted privileges, but that they are in fact “human beings” with full human rights, some even more important than those endowed to humans, and that such artificial entities could spend uncontrolled and unlimited amounts of money, actually billions of dollars, and this anonymously, to influence U.S. elections at all levels. [See my article on the site TheNewAmericanEmpire.com

 

Every American's voting rights were suddenly sharply devalued. As a consequence, nobody can say that the government of the United States is "the government of the people, by the people and for the people," as President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in 1863 (in his Gettysburg Address). Political power in the United States has de facto been transferred to owners of capital. Remember, this is the same U.S. Supreme Court that put George W. Bush in power in 2000, even if the Republican candidate received a half million fewer votes than Democratic candidate Al Gore, with the disastrous consequences that followed.

 

Here in Canada, we have become prisoners of the old British electoral model that gives power to candidates who receive a plurality of votes, but not necessarily a majority of votes. This means that when people divide their support among a half-dozen political parties, one particular party can take power and govern as if it had a majority, sometimes with less than forty percent of the popular vote.

 

On May 2, 2011, for example, the Conservative party of Stephen Harper formed a “majority” government while receiving only 39 percent of popular support, and this moreover after having relied on dishonest dirty tricks. Since then, that party has governed as if it had obtained 100 percent of the votes. In reality, the polls currently give the Harper government little more than one third of popular support. Nevertheless, on July 1st of this year, Harper even went so far as to order the playing of the British anthem “God Save the Queen” before playing the Canadian national anthem, on official occasions, thus insulting not only the vast majority of Quebecers but probably also a majority of Canadians.

 

Despite the glaring flaws of such an electoral system, Canadian politicians seem to revel in it and there is no reform in sight. An voting system with runoff elections, such as in France, would be logical, but our politicians pretend to ignore the problem. Therefore, I say that democracy is in trouble in Canada. In fact, it is in trouble everywhere. In some respect, democracy is fast becoming an anachronism, destined to be replaced by oligarchies and plutocracies.

 

I would add that the rise of militarized empires, and the decline in respect for international law that we have witnessed for some time, open the door to a return of imperial wars or to wars of hegemony. Such imperial wars seem to be concentrated at the beginning of each century.

 

Indeed, British historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) identified the existence of one hundred year cycles of imperial war and peace over the last five centuries (“A Study of History”).

 

The Kosovo war of 1999 took place without the approval of the United Nations and with only the legal backing of NATO. Since that precedent, an imperial war outside of the current international legal framework is certainly possible.

 

In fact I would venture to say that if the Republican candidate Mitt Romney were to be elected to the U.S. presidency in November, his repeated promises to go to war against Iran and his obsequious attitude toward Israel could easily lead to a global war, involving not only the United States and Iran, but also Europe, Russia and China. (Remember that when the conditions were ripe, it took but a single shot to trigger the 1st World War in 1914!) — Indeed, with a devout and ruthless Mormon as head of the U. S., the table would be set for a world war involving the three Abrahamic religions, Christian, Islamic and Judaic. I do not predict that. I am only afraid that it could happen.

 

World Wars of Hegemony

 

1494-1516: World War (France)

1580-1609: World War (Spain)

1688-1714: World War (France)

1792-1815: World War (France)

1914-1945: World War (Germany)

1999-2015(?): World War (!) (United States)

 

d – As a fourth cause of the current moral morass, I identify a technological cause, that is to say the emergence among the younger generations of a homo digitalis, who is certainly connected by technology, but by a technology that isolates and which can eventually dehumanize the individual in confining him to a virtual space where human warmth and human interactions are greatly reduced. This new human is plugged digitally and awash in information — and also in propaganda — but is also, paradoxically, more isolated, more fragmented, more homogenized, more individualistic, more competitive, less cooperative, more selfish, narcissistic and more fundamentally perhaps, more conservative in many respects.

 

Some studies and tests done in the U.S. show that American college students are showing about 40 percent less empathy for others than students of 20 or 30 years ago.1 In other words, social consciousness in future leaders of tomorrow is down. This bodes ill for the future.

 

We can certainly ask the question: Is technology — which is developing faster than the moral sense —creating sociopaths2, that is human beings who have barely a modicum of compassion for others?

 

We already know, from experience, that psychopaths3—that is to say, people who have no remorse for their crimes, no empathy or sympathy for others—may occasionally climb to the highest spheres of political power. These are in fact people who show a particular mental structure in MRI tests. They represent about one percent of the population.4

 

Just recently, the world watched in disbelief and helplessness the rise to power in the U.S. of a George W. Bush and his sidekick Dick Cheney, both compulsive liars and manipulators, and responsible for initiating a war of aggression, formally forbidden by the U.N. Charter and by the Nuremberg Charter.

 

If the population of the future is itself becoming antisocial, it is not only a moral regression that lies ahead. A regression in the entire social and economic scale of values could occur.

 

It is said that the Republican presidential candidate for the U.S. presidency this year, Mitt Romney, is the perfect prototype of this new individual, that is an individual fundamentally selfish, egocentric, cold, greedy, aggressive, warmonger ("The United States must lead the world!"), ruthless ("I like to fire people!") and for whom the accumulation of wealth at any cost seems to be the main purpose of existence.

 

Another example where technology advances faster than the moral sense is the use of unmanned Predator drones, controlled from far away (in fact, the control centers are in the United States), to kill so-called “enemy” people in remote lands. To his discredit, the current Democratic president, Barack Obama, has authorized an explosion of such remote controlled bombings, especially in Pakistan, but also in other countries.

 

— We must therefore prepare. Modern warfare is bound to become increasingly a derivative of video games.

 

No need to stress the fact that it was also an American "Democratic" president, Harry S. Truman, who was the first person in history to use nuclear weapons against civilian populations — those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. In the very words of President Herbert Hoover, this was an "act of brutality unparalleled in American history."

 

e - I come finally to the fifth cause, in my opinion, of the current decline and decay, and this cause is specifically moral. It is of course connected to the first four causes.

 

We live, indeed, under the influence of a bad moral code of religious origin, which establishes systematic divisions between human beings and which justifies and even encourages conflicts between human beings by sticking to an intransigent dogmatism.

 

We must be concerned, if not horrified, by the rise of obscurantism, of anti-scientific sentiment, of the myth of creationism and of religiosity in general in some powerful countries, especially in our own neighbor, the United States. Under these conditions, the rise of imperialist and militarist sentiment in that country should be a concern for the world.

                                                                                   

 

IV- General Conclusion

 

How to tackle all these problems?

 

I have a general conclusion and some more specific conclusions.

 

My most general conclusion is that the world needs now a moral revolution. I am under no illusions that this kind of fundamental change might occur soon; this could perhaps necessitate that the situation escalate to a point that change becomes inevitable. This could only happen after a major cataclysm.

 

My specific conclusions are more practical.

 

Regarding the economy and politics, for example, the remedies are obvious enough: we must stop digging and undertake real fundamental reforms.

 

First, we must stop managing the entire economy according to the interests of bankers and speculators. The problem is that these big interests corrupt politicians and control the media so that nothing gets done, except that things get worse. Also, secondly, it is essential to restore power to the people and to reduce or eliminate the influence of money in politics. In other words, we must do the exact opposite of what the U.S. Supreme Court says should be done.

 

The same thing can be said about our archaic voting system. At the very least we should copy the French political model and have run-off elections, to prevent political adventurers from gaining almost absolute power with a minority of popular support.

 

In regard to the moral character of individuals, studies show that there are only twenty percent of people who are spontaneously empathetic. Therefore, as the Chinese philosopher Hsün Tzu (c.310—c.220 BC) once said  "The nature of man is evil; his goodness is only acquired by training," the teaching of moral rules of life in society seems to be an unavoidable necessity.

 

Regarding the climate of permanent war in which we live presently, I just wish that the cycle of one hundred years of hegemonic world wars, identified by Toynbee and others, won’t apply to our century and that war-crazy psychopaths will not succeed. Otherwise, the disaster that could hit humanity would be unparalleled.

 

I finally conclude that our civilization is still very primitive. Indeed, humanity has a long way to go, because we're still in the infancy of a genuine civilization.

 

                    

 

1. See Sara Konrath's research (University of Michigan: Institute for Social Research), based on 72 different studies of students in American colleges, done between 1979 and 2009.

 

2. Sociopathy is an antisocial personality disorder is a mental health condition in which a person has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others. This behavior is often criminal. (See Blais and al., “Personality and personality disorders”, in Stern and al., eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Mosby Elsevier, 2008, chap 39.

 

3. Psychopathy is a mental disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc. (See Skeem and al., "Psychopathic Personality: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Evidence and Public Policy", in Psychological Science in the Public Interest (December 15, 2011), 12 (3): 95–162.

 

4. See Robert Hare and Paul Babiak, “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work”, 2007. According to Dr. Hare, it is in politics and in business that one finds the largest concentration of psychopathic personalities. See also“Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us” by Robert D. Hare, 1999.

 

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