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Toward a Universal Conscience       by Tim Holmes

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we
were at when we created them.” 
                       - Albert Einstein

Every culture has developed its own ethical systems. Religions and legal and ethical codes are universally conceived to bring about a respect for deeper values and improve human interactions. While these principles are not universally transferable from one social group to another they were all conceived to serve the greater good. To find the basic compassion and dignity that inspired them all we have to return to their fundamental common source; human conscience. 

Technology develops much more rapidly than our collective capacity to evaluate it.  Global problems grow too broad and complex for mere nations to solve.  Einstein believed that science in his generation had become like a razor blade in the hands of a three-year-old.  Medical techniques, bioengineering, light-speed financial tools, new industrial processes; all threaten traditional values in some way and yet develop outside human ability to regulate or even evaluate them.  Any day we may hear of the first cloned human or of an engineered supervirus conceived in a vacuum of common law.  With the accelerating pace of changes we are experiencing at this critical point in history it would be foolhardy if not utter suicide for humanity to continue birthing the future without a shared sense of greater good.

By the year 2045 humanity will have passed a history-crystalizing event that will separate all time into two parts. It is called a singularity: the point when artificial intelligence will surpass the scope and power of the human brain.1 Forever after humans will be junior partners in cognitive operations. We have no way of knowing what this means but what we know for sure is that no matter how intelligent machines become, they will never have hearts and will never be able to care. The possibilities for the unfolding future explode in every imaginable ethical direction.

It is becoming increasingly clear that much of the glue that offers social cohesion– national identity, democracy, organized religion, etc.– is dissolving in a world that is morphing into something new and strange before our very eyes. The modifying influence of any culture's native religion cannot cross borders with anything of the speed and ease of technology. The great engines of technological innovation are no longer tethered to the deep values that in the past have faithfully guided human progress through the dangerous straights of  moral challenges. What power or presence could prevent such global nightmares as the eventual mega-merger of all corporate interests into a massive resource-gobbling monster, or the production by some rogue state of human clones, or the seizure of the world's technology by some massive computer?  Human development needs some form of moral compass that is more universal than religion, more flexible than culture and more responsive than law.  The only thing that will serve is a new structure, of global magnitude and rapid responsiveness, one that reflects that universal source of good: the simple, wholesome compassion that emanates from the human heart.

A Universal Conscience in the form of a Wiki could serve as the source of ethical guidance for developments of every kind.  We have today the means to create such a network that would be constantly supported by millions of anonymous individuals plugged into a global network that is always on, always attentive, always conscientious.  Although such a network would not form a coercive power that could force people, nations or other collectives, I believe it would provide a steady, wise moral presence that could help guide the human race through the most difficult of ethical situations.  It would, however, force despotic governments or corporations to carry out anti-social programs in clear violation of agreed principles for good.

Like any Wiki the Universal Conscience would be a decentralized, open source, independent conglomeration of individual values.  Having no power it would not constitute a government.  It could not actively threaten any religious, cultural or legal system.  It would operate more like a cross between the internet with its universal, equalizing reach, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with its dedication to equal treatment, and the Fair Trade movement with its gentle persuasion. Fair Trade is an ideal that is voluntarily embraced by businesses, groups and individuals that are dedicated to a better world though treating people and nature with respect, an ideal that spreads simply through the attractiveness of positive values.  As it gains attention governments, businesses and markets take note. As the movement gains traction its values it illuminates slowly becomes the standard that cannot be ignored and “all boats rise”. There is a great attractor in finding common cause for the greater good.

When weighing in on community issues, a voter's own personal interests is effectively subsumed into a desire for the greater good as reflected in general principles.  Although a voter can sabotage the greater good by voting against it, still each voter only has one vote, equal to every other.  The system is therefor incorruptible as long as its structure and function remains genuine.

A universal conscience would provide a constant view of the human family's ethical values.  It would not only be capable of reflecting rapidly on each and every moral issue, but would be capable of comparisons of values currently difficult or impossible.  (For instance, presumably all people value access to clean water, but how does that value compare to that of access to energy or industrial development?)  I believe the input from world citizens would make infinite comparisons possible, providing a solid ethical matrix with which to respond to every conceivable turn of events.

Centralized power is not the mechanism for real change in history for all its impressive drama. which happens as the result of movements of the collective psyche.  Evolution may be a messy process– for every three steps forward, there may be two back– but it does point forward.  This can be seen readily with a backwards review of history.  Humanity is evolving toward the ideals of equality, community and sustainability.  A universal conscience would make that movement apparent.  It would make it that much more difficult for a despotic regime, whether governmental or commercial, to abuse peoples. It would give diverse traditional religions and cultures a means to find common cause. 

The development of a world universal conscience is inevitable.  If humans do not abandon tribalism and learn to cooperate we will annihilate each other and likely take most of the rest of life with us.  A global recognition of universal rights is our only choice for survival.   The sooner a platform for it is constructed the sooner global problems can be addressed.

Tim Holmes   2011
Rescuing Angel

Rescuing Angel, limited edition giclée by Tim Holmes

We Are One

We Are One , limited edition print by Tim Holmes

As Are You, So Is the World

As Are You, So Is the World,
from the Metaphysical Maps series
Mixed media on paper by Tim Holmes, 20 x 25"

Timeless art for troubled times

Creative Commons Copywrite  •  2011 •  Tim Holmes Studio