1998 Council On Ideas
Position Statement

1998 Council on Ideas Members:
Jane Alexander
Ana Maria Cetto
Stephen Jay Gould
Robert D. Kaplan
Jessica Tuchman Mathews

We are living in a time of change unprecedented in both extent and rapidity on a planet now so filled by our presence that little further space exists to accommodate serious mistakes. The scale of economic activity, the number of people, environmental degradation, and the power of weaponry raise both the likelihood of conflict and the need for greater cooperation among peoples. The information and communications revolution erases distance. More than ever before, we are truly stuck with each other.

Since the contingencies of history, the complexities of our world, and our own inevitable ignorances make the future impossible to predict in principle, we cannot offer profound advice or definite directions. But perhaps we can suggest some guidelines, based on goodwill and common moral sensibility, for a long and successful human persistence on a well sustained earth.

  • Cultures will have varying values and moral visions, but with a proper respect for cultural diversity, a basic consensus is still reachable.
  • Given such technological power to kill and destroy, we should be especially wary of zealous claims to know ultimate truths that all people must accept, whatever the cost. The words of the Hippocratic Oath may be taken as a first commandment: Primum non nocere - Above all, do no harm.
  • The greater the pace of change, and the less the margin for error, the more important becomes the experience of history.
  • For the same reasons, education for all and the exercise of foresight based on improved understanding of present trends, grow in importance.

As never before, governments and other institutions must be capable of nimble response. Yet, most of today's international in- stitutions are a half-century old and drained of political will. At the same time, corporations and civil society are taking on broader policy roles, forcing national governments to rethink their own functions. The coming era demands a period of concerted social innovation and institution building - this time encompassing all sectors - comparable to that which followed the end of World War II.