Roche looks at the bright side of life

By  Maura Hanrahan, Catholic Register Special
  • December 14, 2007

Global Conscience by Douglas Roche (Novalis, softcover, 208 pages, $22.95).

{mosimage}When we think about the state of the world today, it’s difficult to ward off encroaching despair. The deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan haunt us. We worry about developments in Pakistan and Burma. Almost daily, there are warnings about the shrinking polar ice cap. Meanwhile, homeless people sleep rough on Canadian streets.

How do we find hope?

According to Douglas Roche, author and papal medal recipient, these are, in spite of it all, hopeful times. Sen. Romeo Dallaire notes in the book’s foreword that “time is not on our side.” But Roche presses on optimistically as he examines global developments. Thankfully, he is no Pollyanna; Global Conscience is well-researched and meaty. It is also highly readable.

Roche identifies and traces a shift in human thinking that calls for a new global ethic. Throughout the book, he gives examples of how this ethic is actually developing and bearing fruit, even in places such as Rwanda where there was genocide. We finally realize, he says, that every member of the human family is our brother or sister and we are indeed each other’s keepers. Modern human rights concepts reflect this — hence, our concern about the suspension of such rights in Islamabad and Rangoon.

{sa 2895079080}The great religions teach this as well and they have all helped us develop conscience, the human faculty at the root of the new global ethic. In Christian thought, Roche writes, conscience is “not just an occasional voice at important moments, but is the basis of all morally relevant action.” This discussion appears early in the book and runs from St. Paul up to Vatican II, through which Catholics came to acknowledge that “Christians are joined to the rest of humankind in the search for truth.” Indeed, a culture of peace — do unto others. . . — is fostered by Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism. Roche writes, correctly, that Islam is “shot through with moral considerations.”

If this doesn’t stir hope within you, think about the bright side of globalization, Roche urges. Globalization brings our attention to the rich intellectual and cultural diversity of the world. It enhances our understanding of the need for universality, not uniformity — a universality that is necessarily inclusive.

The much-criticized United Nations, with which Roche has long been associated (he won its Medal of Honour), is built on universal inclusiveness. The UN is where dialogue between civilizations occurs. Though the hawks might want it to be, it is not an enforcer. The UN represents global governance, not global government — a crucial distinction. The organization is “a gift to humanity,” lifting us all up.

You might ask, “how?” In response, Roche provides a respectable list of UN works and accomplishments: the Millennium Development Goals, aimed at raising standards of living in 166 countries; promotion of democracy through electoral advice and assistance; comprehensive international agreements on human rights; peacekeeping; safeguarding nuclear facilities in 70 countries; successful health programs for children; clearing land mines; trying war criminals; and many more. The highly educational chapter seven, with its exclusive focus on the UN, is worth the price of the book.

It isn’t all hunky dory, of course, and it’s especially hard to feel hopeful considering what emanates from the White House under U.S. President George Bush. But Roche argues convincingly that we have accepted the futility of war and we know that it is not inevitable. War is the result of deliberate, political decisions. In terms of human history, this realization is progress.

He also says that the groundwork for a revolt against the military industrial complex is being laid today. Taxpayers are at the centre of this. In the United States, more and more citizens are unhappy that for every dollar spent on preventative measures like diplomacy, no less than $9 is spent on military operations. Indeed, anger at the military spending excesses of the Bush government is rising.

Through organizations such as the (American) National Priorities Project, information is getting out. The NPP and other non-governmental organizations are spreading the word that poverty could be eradicated if only one-quarter of worldwide military spending was diverted.

The NPP is not alone in its good work. There are text boxes through the book that highlight various NGOs and culture-of-peace initiatives. We learn of the Asian-based Peace Boat, Burma Watch International (which operates out of Canada) and the respected Human Rights Watch. There is a useful explanation of the Human Development Index and the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Canadians will note that, despite our tiresome bragging, we are not among the top 10 contributors to peacekeeping. In fact, all the main contributors are Third World countries, Bangladesh being the most generous, followed by Pakistan and India.

Not surprisingly, Roche ends on a hopeful note, saying that the critical mass of people committed to a culture of peace is growing and one day it will no longer be counter-cultural to stand in the town square and demand peace. Let’s hope he isn’t far off the mark.

(Hanrahan’s latest book is The Alphabet Fleet: the Pride of the Newfoundland Coastal Service.)

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