The Origins of Man’s Problems

3 December 2529

The Origins of Man’s Problems

Here, the question is very simple: Why has it been so? And to this, the answer is also simple: Because the individual man has not been developed. Truly, man has greatly developed all kinds of things in the name of civilization, including science and technology, but he has paid too little attention to the development of himself. Man thinks of himself as the enjoyer of developments, not as an object of development. Human problems are, therefore, the same now as before, this year as three or ten thousand years ago, and human motives for action are of the same nature, even though they may take different forms, and the place of emphasis may change under different circumstances.

Legends and history tell us of kings, princes and warriors of yore who waged wars with one another to win the hands of beautiful princesses. Others invaded their neighbours and pillaged the towns and cities of the defeated. Today, conflicts grow between industrial powers, and we witness the trade warriors battling for resources and markets. Kings of olden times marched their troops into wars of conquest, expanding their empires in order to be hailed the greatest emperors or the most powerful conquerors. The nuclear powers of today, driven by fear of each other and the urge for primacy, engage in the arms race for military supremacy. In ancient times, fanatical rulers persecuted people of other faiths and went into religious or holy wars. Modern nations sponsor wars, both cold and active, in different parts of the world, in order to spread their political and economic “isms”, or as part of their ideological propagation. Primitive peoples fought with one another, using sticks and stones. Feudal warriors fought with swords and bows. Modern soldiers also fight, but they resort to grenades and missiles for their weapons.

With the modern means of rapid and far-reaching communication and with the most efficient and powerful equipment and weapons provided by scientific and technological advances, modern problems appear in a vast variety of manifestations, affecting mankind on a wider scale and in greater severity.

In spite of all the ostensible differences, the motives behind the actions are the same ones. All forms of war, conflict, rivalry and quarrel, whether between individuals, groups or nations at the global level, whether current or in the distant past, can be traced to the same three categories of self-centred motives or tendencies, viz.,

1. Selfish desire for pleasures and acquisitions (Taṇhā);

2. Egotistical lust for dominance and power (Māna);

3. Clinging to view, faith or ideology (Diṭṭhi).

If not refined, wisely channelled or replaced by wholesome mental qualities, these three self-centred tendencies of the mind develop and intensify, so that the behaviour of the person becomes dangerous to others and to society.

First, the selfish desire for pleasures and acquisitions leads to attachment to wealth and greed for possessions. Its influence in causing crime, exploitation, corruption and conflict is too obvious, needing no description. This also explains why, while the wealth-creating possibilities of new technology now seem boundless, the gap between the rich and the poor widens, the polarization of wealth and poverty becoming stronger and sharper.

New agricultural technologies have made ‘food for all’ a perfectly realizable objective, yet starvation is widespread and hundreds of thousands of human beings starve to death. The advanced technology and new economic approaches are utilized in such a way that they serve the industrialized countries only for making more profit, and developing countries only help to strengthen the economies of the developed ones. The profit-maximizing approach of the current economic system and the consumer culture serve only to divert world savings away from developing countries and make richer the developed countries. Modern modes of production lead to the benefits of capital accumulation. While costs are borne by all, benefits accrue to a few; the rich become richer and the poor poorer. The number of what the World Bank calls the “absolute poor” is around 800 million. In spite of many foreign aid programmes and advances in production technology, the world faces an economic crisis. The unequal distribution of wealth still prevails. Moreover, craving for sensual enjoyment and sensual indulgence lead to the lavish consumption of natural resources and the polluting of the environment, resulting in the depletion of resources, health problems and the aggravation of poverty. With hunger and mass misery prevailing, the risk of war increases and world peace is unrealizable.

Secondly, with craving for dominance and lust for power, individuals, parties and nations vie with one another for primacy or superiority. With hostile attitudes, some come into quarrels, conflict and wars. Even in the absence of an open conflict, they live in fear, distrust and anxiety. At national and international levels, this is detrimental to mutual security and development. Political leaders resort to arms as props for political power. Developed countries lend aid to developing countries with ulterior motives, for their own benefit, including the creation of a permanent dependance. At the same time, many people in developing countries are careless and dishonest in the handling of aid and loans. Foreign aid programmes are surrounded by a climate of disillusion and distrust.

At the global level, the world has for many decades been dominated by the hostile relationships of the superpowers, in their quest for security and superiority through the arms race. World military expenditure is well over $1.5 million every minute of every day. A UNDP administrator in his statement to the UN General Assembly Second Special Disarmament Session in 1982 said:

“All the technical cooperation UNDP has been charged to provide to developing countries over the next five years will cost less than the sum that will be consumed in world armaments expenditures in the next four days.”1

The late Lord Philip Noel-Baker, at a conference in London in January 1977, said to the effect that for an expenditure of $500 million, about the cost of an aircraft carrier, the WHO could eliminate malaria, trachoma, leprosy and yaws–the four diseases that impose a heavy load of economic loss and human suffering on the Third World–forever.2

This shows how human, material and financial resources have been used far more for negative and destructive purposes than for positive and constructive purposes. It is evident how the arms race is worsening the economic crisis and making the world over-armed and undernourished. The arms race is a threat to world security and human survival, both militarily and economically. Militarily, the military forces and arsenals of the superpowers have grown far beyond their defensive requirements, to the capability of eradicating all life from the earth, a threat to all mankind. Economically, as the arms race and development compete for the same resources, the immensely rising world-wide military expenditures have strong negative effects on economic growth and development and human welfare in general. The nuclear arsenals kill millions of human beings even without being used, because they eat up the resources without which people are put to death by starvation. With or without wars, human society cannot fare happily in peace.

Thirdly, last in order but not least in controlling power, is clinging to view, theory, faith or ideology. Since ancient times, owing to differences in faith and beliefs, people have come into conflict. Some waged wars with their neighbours out of religious fanaticism, some even marching their armies to faraway lands, to force their faiths on other peoples and make conquests in the name of their Supreme Being. While conflicts between religious groups and factions still continue today, modern people add the wars and conflicts of economic systems and political ideologies. Nations even divide into competing ideological blocs. Religious and ideological persecutions and wars, both cold and active, between religious groups and factions, and between those who quarrel about different ideas for the best way to achieve happiness for all, can be found in many parts of the world, dominating all other kinds of conflicts. Predictably, not finding any peaceful means of ideological propagation and coexistence, what will prevail is not the world peace and happiness that those faiths and ideologies prescribe, but human suffering and death.

On the present-day global scene of conflicts and wars, it is not specifically any one of these three motives that drives peoples to the battlefield, but rather all three of them combined together that come into play; and their combination only makes the situation more serious, the problem more complicated and the solution more difficult to achieve.

For example, behind the fighting between two religious or ideological groups in a small country, two big powers vying with each other for the domination of this country may be backing the two warring parties, one on each side, by providing them with supplies of weapons, and simultaneously making profit through arms sales, or keeping the smaller countries in a state of dependency through indebtedness. Employers want to pay the least and get the most profit, while employees want to work the least and be paid the highest wages. While each party desires to take advantage of the other, the two come into conflict. Competing to win, they try to gain dominance over each other. To strengthen their own confidence and their claims and complaints, they turn for support to economic ideologies. A conflict of gains becomes also a conflict of ideologies. In an ideological conflict, ideological sympathizers and partisans take sides. The conflict then grows in all possible ways, at the expense of the hope for peace.

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  1. Quoted in Inga Thorsson, “Disarmament and Development,” Third World Affairs 1986 (London: The Eastern Press Ltd. for Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, 1986) p.368
  2. ibid.

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