Good News Agency



by Sergio Tripi


23 June 2000


Ervin Laszlo, scientist, philosopher, pianist and author of over 50 books, is the founder of the Club of Budapest, member of the Club of Rome, of the International Academy of Science, scientific consultant to UNESCO and Rector of the Vienna Academy. He taught as resident professor in several universities, among them Yale, Princeton and the New York State University. He lives in Italy, in the Province of Siena.

Sergio Tripi, an author and journalist, is the Representative in Italy of the U. N. University for Peace. He is the founder  and president of the Associazione Culturale Triangoli e Buona Volontà Mondiale, a  non-profit organization that operates in synergy with the Lucis Trust and with other international organizations engaged in the spreading of a culture of peace in the ‘global village’ perspective.


Sergio Tripi: One of the thoughts that attracts most people is the fact that the world today is confronted with a number of basic emergencies requiring urgent attention. In your opinion, what are the most striking and pressing emergencies that the world today is facing?


Ervin Laszlo: I can summarise it in one word : sustainability – which, in a well recognised and international community, is not only an ecological issue but also a social and economic issue; of course it is thereby also a political issue. The single key factor that poses the greatest challenge is the fact that the kind of world we have created in the second half of the twentieth century cannot live for long into the early twenty-first century without causing major breakdowns. Therefore we have to change. Now this has ecological dimensions in terms of the deterioration of the basic ecological life support systems, and it has social-economic dimensions in terms of marginalisation when an increasing number of the human community, about one and a half billion people, that is one fourth of the human population, live below the minimum living standards, defined by the World Bank as one dollar a day. And the problem that consumption patterns, management styles, and political behaviour are still not adapted to a community of six billion people. They are more adapted to a nationally based industrial system of the middle of the twentieth century. But that is now on the way out. We are moving into a globally interconnected information based society which is not sustainable in the present mode.


S.T. : The picture you paint is the picture presented to us by certain attitudes of the human being: selfishness, aggressiveness, and the consequent exploitation of the world today. How do you think these attitudes should change and be anchored to a new set of values, and what should these new values be?


Ervin Laszlo : One could say again – using a single key word for this – one would have to re-socialise the human community into its new global condition. We are socialised into small regional communities, at the most into national states. We are having difficulty moving from the national state in Europe to a European Union and in finding common values. We are motivated here of course by open markets and by a common currency, but world wide, despite the presence of the United Nations, the human community is still very strongly centred on so called independent and sovereign nation states which cannot solve the problems that are confronting the overall community, or cannot create an equitable and peaceful system that includes about 190 independent national governments. We can only conceive such a world if people; if politics; if societies; re-socialise into a global community creating a foundation for peace. That means that the individual has to develop multiple loyalties; solidarities, beyond the level of his or her own family, enterprise, community or nation. These stands of loyalties have to move to the level of an entire cultural region, to the intercultural and international level, and finally to the global level. As long as people do not feel themselves to be members of a human community, developing on this planet as an integrated whole, interacting and sustaining themselves within the ambit of nature, its biosphere; and as long as people feel themselves separate from each other, from other cultures, from nature, they are going to behave selfishly, they are going to have consumption patterns that are intolerable for others, the rich are going to consume far too much – without respect for the needs and possibilities of the poor, the poor in turn will overload their immediate environment – over exploiting it in their own search for survival. And in some cases, with the present patterns of political and civic behaviour, the present consumption patterns, the present style of management of major international business organisations, and in the present style of political leadership in national government, we are creating a stress in the system which means that instead of integrating on the global level, this system is coming apart. It is becoming stressed and fractionated into rich and poor; into powerful and powerless; into those who have access to resources and those who do not have access to resources.


S.T.: Urgent issues requiring new attitudes; and attitudes based on new values. Do we have time to adopt these new values and new attitudes and, assuming that we do, in which areas do we need to intervene as quickly as possible to see them adopted?


Ervin Laszlo: We are in a race against time, against change. As H.G.Wells said at the beginning of this century: the future will be decided in a race between education and disaster. We could repeat this. We could say that our future in the early twenty-first century will be decided in a race between the evolution of a new, more global consciousness in the masses and the increasing fractioning, the increasing divergences that we have in the contemporary world. So the important elements are: information and education. Information obviously is a general term but it is not enough just to have information, it also has to be relevant. It also has to be the kind of information that people need in order to orient themselves in this world. It is not enough just to give immediate attention to sensationalistic items of information, to catastrophes, or to the doings of political leaders, or wars. All of these of course have their place in the media and in the information flow, but what we need is the understanding of the basic trends, the basic processes that shape our world and decide our destiny, our future. So we need more relevant information – this so as to reach the main stream population: adults and young people, old people, people of all ages. This is possible because we have the necessary flows of information; we have the technology.

The other area is obviously education, where we have to reach young people, those who will come onto the scene as the managers and the actors of the human community in the next ten or twenty years. Without their understanding, without the development of their consciousnesses, we have no future at all. So education has to start at a very early age; it has to start in the kindergartens and move on, through the secondary schools to the universities. It is not a hopeless task because humanity has always created the values that it needs to survive in a society that is becoming ever more complex. But right now we have a lag. Our system of values, our world views, the way we look at ourselves, look at nature, and look at other cultures, is below the needed threshold; is behind the times; it is obsolete. It was alright fifty years ago, it was alright perhaps thirty years ago, but in the last twenty years certain developments have overtaken it. So we need the kind of consciousness, the kind of values that permit all people to survive in this world, and young people have to understand from the very beginning that in order to achieve this they have to know what the basic trends are, why they occur, why our world is unsustainable, and how we can make it sustainable.


S.T.: Information and education then are the two most urgent areas that need to be stimulated and tuned up to synthesise with these new trends. This seems to be possible at least where education is concerned – in several countries there are examples of fresh approaches to educational issues. The media on the other hand seems to continue to be guided by its quest for quantity rather than for quality – looking for audiences and readers as desperately as ever. What possibilities are there of seeing this change in the future?


Ervin Laszlo: The problem with the media is that they underestimate the change in the public’s mentality. They believe that it is still the old context, the old values that dominate. They don’t realise that a lot of people: young people, intellectuals, sensitive people of all kinds are frustrated, fed up and are wanting something different, are more interested in understanding our future, understanding the evolutionary processes under way than just looking at sensationalistic headlines. Once media understand that there are more people interested in this kind of information I am sure that they will supply that information because what they are looking for is audience. Now they are dominated, as you say, by quantitative measures – what is the rating of a television or radio programme, how many people tune in to it, what are the subscription rates of a journal or of a newspaper, or a magazine. These are the issues that decide the media’s attention. If the media  understand that they  can sell (and I use this commercial term advisably, because they do want to sell) relevant information, I am sure they will provide relevant information.


S.T.: This picture seems to correspond with a new situation in the audiences and readership of the media. There is an increasing number of people who are losing interest in the information they receive. They are often disoriented and they are looking for something new. So it is a matter of becoming aware of that part of the public that is desperately looking for new viewing and reading material. And another factor that might endorse and support what you are saying is the presence in this country of over five million people making some sort of voluntary contribution to society in one field or another. Would you say that this is indicative of hope, of progress for the future?


Ervin Laszlo: Well, there are two sectors of society that are extremely important and representative of hope for the future. One is this voluntary sector, which is often consolidated in the non governmental organisations, whether national or international, and they try to do something that is more meaningful than the official inter-governmental and governmental agencies do. And the number of these NGO’s has grown exponentially in the past ten to twenty years. This is a very hopeful sector; an important sector. The other one is an informal sector which is sometimes called the alternative cultures and which ranges from the people who are close to the mainstream and who actually just want to live in a different way and to change there own life style, all the way to the sects, the somewhat crazy lunatic age people who ardently share a very different ideology, rejecting the establishment, society. So it’s a very wide spectrum. But very many people, even in this informal sector, are seriously trying to change their own lifestyle, their own patterns of consumption, their own political behaviour. Many of them are trying to leave the big cities, to go out to the country, to live more their own life. You can see this in Tuscany where many people come from big cities all over Europe and all of a sudden find themselves trying to do organic farming or to live a more self-contained, a more sustainable way of life. So both the formal and the informal sectors of society show a process of change. These processes of change need to be supported.


S.T.: Would you say, then, that there are more signs of hope or more signs of desperation?


Ervin Laszlo: I think the two go together. The more the situation becomes critical, the more people are re-thinking their behaviour patterns and their values and are evolving their own consciousnesses. The hope for an entirely smooth, linear kind of a transition by little steps is actually fading. We are likely to see some major changes occurring quite suddenly, like we saw in Eastern Europe in 1989 and 1990 when all of sudden that whole, so called second world just disappeared, practically from one day to the next. We are likely to see major changes which are unforeseen even just the day before. But at the same time I think the preparedness of people is increasing. More and more people are coming on to wavelengths where they realise that a strongly non linear, a strongly qualitative kind of a change process is ahead of us. And especially young people are looking for new ways of being and of doing things and are ready to take responsibilities. So I think in this sense the desperateness of the situation is at the same time a cause for hope because it is coupled with a greater awareness and a greater willingness to change.


S.T.: Are there definite signs that support this view – signs of a response on the part of those people who are more aware?


Ervin Laszlo: There are some surveys being done in Europe – we still have to do more of them. In America some surveys have been conducted which show that there are over forty million Americans who belong to so called integral cultures – a term used to describe organisations or groups of people who are adopting an entirely different lifestyle and consumption pattern, and trying to live in a more sustainable way, a more modest way. Voluntary simplicity is another term used in this connection. So it appears that there are more people than one would think who are already attempting to change. The greatest need, and at the same time the greatest lack, is communication between these people. They are a bit lost. These people think that they are very few in number, think that yes, we are, or I am, willing to change but that few people in other parts of the world, or even in my country, are willing to do that. Yet this is not true. So I think joining these people together, finding a common platform for them, establishing communications between them, would be a very important activity.


S.T.: In conclusion, the message then is: work hard and look to the future with enthusiasm. Is that right?


Ervin Laszlo: That’s right. With hope but with the acceptance of responsibility. Not only asking for your own rights but accepting responsibility for yourself, for other people in this world, for nature, and even for future generations.


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