There comes a time in the life of every society when it compares its performance to its ideals. For America the sixties were such a time. For the Soviet Union, the eighties are such a time. The Soviet Union has begun the task of bringing its practice — domestic and international — more into line with the ideals professed in its constitution. The gap between ideals and practice had reached the point in Soviet society where the drain on human energy was prohibitive. The new politics of glusnost and perestroika are aimed at closing that gap. Failure to make these reforms would doom the Soviet Union, and would be most ominous for the entire world. They cannot fail and the Soviet Union live, any more than America could have failed in its self-confrontation of some two decades ago and remained viable.
Sometime in the first decade of the new millennium the world, at last drawn into a still tentative but unitary sense of itself, will probably begin examining its performance and the condition of its family of peoples. For better or worse, performance will be measured against the values — political, social, and economic — of the part of the world that is then economically developed. Both the guarantees of human rights, championed by Western democracies, and the more egalitarian welfare societies championed by Communist countries and the Scandinavian states will have a place in the emerging consensus on values for citizens of the world. Some of the better-off nations, responding to unignorable demands of the poorer ones, will commit themselves to raising the living standards of the less developed societies, so they too become part of a single, developed world. This coalition of rich and poor will be reminiscent of that between white liberals and blacks in America during the sixties. Such alliances are rare, but when the time is right, they are invincible because their fight is for the survival of the whole.
As the former British Prime Minister Harold McMillan said, "War puts everyone on the same side." It creates a bond among the people who fight together, overcoming internal divisions. A cause that put everyone on the same side and so melded the various' peoples of the world into a global community would mark a turning point in human social evolution. For maximum impact, the common task must be such that the prospect of failure places people's present identities at risk. The momentous stock-taking that approaches around the turn of the century, and the urgent tasks of personal and societal transformation that it will at first suggest, and then demand, will create such a situation on a global scale — much as earlier, national stock-takings did in America and the Soviet Union.
Looking to that day, I have prepared a personal and partial list of some of the world's unfinished business. Pushing the many interrelated projects towards completion will summon the attention and energy of millions of people. If the Soviet Union gets through its own list before the turn of the century, it should be possible to tackle a world list in earnest soon thereafter.
The idea is that making a list of such projects helps to plant the idea that we can do everything on the list. This list of "things to do" is a project of projects. The meta-project is instilling the realizations that:
• The dozens of tasks clamoring for attention are not hopeless. They will all yield to planning and effort.
• Many of these tasks are interrelated — they can only be accomplished together.
• Bringing them into focus, educating ourselves about them, and tracking them doggedly is essential to getting them done.
If the list is constructed properly, the mere fact of putting a task on a list carries the suggestion that it can be done. Imagine highway billboards, each listing a number of "things to do," such as:
End World Hunger
Secure Human Rights
A Home for Everyone
A Job for Everyone
End the Iraq/Iran War
Peace in Central America
Solve the Irish troubles
Settle Mid-East Conflict
End War in Angola
End War in Mozambique
Independence for Namibia
Peace in Southeast Asia
Resolve Falklands/ Malvinas Dispute
These lists are only suggestive. The phrasing of each task must be exactly right or the power of listing it is squandered. Some lists, like the second above, may be more symptomatic, whereas others, such as those on the first list, call for shifts in self-models. The shift from hunger and starvation as conditions that, though they may be ameliorated will always be with us, to hunger and starvation as conditions that can be ended, is a shift in our self-model of a fundamental sort. It amounts to a profound re-configuration in what human beings take for granted about their mutual relationships, and about their behavior towards one another. Other examples of comparable revolutionary import are the abolition of slavery, the spread of literacy, the extension of human rights, and the ending of torture; and the jackpot question, which now confronts us, the transcendence of war.
The important thing is to create the feeling that the items on the list are do-able and that lists must be monitored and "worked" regularly. As tasks are completed, a check mark goes up in front of that item and everyone takes credit. One or two items that have already been checked off — like smallpox — might be included in each listing to convey the idea. Placing such tasks on a list represents a shift in what it is we take responsibility for and what we see ourselves as capable of doing.
Recall your everyday lists and how entering items and subsequently "working the list" accomplishes the miracle of getting things done. Why not a list of humankind's unfinished business? Each task on such a list must be "finite" in character. Items like "ending suffering" are unsuitable because suffering in general is endemic. Any particular type of suffering, however, can be eliminated eventually once it is properly identified. This may take us millennia (hunger), centuries (smallpox), decades (Vietnam War), or minutes (headache). Imagine different lists of things that might be do-able in one year, ten years, a generation, a lifetime, and a century — all up on billboards in different parts of the world.