The necessity of universal human duties
The reason for granting rights to human beings – being endowed with reason and conscience – is every bit as relevant for demanding duties from them. And yet, in 1948 the United Nations, the new association of nation-states, refrained from doing so because of that tangle mentioned above. Looking back, it may be understandable that Mankind was not ready yet for this move. But now, some 70 years later, the conditions for introducing universal duties are better.
Thanks to the rapidly growing interconnectivity of the Earth’s inhabitants (the internet) the strong loyalty structures that hold together so many of their communities, such as nation states, ethnic groups, followers of certain religions and other beliefs, and cultural traditions, etc. etc., are slowly but inexorably losing their binding strength, to give way to universality.
But a stronger argument now also speaks for universal duties: Mankind’s guardian role.
The role of the species homo sapiens
The great process of evolution appears to favour homo sapiens. (See “The Gap” by Thomas Suddendorf, Basic Books 2013). Homo sapiens has outrun all other species on Earth in its capabilities
— to look back in time and learn lessons from its previous actions
— to look around and assess present-day needs and wishes
— to look ahead and imagine projects that could enhance the quality of Life.
These capabilities of homo sapiens designate it as unique, and therefore as the logical entity to assume the role of Guardian of planet Earth and its Life. To some people this deduction could seem a little rash, but some reflection will convince any reader that logic and common sense can lead to no other conclusion. It is Mankind, the collectivity of human beings on planet Earth (by now some 7 ½ billion) that must shoulder the task of being the guardian of planet Earth and its Life.
Inspiration from a photograph
Mankind’s guardian role cannot better be illustrated than with the Earthrise photo shown on this page. That blue jewel is still the only known object in the Universe where human life is possible. Joining this website’s project for developing a list of human duties will enable people to say, with some pride, “That planet is my responsibility”.
What is the scope of this guardian duty?
This is a matter for the Earth’s humans themselves to determine. To a certain extent this happened with the adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Mankind’s guardianship can only be complete when human duties also are codified. This is a complex and demanding task that will require people’s collaboration from all over the world.
This website will approach the subject cautiously by sketching the ‘fields’ where Mankind must extend its guardianship responsibility:
• the body and mind of humans, of whom self-control is required;
• the relationships between human beings;
• Mankind’s habitat, planet Earth, in combination with
• its relationship with other forms of Life;
• the observable cosmos, where Mankind already is busy harnessing the Sun’s energy that reaches the Earth.
In all these fields humans deploy their activities, beneficial or detrimental. The question is how we can ensure that their actions are – wholly or largely – beneficial. The reply to this question is obvious: providing guidance for the decisions (choices) that people make to trigger their actions.
How to arrange the decision-making process
First and foremost is: agreement on a common goal to be kept in mind when drawing up guidelines for people’s decisions (choices). Presumably nobody will disagree with this objective being described as –
realizing a situation for Mankind that is: just and orderly, peaceful and productive, and harmonious.
Next comes the difficult part: discussing the merits of proposed duties and establish agreement when that is reached eventually. At this point the duty can be added to the list of duties that is to become the counterbalance of the list of rights in the UDHR.
At some time in the future the planet’s people could decide to merge the list of rights into the list of duties, thereby signalling that maintaining the rights is Mankind’s duty. Ultimately
this could result in the creation of a huge site on the internet, HUMANITY’S CONSCIENCE, that stands for a solid, man-made, modern treasure-chest of wisdom that can be consulted by anyone facing a moral decision, a choice between right and wrong.
It always remains possible that people are not prepared to heed the guidelines offered, for whatever reason, even though these are the product of the collectivity they belong to. In those cases such people should be reminded that they belong to the unique human species, that once coined the phrase NOBLESSE OBLIGE.