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2021 Peace Proposal (Part 5 of 13 Segments)

Posted on April 4, 2022 at 3:30 PM

 

Value Creation in a Time of Crisis



 Daisaku Ikeda, President,Soka Gakkai International

 

 January 26, 2021

 

In a similar manner, we may ask what future historians looking back on the first half of the twenty-first century will choose as salient events seen in this kind of time-perspective. One of these may be the entry into force of the TPNW—realized against the backdrop of a deepening COVID-19 crisis—as an event spurring a paradigm shift in approaches to security. And I would strongly hope that another would be the history inscribed by the efforts of international society to promote vaccination on a global scale under the auspices of the COVAX facility.

  

While the threat posed by the pandemic is indeed grave, I believe that if we muster the limitless human capacity to break through impasses and become the authors of a new history, we will be certain to overcome it. Our shared efforts to respond to the pandemic can serve as a foundation for generating global awareness of the essential role of human solidarity in transforming crises. This can, in turn, shift the trajectory of human history, enabling us to break free from the tragedy of national security approaches that are rooted in, and perpetuate, conflict.

  

Constructing a culture of human rights

  

The third thematic area I would like to explore is the need to counteract the spread of misinformation regarding the novel coronavirus, particularly with regard to the effect such misinformation can have in fueling discrimination against those who have been infected. This must be part of the effort to construct a culture of human rights in which no one’s dignity is denied.

  

Among the literary works that have garnered renewed attention since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is Daniel Defoe’s (c. 1660–1731) A Journal of the Plague Year. Set in seventeenth-century London, the work portrays citizens’ loss of reason and self-control under the influence of demagogic rhetoric that incites fear, confusion and insecurity. Since ancient times and most recently with HIV/AIDS, human history has seen repeated incidents of discrimination against those suffering from infectious diseases. Outbreaks of irrational fear have again and again caused sharp divisions and disruption that have left deep scars in society.

  

Contagious diseases differ from conditions such as cancer or heart disease in that we are always alert to the danger of contracting them from other people. This raises the risk that fear of the pathogen will translate into wariness or fear of others. Such feelings are especially problematic when they escalate in ways that compound the suffering of those who have been infected and their families, or when the mood in society becomes one of blaming the spread of infection on people or groups already subject to discrimination and prejudice. Today, there is the additional concern that misinformation or incitement related to infectious diseases can be instantly propagated through social media.

 

 As guidelines for mitigation continue to evolve and the pandemic has an increasingly intense impact on our lives, people look beyond newspapers and other traditional media in order to sate their hunger for information. This has exposed many people to unreliable information from unknown or unconfirmed sources. This virtual information space is often home to malicious forms of discourse that prey on people’s sense of unease in order to incite social disruption or to direct hatred toward certain people or groups.

  

The unchecked spread of misinformation or incitement, often referred to by the neologism “infodemic,” can intensify discrimination and prejudice, eroding the very foundations of human society. This is another kind of pandemic, one that parallels the spread of the actual disease. The UN has urged strong caution in this regard, and in May last year launched the “Verified” initiative to combat the spread of inaccurate or malicious information about COVID-19. The UN works with multiple media outlets to disseminate information whose accuracy has been confirmed by its own experts as well as other scientists and specialists. The initiative calls for the participation of “information volunteers” throughout the world, who will actively share reliable content as a means of keeping their families and communities safe and connected.

  

The dangers arising from failure to thoroughly expose errors by challenging falsehoods and misinformation are not limited to the resulting dearth of correct information and knowledge. Of even graver concern is the risk that existing discrimination and prejudice will interact with fears of infection to spur runaway suspicion that deepens the fractures within society and undermines the human rights and dignity that must be protected for all people.

  

Addressing the question of human rights and contagious disease, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet noted the following in a statement issued on March 6, 2020, five days before WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic: “Human dignity and rights need to be front and centre in that effort, not an afterthought.” [28]

  

In September, discussing the approaches that are indispensable to our efforts to overcome the COVID-19 crisis, the High Commissioner stressed the following:

  

We have witnessed the ways in which deeply entrenched inequalities and human rights gaps fuel this virus—magnifying contagion and vastly accelerating its threat. What we need to see today is action to repair those gaps and heal those deep wounds, both in and between our societies. [29]

  

The structural nature of what the High Commissioner refers to as deeply entrenched inequalities and human rights gaps has tended to obscure the resulting deep wounds. I believe the COVID-19 crisis has brought to the surface discriminatory attitudes already held by people in a semiconscious manner. As the pandemic has worsened, there is concern about the heightened risk that people, influenced by hate-filled discourse, will seek targets on whom to vent their pain and frustration.

  

Everyone, regardless of geographic or occupational differences and distinctions of ethnicity or faith, is exposed to the risk of infection with COVID-19. Despite the fact that this is clearly a challenge we must confront and overcome together, we see social fragmentation that exacerbates the threat. What are the underlying factors driving this?

  

In considering this question, I would like to reference the analysis of the nature of discrimination by the American philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum in her book Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law. Nussbaum argues that the act of drawing boundaries within society is rooted in our feelings of disgust for those others we consider evil and our attempt to distance ourselves from them. She summarizes her point in this way: In seeking the comfort of distancing ourselves from evil, we call disgust to our aid.

  

Although Nussbaum is focused here on ways of thinking that seek to tie evil acts to specific groups, assuming that these bear no relation to us, I believe there are structural similarities between such thinking and the kinds of disruption and discrimination that an outbreak of infectious disease can provoke.

 

 In this same work, Nussbaum notes the many examples of medical terminology such as bacilli (bacteria) being enlisted to direct disgust at certain groups, justifying their denigration or oppression. [30]

  

At the root of discrimination is the feeling that the members of one’s own group are the most just and valuable of all. When society confronts a crisis situation, there is a strong impulse to prioritize the members of one’s own group. This interacts with feelings of distaste for others, causing people to seek security by cutting off contact with those seen as different from themselves.

  

Nussbaum warns that this feeling of disgust “imputes to the object properties that make it no longer a member of the subject’s own community or world, a kind of alien species of thing” [31] and further argues that “when it conduces to the political subordination and marginalization of vulnerable groups and people, disgust is a dangerous social sentiment.” [32]

  

At the same time, Nussbaum assigns importance to indignation as an emotion that supports democratic society. “Indignation has a constructive function: it says, ‘these people have been wronged, and they should not have been wronged.’ In itself, it provides incentives to right the wrong.” [33] In this sense, while the experience of difficulty and precariousness of life can become the cause for an intensification of discriminatory consciousness and bears the risk of deepening divisions in society, it also has the potential to give rise to constructive action toward the realization of a society of creative coexistence.

  

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, making its presence felt in virtually every sector of society, large numbers of people are finding themselves more attuned to and affected by the pain of those whose lives and dignity are being denied, perhaps with an intensity they have not previously experienced. We must be careful not to allow our own sense of claustrophobic despair to seek outlet in feelings of disgust for others. Rather, it is vital that we use it to empathize with others—to extend our thoughts to the difficulty and precariousness others are experiencing—and from there, to direct our energies into expanding solidarity with those engaged in constructive action to change the harsh realities of society.

  

Of course, it is only natural that we would regard our own lives as the most precious of all. This reality is embraced in the approach to human rights expounded by the Buddhist teachings practiced by members of the SGI.

  

For example, we have the following account drawn from the life and teachings of Shakyamuni. On one occasion, while in conversation, the king and queen of the ancient Indian kingdom of Kosala came to realize that they each held no one more dear than themselves. Upon hearing this honest feeling, Shakyamuni responded with the following verse:

  

Having traversed all quarters with the mind,
One finds none anywhere dearer than oneself.
Likewise, each person holds himself most dear;
Hence one who loves himself should not harm others.
 [34]

  

In other words, if you regard your own life to be precious and irreplaceable, then you should grasp the fact that each person must also feel that way; making this realization the basis for how you conduct your life, you should resolve never to act in ways that will cause harm to others.

 

Categories: 2021 Peace Proposal, Daisaku Ikeda, Quantum Energy Healing Therapy

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Peace Proposal 2021 PDF (34 pages)