Dr. Muller, you are the Chancellor for the University of Peace, which was created by the United Nations. Who would you award a Peace Prize to for the past five centuries?
Oh my, that is quite a question. Perhaps someone like H.G. Wells, who died desperate because nobody had listened to him. As a philosopher he wanted a completely new world, a demilitarized world, and he had an effect. When the future President of Costa Rica, Jose Figueres was a student in Boston, he developed a great admiration for H.G. Wells. When he returned to Costa Rica, he found a dictator in place, so he started an insurrection army to recover the country. In 1948, he became President. At that moment he remembered his admiration for H.G. Wells and he said, "I now can do what H.G. Wells has proposed, I can demilitarize my own country." So he demilitarized his own people and he liberated the army which he had imprisoned.
Since 1949, Costa Rica has been a totally demilitarized country. It is the most prosperous and most peaceful country in Central America and it is now the model for the demilitarization of other countries. So here you have a philosopher who thought he had no effect and was heard by one person. There are today seventeen demilitarized countries on this planet and many others are beginning to reduce their military forces. At the University for Peace, the foreign ministers are meeting with the military and we have proposed to them the demilitarization of the entire Central America and the creation of a Global Peace Force among the Central American countries. So here is an example of a philosopher who had begun something which might have very far reaching effects.
I am personally proposing the replacement of all the military by peace protectors from the top to the bottom. Police and military should become a new function of government, a branch of government who would be peace protectors. They would look less violent. International wars have very much subsided. If I ask a head of state, would you be glorious by winning a war, they look at me as if I was an idiot. And if I ask them, would you become famous by being a peacemaker, they smile. So the whole thing has changed since the Caesars, Napoleons and so on. They no longer think of invading another country and they prefer to be known as peacemakers.
In the last ten years we have had 82 conflicts on this planet, and only three were international. 79 were internal conflicts. For 50 years we didn't have a world war. When I came out of France in 1949 to join the UN I was almost convinced that in 20 years we would have another world war, because if the French and the Germans couldn't get along - they had three wars in my Grandfather's time - how could I expect Chinese, Russians, Americans, Blacks, Whites - it was impossible. As a young man I was sure that this would blow up because there would be thousands of opportunities and it has not happened. We have come to the point where international conflicts are no longer of a military nature. Even the confrontation between communism and capitalism is over. Apartheid in South Africa is disappearing. Even in the Middle East they want to make peace.
Now our main effort should be internal conflict. The UN is being asked to go inside nations like Bosnia and Somalia. I have proposed that we should now look at the problem of violence, because we are violent in the families, we are violent in the cities, we have racial violence. Humanity should coalesce in order to find an answer to the problem of violence in society worldwide. Violence between nations is pretty limited. You have almost immediate intervention by the Security Council. So here is one man, H.G. Wells, for whom I have a great admiration.
On the philosophical side I would have probably my greatest admiration for a Jesuit, Father Teilhard de Chardin, a French paleontologist who gave us a forward look into the whole evolution of humankind and who predicted that we will move from material achievement and intellectual achievement to spiritual achievement. I'm absolutely convinced that this is the case. Our conquest of matter has been incredible. Our knowledge goes from the infinitely large to the infinitely small, while 500 years ago we didn't even know that the world was round. So mentally, physically, the inter-dependence of nations, trade, interchanges of people, this is really a great conquest of humanity.
We have not yet been able, but it's coming pretty fast, to develop our sentimental community. In other words, to feel for all human beings and all living beings. The first page of this was the sentimental feeling, the burst of heart, for nature itself. What is missing is the birth to the human species of a global soul. We are becoming one. Each human being is a cell of a totality. We have global feelings, we have a nervous system through the communications which we have every day. What happens in one place on the Earth is known everywhere else. So, we have a common body, we have a common brain, we have a common nervous system. What is still to be developed in this evolution is a common heart and then above anything else a common spirit, namely to understand our communion and our role in the universe.
Until 1951, we didn't even know how many people lived on this planet. The last census was taken by the Romans at the time of Jesus Christ. He was born in Bethlehem because the Romans had the people go back to the villages to count them. When I joined the United Nations, nobody knew what the world population was. We had a team of French demographers estimate a first population figure of 2.5 billion people. About the same time, The World Health Organization, UNICEF, everybody rushed to the poor countries saying we cannot let those children die. But nobody knew the population of these countries. We didn't tell the mothers that they didn't need six or eight children because now they will survive. The fertility for women has always decreased slowly, but children stopped dying. We went from an infant mortality rate of 34 per thousand to 14 per thousand. As a result more children survive. We didn't tell the mothers because we didn't know that they didn't need to have so many children. We discovered in the late 50's that we had a major problem on our hands, namely that these children were creating a new generation which would be highly reproductive. As a result, today we have 6.8 billion people. The good thing is that once the figures were found out and we warned the world that there was a population problem, we began to have results. The Pope and the Catholic countries didn't want to hear of it for quite a number of years. That was contrary to their philosophy. But governments listened and established population policies. The first projection for the year 2000 was that we would be 7.3 billion people. Now it's down to 6.1 billion as governments recommend that the people reduce the number of children. This is global problem which has emerged out of ignorance.
Now we know our planet. We have statistics on anything you can imagine. When I joined the UN we had only statistics for the rich countries and their colonies; for the rest, almost nothing. From 1946 to 1968, the United Nations efforts were exclusively geared at more for humansincreased longevity, stop the children from dying, increase the well-being of everybody, defend human rights, decrease violence, decrease war. It was the most incredible humanistic page of history. And then in 1968 the Swedes came to me and said, "Something is going wrong. We have acid rain. We have to look into this." I will never forget the visit I had by the Swedish ambassador. He said, "Mr. Muller, we held a UNESCO conference on the biosphere and no head of state came." I said to him, "I'm not surprised. Nobody knows what the biosphere is. You should have had a better word." And then he asked me, "Can the UN do something? UNESCO was not successful."
So I told him the only thing we could offer him was a drum, which is a world conference. At a world conference, everybody participates. This is how the first World Conference on the Environment was born. We rejected the word biosphere. I would have preferred pollution, which was better understood by the public, but the others wanted environment. When the first World Conference on the Environment met in Stockholm, I was deeply involved in it. There was not a single minister of the environment on this entire planet. There were only two cities where they measured air quality, Rio de Janeiro and one other. Overnight it mushroomed and today there is not a single country on Earth which does not have a ministry of the environment. This is an example of how the human species went in the wrong direction for lack of knowledge. We have, in the meantime, destroyed I don't know how many species and incredible resources of nature, just out of ignorance because we thought it was fine. In order to recuperate and to find the right harmony between the human species and the planet it takes years, and the pendulum continues to go on. World population continues to growno longer at the rate of 4 or 5 percent. In the rich countries it's almost zero percent, but in the poor countries it's still around three percent.
Every day we continue to destroy the environment. By the year 2025 we are going to have a planet of old people. If a young person wants to study medicine, I would advise them to study gerontology. We are going to be a planet of old people. All these young people in the poor countries are going to be over 60 years old. At the beginning of our statistics, they lived only 40 years. They have increased their longevity by 20 and in the rich countries we have an average of 76. We are warning governments, with two World Conferences on Aging, that you have to think at least until the year 2025.
There are very few governments who think into the future. I'm recommending that every government should have a Ministry of the Future. The children who are born today are going to live 76 years. I think government has a responsibility to have an idea of how the world will be in 76 years. When you look around to find a government who has an idea of the future, the only one is Japan. The Japanese are thinking in the very long term. Otherwise, to think into the future is a novelty. It should become a normal feature of government.
Do you think it's just a coincidence that the only country that has a policy for the future is the one country that has suffered the explosion of a nuclear bomb?
Yes, I think that this has impressed them very much and it continues. Japan is a demilitarized country. They have never re-militarized themselves. They have become one of the economic powers of the world. They are long-term thinkers in political matters, but not in spiritual matters.
Do you see where we can improve the system for the dissemination of knowledge in order to speed up our progress globally?
First let me say that your conference attracted me very much because you put in the concept not only of wholism, but also on the need to accelerate. I think that your conference has put the finger on something very important. We must do this faster. If we don't do it faster we're going to lose more nature, more species, and we will be more in trouble.
The knowledge of a child today in school is excellent from the scientific point of view. They're being well prepared to be active in the society of tomorrow, but it is basically a national education. You learn all the rivers of your country but you don't have to know so much about the rivers of other countries. I have been preaching for a global education. I even got the UNESCO prize as the father of global education. We should teach the child that the entire planet is its home and the entire human family is its family. In France, I was never told the history of the city where I lived. It was France, France, France, France. Never a word about the history where my roots were. This is not correct. I think we have to give a child of its total place in the universe, on this planet, on the continent, in the nation, down to where he lives. Then the child can make a decision. If I do this do this, will that to be right for my local community, or is it going to be harmful to nation? Is it going to be harmful to the world? This is the new education which is necessary. You have more and more classes on the planetary condition, but what is not yet done is to give the child first the planet and then the nation. Now we give the nation first and the planet comes during the last few years and usually they do not have time. In France, when we came to world history, we had no time.
It was French history, French geography, French literature. Everything had to be French. You were trained to become part of French society.
Today, you become part of the world society. You work in a multi-national corporation, you go abroad. Global education is an absolute necessary. It is even more necessary for the leaders of nations. Every head of state on this planet is a global illiterate. UNESCO has established a world commission, headed by the president of the European Community, to ask the question, "What kind of education should we have in the next century?" I was wrongly educated by the French, I was wrongly educated by the Germans, and I was wrongly educated by the Americans. The only right global world-wide human education I've received is in the United Nations. This is why you have a great interest in what is happening in terms of education at the United Nations.
What role do you see the computer playing in the education of the people of the world?
Computerization is simply and wonderfully the extension of the human brain. We have been able to create machines for our hands, transportation for our legs, television and astronomic tubes and microscopes and atomic bubble chambers that go inside the atom and go into the universe. The human species is experiencing a tremendous expansion in every direction. We can hear a voice on the other side of the planet. So the next great step is the extension of our brain. So we are now constituting a world brain which functions in terms of information as it has never happened before in forecasting for the future. The brain has always been the instrument that tells us of danger and makes us think ahead. We have now a global brain. This is very very important for the human species. I'm proposing to the United Nations that we should have a global brain in the form of the biggest computers on Earth so that when a manufacturer tells me, "I have invented this. It's not going to have an effect on the environment." And then, environmentalists say, "No, you're wrong. It's going to have an awful effect." You put this into this global brain and the global brain will tell you what the result will be. Now I hope that someday we will put together a giant worldwide computer to do this because we are still very sentimentally involved.
What is missing from this picture?
The extension of the human person into a global species. What we are witnessing is the birth of a global species. This is a wonderful story. We still have not developed a global heart and a global soul. A global heart is that we must love nature, love our tremendous journey in the universe. There is no place for hatred, for killing, for diminishing in all this. We are to become one human species where the cells interact correctly, and they do not yet interact correctly. We also need a global soul. You have to live on a daily basis connected with the entire universe, connected to the entire infinity, while living your day. We need to have a total view of the universe and a total view of time. Once we do this, things will fall into place.
One man who did it was Teilhard de Chardin. He came out with a very positive and optimistic view of the future because he had studied all evolution and then he saw the human species as being the most evolved of the species. He said that we will go into a spiritual dimension, which is still missing. The Parliament of World Religions, which met in Chicago in 1992, has begun to lay the first foundations. In school you should be taught about your place in the universe and in time because now we know it. Before, it was only the great visionaries. Science and our knowledge of the planet are going to converge and this is what Teilhard de Chardin did by showing that there was a convergence of our knowledge of the universe with what the great seers of the religions all knew. So we will get into a spiritual phase of our evolution. So this is very exciting!
How do you organize your information about the world?
Well, that's an interesting question. My great advantage in the United Nations is that I was there for 40 years and I've always moved to the new fields. I worked with three Secretary Generals. I worked with NATO for a number of years. I worked in the total UN system, which means 32 specialized agenciesthe World Health Organization, the Labor Organization, the agricultural organization, the International Bank. When you have full cabinet meetings at the world level every year, you have to expand your brain, so I got tremendously expanded by my daily work. I had to jump from one world problem to another, from an outer space conference to a conference on the family. This was my best education. It was also very mind boggling and complex. The human species has discovered so much in the last century that we are lost in the complexities. At this conference you have Anthony Judge, of the Union of International Associations, of which I am an advisor. Years ago, I recommended to them that they should make a list of world problems. They came up with 14,000 world problems. This is the complexity in which I had to live in the UN.
I was lucky. As a Frenchman I was taught Cartesian logic. I was able to put order in it by classifying everything in the following categories:
One - our knowledge of the universe, from the infinetly large to the infinetly small, and of our planetary home.
Two - Our knowledge of the human family, from the totality of humanity to its subdivisions into nations, into races, into religions, down to the family and to the individual.
Three is timefrom the infine past to the future. The universe might be of infinite duration; we do not know. Our planet is four and a half billion years old and it still has 8 billion years to go, according to the astrophysicists. You go down until you come to the human being, which now has a longevity of 76 years in rich countries and 60 in the poor, and you go down to an atomic sub-particle which lasts a millionth of a second.
Four is the human person. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
This is what's being taught in the Robert Muller schools from the first day to put order into what we have learned. Maybe tomorrow, these classifications will change. It occurs to me that the separation of our place in the universe and humanity is beginning to be considered wrong. In the UN, until 1968 when the environmental problem came up, the only concern was humanity. I'm unhappy that Stephen Schneider, the Stanford climatologist, didn't come. We had correspondence on this many years ago. He's the first one that warned us at the UN about impending climate changes and we convened the first world climate conference at his suggestion. Since the climate change and since the environmental concern has increased, and since AIDS or the breakdown of the immune system of the human body has appeared, now we have come to the conclusion that it's not humanity and the planet. It is the planet that comes first. So we are beginning to enter an age where concern for the planet is greater than for humanity. This is going to bring about a revolution in thinking, namely that it was wrong to consider ourselves as being outside of nature. We are part of nature. We come out of the Earth. We are water, we are body, we are part of the cosmological forces of this planet, and we return to nature. To consider nature as distant from us is an error. We must consider ourselves as being a natural product of the evolution of this planet.
I'm very happy to be invited to the Big Picture Summit because you have put your finger on two very important things. We must always consider the whole, while considering the details. And this has to be accelerated. Knowledge of the global condition should be taught in schools right from the first class. We have to transform education so that the nation is no longer number one. The nation is a contributing part of humanity and of this planet. I think this is the great revolution which we see now as we go into the next millenium.
The La Casa Invitational is structured on this premise: if we can find the question that no one else is addressing and we can bring together 100 diverse people, they can always find an answer to that question. It's finding the question that's the hard part. We're all involved in our activities and these questions somehow escape our notice. If you could spend three days here at La Casa de Maria with any one hundred people in the world, and you could ask them any question, and assuming that they would come up with the answer, what would your question be?
I would have two questions. The meaning of life and the meaning of death. What is the meaning? Why are we alive? And why do we die? Those two very fundamental questions have been answered by the religions, there are all kinds of theories, but I think that the time has come where we should really sit down and even have a world conference. I have proposed it but nobody listens as yet. Someday they will. What is the meaning? Why are we here? What is the meaning of it all? And why do we then suddenly disappear? We may be a unique fact in the universe. The great prophets have always understood this.
I have observed Secretaries General, especially Hammarskjold, who was one of the most intellegent ones. They have all become spiritual people and mystics. It happens when we live in a place like the United Nations. It happened to me too. I rediscovered the religion of my youth when I was about 40 years old. Because one day, when we deal with every problem on Earth, and we get everything in the UN, we have to jump from one to the other, one day we wake up and we say, "What does it really mean?" That's a question that Hammarskjold asked himself. It's a question that U Thant asked himself. From the moment when we say, "What is the meaning of all this? It must have a meaning, it cannot be stupid, it cannot be an accident. What is this force that puts us into a direction which we still see very badly? This is then when you become a spiritual person. It doesn't finish at death. There must be something beyond this where we all contribute to a better knowledge of our planet. What I say to you has an effect on others; what you say to me has an effect. This is an incredible building of not only a global brain but also of the global soul. To be alive on such a planet is something incredible. The UN has put me to a point that sometimes when I think of the beauty of life I begin to cry, which no university, no schools have taught me. And here is what we ought to teach the children, teach that we are a miracle and you do not hurt another mircale. And nature is a miracle, so you do not hurt nature.
The La Casa Board of Directors meets this evening and perhaps they'll be willing to consider doing the La Casa Invitational again next year. Would you consider being the host in order to ask the question, "What is the meaning of life and what is the meaning of death?"
I would be very happy if you did something like that. This meeting is a wonderful first attempt to get the whole picture, which is more and more accepted worldwide. Secondly, the acceleration is not yet in the minds of people; we must accelerate. This is why your conference is very important. I believe that until the year 2000, you should continue the process. This is only a beginning and this is a very exciting beginning. I would recommend also that you issue a report as a contribution to the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. They're politicians, you know, so they have to expand their vision and this would be extremely useful.
Can I take it that you answer is yes?
I believe that this would be very exciting, yes. I think that nobody has really dared to that. That would be an incredible excercise! What is the meaning of life and the meaning of death?
Ed. note: La Casa de Maria presented "A Matter of Life & Death" in 1995 hosted by Robert Muller and produced by Douglas Gillies. One of the volunteer facilitators, Harvey Bottlesen, later founded the Santa Barbara Alliance for Living & Dying Well. Douglas Gillies, who facilitated the formative meetings of the Alliance, then released 101 Cool Ways to Die in April, 2009.
Back to Interview List