Global Resources and Challenges for 2016


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

22 Jan 2016 – The new calendar year is upon us . . . in every sense of the word! We use the New Year as an opportunity for renewal — a chance for a fresh start. We leave behind the accumulate residue of the past year, and respond now with a blank slate of possibilities — an imagined vision of what could be . . . “If only.” Yes, it is the “If only,” constraining us and inspiring us. I once wrote a wisdom bite:

“If!” “A two-letter word; simple in sound; profound in consequence.”

So here we are! Wanting a new start, but recognizing we have much unfinished business from last year. There is wisdom in knowing the challenges we face, for life is never free of them. It is also useful to know the resources available, even if they may be inadequate to the task. The dynamics of challenges-resources relations represent the reality! There will always be tradeoffs and compromises. They cannot be ignored. So, in my opinion, what does 2016 look like from the challenges-resources perspectives?

Reasons for Fear . . . Reasons for Hope

In my opinion, there are reasons for fear, and reasons for hope. Has it ever been anything different? Hasn’t history shown us each age was filled with its challenges and resources? Yes, this is true. But what is different this year – 2016 – is the “global stage” in which the challenges and resources are being tested and contested. It is clear to me we are unable to grasp the “global” level of events and forces. We are unprepared for the magnitude of stage!

The problem is our resources, those things we have reflexively, conventionally, and traditionally relied upon (i.e., political, economic, cultural, military) are inadequate in the face of our challenges. But is it their applications or their power? Is there not something powerful in our resources? Does the problem reside in the characteristics of their application or implementation (e.g., organization, collective coordination and arrangement, simultaneity, accountability, financial and moral support)?

There is something noble and inspirational about the willingness to assert human dignity and environmental respect in our resources. There is something noble about joining causes to bring positive changes. This may be the most important thing! It is hard to speak of the nobility of the human spirit when we consider the widespread abuses and insults humans have engendered. Humans, individually and collectively, have assaulted the Earth, its people, and its varied life forms for profit. How tragic! Only a recognition humans are part of life, not the masters of life, may help life survive. Perhaps there is hope in an emerging collective consciousness of our condition.

The world is now in an Anthropocene Epoch/Age. The destructive toll of individual and collective human life has become apparent. It must be hoped awareness and consciousness of this Epoch/Age will mobilize human efforts after recovery and preservation. This will not be easy! It will, however, not be impossible!

Toleration and acceptance of wealth, power, position, and person among a few individuals, groups, and nations, constitutes a major source of the challenges we face. Empowering a few, because of their privileged status, provides protection from conventional societal constraints on abuses and excesses. They are able to escape or elude laws, regulations, accountability, and transparency, using their privileged position. They become the law unto themselves as witnessed in the widespread global economic, political, and social crises of the past few decades.

The question must be asked, however, whether or not we have empowered those in power and position by accepting their values, life styles, and pernicious products, and by yielding to the limited menu of choices they offer?

The ancient mythical temptations of Biblical lore, symbolized in an “apple,” have morphed into products now accepted as essential for human comfort and survival. Ahh, if only plastics alone were our foe! Humanity has been seduced by the spurious comforts of materialism, consumerism, hedonism, and by a soporific interest in celebrity lives. The answers cannot be found there! A world stage of marginalized and exploited humans is now challenging and contesting the privileged, and their “sacrosanct” position of influence. Will the challenges be met?

If ever there was a time for citizen action for peace, justice, sustainability, caring and compassion – it is now! If ever there was a time for creative and imaginative ideas, products, and collective actions to reduce the human burden on Earth, it is now. If ever there was a time to grasp the sheer magnificence of the beauty before us being lost, it is now! Sacrifices appeasing greed and mammon abound, and their consequences threaten life.

The task for each of us, and for the groups, organizations, and nations to which we belong — families, churches/temples, schools, clubs, workplaces, societies — is to understand the unfolding events before us. These are not abstractions, distant from our daily personal lives, but visible events and forces shaping the moment, and casting the future into shadow times.

A new global ethos needed! A set of assumptions, beliefs, and practices — a code, a mantra, a guide for living! Existing guides are proving insufficient (e.g., Ten Commandments, “Golden Rules,” Code of Hammurabi, Justinian Code, Nation Constitutions). They are noble in intent. But they do not capture the spectrum of challenges before us, and they have few consequences for violations. Even promises of “Hell” seem powerless. I can imagine some of the wealthiest among individuals, groups, or nations, saying: “Hell!” “I thought we bought that on Wall Street.” Humor aside, we need a moral compass and code?

Perhaps the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the most reasonable guide available for the moment. Human rights involve all of us. Human rights suggest the existence of a legal and moral contract. Perhaps we could add, or make more explicit, animal rights, environmental rights, and “life” rights! Life? Yes, life! We are ignoring the fact we are all part of that amazing force permeating all forms of existence. We ignore this at our peril!

Perhaps the “process” of responding to challenges reminds us of the essence of life itself – a felt force seeking and pursuing, not only survival, but growth, development, and becoming. There is something inherent in all life – a “life force” – a tangible impulse and expression to continue its presence. We need to seek and experience the “life force” in our individual and collective lives. Discovering “life” brings awe, humility, and gratitude.

Reverence for life! Meditate on the timeless and sacred words of Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179 CE):

I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all living sparks. Death hath no part in me, yet I bestow death, wherefore I am girt (girdled) about with wisdom as with wings. I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that glows in the beauty of the fields, and in the shining water, and in the burning sun and the moon and the stars, and in the force of invisible wind, the breath of all living things, I breathe in green grass and in the flowers, and in the living waters. . . . All these live and do not die because I am in them . . . . I am the source of the thundered word by which all creatures were made; I permeate all things that may not die. I am Life!

Charting Global Challenges

Chart 1 offers a graphic display of some of the global challenges we are facing as a global community. It is critical we grasp the interdependency of these challenges. While we too often speak of them separately, and respond to them separately, it is essential we confront them as interdependent because this is the reality of their existence. Each challenge is linked to others in their etiology, manifestations, and consequences. Population growth, poverty, malnutrition, crime, violence, war, and others are part of the same woven tapestry. We cannot resolve any challenge in isolation from others. While multiple interventions may not be possible, this does not mean our thinking, policies, and strategies/tactics should ignore the complex reality. To this end, it is essential we develop cause, intervention, and prevention models embracing new principles relevant to the complex dynamics of change and challenge in our time.

Chart 1: Selected Global Challenges


At some point, it became impossible to add “boxes” for other global challenges. Among the additional challenges we are facing are the following: (1) Urbanization – Cities around the world are facing major problems in the provision of resident services, and the array of social problems in law enforcement, racism, poverty, and so forth; (2) Human Rights Violations – Human rights, as codified in the UDHR, lists a broad range of human rights; (3) Globalization/Hegemonic Globalization-The process and product of trans-border activities, including finances, communication, transportation, military and security alliances. Dominance of these processes and products by select nations constitutes hegemonic control; Rapid Socio-Technical Change – The sheer pace of changes, and their consequences, represent a major global challenge for individuals, societies, and nations.

In the opinion of Nobel Prize physicist, Stephen Hawking, we are engaging vast and complex socio-technological changes impacting our very view of human nature. He argues the changes are exceeding efforts after human mastery, and may constitute a danger regarding unanticipated consequences. Many of the challenges listed in Chart 1, implicitly and explicitly, embody each other, as well as these three challenges. The scope of the global challenges requires a “re-thinking” of our views about global challenges.

Conceptual Principles

In my opinion, thinking about global challenges requires the adoption of certain “principles” of conceptualization and thought. These principles and thought guidelines acknowledge the complex nature of the global challenges. Inherent in these principles is a Galilean assumption of simultaneous interaction, rather than Aristotelian cause-effect views. Why? Because this is the reality we have ignored!

Table 1 lists some of these principles or thought guides. I have advocated these principles from the earliest days of my professional career as a psychologist as I witnessed the “unreality” of simplistic models and theories of human behavior rooted in scientism and loyalty to specific theorists and practices, most generated from Western sources. It is time for a “change!”

The essence of these “principles” and “thought guides” resides in the implications they have for thinking about a problem and its solution. The global challenges embody multivariate forces and events. They are interdependent. We cannot grasp their nature or their consequences by thinking of them with “older lens,” often dictated by unitary concerns like “profit” or “efficiency.” New paradigms and new arbiters needed!

Table 1: Essential Global-Challenge “Principles” and “Thought Guides”

Complexity: Challenges are multilevel, multi-causal, multi-sector, and interactive in their influence.
Proportion: Challenges are global in proportion and consequence.
Systems: Challenges exist in a system of levels and relationships. Biological phenomena implicate social and political phenomena in a reciprocal manner.

Context: Challenges must be considered within contexts of antecedents and consequences. Nothing exists apart from a context in which it is embedded and sustained.

Ecology: Challenges exist in an ecological – reciprocal — relationship of origins, causes, and consequences.
Reductionism: Challenges cannot be endlessly reduced to smaller and smaller levels of understanding and explanation because this ignores context and the role of emergent properties.
Ideology: Challenges are rooted in powerful beliefs embedded in social, political, and economic beliefs, resistant to change.
Participation: Challenges can best be met by promoting participation and cooperation.

Connection: Challenges are rooted in a failure to grasp the connections between and among people, institutions, and life itself. “Connection” refers to an essential linking of attachment and bonding in support of human impulses for compassion and empathy.

Moral Consequences: Challenges have implications for human welfare and wellbeing. This is the critical arbiter. Conceptualizations and actions must prioritize the moral consequence of their decisions.

Charting Global Resources

Chart 2 displays selected global resources. As noted previous, the complex interaction of challenges and resources yields a perspective on the global context of our times. The selected global resources are not exhaustive, nor do they represent a panacea to the challenges. However, they call attention to the mobilization of human and environmental resources available for consideration and implementation.

Chart 2: Selected Global Resources

Chart 2: Selected Global Resources

As was the case for challenges, resources are interdependent. Alone or in isolation, they can at best be considered temporary or “emergency” solutions. The systematic mobilization and activation of collective resources represents a critical policy consideration. Clearly, the difficulties of this option limit its implantation. The consideration of financial costs by decision makers in government and private institutions restrict necessary actions. This is part of the “fractionation” of challenges we face. It is not that resources are unavailable, but rather our inclination to yield to constraints imposed by economic, political, social, and cultural forces.

Control and domination of global resources noted in Chart 2 by restricted power bases in government and private hands restricts there use and implementation. A “challenge” for global citizens is the recognition and mobilization of global resources. Citizens must claim ownership and use. While some global resources may be more accessible and available for individual and group activism, failure to claim them as belonging to the global community results in surrendering of ownership and use.

Thus, a critical global challenge is mobilization of citizen activism. Abandoning policies and decisions to those with wealth, power, and position guarantees continued increases in global challenges as this group seeks only immediate gratifications in undistributed profits. Cries of democracy mean nothing when populations are homogenized to accept a unitary and uniform national or commercial ideology and agenda. Democracy becomes an abused concept, with its meaning determined by selfish interests.

A Global Era

A new era is upon us with profound consequences for the survival and wellbeing of human and natural life. The challenges of this era are, thus far, exceeding our conceptual and response capabilities. Control has been placed in monolithic and monopolistic commercial interests (e.g., Big Ag, Big Pharm, Big Med, Big Banks, Big Education, Big Media).

We cannot relinquish citizen responses to those with wealth, power, and position without expecting continuing abuses and exploitation. We must claim rights, privileges, and opportunities for life. Failing to do so condemns us a dystopian future of homogenized control, not unlike the fabled volumes Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, and a score of others. Indeed, we can also include Thomas Hobbes (famed Leviathan.

There are growing numbers of publications sharing utopian solutions. While their development is subject to many circumstances, it is encouraging to keep them before us. Among the terms now being used are the following:

  • Caring Society
  • Compassionate Society
  • Civil Society
  • Decent Society
  • Democratic Society
  • Diverse Society
  • Just Society
  • Meaningful Society
  • Peaceful Society
  • Purposive Society
  • Socially-Responsible Society

Perhaps our greatest test in the quest for humane societies and nations will be to reclaim the Law, and with this, to establish a foundation for Justice. Ignoring, or losing, either, portends . . .


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Jan 2016.

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