Jonathan Sacks is former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and currently a professor of religious studies at several institutions.
Jonathan Sacks on
What's unique about our current global situation is the immediacy with which we encounter people whose views of the world are radically different from ours. You have postmodern cultures and premodern cultures all connected, really, by this global web of communication. One very simple episode, through Google, through Facebook, through the social media, can set in motion a chain of consequences. One conflict, very localized, here, can go global, can go viral.
There are huge ethical tensions—number one, this idea that you can have markets without morals. You have a situation today where global corporations find it quite easy to locate production in one part of the world, distribution in another part of the world, and pay taxes in a third part of the world. All of these are creating huge problems of the responsibility of corporations to local communities.
I think Chomsky, in his early days, in linguistics, made this important point: that although there are lots of different languages—6,000 of them at the moment—they all share what he called a depth grammar. I would call a global ethic the depth grammar of the multiple systems that different cultures have for ordering their common life. In a complex world all of us must be bilingual. We must have our own language of identity and another language to allow us to communicate with the people not like us.
Judaism has two concepts of peace. There's the famous one, the vision of Isaiah of the lion and the lamb lying down together. I heard of a zoo in which this actually happened, the cage with the lion and the lamb. A visitor to the zoo says to the zookeeper, "How do you manage that?" He says, "It's easy. You just need a new lamb every day."
I see moral leadership in terms of raising people's heights, extending their horizons through education. Great leaders are great educators.
I would love to see in the next century human dignity enhanced across the world, for everyone. At the end of the day, economic growth means you take people out of poverty. Medical advance means you take people out of being powerless in the face of incurable disease. The Web and the Internet and global communication and the falling cost of computing means that you begin to move to ever higher expectations of universal literacy and universal access to knowledge. All of these things enhance human dignity.