Looking to the 21st century - a Monitor agenda for action

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THERE is nothing like the outset of a new year to prompt the setting of fresh sights for what can be accomplished. At the start of 1987, we invite our readers to look forward somewhat further than usual - not just to the new year ahead, but to the start of the new century that begins in little more than a decade.

Starting on the 21st century now is important. The future is embraced by today. Human events form more of a continuum than is usually recognized. Today's motives and decisions are a force for good or ill. Hence there is a moral responsibility to understand what is going on in today's world and to what end our thoughts and actions are tending.

In this spirit we are putting forward here a Monitor agenda of topics for special attention through the year 2000. Its main headings:

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Peace. Progress toward world peace should begin with an arms agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union, along with accords on the future of space defenses and the reduction of nuclear weapons to minimal levels. The arts of diplomacy and conflict resolution should be extended to address regional struggles like the Iran-Iraq war. Causes of terrorism and other forms of violence must be exposed and eliminated from the world scene and from our neighborhoods.

Poverty. The world tragically is too full of the hungry, homeless, sick, impoverished. The gap between North and South, the developing and developed nations, the overfed with their farm surpluses and the underfed with their shortages, cannot be allowed to widen. Within societies, economic imbalance and social trends must not be allowed to drive a class cleavage between a few well-to-do and a vast underclass.

Environment. The relatively young environmental movement must be nurtured, the responsibility for leaving a vital natural legacy to future earthlings encouraged. People must learn to live more in harmony with nature.

Children. Caring for the world's most vulnerable members must be pursued vigilantly. This most obviously begins with children, in whose consciousness and experience the future takes shape. In much of the developing world, more than three quarters of the people are less than 15 years old. Families must be strengthened, educational systems improved. But the needs of others also demand address: senior members of society, whose numbers are expanding rapidly; women, whose rights are often flagrantly denied; and young men, whose lives are most prone to violence in their own communities and in war.

Freedom. Individual rights of conscience, movement, expression, and employment must be better protected all over the world. The rule of law must be extended. Governments, or the political units into which peoples organize themselves, may need better legislation, improved ethical standards, to achieve a broader sense of justice. Democratic government requires active citizen participation, and access to accurate, uncensored information, which should be promoted worldwide.

Values. Spiritual and moral values in public consciousness set the tone of civilizations. Materialism and self-indulgence lead to corruption and societal decline; at best they are a dead weight against progress. Honesty is crucial in business, government, and private life. Here the individual can contribute to world gains - dedicating his private agenda, the way he thinks about things and commits his actions, to a wider and more lasting good.

Of course, a brief list cannot include all the crucial problems that will need attention in the closing years of the century. There is so much to learn and know about - scientific and technological advances, the direction of the arts and literature, the importance of economic accountability, the balancing of national budgets and trade. We will be addressing these too in the months and years ahead.

Still, there should be some focus for emphasis and attention.

We are encouraged in the knowledge that we are not alone in these endeavors. The Monitor is a much wider family than its staff. Contributors, letter writers, those who reprint or broadcast its materials, and most of all our readers, are a far larger community than a personnel chart or even a circulation list can describe. We hear often of the impact of Monitor communications in East Europe, Asia, Africa, South America. We are part of a world network of individuals searching for solutions to human problems, striving to uplift public discourse.

Realism in expectations is important too. Sometimes events have to prepare the way for progress. Progress cannot be willed, its direction outlined. It is a characteristic of dictators to try to compel change in some preconceived direction, without regard for the rights of others - blind to the intuitions, suggestions, and energies that must be freely given if change is to be progressive.

As a news organization we are dedicated to reporting with clarity, courage, and compassion what needs to be done, and to highlighting the best proposed solutions for doing it. In the year just ended we carried a series of interviews with world thinkers - philosophers, politicians, social scientists - about what needs to be done to prepare for the 21st century. We also published projects on youth, minorities, privacy rights, space defense programs. In the months ahead we plan to carry special series on constitutional issues, efforts at immigration control, challenges facing the world's children, new directions for environmentalists. So we are already underway in addressing our goals.

In many areas, concrete steps can be taken forthwith. A US-Soviet arms agreement has been mentioned. Then there are a determined effort at establishing peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors; a more unified front among the Western allies toward South Africa's apartheid system; the pursuit of human rights in Chile, the Soviet Union, Cambodia; and the relief of poverty and the ending of racism, beginning in our own communities.

With the prospect of so much we all can do for the world, we can move eagerly into 1987 to confront the issues most crucial to preparing for the 21st century.

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