Robert Muller, the tireless advocate for happiness and peace, who served the UN for 40 years, died on Sept 20. His memorial service was webcast live this past Mon and is still available here. Please read his biography, then ask yourself what you're going to do today.
We met Robert when we were writing Networking, our first book, thanks to the suggestion from Robert A. Smith, III, the original networker whom we contacted for recommendations of others to contact about the subject. Bob Smith deserves his own post as his networking efforts by post (meaning stamps) and telephone during the 1970s and 1980s were prodigious and inspiring to many. Robert Muller's name was one of nine suggested to us. The story excerpt below from The Networking Book, our second, describes our interview with Robert, which took place at the UN in May, 1981.
A few days after this interview took place, we received a note from Robert, saying that he'd woken up early that morning and written a poem for us that we could use: "Decide to Network" (see next post), one in a series of his "Decide to..." poems.
Robert's message, his indefatiguable commitment to peaceful co-existence and personal happiness, have inspired countless people around the world. He lived to be 87, long by conventional standards, but for a man such as he, decades too short. Thank you, Robert, for elevating the spirit of networking--and happiness. And please visit his website for the voluminous material he generated--books, poems, audio, video, honors, curricula.
Note: This is a very long post, which I decided to leave here on the main page of the blog because of the power of what Muller said. If you only skim, please skip to the end. Breathtaking in its scope and power.
From Chapter 8, The Networking Book:
Global networking, global mind
Robert Muller was on the original short lists of networkers recommended to us by Robert A. Smith, III (see Chapter 1). We wrote to Dr. Muller, mentioning the referral from Bob Smith, explaining what we were up to and requesting information. He
responded immediately by sending us a list of US-based international groups associated with the United Nations (non-governmental organizations, or NGOs). Another packet of materials arrived a few days later and yet another a week or so after that. Each packet had a note attached with some scribbled comments about networking, but the third one went on to say, “I think I have so much to say on ‘networking’ that I will never have time to put it on paper. Perhaps the best solution would be for you to let me know when you next come to New York and we will tape
Several months later, we took Muller up on his offer and met him in his modest 29th-floor office at the United Nations. Although at the time, he was head of one of the three principal components of the UN, as Secretary of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Muller’s immediate staff and accommodations exuded all the pomp of a small college dean’s office. Muller is the rare kind of unprepossessing person who combines a moving humanity with a wealth of knowledge and a vigorous involvement with the world around him. His own life story, Most of All, They Taught Me Happiness, reflects his experiences as a child in Alsace-Lorraine, joining the French underground during the Second World War, being imprisoned, and finally coming to the United States in the late 1940s to work at the UN.
Muller was an extremely easy man for us to interview. He seemed to know exactly why we had come and precisely what we needed to know. He required no leading questions to go directly to the heart, of the matter. In essence, his message is this. Humanity is evolving toward a coherent global form best described by the metaphor of a human brain; each person, young or old, able-bodied or handicapped, is an important neuron in the emerging planetary brain that is constituted by the myriad “networkings” among people.
“Networkings”, the external connections among people that constitute the internal connections of the planetary whole, is Muller’s word. Such phrasings and much of the flavor of his multilingual accent have been retained in this interview.
Muller:“This old planet and the human species on it are advancing in time as some kind of a big brain whose neurons are multiplying incessantly, encompassing everything from the individual to the planet, to humanity and the universe, getting
deeper and deeper into the past and further and further into the future. Of course, the mathematical interconnections are absolutely staggering. The world brain is already so complicated that you cannot describe it accurately. New interconnections are being created so rapidly that any description would be out of date. This is a new biological phenomenon, one of the most momentous ones in the earth’s history. The human species is becoming something new. It is similar to the passage from the protozoa to the metazoa.”
Like R. Buckminster Fuller, Muller totally rejects the Malthusian assumption that population growth is the root of human misery. In an evolutionary context, more people potentially means a more complex and more capable planetary brain.
Muller: “We do not even have the faintest idea as to how many people should live on this planet. The question is not even being asked. We are still very primitive when it comes to a transcendence beyond our noses on this little planet and to looking at the mystery of life and what it means to be born and to have life in the immense universe. The fundamental question, the greatest task in being human, and, as a matter of fact, the end goal of all networking, is to try to determine what the laws of the universe are, the cosmic laws which we ought to obey in order to fulfill our lives on this planet and contribute to the further evolution the cosmos has in mind for us.
“The reason Kepler studied astronomy and astrology was to find the laws of the cosmos that would give him clues as to how human societies should live on this planet. The day this will be done, then we will have really entered the new age. We are doing it the hard way, with many mistakes and very partial views instead of having a universal view, not only a global view for the planet but of our total relationship with the universe.
“Now, when you speak about world government, many listeners think that you should have your head examined. When you speak about cosmic government, then you are ready for an asylum! And yet, this is the real, ultimate issue. The question whether we will be blown up in a nuclear holocaust is very much part of it. Did all our long cosmic evolution have as the sole purpose the triggering of an atomic war to assert the righteousness and supremacy of a one power on earth? So we have a very tall order in our lap."
Giving us a thumbnail sketch of the UN’s history, Muller began with the golden era of industrialism, the end of the nineteenth century, a time when “dreamers like the steelmaker and pacifist Andrew Carnegie” envisioned a world order established on a totally rational, scientific, technological and professional basis. In the original scheme, a league of professional associations was to be created on an equal footing with a league of nations, but this idea got lost in the shuffle after World War I. Of course, the “halfa-loaf” League of Nations never got off the ground, because of the
absence of the United States.
In Muller’s words, this is how the current UN came about: “Humpty Dumpty went to the Second World War, after which the world union idea was revived, but the
project for a league of professional associations was never really revived as a possible people’s democracy at the world level. World organization became a government-owned affair.”
Outside the UN’s political and legal functions is Muller’s realm, a fascinating collection of the world agencies connected to a latticework of international networks.
Muller: “I am Secretary of the Economic and Social Council, where everything economic and social is brought together. Under the Charter, we are instructed to have a total worldview: demography, health, education, standards of living, longevity, culture, employment, children, women, the elderly, the hungry, the oppressed, the discriminated, everything you can imagine. The UN is a system of central universal organs with functional and regional agencies hooked into it. People usually do not have the faintest idea what beginnings of a world system exist
here. The UN’s world conferences on population, on the environment, on energy, on water, on the deserts, and so forth are the big drums being used to give messages and global warnings to people. We are, of course, still living primarily in a rational, scientific age, and this is definitely reflected in the UN.
"But ethical, moral, and even spiritual considerations are becoming stronger every year. The new ethics of what is right and wrong for humanity, that is really the basic business of the UN behind all the politics and the bureaucracy. It is a very, very difficult task, but we must go through it and work it out. Just another new fundamental biological process.
“Everything good or bad until now has always been decided in terms of what is good or bad for a group or a nation and seldom from the point of view of what is good or bad for the entire humanity. This has become a central question because our survival depends on it. Ecology has recently taught us to ask the question ‘What is good and what is bad for our planet?’ At every step we must henceforth ask, ‘What is good and what is bad for humanity?’ A completely new ethic is being born, but it is very difficult, because interest groups cling to their advantages and views: the powerful want to remain armed, the rich want to remain rich, everybody wants more, and few are those who would be ready to give up something for the good of the planet
Even as Muller paints pictures of thickening global webs on every issue and topic from avocados to asteroids, the conversation always returns to the emphatic statement that there is no networking, no global brain, no anything without the individual
human being. Muller does not see the individual as the unfortunate lowest rung on the ladder of global organization. Rather, humans are the very source and prescient mirror of global complexity.
Muller: “The Indian yogis tell us that each human being is a microcosm of the cosmos. It makes good sense. How could it be otherwise?
“Even a particle, or an amoeba or a hydra, is a self-contained entity, but at the same time it is part of the totality. It is this type of complex relationship, being a whole and a part together, which is again, networking, because all connections together
make up the total reality. As an individual, you feel and are an absolutely unique being, never to be repeated exactly the same in all eternity. And yet, you are part of the total universe and total stream of time. As a matter of fact, this shows us the range of human happiness: we can be happy through concentration upon ourselves (know thyself), through networking with others and the wonders of our planet, or through networking with God or the Total-Absolute through spirituality, meditation, and prayer.
“From the moment you have recognized both your entity, and being part of the total human family and universe, from that time you will change and the world will change. But, again, this is a very tall order, one of the hardest philosophical problems of our time. It was a great musician and humanist, Pablo Casals, who gave it the best expression when, with tears in his eyes, he used to exclaim, ‘I am a miracle that God
or Nature has made. Could I kill? Could I kill someone? No, I can’t.Or another human being who is a miracle like me, can he kill me?’
“And to be great and unique, you don’t have to be in the newspapers. Networking, in my view is not necessarily only the need to ‘fight for something’, a cause. It can be a serene, natural association of sorts, from the monk’s association with God in his
monastery to people who like to collect stamps. Networking is a form of happiness. A person can say, ‘There are lots of other people like me,’ and you become a little world of your own: some like astronomy and others like collecting stamps. It is truly a fantastic life, a beautiful life on this planet which offers so many possibilities
of happiness in every direction.
“If I were a head of state, I would support networking because it gives so many people a sense of purpose. Not everybody can be a mathematician, a scientist, or a philosopher. Many people are interested only in their little gardens. But to have one’s garden may not be enough. So you order a gardening magazine and you join a gardening club. There you meet other people with the same interest, with whom you can talk about things you love and you derive much happiness from that network. We are four and a half billion people on this planet and each wants to be recognized as somebody’, as an entity. Even, and especially, when you are limited or handicapped,
you want to be ‘recognized’.
“When I feel depressed I read Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament, in which he tells his brother that he is becoming completely deaf but that he is determined to give the world what he feels in himself. You tell this to handicapped people and it gives them courage. Did you know that the Taj Mahal, in India, was designed by a blind Persian architect, Ustad Isha? Perhaps someone with sight would have never been able to design it.
“Once, I was asked to give a graduation speech to a school for the blind. I asked them to recommend a book which would speak about the great blind people of this earth throughout history. I could not believe it when I learned that such a book did not exist. I exclaimed: ‘You have all these blind children and you do not even
have a book about Homer, Milton, Euler, Ustad Isha, and all other great blind people who have contributed so much to human civilization?’ So here again is the need for a network among the handicapped, who need their heroes and recognition of their entity.
“But it is even more; it has to do with transcendence. I’m digressing, but—”
Encouraged to follow his thought, Muller explained his experience of listening to a record of a lovingly crafted autobiographical story he had written called “Happy even in prison” (a chapter in his book Most of All, They Taught Me Happiness), made for blind people by the US Library of Congress.
Muller: “With my eyes closed, I listened to that story. I was in a completely different world. I remembered things in that prison that had gone forever. Suddenly I discovered that when your eyes are closed, your mind functions better when it is auditively impressed and I realized that blind people might derive a pride from the extra perception they have by being only auditive.
“As part of the 1981 International Year for the Disabled, I recommended that each nation should honor its great handicapped. National committees federating all handicapped associations were established in each country. There are 450 million handicapped people in the world, and the world must do something about such a sizable problem. So we decided to make a big noise about it, to launch an International Year. Each country reported on the problem to the UN and looked into all aspects of it. The result is that the handicapped have been hooked in on a world scale through the UN. They represent a network of 450 million people.
“A remarkable thing is that we have been able in the UN to have governments work together on a whole gamut of human problems, from childhood to old age. There is UNICEF. We had an International Year for the Child. There were two world women’s conferences. There was a world youth conference, several conferences to combat racism. In 1982, there was a world conference on the elderly. I am sure that within a few years there will be a UN conference on the problem of death. All these efforts are aimed at very sizable worldwide networks of people, each with its host of
“Then there are networks between these various groups, for instance between old people and young people. In Africa and Asia, the aged are the superiors, the wise people, the people to whom the young go for counsel. In the West we put them in old people’s homes. I have written a lot about this subject because of my relations with my grandfather. He was such a wise and warm human being. He had no axe to grind, contrary to my father. I could believe my grandfather. He had nothing to lose, but all to offer: wisdom. Today in the West we cut off the elderly from the young, because promoters want to build old people’s homes. Thus we prevent an important channel of transmission of wisdom of life to the young. Then the developing countries imitate the great ideas of the West and run into untold problems. As a result, the need for
proper networking will never end.
2“Networking is done by people who have no networks. That seems to be a fundamental law. Those who have the major networks don’t want to engage with those who have new views about humanity. For example, the multinational corporations give the cold shoulder to the UN. Having power, they don’t want to
network with the international agencies. The big TV stations don’t want to network with new-age groups. They have their own monopoly. The New York Times doesn’t want to network with anyone.
“This is why the voiceless people have begun to find out about networking in order to assert themselves again. It is the old story of humanity: those in power do not want to give up anything, and those who are left out want to organize to be heard. So the UN’s greatest allies are generally those who have no great power: the little countries, the innumerable nongovernmental organizations represented by observers to the UN, and the religions. If the Pope had vast military forces he probably wouldn’t come to the UN. He has only spiritual power, and this is why he is allying with a weak United Nations sharing the same objectives.
“It is the absence of certain vital networks which causes much of the trouble in this world. There is no real networking between heads of state, an area where it would be so vitally needed for the survival of our planet; there is no networking between the military, there is no networking between ministries of justice and the police forces of this planet. International terrorists are better organized. Here is where the system breaks down. In order to keep their advantages, sovereignty and primacy, the governments of the big nations generally refuse to network. Roosevelt was a man who knew how to network. He insisted on seeing Stalin, Churchill and De Gaulle, and he saw them and communicated with them all the time. He created a world system of communications, including cooperation between the military, which broke down after his death with the policy of the Iron Curtain and the cold war.’’
In a paper he showed us, “Proposals for better world security,” Muller recalls the words of Chou En-lai: "I will never forget a wise and melancholic remark made by
Premier Chou En-lai during the visit of Secretary-General Waldheim to Peking in 1972: 'I am sitting here surrounded by my advisers trying to figure out what they might be scheming against us in Moscow and in Washington. In Moscow, they are trying to figure out what Peking and Washington might be scheming against them. And they are doing the same in Washington. But perhaps in reality no one is scheming against
"And he concluded that the role of the Secretary-General as an intermediary between heads of states was extremely important. As I listened to him, I closed my eyes for a
moment and visualized the day when in his large office in the People’s Hall there will be an audio-TV set linked with the offices of his main partners in the administration of planet Earth."
Muller continued during our interview: “I have worked with a number of Secretaries-General and I noticed that they all had their private networks. Hammarskjold wrote to Albert Schweitzer, asking him to come up with a resounding statement with other scientists for the ban of atomic tests. He did it in a private capacity, without asking the authorization of governments. And it worked. U Thant was very interested in the UFOs. I never knew about it and later learned that he had a network of three people who informed him of everything that was going on in this field. I assume that people in high positions all have their private networks.
"Networking operates all the time. You do it as a private person, you work with people who are like-minded, and this is quite a force, because the power of ideas is enormous.”
For Muller, networking is a way of being fully human.
Muller: “There is more to the art of networking. You really have to live it, not just passing information on without it touching you or being touched by you. You are part of the totality, you are a seeker of truth, of what is good for the human race, of what will be our fate, of what will improve our fate. If you are not totally honest, people will not trust you, they will not believe you. It has to be deeply lived. Then you are a good networker, a useful neuron which will not be rejected by the new brain in formation.
"Most of the time, people listen to you with the brain, but often you will be able to convince them only if you speak with your heart to their heart.”
As Muller caught his breath, we asked him one last question.
Muller: “Who are the greatest networkers that I know? That is a difficult question. I believe that the greatest networkers are those who did it at the highest or deepest human, philosophical, moral, ethical and spiritual levels—people like the Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Teilhard de Chardin, Martin Luther King, Hammarskjold, U Thant, people who really transcended races, nations and groups, and networked at the all-human level, linking the heavens and the earth and showing us our prodigious
worth and journey in the universe. People like Bach, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Goethe, who make us feel the greatness of life and again fuse the heavens with the earth. They have reached the pinnacle of networking, not the heads of government of today, who will be completely forgotten in a few years. Those great
people were not networking during their own times only, but they continue to network over the centuries into our own times. Their dreams and thoughts and feelings are still alive today. The real networkers are those who go deepest and come closest to the mystery of life in the universe. Of course, these are my great networkers, because I work for the United Nations. For the Catholics probably the Pope is the greatest networker, and for the Rotarians and International Lions their current presidents are the greatest networkers.
“What is really needed today is a new philosophy of life within our global conditions, a new hope, a new vision of the future. And the strange, beautiful thing is that probably this time the vision will not be the product of any one person, but will be a collective product. It will be the creation of the new human species as a macroorganism, as a perfected neural system made up of thousands and thousands of networks. As we move towards the bimillennium, perhaps networking will become the new democracy, a new major element in the system of governance, a new way of living in the global, miraculous, complex conditions of our strange, wonderful, live planet spinning and circling in the prodigious universe at a crossroads of infinity and eternity.”