Rapid and fundamental change--technological, economic and cultural --which characterizes the modern world has had both positive and negative repercussions on contemporary society. An important benefit has been the improvement in living standards in some regions and population groups. However, there has also been a disheartening downside, including a global sharpening of social inequalities, fragmentation of societies and polarization of population or income groups.
"Stated differently", noted the Secretary-General in a report on the Social Development Summit, "the suggestion is that societies have lost part of their capacity to balance individual and societal needs and reconcile the particular interest with the common good."
Specific examples of social polarization and disintegration abound, such as:
* Growing income disparities in many societies, as well as increased economic insecurity through unemployment, hyper-inflation and cuts in social benefits;
* Rise in violence, conflicts and various forms of crime;
* Ethnic and civil strife characterized an increasing number of societies and, in some places, organized society has totally collapsed; and
* Global policy shifts reflecting what has been described as "social Darwinism", where competition, economic efficiency and individual fulfilment are stressed over community and social solidarity.
"The growing occurrence of social conflicts, exclusion of disadvantaged and marginalized groups, and the poverty, alienation and lack of security of a large and growing number of people threatens the peace, survival and sustainable development of the human community", concluded participants at a Un-sponsored Expert Meeting on Social Integration (27 September-1 October 1993, The Hague, The Netherlands), convened as part of the Summit's preparatory process. "The crisis is more serious than is generally thought."
However, the Expert Meeting continued, "The need for social integration is sometimes wrongly interpreted in terms of the need for an international police force which would enforce integration where spontaneous processes go the other way. . . . It must be clearly stated that neither military intervention nor any other coercive measures can really be expected to solve the pertinent issues. On the contrary, they rarely attack the real sources of negative social tendencies and may only contribute to the aggravation of inherent tendencies towards disintegration."
To address the root causes of disintegration, the experts call for a reordering of development objectives and priorities, and a restructuring of development institutions to further social integration and social development. An integrated society is a society able to accommodate different and divergent individual and group aspirations within a flexible framework of shared basic values and common interests. …