Confused!?


I just finished watching The Corporation now. Its been the 3rd documentary that I have watched in the past 2 days. The other 2 being The Cove and Food Production and Population Growth. I like to have simple, strong convictions that I can act upon. That policy has never let me down before. Whether it was choosing my subjects after 10th or deciding upon a branch or zeroing-in on a study method, I always knew the choice that I had to pick. Now, is is the time to pick a career and decide what I want to be.

The goodwill of some friends, teachers and a huge dose of freak luck helped me get just the kind of job that I wanted. While I am excited about the prospect of doing something useful with my knowledge and making some money in the process, my convictions have been thoroughly shaken up. This is of course not something that happened suddenly. Ever since I read Ishmael I have been having some lingering doubts about our current set-up. But my belief in reason and the ability of science to find solutions to problems as when they come up made sure that I was not too disturbed. Besides, I never could digest the suggestion that just by stopping all further developments and stopping new discoveries and technologies from coming up, all our problems could be solved. That sounded like the lazy way out.

Present State

I have no problem with acknowledging that as of now, the whole thing looks like a giant cluster-f**k. We are burning through our natural capital at a rate expected of brain-dead parasites. Species are being threatened, resources are being exploited and/or contaminated, global climate is changing unpredictably and irreversibly, wars are raging, basic things like water are becoming scarce and conflicts arising from this scarcity are being anticipated and so on. While any sensible guy could suggest a solution to most problems the thing is that our current way of organizing things, the manner in which power is distributed and potent and powerful technologies together have made implementing these solutions almost impossible. Watching the documentary The Corporation drove this point home well. Our way of attaching a fictional(money) value to everything first, then conjuring up an entity that is concerned only with making as much of this fairy-gold as possible for a bunch of guys and then using science to place dangerous tools in the hands of this entity is a pretty stupid strategy. And this has become abundantly clear by now.

How to solve the most important problem in the universe?

But, what do we do now that we are in this very tight spot. One solution is to let nature take back control and let everything fall back to a tried and tested state. After all, “nature” or “God” knows best and all we have to do is to submit to it’s control. We are after all no different from animals and if they have managed to not nuke/poison/starve/kill themselves for the past gazillion years then their hard-wired policy looks like it could work. Especially when compared to our “Revolution” which has managed to screw up our only habitat in this frighteningly empty universe in as little as a 100 years.

But, what if there is no such thing as a natural method. If the only rule that nature uses is eliminating what doesn’t work by doing away with it, then nature is not that smart. Its merely an example of local rules being followed, resulting in large scale order. Besides, if we now choose to dump the whole of science and technology and embrace nature( don’t know what that really means!) it is going to result in a massive shakeup from which the planet might never recover. And is it really knowledge that is causing all our problems? As I see it, technology got us into this s**t-hole. The least-painful way out I can see is using that same technology to pull us out.

People like Daniel Quinn, Robert Wolffe etc. suggest that humans had way lesser mental disorders and lived a more comfortable life when we were organized as tribes. Besides, when you are a small group you have to depend more on your ingenuity and skill than on cunning and collective vision. Also, the scale of doing things is smaller. So, the possibility of messing things up badly for the whole of earth was a remote possibility. Sounds nice. But, is there really no way, that the whole of earth can follow a single system and still work!? Are we incapable of envisaging such a system. One that nature has not yet discovered? If the answer to that question is yes, then the at least part of the solution is technology… and by technology I mean really hot, bleeding edge tech.

If science combined with human wisdom can figure out a way in which we can coexist with other organisms and ensure sustainability then it is important that we take part in the process of development of better and newer technologies. Let someone else figure out new political and economic systems and try and change our present ways and hopefully our grand kids will thank us.

Maybe all of what I just said was just my obsession with fancy and shrewd stuff talking and an attempt to rationalize my choices to myself.

How can science grow?

If we admit that wearing plantain leaves, living in the idukki forest reserve and having all-night dance gigs over roast boar is no more a solution, then we have to figure out how technology can progress without destroying the ecosystem. We also need to answer the question that was posed in the documentary The Corporation. Is ultimate sustainability actually possible, at least in the industrial era? I don’t know remotely enough stuff to figure out these things. I do know that the present state of technology was directly or indirectly the result of wars and the quest for military superiority and money. Science was a result of the natural curiosity of man. But again, cutting edge research and applied science requires the above mentioned unholy motives.

Unless something can be demonstrated to be capable of killing enough number of people or of generating enough money for it’s owners then there is no way that that something is going to be implemented.

Apart from the question of technological progress, our modern economic system that critically depends upon ever-growing production is also, I think, one that deserves a close look. This is one real limitation. The earth is only so big and there can only be ultimately so much that can be squeezed out of it.

Whatever maybe the answer to the above questions, I don’t want to make any rash decisions now. It is easy to throw away something that you have. But, what if I later regret it? There is a very serious risk that whatever I do might end up as little more than a fart in the wind. But thats a risk that I think I have to take. Meanwhile, I will try and look for ways to change the outlook of at least a few people. Once, there are enough number of people for change, then who knows? Things might actually change!

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One thought on “Confused!?

  1. A very well written post, Sabu. You took me back to the innumerable discussions and debates we’ve had in the hostels… 🙂

    I used to have extreme views on this matter, sort of Greenpeace kind of outlook, but it has evolved over the last couple years. I’ve realized that if we have to “save” the world, it’s for us humans only- because it’s our only home. We don’t have any divine responsibility to “protect” Nature as it is. In cosmic timeframes, these things even themselves out. The earth has been through far more turbulent periods in its history.

    Perhaps technology has an important role to play if we are to pull ourselves out of its mess- I think so, too. But perhaps there is no way out at all. Perhaps there is too much inertia with us, and our social setup, and we just may not be able to change in time to avoid a collapse.

    It may be a personal bias, but still I do think there is something about the “small scale” that makes it work, at least for us humans. For example, from my few days at Sahyadri, I’ve realized that it makes a lot of difference to be living in a place with only a few people, where you know each and every one, compared to living in a city where you often don’t know your neighbours, you buy food from someone you don’t know and so on… I do believe “Small is Beautiful”…

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