Multiple crises and the cost of wasted time

We have reached where we are after two billion years of evolution from the slime of the primeval ocean and are moving steadily into Artificial Intelligence. However, at the moment, the negative factors would seem to be overwhelming
The doomsday clock is moving forward due to three calamities: The climate crisis, the pandemic and the threat of a nuclear conflagration (Shutterstock) PREMIUM
The doomsday clock is moving forward due to three calamities: The climate crisis, the pandemic and the threat of a nuclear conflagration (Shutterstock)
Updated on May 17, 2022 09:24 PM IST
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ByKaran Singh

The world, to use a Shakespearean phrase, is out of joint. There have, of course, been astonishing technological and scientific achievements over the last few decades. We are now routinely travelling into space, landing on the moon, and reaching out to the planets. We have been able to see the unbelievably large through galactic telescopes and the unbelievably small through our new instruments. We can communicate instantly with anyone anywhere on the planet through the ubiquitous mobile phone. In a hundred other ways also, our lives have been positively influenced by science and technology.

Nonetheless, the planet faces three major calamities, two of which are upon us. The first is the calamity of the climate crisis and global warming. The weather has gone haywire with extreme conditions around the world, leading to hurricanes, tsunamis and massive forest fires. The glaciers are melting much faster than was expected and within the next decade, several island nations will have simply disappeared below the sea; with deforestation, thousands of species go extinct every year. There is little chance of the global community meeting the 1.5 degree Celsius ceiling spelt out at the Paris climate meet, which means that global warming is set to accelerate with all its disastrous implications. International conferences and resolutions are useful in creating public opinion regarding the climate crisis, but in themselves, they are not sufficient unless they are followed up with concerted and effective action by individual nations.

The second calamity is the global pandemic. Tens of millions of lives have been lost, cutting across all barriers, including in those countries which thought they had fully developed medical infrastructures. Probably the most lethal pandemic since the great plague swept through Europe several centuries ago, it is a warning that if we continue to indulge in risky behaviour such as eating bushmeat or animals not usually consumed for food (but which are available in the so-called wet markets), such infections can jump species and affect human beings with disastrous consequences. We need to ramp up our health and medical infrastructure but we must also be prepared to produce vaccines in record time. In this area, India has an advantage because of its strong vaccine manufacturing capability which we must now expand.

The third calamity, which has not hit us yet, is the threat of a nuclear conflagration. Since 1945, when nuclear weapons were first used, there has been an alarming proliferation around the world, including on the subcontinent. Although even one of the new massive nuclear weapons would be enough to destroy millions within the first few seconds, it seems that we are never satisfied with the minimum required for deterrence. The major proliferators, of course, are the United States (US), Russia and China. The trigger for a nuclear war we thought was confined to North Korea, but with the unending fratricidal conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the fact that nuclear weapons in Russia, the US and Europe were put on full alert is an ominous sign. A slight miscalculation on either side can set off a nuclear conflict whose immediate and long-term consequences for the human race are terrifying. The doomsday clock is moving forward inexorably due to the three calamities.

All of this brings up the larger question of the future of the human race. We have reached where we are after two billion years of evolution from the slime of the primaeval ocean and are moving steadily into Artificial Intelligence. However, at the moment, the negative factors would seem to be overwhelming. There are alternative scenarios in this regard. Arthur Koestler in Janus-A Summing Up, published late in the last century, holds that the human race is programmed for self-destruction because of an engineering defect in the human cortex, whereby the thinking and feeling aspects are inadequately integrated. As a result, although we know what should be done, we do not do it. As Duryodhana says in the Mahabharata: Janami Dharman Na Ch Mey Pravarti, Janami Adharma Na Ca Mey Nirvati (I know what is right but I am not attracted to it? I know what is wrong but I am attracted to it).

In this scenario, Koestler feels that it is only a matter of time before we blow ourselves up or suffer some such disastrous fate. Against this, the great evolutionary philosopher, Sri Aurobindo, holds that the human race is a race programmed for evolution. According to him, we are now only halfway between the animal and the divine, and are, by no means, the final product of evolution. The evolutionary thrust will not end with human consciousness but will push it on from mind to supermind, through which alone can the problems facing humanity finally be solved. This is, of course, a more optimistic scenario, but the trouble is that the timeframe is so prolonged as to make it look as if it is not something that can be achieved in the near future.

The jury is out regarding these two scenarios, but I will end this rather grim essay with an amusing limerick that I heard many years ago, it runs as follows:

God’s plan made a hopeful beginning/But man spoilt his chances by sinning/We know that the story/Will end in God’s glory/But at present the other side’s winning.

Karan Singh is a senior Congress leader and the son of former Jammu and Kashmir ruler Maharaja Hari Singh. He has been a member of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha The views expressed are personal

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Monday, July 04, 2022