BEGINNING OF THE SECOND DESCENT: THE INEVITABLE TURNING POINT IN MAN’S CULTURAL JOURNEY

Dr Chandra Mohan Bhandari

by Chandra Mohan Bhandari

Consequently, he who wants to have

Right without wrong, order without disorder,

Does not understand the principles,

Of heaven and earth,

He does not know how things hang together.

-       Chuang Tsu

 

Most of us do not know how things hang together? Much has been said and written on the ‘ascent of man’, and about great leaps taken in his cultural journey [1]. Part of this is true and the rest often misunderstood or mistaken. Man, like other species on the planet, is deeply embedded in the environment, or Gaia, the Earth-system. In his book ‘The Descent of Man’, Charles Darwin’s [2] spells out this in no uncertain terms; Man, in spite of his noble qualities, still bears in his bodily frame an indelible mark of his lowly origin. Having said this it must also be stated that at the level of his mental powers and capabilities the rise of the creature with ‘lowly origin’ was commendable; yet this capability too was embedded in his evolved brain for which he cannot take much credit. Finally, as we shall see, there appears a point in his cultural journey when, having reached the summit, the only course left for him is to descend. This could be referred to as the ‘second descent’ following his progress as a species in accordance with the first, i.e. descending from some other form such as apes [2]. In his book, ‘Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee’, Jared Diamond [3] traces the changes the human species have gone through. It is interesting to know how his large and developed brain helped him to change his lifestyle, to manipulate and conquer the world in the short duration. Finally, it is a revelation and a shock for most of us to learn that in a span of just three centuries humans are on the verge of reversing all that they had achieved. That point could well be termed as the ‘turning point’ in the entire episode. Physically of lowly origin, psychologically deficient and intellectually brilliant man seems to have discovered for himself the unenviable position he is in.

Gaia’s Distress

Gaia – the Greek mythological figure that represents the earth system akin to the mother-earth notion in almost all mythologies including ours. In one of the oldest scriptures, Atharva Veda, we find this notion in no uncertain words; ‘Mata bhumih, utroham prithivya’ – Earth is the mother, and I am her son. It did not take a very elaborate know-how to come to this conclusion, it was so obvious that even the primitive man took no time to appreciate. However, over the centuries that followed things changed particularly with the progress in science. With a growing confidence in himself and the newly acquired scientific method, the traditional view of man’s relationship with nature changed considerably. There were many who subscribed to a ‘Baconian view’ [4] of the Nature: Nature will be bound into service, hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets. This view has been the cornerstone of notions that propelled modern science and the events that followed, including the Industrial Revolution.

Even without these explicit and outspoken words from a philosopher the actual course of human cultural journey particularly in the post industrial revolution era show the truth and essence of the words therein. The way scientific developments followed by industrial revolution changed the planet, the human society and human mind too, essentially point towards the growing notion of ‘hounding and torturing nature’.

Man’s new emerging confidence in himself was not merely a reflection of his various achievements but there was another factor operating on his psychic layers. Slowly, but almost surely, a notion began to emerge that he, the intelligent being, was destined to command and rule the planet. This will remain a mystery as to how and why such a being emerged with a capacity to think, manipulate and achieve. The making of human mind gave him certain intellectual powers, but somehow kept him psychologically deficient. J Krishnamurti has expressed himself somewhat on these lines. In any case the die had been cast. Man as a biological unit grew and evolved in his environment, and tried hard to manipulate the medium he was embedded in.

 All this reminds us of the story of a man who was trying to cut the very branch of the tree he was seated on. What was the purpose behind the emergence of such a mind that would start harming the very basis of its existence? There are no answers. But one thing is obvious; Man probably did not deserve the brain that was handed over to him in the process of evolution.

Present human’s emergence on the planet can roughly be taken around one million years or so. And during the last two lac years or so human brain has not changed much. However, the beginnings of cultural journey in earnest seems to start approximately one hundred fifty to seventy thousand years ago. Why did it take that long to start on the cultural journey if the brain was already developed? For this we have some explanation. The computer in the brain was devoid of any software. For long man did not know that he was endowed with a brain with enormous capabilities. Another reason was his intense survival struggle and his effort in this endeavour. In his nomadic life survival was his priority, and rightly so. The development of software required time to think. And thinking required a language. It was bound to come by gradually as the provision for language was already built in the scheme of the brain. There were other things also that were built in human brain: provision for mathematics, use of metaphors and a certain degree of abstract thinking to name a few. All human groups anywhere in the planet could evolve their languages and share their thoughts.

However, the search for the answers to these queries is not the purpose in this essay. This unit, the human brain, brought forth cultural transformation with the humankind progressing at a rapid pace. Of course it took time for the growth of language. That is why the real growth story began roughly around ten thousand years ago.

Cultural Transformation

A large thinking brain with language as its software opened the floodgates for

Cultural transformation. It took him sometime to realise his own power. And once he did there was no stopping him. This was particularly so with the progress of modern science. The Baconian paradigm reflected man’s intentions in no uncertain terms which took notions like enslaving the nature and torturing her for her secrets.

The three major milestones in the cultural journey were: agricultural, industrial and information revolutions. These so-called revolutions could also be seen as gigantic waves that gave a big push to mankind’s forward march. The first wave appeared several thousand years ago, whereas the second made its appearance around three hundred years ago. We know this as Industrial revolution. The third wave represents the Information Revolution and is presently being witnessed by us all. In the entire scenario we did forget that we were the children of Gaia and not masters as we have thoughts ourselves to be. Some men of vision have been raising their voices now and then trying to explain the reality and to warn humanity of the consequences. We have to remember Darwin’s words, the fact that we, like other creatures, are intricately linked to the Earth-system. Man’s beginnings were no different from other animal species. We started our journey the way other animal species have done. Whatever be our mental powers our existence is closely and intricately linked to the health and fitness of the earth system, the Gaia. The fact is plain and simple; actions of man have slowly and surely started pushing the Earth system to a point of no return. And this process is not so slow either. In a short span of mere three hundred years following the Industrial Revolution there is clear indication of a severe damage to the self-organising and balancing capacity of Gaia, something which has been maintained for around three billion years.

Self-Organisation

Living systems in general are characterised by the feature of self-organisation. Some non-living systems also possess this feature. This can also be created in machines to some extent. The temperature control mechanism in refrigerators and ovens is simplest of the examples. In humans like in other higher animals body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate are maintained by the body. If there is a change in one of these the system tends to bring it back to the acceptable range. That is what is referred to as self-organisation. The Gaia, which refers to the earth along with its bio-sphere, has so far been a self-organising system where temperature, air pressure, oxygen percentage in air have been maintained in acceptable ranges.

James Lovelock’s effort [5, 6] in bringing forth the issue of the irreparable damage to the Gaia is commendable. A new meaning and emphasis on Gaia is now being understood and appreciated by many. However, so far the acceptance is only at theoretical level. The people at the helm of affairs have other priorities and concerns. Appreciation of ecological concerns is noticeable no doubt but mere appreciation would not suffice and unless some remedial measures are initiated without delay the harm may become irreversible.

Climate Change- Global Warming

There have been periods in Earth’s history when planetary temperature was lowered that led consequently to the ice ages. Obviously sea level would be lowered during ice ages. When earth gets warmed up some of the ice would melt and sea level would rise. The self-regulating system kept this temperature change within acceptable ranges. However, some recent happenings indicate a degree of irreversible change as well. Emission of carbon-di-oxide into the atmosphere is alarming and its reversal may not be easy to manage. For example the Arctic ice cover has melted completely except during peak winter whose area is approximately thirty five lac km square, considerably larger than the area of India.

This phenomenon of polar ice cap’s melting could have severe consequences. Ice reflects almost 80 percent of solar radiation back into space thereby minimising its impact. It is to be realised that it requires 80 calories of heat to melt one gram of ice whereas it takes a mere one calorie to raise temperature of 1 gm of water by one degree. In spite of this the melting of polar ice shows the presence of enormous warming effects which may essentially be due to increased presence of carbon-di-oxide, and other greenhouse gases. However, once the cap is gone this would further cause enhanced warming of the sea water around the Polar Regions.

In earlier times solar radiation incident on the polar region was mostly reflected but now it would be largely absorbed. A rise in the sea water temperature in the polar region can have several consequences other than global warming. It may give rise to ocean currents which were not existent earlier or else it may disturb some of the   present ocean currents. This has the potential of giving rise to El Nino type currents that may impact the weather.

During the summer of 2021 (June last week to July first week) there has been news of excessive high temperatures in north western America and Canada. In some places temperatures touched 50 Celsius for several days in a row. Such a thing has never been witnessed in known history. The reason attributed to the phenomenon was the occurrence of a Heat Dome, a region close to surface where heat gets trapped. The vanishing of the ice cap during recent decades and possibility of new ocean currents could have some role in this.

The earth has already witnessed a significant increase in average temperatures over the last two centuries.

The Question of Sustainability

There has been a growing understanding among a section of people that the present lifestyle of humans, their population level and their ever increasing needs are not sustainable in the long run. The impact of polluting the atmosphere, and the water bodies including the oceans coupled with outcome of global warming have shown in no uncertain terms that it would be outright foolish to ignore these warnings. The fact that the self-regulating mechanisms of the Gaia is on the verge of being disturbed irreversibly is a clear indication of the need to take some concrete measures. However, that is going to be a tall order.

Tall Order: How Tall

Man’s forward march has very clearly shown his basic instincts, aspirations and capabilities. Right since the growth of modern science and technologies the lifestyle of man got oriented towards greater comfort, enhanced pleasure. The resources of the planet were limited but human needs kept growing exponentially. This led to the growth of ‘consumer culture’, putting greater pressure on Earth’s resources. Such a scenario as described in previous pages was bound to come sooner or later. The current pandemic which has devastated the world is just an indication that at the level of physical survival the lowly origin of man would keep haunting him from time to time. The pandemic has probably no direct link to pollution or global warming. However, in future greater and more severe devastations may be on cards where these effects would also have a role.

Living in Harmony with Nature

Men and women of vision have often raised their concerns about the need to put a brake on the process of distancing ourselves from the environment we are embedded in. Such voices were present even earlier when pollution and global warming were not so significant. With these new factors emerging rapidly the need to reconsider those visions is still more urgent. The notions such as Deep Ecology [7] and Transpersonal Ecology [8] tried to widen the scope and concern of man’s eco-concerns. Initial ecological concerns were motivated by the possible harm that could come to man if pollution remained unchecked. The concerns in deep and transpersonal ecologies were not merely centred on human beings; they directly or indirectly went beyond human concerns.

Gandhi’s Vision

The present urban industrial civilisation carries within it the seed of self-destruction.’

This statement of Mahatma Gandhi more than a hundred years ago seems to intuitively reflect the scenario that is being currently envisaged by scientists and ecologists. Non-violence in Gandhian philosophy embraced the whole earth system. In this scenario accepted and conventional notions of growth, progress and development have to be re-defined and refined to embrace the well-being of not only humans but the entire system we all are embedded in. Having said this it must be remembered and appreciated that this is going to be an exceedingly difficult task.  Gandhi used to emphasize that ‘we cannot build an ecological movement to stop violence against nature until the principle of non-violence is acceptable as a central point in our culture.’ In a book titled The Hind Swaraj [9] written originally in Gujarati he expressed his views and concerns.

In order to even partially reverse the harm done to self-organising capacity of Gaia

schemes as in in deep and transpersonal ecology as also non-violence movement in its wider context have to form the central point of possible future planning. There may be other possibilities which need to be included in the scheme of things, but the basic features would remain the same. Besides these several others have tried to present their visions of the future society. Notable among them is Aldous Huxley’s novel [10]; he presents a model of future utopian society in which use of technology is carefully balanced and in harmony with traditional methods. There are no simple recipe for finer details in the scheme of things, but an understanding of the delicate balance of things that ‘hang together’ (remembering Chuang’s words) will have to form the cornerstone of the new approach.

 

[1] J.  Bronowski, Ascent of Man, paperback and a 13 part TV series.

[2] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex,

     London, John Murray, 1871.

[3] Jared Diamond, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, Vintage, 2002.

[4] F. Capra, the Turning Point, Science, Society and the rising Culture,

      Simon and Schuster, 1982.

[5] James Lovelock, James Lovelock, Gaia, Oxford University Press, 1979.

[6] James Lovelock, Vanishing Face of Gaia, Penguin Books, 2010. 

[7] Arne Naess,”The shallow and the deep, Long-range ecology movement”, Inquiry 16:95-100 (1973).

[8] Warwick Fox, ”Transpersonal Ecology”, ’pychologising’ ecophilosophy, Journal of Transpersonal psychology, 22(1), 59 (1990).

[9] Mahatma Gandhi, The Hind Swaraj Prakashan, (original in Gujarati) published in Gujarati Columns of Indian Opinion, December 1909; English translation published by International printing Press, Natal, South Africa, 1910.

[10] Aldous Huxley, Island, Harper-Collins, 1962.


No comments :

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।