Thursday, 14 April 2011

Whither Forward?

Mizan Rahman

   We are in a race. A mad, mad race. Not just us. It’s everybody----people all over the world. We are running, running like crazy. Like packs of wild galloping horses.
    Some are running for endless wealth, some for islands of their fantasies. Some seek pearls and emeralds, some their dreamland. Some go forward, some backward. Which way is “forward”?  And which is “backward”? We seem to have lost the sense of front and back, forward and backward. We, the modern men and women of the modern age. We only know how to run. We are not running toward a goal, we are running for the sake of running---for the thrill of it. Modern men and women are addicted to the thrill of running.
    Science started off with the noble goal of enlightening the human race, while providing technology on the side. Humans have gratefully accepted the technology, but the light on the side. Technology has brought prosperity, and plenty of goods and comfort. We are running for more prosperity, more goods and more wealth. Toward more affluence. Technology has given us amazing gadgets, gadgets of motion, of information and communication. It has set up communication lines through air waves, through long waves and short waves. The aim was to connect lands and peoples. Lands have indeed been connected, but not the humans. Often they are using the tools of communication to sever the lines of communication. There was a time in the past, the distant past, when it was hard for people to get connected, but the desire to be was immense. Today there is no end of opportunities to connect, but alas, the desire seems to have got lost. In the past people used to run toward each other. Today they seem to be running away from each other. Was it supposed to be like this?
   Human history abounds in conflicts---conflicts of all kinds. Invasion, occupation, genocides, pogroms and ethnic cleansing, wars of all kinds, holy and unholy. If you combine them all in a package you get what can collectively be called the “middle ages”. It was the age characterized by slavery, unspeakable torture, human bondage, denial of rights of any kind, especially to women. That was the period of history when we had human immolation, female incineration on burning pyres, even cannibalism in some places. What they didn’t have in those days was the “machine”----the ubiquitous machine that we cannot do without today. Perhaps some European societies were beginning to get comfortable with the use of gadgets a bit, but it took a long time before the machine played a major role in their daily lives. Modern age is practically the creation of the Europeans. Europe played the leading role in ushering in the age of enlightenment into the lives of men and women the world over, much more than any other nation. Modern science was born essentially in the great minds and laboratories of Europe, which then branched out to the rest of the world. Science joined hands with philosophy, art, culture and spirituality to give birth to a truly magnificent thing called civilization-----modern civilization that our generation has inherited. The new age continued its unstoppable march toward better and higher goals, reaching perhaps a peak near the end of the twentieth century. They conquered the space, uncovered the mysteries of distant galaxies, traced the roots of our existence as a universe to a moment of big explosion. They even started contemplating to build alternate habitat in the outer space for the human race. The relentless quest for knowledge has penetrated the frontiers of space and time in all possible ways.
   Yet. And yet, there remains the troubling question -----where are we going, anyway? In our intoxicated stupor of speed we didn’t realize that somewhere on the way we lost a beat. Modern machine has taught us to move, but failed to teach how to press the brake. Didn’t teach how to pause and take a breath. Didn’t teach how to sit down on a bench in the park, to think, to ponder, which way this journey, this caravan is heading. Modern technology has built wondrous machines to create “artificial intelligence”, but forgot to teach the man of the street how to use his own native intelligence with common sense and wisdom. Do the old-fashioned words like prudence, wisdom, common sense, insight, foresight, self-realization----have any real meaning these days?
   And yet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny that the “middle age” hasn’t left us completely. In some places it seems to have returned with a vengeance. Can we say for sure that the “middle ages” ever left the Middle East? Apart from a small section of urban middle class in Pakistan the rest of it still seems to be floundering in a primitive state of darkness. Many of them are still in the mental state of cave-dwellers, not much better than those in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Religion didn’t come to them as a beacon of humanity, but as a weapon of savagery.
   Return to the “middle ages” seems to be finding favor in many other countries as well. In our own country a sizable section of the nation seems to have become attracted to the primitive ideology of the Taliban. Even a modern developing country like India isn’t completely immune to the spread of this strange virus. Before the age of technology the ‘modern’ word like “Hinduttabad” was totally foreign to Indian history. But now its ugly face pops up every now and then.
   It wasn’t supposed to be like this, but this is the reality of today. It is time to take a breather, take a seat somewhere, think, and wonder what went wrong. Maybe the ordinary people are finding it too difficult to keep pace with the speed of technology. Perhaps we are receding more from the light of science the more addicted we are getting to the goods of technology.
   Is there a way to reverse this trend? Yes, of course there is. Education. Large scale, mass education. Not education of any kind, but the right kind. Modern, secular, scientific and liberal education. Let every human being become educated in the right way. It’s only then they will be able to think and behave like educated people. Only then there can be liberation from the shackles of the past.

Ottawa, April 14, ‘11
(Translated by the author from his ’07 piece called ‘Shommukh Kondike’, rewritten in a slightly improved form April 6, ’11).

Mizan Rahman, মীজান রহমান

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