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IN RETROSPECT

A Shape of Things to Come

Makki A Iqbal


It was a long, long time ago, that our wise ancestors, forefathers, seers, sages and Prophets, left us with a few golden rules by which to govern our lives. These rules that they promised us were the key to all rational human behaviour. The Golden Rules which all mankind should abide by for peace and prosperity to reign on earth. These rules in summary are: compassion to all human beings, frugality, and the refusal to be proud and supreme of all things under the heavens.

But, these are precisely the rules that mankind as a whole has chosen to ignore, in their pursuit of peace and prosperity in the present age. The twentieth century man has many things to his credit. The foremost is to prove the Prophets of old and the laws they lived by and for others to follow, totally wrong. For this they have four centuries of material progress made by man and his technological advances made by him in the field of science and technology on his side. These people have a ready audience. They begin with the faith that modern science and technology can ensure continued growth in the available world's material resources. Their reasoning, logic and optimism are both infectious and almost flawless. For instance, the consumption of pig iron increased ten-fold in the past century, but steel output multiplied by a factor of twenty. The difference lies in the steady increase in technical efficiency and the use of scrap.

They reason out enthusiastically about the best to come; the most common and abundant supply of the mineral silicon [sand] in different parts of the world has been employed productively to make not only glass but also the nose cone of a rocket. They also remind us of the fact that those modern chemical processes can make all-purpose plastics from renewable resources as cellulose from wood pulp. This they say is just the tip of the iceberg. They remind us of the mineral wealth lying just below the oceans waiting to be tapped for the benefit of mankind.

The nuclear option to them offers unlimited supplies of future energy. But these nuclear fission plants, scattered in different parts of the globe are dependent upon an essentially scarce resouce-Uranium235. This factor does not deter their enthusiasm in the slightest; they say the breeder reactors are ready to replace them. And if this were not reassuring enough, they hasten to explain to us about fusion, possibly fuelling the planet by the ocean's apparently inexhaustible supply and reserves of deuterium. All this worry about vanishing reserves and declining energy they say are ill-founded, simply a failure of imagination, a failure of nerve and the total lack of will-power to implement new ideas. We can also totally stop worrying about distribution. According to them, if we can make the materials readily available to consumers, the materials will offer inflationary tendencies by bringing up supply to match the demand. Rising living standards the world over will lead to people downsizing their families. Birth control will automatically come into force. The world population numbers will decline towards stable numbers. Then there is always the help of science and technology to help the affluent to live on this earth with a minimum number of miseries, and improve their quality of life. This will usher in an era of peace and prosperity everywhere.

Man, with his ingenuity can also help to keep an effective check on pollution created by the advanced societies of the world of tomorrow. He can build treatment plants, for recycling and sanitising, and by storing atomic wastes in indestructible capsules, both above and under the ground. There have been ideas to tow these toxic wastes far into outer space and thousands of other processes not yet discovered. For them, it is ideas first and ideas have helped shape man's destiny in the past and they will continue to do so in the future. By this attitude, these thinkers of today, paint a perfect picture of a utopian world, ruled by man in charge and control of his own destiny.

In their rush towards achieving the impossible, all counsel for restraint has fallen on deaf ears. The ground realities point towards a more desolate picture and a dismal scenario of an overwhelming percentage of humanity living practically in sub-human conditions. There has been a practical breakdown of effective food distribution, clothing, shelter, clean water and sanitation - a birthright of every human being that is born on this planet. To keep them supplied with the barest necessities would mean to exercise continued pressure on scarcer and more expensive materials and a huge strain on available resources. If the present growth of population is not checked, the doomsdayers predict that the day is not far off, that the survival of a functioning humanity may even demand an agonizing choice. Some among the present day humanity have to be sacrificed, or left to fend for themselves so that the process of human enterprise can be carried on. The doomsdayers also predict that increased reliance on nuclear energy to meet the needs of mankind has its own dangers too, the accumulation of radioactive wastes, and the impossibility of ensuring safeguards, expose the planet to irreversible contamination, leaving mankind chained to a lifeless, irradiated rock.

The technocrats, if we can call them that, consider these doomsday predictions rubbish. They agree that the risks involved are enormous but answers are possible. It is true that that the pressures of escalating population are vast. According to them, we as a world community have made no concerted efforts to reach the underprivileged and the malnourished in poor and developing countries, enough food, clean water, medical services and education. It is certainly not a lack of resources that has impeded such an effort. The statistics presented by them show, that a ten-percent reduction in the bill of alcohol alone, in the world's developed countries would provide ample investment to meet the basic needs among the world's poorest nations. Today, if scarcity exists in third world countries, it is not because planet earth is endowed by lack of natural resources, but is due to fundamental skew in the distribution of its wealth, and the game of real-politics played by self-serving politicians of the developed countries. They also point out nowhere in the wealthy world, are genuine policies of restraint and conservation being practised with absolute honesty. A lot of wasteful expenditure is incurred by the wealthy and rich, who are wasting valuable resources by aimlessly travelling in their swanky cars, globe-trotting at the flimsiest reasons, putting up buildings, tall skyscrapers with the intention of flaunting their power and wealth, throwing away tins and bottles without making any effort to recycle them, triple-packaging eatables and other goods. So, they sum up their case stating that, the developed societies of the world are making no serious national effort engaged to control inflationary pressures by more modest and co-operative ways of living.

By extending their logic further, they tell us that, we have still got left about forty years of oil and hundred years of coal in the world to meet all our energy needs. This gives us enough time to look for alternative sources of energy; the chief option among them is to direct use of solar energy, in the fields of agriculture and every living thing entirely free of charge. Those well informed tell us that we need not hit the panic button to use nuclear energy, until we have learnt totally to harness it without causing any grievous harm to mankind. The poorer countries of the world can make use of one endowment they possess in abundant supply - the warm rays of the sun - and technologies to develop its direct use towards diversified purposes are on the way.

Are the technocrats of tomorrow true visionaries? Are they living out a dream, which is too vast, beyond human endeavour? Are they being naïve to pin all their hopes on the ingenuity of man and his intellect? Is man totally incharge of his own destiny and future? Is man capable of living his own life in better conditions and let others live out theirs too? Are men capable of rising beyond loyalties to his nation, family, city and town and extend it to the humanity at large and other beings that inhabit our planet? The technocrats answer all these with a resounding: Yes! Everybody has to fall in line, with this new thinking. The nations of the world already share with each other their airs and oceans, with the advent of new technology; they can now peep into each other bedrooms and drawing rooms. The world of today is fast changing into a global village with the exchange of ideas travelling almost at the speed of thought via the Internet. The future has never been so rosy for human beings, as that of the present age.

While the debate rages on let us take a peep into the world of tomorrow to examine the claims made by these technocrats. The people who have dared to foresee the future for entire mankind.

A Peep into the Future

It is no secret that mankind have made rapid advances in science and technology from the past four hundred years. Their achievements have been many and they can be classified into two types; those that are visible to the eye and understood by all, the big machines of the Industrial age, and the other mind-boggling and invisible, all designed to improve the quality of life in human beings. They are given below for the reader to make an independent assessment using his own understanding.

The moral of these startling achievements should not be lost on any of us. As the old saying goes: we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. It is already clear that these inventions, discoveries and new insights in the field of science will shape the way we live in astonishing ways. By this the scientists and those who dared to dream the impossible have demonstrated to the world at large that by using their creativity, intellect and imagination they are enlarging and enriching the future quality of life for all of us. The technocrats are clearly emerging as winners against the reasoning of doomsdayers.

Man in Control of His Own Destiny

Today, man marches almost unfettered in his quest for seeking excellence in different walks of life. For a long time man has stood helpless before the forces of nature. Life had always been uncertain to him. There are two causes for this uncertainty: natural catastrophes like famines, plagues, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, landslides etc., legally called by him as acts of God, but this thinking has been abandoned as primitive, for the people of the past believed that all problems were human problems. They believed, how nature behaved depended entirely on them, upon whether their actions were pleasing or displeasing to God; and the others were acts of human choice, the battles, the wars, accidents, piracy on high seas, and so on. In the past he had been nature's slave, it was natural that he should dream of a day when their relative positions would be reversed, he would be the master and she the slave.

This thinking was adopted, from the beginning of nineteenth century, by a tiny group of highly educated, but well-off people in Europe and America and continues unchecked till the present day. Dazzled, by the early achievements of technology, they persuaded themselves that there was no human problem; that once full mastery over nature was won, all problems would vanish. This led to a delusion, an emotional faith in Progress, that all change must inevitably be a change for the better.

It was not clear to them at that time, as it is today, that man's knowledge of himself and the power that knowledge confers merely increases man's capacity to do what he wills, for good or for evil. If the events of the past are any indication towards the future, then what man has chosen to do from the beginning of the century, as the theologians assert, more inclined towards evil.

Historical events since the beginning of the century have destroyed this faith in progress. Since then, man and his kind have fought two world wars, the bloodiest that have been witnessed in the history of man. Ever since then he has marched ruthlessly ahead not prepared to abandon his attitude of the superiority of his intellect over nature. Much has been written about the bloody conflicts in different parts of this world, about the ruthless exploitation of nature, colonizing the seas and outer space, nuclear weapons, indiscriminate use of antibiotics, unethical sexual practises leading to killing diseases reaching epidemic proportions, man's attempts to create clones of himself by genetic engineering, the greatest evil this century has ever witnessed, in creation of a super race etc., all these do not deter him in his march to progress. Progress, for him has to be achieved at any cost, whatever the consequences, but he is still loath to change his ways. With only the rich able to access these new leaps in technology-not just electronic gizmos but applications that genetically enables one to get a head start in these survival of the fittest times-critics voice and fear with good reason about a genetic underclass in the making.

The results the critics say can have far reaching effects on humans and the voices of caution are predicated not on scientific reasons, but on sociological unease. And yet, such high decibel, but ultimately feeble attempts to halt the unrelenting march of technology, to desist from intervention in what is deemed God's sovereignty continues to be ignored, along with issues of safety, viability and ethics. The theologians cutting across all religious divides are crying themselves hoarse for man to see reason, but no attention is paid to them. They cannot validate, document or corroborate their arguments from their religious books. In desperation they have turned to extreme logic to make them see reason, in a language that the scientists understand. They tell us that if we think of ethics as a set of imposed rules, then it is obvious that man can break them with absolute impunity. But, if the word "ethics" has any meaning-a condition of the world, like logic-then it must be like the law of sciences, like that of physics and chemistry, the laws we can defy but cannot break, no more than one can break the laws of biochemistry by getting drunk, or the laws of gravity by jumping out of a window. And the consequence of defying them must be as inevitable and as intrinsically linked to their natures as a hangover or a broken leg. Their logic failing to reach the desired audience, the theologians have retreated into their own shell telling all who care to know, that they [the scientists] will soon know the end result of what will happen to them, i.e., if they get drunk or jump out of the window. Their logic, like that of a lame duck falling over itself before it can take-off.

The Mouse Trap

The Quran, the Divine, revealed word of Allah to Prophet Muhammad (s), 1400 years ago, is the only religious book, which stands apart, to predict a high tech age among mankind. The Quran says,

"[The Doomsday will not begin] Until when the earth, put on its gold adornment, and has been embellished, and its people think, they have gained mastery over it. Then comes down upon it Our Judgment, by night or by day, and We cause it to become like a field mown down, as if there has been no yesterday".

(Quran, 10:24)

It is clear from this verse, just before the approach of Doomsday, a most dreadful event, the people who inhabit this earth will attain a high degree of technical competence, where mankind will adorn itself with an artificial, illusory 'adornment' brought about by man's technological ingenuity, not in collaboration with nature but, rather in hostile confrontation with it.

The word 'adornment' could also mean, in the words of an astronaut, "which looks like a bright jewel", in the night, when the world is lit up by night, an allusion to electricity. The present age seems close enough in achieving the technical excellence, where man can rightly say that he is the master of the world. His achievements are all around for us to see; the deserts under his loving care are being converted to gardens and far-flung areas, into places of beauty, rockets and satellites are probing deep into space, he has set foot on the moon and colonized space. He is vulgarly controlling his environment and exploiting earthly resources as if there was no tomorrow. An earth, in which man has not only tamed his atoms, but has also corrupted the morals of a host of innocent electrons and neutrons inside them, below the age of consent. The earth will no longer be a legacy, which mankind will bequeath to the future generations for they have decided to be its masters today.



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