Is Human Civilization Stuck?

25 June, 2004 at 23:02 Leave a comment

I do not know when and where but I hazily remembering reading an article that argued that human civilazation has stagnated when it comes to the soft-sciences like arts, literature, religion etc. The argument that was given is that our (seemingly) best literature is a few centuries old like Shakespeare, Voltaire, Marx etc. and nothing in recent memory has even looked close to be the next BIG thing. I cannot but add more to this observation. Like say, religion. All of our major religions are more than thousands of years old. And revolutions (not coups) are a few hundred years old. If you take them as purely mass movements which have influenced people, societies, nations and the world – at the basic level of how we live and how we percieve others – nothing in recent memory comes even close to deserve mention to be called a movement of such magnitude. True, some of the readers may point out the internet (and all the baggage like email, web, grid, blogs that come with it) is a revolution of sorts but I think it is an evolution that technology has made possible. It is not something that has fundamentally changed the ways of humankind in mind, body and spirit. The internet has just proven to be yet another way of achieving some age-old notions. Email is a cheaper and faster way to communicate. Web is a way to publish. Newsgroups are clubs and societies. Chat rooms are like pen-pals. Blogging is to maintain a dairy (only hyperlinked). And still, the internet still affects a minority of the world’s population and will take a lot of time to swing the see-saw the other way. Internet is an addiction but religion is an affliction. Deal with it. When I mean by a movement, it should be a ‘paradigm shift’ – something like a piece of art or a concept that influences everyone and spreads like a virus to the point that it becomes invisible and gets ingrained unto society. People can live without the internet but we cannot live without religion. Fanatics or Athiests, it affects everyone of us at some level. I think some people would be devastated if all of a sudden religion ceases to exist. Similarly, some people cannot imagine a world without the paintings of Van Gogh. Do not mind and I do not want to be pedagogical but I guess all of us can come up with arguments for and against this observation of human civilization getting stuck. If you did (or did not), good for you but do lemme know.

I think that in some areas we are stuck. And I proceed to give my own reasons to make sense of this observation for myself. You can object if you so want. However, the unmistakable pattern in all this is our obsession with the past and our addiction towards anything old. We always think that good things happened only in the past and this window keeps shifting in every generation. My parents keep alluding to the 1970’s and when I have children, may be I will keep alluding to the 00’s. Doing so individually is one thing but even as a society, we seem to be obsessed with our past. We dig in sand all around the world to find bones and broken pottery and speculating stories of ancient civilizations. I always wonder of how did these lost cities get covered by mud in the first place? There should always be humans around these cities. How did they allow that to happen. It seems strange that humans would abandon cities just like that. Hmmm… that is OK but what concerns me is the extreme beating to death of the past in academia and in the media. Like say, many dissertations in literature even in this modern age and where books are being published by the dozen every hour all around the world, still want to discuss Shakespeare. And if you take any programme list of some art festival or even an annual list of programmes of a theatre venue, you will find some play by Shakespeare possibly with words like musicals, novelty, interpretation flying all around the place. I mean, do we need to repeat stuff so many times and in that process forget that if we put the same effort to be original, we can ourselves do the next BIG thing? To skip the argument forward, we can logically attribute two reasons to the state of affairs. One is that indeed the literature has stagnated and we humans are just not producing things of sufficiently historic quality and legacy today. This is hard to defend (either way) because even in this age, no one gets to know what everyone in the world is thinking. Maybe at this very moment, some villager chewing a neem twig in some poor village in India is writing an equation which can solve the primality test problem with linear time complexity or someone in sub-saharan Africa is painting in caves or in Europe, some socialist revolution is brewing up. Who knows? The second argument is that maybe all this is a proof that perhaps, maybe, people are more informed and less prone to mass hysteria and herd-like behaviour. People today have preferences and individuality. But that is untrue if you watch football fans and even corruption which are viruses of our age. But again, these are notions that have been around for centuries. Our only means of displaying individuality seems to be mobile phone covers, desktop wallpapers and tattoos etc. – which are mass movements about individualism!

I tend to think and indeed want to believe that it is the second reason because it shows the stagnation is due to a positive thing. I am not sure about the freedom and choices because there is much too much confusion with those terms. What is liberty? It is true that we have freedom and plenty of choices (OK, not in all countries) but what are we doing with it? What does it mean to have freedom? Do we even know what freedom is like? My grandfather[G] used to explain things once in a while but I was too young to comprehend it and now that I am older, I do not fully remember the words to make true sense out of them but I guess he knew what freedom felt like having been involved and alive when India became independent. Maybe people today are too polarized by what has been imbibed in them sinc childhood to accept some new notion. I may have painted a pessimistic picture there but I think it takes time for something to gain momentum. This happens all the time and we see the patterns everywhere. I do not think people living during Shakespeare’s time could have thought that he was a genius or as much a genius as he is cracked out to be these days. Some scientists like Copernicus were killed for having brought forth a theory that oppossed the common belief. Though I would not want to suffer such a thing, it gives me hope that maybe in a few hundred years, someone will access these blogs and brand me as a genius. As Tom in Shawshank Redemption says – “Hope is a good thing” πŸ™‚

Mood: Content especially after eating some Malaysian sponge “bahulu” cakes from Azreen.


Entry filed under: Life-Theories.

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