On the end of the world


A running theme in the past few decades has been something we used to read only on the screen at the conclusion of movies: The End.

In recent years, we have had books and articles on the End of the World, the End of Physics, the End of History, the End of Communism, and the End of Civilization. There seems to be no end to publications of this kind, fueled by the internet free-for-all and the flourishing market for any kind of sensationalist proclamation.

A couple of generations ago, monster movies and murder mysteries used to sell very well too. Now frightful finalities seem to be the fad. I am almost inclined to say, à la Hamlet, “America, thy name is fad!”

Unfortunately, the ends predicted by current Nostradamuses are not the fantasy-calculations of star-mongers and soothsayers, but the serious prognostications of well-read scholars and well-informed scientists. But they do remind us of the Biblical Book of Revelations and the Puranic Kalki Avatara: both of which were inconvenient truths of by-gone ages, but those projected unhappy endings were to be followed by new happy beginnings, for in the end Almighty God would establish harmony and bliss (according to one interpretation, at least for Christians).

But the ends foreseen by current diviners are dismal beyond compare, and indiscriminate in sweep.

True, in medieval times, astrologers used to foresee disasters now and again because comets showed up in the sky or planets were coming into conjunction. But these days, we are heading towards a kind of thermodynamic disaster which, in its entropic fury, is leading us down a path of no return, with no chance of a cyclic reinstatement of an Arthurian Utopia.

Like so many other people who are counting on spending more years of planetary residence for themselves and their progeny, I am somewhat concerned about, perhaps I should say, quite disturbed by all this. Our only hope seems to lie in these scientists being dead wrong, and that doesn’t seem very likely at this point. I am frantically looking for some loophole in arguments that prophesy inevitable catastrophes, but like peace in the Middle East, that doesn’t seem to be within my grasp either.

But then, when these pundits talk of civilization, they are primarily thinking of the creature-comfort-abundant hyper-technological voraciously-energy-devouring modes which are the goals of billions all over the world who are, not so slowly, and surely, catching up.

Many thinkers and most people in the Non-West, indifferent to or unaware of the dire warnings of Western wise men, are eager for mid-century when, per economic forecasters, India and China would have equaled, perhaps surpassed, the U.S. in GNP and what not. They are dreaming, not of a white Christmas or about the end of the world, but the beginning of a new era when they will be the lead economic players.

Then again, there are billions now living in countless villages in Africa and Asia and South America where people live fairly peaceful lives as all our ancestors did centuries ago, making do with whatever is available, hunting and in harmony, sitting around for chats and songs and folktales, listening to ancient stories narrated by elders, laughing and merry-making, unaware of asteroids, and above all, being quite content with what is available, even if the average life-span may not be considerable. I wonder if their civilizations will also come to an end because of the unintended catastrophic forces that scientific knowledge, industrial pollution, and ecological rampage have unleashed.

Sometimes I tell myself that like individual death, the end of civilization will also be but a sad and passing phase of history. When it is all over, the surviving few will manage somehow or other, perhaps sitting in groups and recalling how their more energy-gobbling ancestors lived and enjoyed and ruined the whole damn thing. Or perhaps, it will all be over for Homo sapiens, and birds and beasts will once again fly and roam following the dictates of evolutionary instincts, with no wars or religions or wanton intrusions that would upset the balance in the biosphere. But the world will also then be deprived of poets and singers, astronomers and pure mathematicians and humorists and that wold be the greatest tragedy of all!

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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