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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

… O Earth … O purifier … may we not injure thy vital or thy heart

The Indians of yore looking at the earth with reverence prayed thus:

Whatever I dig up of you, O earth,
May you of that have quick replenishment!
O purifying one,
May my thrust never reach
unto your vital points, your heart.
May your dwellings, O earth,
free from sickness and wasting,
flourish for us!
                                                Through a long life watchful,
                                                    May we always offer to you our tribute.
                                                                                                                   — Atharva Veda

Indeed, till AD 1500, the dominant world view was organic: People lived in small cohesive communities and experienced nature in terms of organic relationships, characterized by the interdependence of spiritual and natural phenomena and the subordination of individual needs to those of the community. 

“The image of the earth as a living organism and nurturing mother served” ancients “as a cultural constraint” restricting their actions.  As a result, they could not “dig into her entrails for gold, or mutilate her body.” Every destructive act against earth was indeed, considered as a breach of human ethical behavior.  

They firmly believed that the whole of mankind’s actions and desires are linked up with the existence of other human beings. The health of society was considered to be dependent “quite as much on the independence of the individuals composing it as on their close social cohesion.” To be ethical, it was believed that one’s behavior should essentially be based effectually on sympathy, education and social ties and needs. 

But unfortunately, this medieval outlook changed radically in the 16th and 17th centuries— the cultural constraints disappeared as the mechanization of science took place setting decadence in motion. The notion of an organic, living and spiritual universe was replaced by that of the world as a machine and the “world-machine” became the dominant metaphor of the modern era. 

Of course, it is this replaced world-view that is primarily responsible for the industrial growth that we are today witnessing. And the emergence of corporations as the models of business organization had only speeded up the whole process. Today, these corporations have even transcended national boundaries and became major global actors. The assets of many of these multinational corporations have far exceeded the gross national product of many nations. Their economic and political power had surpassed that of even some national governments. 

Competition, coercion and exploitation have become the core of the activities of giant corporates, all meant for indiscriminate expansion. “Profit-maximization” has become the sole objective to the exclusion of all other considerations. They undertake an intense search for natural sources, cheap labor, and new markets, unmindful of environmental disasters and social tensions that have emerged as the offshoots of this indifferent growth. In the process, many corporates have lost their human face.

Lack of responsibility towards fellow beings and pride in what one does, coupled with an insatiable greed for profit, have led corporates to pursue unjustified activities, such as: 
  • Production of unnecessary consumer junk or weapons of war
  • Production catering to false needs of unbecoming appetites
  • Works that exploit or degrade the environment  
  • Works that wound the environment or make the world ugly
There are companies that simply dump polluting waste products “somewhere else” rather than neutralizing them before releasing into environment, without caring that in a finite ecosystem there is no such place as “somewhere else”.

Our obsession with economic growth and the value system underlying it has created a physical and mental environment in which life has become extremely unhealthy. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this social dilemma is the fact that the health hazards created by the economic system are caused not only by the production process but by the consumption of many of the goods produced and heavily advertised to sustain their economic expansion. 

The more we study the social and environmental problems of our time, the more we realize that the mechanistic world view and the value system associated with it had generated technologies, institutions, philosophies and lifestyles that are profoundly unhealthy and importantly unsustainable for long. 

Amidst this up surging calamity, Lovelock and Andrew Watson have, incidentally, highlighted an important idea, the idea of ‘hysteresis’ which states that damage once done to the ecosystem is very difficult to undo. This scientific idea obviously pops up an argument: “we are just one part of a larger system and are reliant on that system for our continued existence”. This thought process has only intensified the global concern for sustaining the “eco balance”. Indeed, every scientist of repute is warning the global powers: “We are degrading the environment beyond repair endangering the entire production platform of the planet”. 

The writing on the wall is clear: We are harming environment at our own peril. Yet, there are no listeners!
 Keywords: World Earth Day,   Lovelock, Andrew Watson, Gaia Theory


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