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January 17, 2017

Reclaiming civilisation


January 17, 2017

Man has struggled, sometimes by default and most often by design, to live differently from other animals. Getting rid of his own inherent weaknesses and acquiring control over natural forces are hallmarks of what man has accomplished so far. He has not only unlocked his own vast potential but has also penetrated into the deep mysteries of the universe.

The journey is still going and only God knows what the ultimate destiny is going to be. However, in his long haul fight for civility and excellence, man has sometimes succumbed to the forces of de-civilisation lurking beneath the surface in different forms at
different ages.

Our age is no exception to the rule of de-civilisation. We have to grapple with many regressive forces of our times – racism, unbridled greed, and fanaticism – bequeathed to us by one universal phenomenon – collective ignorance – which can potentially take us back to the proverbial Stone Age.

The world has shrunk to a village in terms of interconnectivity of people, thanks to information and communication technology, but the bond of humanity is getting weaker every passing moment. It means we have access to information about everyone and everything but we do not have access to the deep yearning of humanity at large. Even worse, we do not know who we all really are and what we all aspire to be. 

We tend to make sense of others and our surroundings by wearing glasses which are coloured but cannot be easily noticed. Race, religion, language and nationality define our worldview and identity and the impact of ‘identity’ in turn becomes so profound that perception replaces reality and delusion becomes the absolute truth. More depressing is the fact that we cannot easily take off the glasses to see the reality with naked eyes. A parable may illustrate this point.

A city dweller brought a cow from a village with the hope of getting sufficient fresh milk at home. All family members welcomed the cow with hay and silage but she did not pick up anything to satiate her hunger. Everyone thought that the cow was tired and would start eating once she took enough rest. To their dismay, the cow did not eat for three consecutive days and they started worrying about her life.

One of the family members went to seek advice of an elderly man living in the neighbourhood. He suggested that the eyes of the cow be covered with green polythene sheet so that she would mistake hay for green grass. The trick worked and everyone was overjoyed.

The reality of hay did not change; the way it was perceived certainly did. The races we are born in make us believe that we are different from one another when in reality we descend from common ancestors. How can progeny of common parents make them superior or inferior when the same blood runs through their veins? The reality of race is socially constructed. The same is true for language. A language is a tool to communicate. Making it an instrument of power and prestige deprives humanity of its soul. 

Fanatics of every religion are a great threat to civilisation too. Religion has had a great socialising and civilising power but if not understood in its totality and in terms of its ultimate purpose, it can drift us apart. By its very nature, religion seeks to penetrate into the hearts through its appeal to higher truth and transcendental reality. It cannot and should not be pushed down the throats of people by force for it would lose its true meaning and worth otherwise. All the Prophets (peace be upon them) happened to emphasise inner purification more than outward conformity to God’s commandments. 

The most horrendous and retrogressive force, however, is the growing greed unleashed by transnational capitalism. The planet and its atmosphere has been the victim of brutal exploitation by multinational corporations owned by one percent people. In pursuit of wealth maximisation, the global giants are extracting natural resources on one hand and dumping their waste into air and water on the other, causing unprecedented climate change. Income inequality and domination of the poor by the rich through the instruments of the IMF and WTO seem to be creating conditions for volcanic rupture.   

The challenge for East and West is to take off the coloured glasses and read Nature’s writing on the wall. According to one of the principal founders of the Union of Democratic Control, Norman Angell, “The obstacles to peace and human progress are not obstacles in matter, in the mountains which we pierce, in the seas across which we fly. The obstacles to peace are in the minds and hearts of men.  Man has so far tamed the inanimate matter by the application of his intelligence.  The more difficult problem confronting him now is how he applies his intelligence to understanding himself and his relations with others”.


The writer teaches at the Sarhad
University. Email:[email protected]




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