Home > Uncategorized > Three mega-events which shape our minds

Three mega-events which shape our minds

from Asad Zaman

What is the nature of the world in which I live? As I look around me, I see walls, windows, doors, and furniture. But these are insignificant parts of the world as constructed by my mind. I conceptualize the world through the teachings of history, according to which human history started in the remote past, with hunter-gatherers. I have a smattering of knowledge of the ancient civilizations of Sumeria and Babylon, and much more of the Roman Empire. The rise of Christianity, Islam, the Ottoman Empire, the Industrial Revolution in England.  The NARRATIVE, or the stories woven around these events, and my own place – or that of my ancestors – within these events, shapes my identity, my allegiances, and also my hopes, visions and projects for the future. These narratives guide me about what is worth spending my life and efforts on.  For my present purposes, the important thing to note is that all of this history comes to me via reading of accounts, or listening to oral presentations by teachers and scholars. I did not experience the two world wars, or Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the “Era of Darkness” described by Shashi Tharoor,  but these events are of major importance in my mental landscape.

History creates the world we live in, far more than the bricks and mortar of the buildings around us, and far more than the rivers, mountains, jungles and oceans that we see. But what is history, and where does this history come from? I was taught that history is just a sequence of facts about the world – dates and events – just one damn thing after another. However, this positivist and reductionist view is extremely harmful to our quest for understanding the world, and our own place in this world.  Due to the influence of positivism, we confuse the NARRATIVE, or the story woven around the historical facts, with the facts themselves. This leads to the false belief that past history is engraved in stone and cannot be changed. While it is true that the events of history are fixed and cannot be changed, we can exercise considerable creative licence in terms of the stories we tell to explain these events. In particular, the stories told by the victors and vanquished are dramatically different, and listening to both sides gives us an idea of how much flexibility exists in interpreting the same events from multiple points of view. read more

  1. Ikonoclast
    June 23, 2020 at 1:45 am

    There is another mega-event happening right now which will shape future human minds… if any humans are left on earth at all. That mega-event is ecological and biosphere system collapse. This collapse has now begun. There will be no economic recovery after COVID-19 which is just the first event of a complex, interconnected and very likely long-running collapse over the rest of this century.

    The main looming problems (all interconnected) are;

    (1) Climate change (intensified heat, droughts, floods and storm events);
    (2) Mass species extinctions (eco-system collapse);
    (3) Failure of earth-systems and eco-services.
    (4) Further novel zoonotic disease outbreaks (plagues);
    (5) Food system collapse (famine); and
    (6) Wars.

    Capitalism cannot survive these events. Indeed, it is doubtful that homo sapiens can survive these events. The failure of capitalism is a moral failure and an empirical failure. The attitude of capitalist economics to humankind and nature is at the center of many of our problems. Exploitation is the keystone of the system. Humans and nature are seen as resources to be exploited rather than as beings and processes valuable in and of themselves and in ways which cannot be counted by mere money and wealth calculations.

    Viewed in this light, capitalism is a failure of brotherhood and stewardship. We failed to care properly for our fellow humans and we failed to care for the world. As all things are connected, we will pay for this failure with billions of deaths and the collapse of world civilization. Being a scientific empiricist and humanist, I see this as the simple working out of natural forces and processes. Others of a more religious mind will see this in another way.

    Scientific hubris was and is definitely part of the problem. We had a merely mechanistic view of the world from classical science. (“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”) By the time we learnt of the fully interconnected nature of the world from further progress in science, it was too late to re-inform an economic and production system (capitalism) which was based on inadequate mechanistic and instrumental reason / instrumental power considerations. Capitalism itself had become essentially a religion; one of self-interest and unconcern for others and the world.

  2. June 23, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    Both Asad’s and Ikonoclast’s comments here are thought-provoking: Asad’s more hopeful teaching and Ike’s challenging pessimism:

    “The NARRATIVE, or the stories woven around these events, and my own place – or that of my ancestors – within these events, shapes my identity, my allegiances, and also my hopes, visions and projects for the future. These narratives guide me about what is worth spending my life and efforts on. … the stories told by the victors and vanquished are dramatically different, and listening to both sides gives us an idea of how much flexibility exists in interpreting the same events from multiple points of view.”

    And Ike’s different point of view:

    “Being a scientific empiricist and humanist, I see this as the simple working out of natural forces and processes. Others of a more religious mind will see this in another way. … By the time we learnt of the fully interconnected nature of the world from further progress in science, it was too late to re-inform an economic and production system (capitalism) which was based on inadequate mechanistic and instrumental reason / instrumental power considerations. Others of a more religious mind will see this in another way.”

    So I’ve got a more religious mind, tending to side with Asad even though he defeats his own argument about listening to others when he praises Mohammed as “the greatest teacher”. I’m a scientist, though unlike Ike neither an empiricist nor a humanist in the way popular dictionaries define these terms, as basing their opinions on what they can personally see after they have been told what to look for. (I see what needs looking for before I look for it). I can agree with what Ike means when he says “Capitalism itself had become essentially a religion; one of self-interest and unconcern for others and the world”, except he needs to listen to what religious people mean by the term ‘religion’ (gratitude) rather than what its enemies say it means (believing uncritically).

    Back to the point. We are in a right mess, aren’t we? So I asked myself “What needs looking for?” and concluded “a reason for gratitude” which is there in religion and was there in nature but needs reconstructing in our status, contract and competitive relationships. (I’ve just been re-reading Belloc’s (1937) “The Crisis of our Civilisation”. Primary among these has to be status (seeing each other as brothers and sisters rather than victors and vanquished – and the least of us as Natures’ finest art), for otherwise contracts and competition become one-sided.

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