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Saturday, January 15, 2022

Shared Mythology for the 21st century: Pathway to a Shared Sacred Mother Earth (2)

 What other factors influenced me to plan this activity?

Even before these two reports, I was moved by the catastrophic and civilization-changing impact of the COVID 19 pandemic which has exposed the vulnerabilities of our society, widening gaps between socio-economic groups and polarization of people. I wrote a piece with the title Cooperation, Collective Welfare, Common Good and Common Purpose on June 19, 2020 (Athreya B, 2020) at my blog site.

Since we were all stuck in isolation and since positive thinking is good for mental health, I started a dialogue with some of my friends on three questions:

1.What have we learned from this pandemic?

2. What are the areas we need to focus in rebuilding our society with emphasis on values?

3. What are some of the values on which future should be built on, values that are most likely to be useful for the future generations?

My own answer to the third question led me to the observation that at present, our transactions are dominated by competition, individual advancement, individual happiness, and legal relationships. Based on this observation I thought that,

For a peaceful and just society, competition must be moderated by cooperation.

The word happiness should include collective happiness and spiritual happiness. Individual happiness must be moderated by universal welfare. Pursuit of happiness should include not only pursuit of material happiness but also happiness of others and spiritual happiness.

Morality and ethics should matter and, morality must take precedence over legality. Even if the law allows, one should not practice what the “inner light” says is immoral.

Only individuals are capable of conscience and responsibilities; groups are not. Responsibilities and duties of the individuals and of organizations and the government should be considered covenants, in which the more powerful in the transaction takes care of the welfare of the weaker participant; and not mere legal contracts, buried in small prints and disclaimers, which can be manipulated by the rich and the powerful.

At a practical level, I also concluded that hunger prevention and violence prevention demand special attention given the effects of the pandemic and the “infodemics”. What are the steps individuals can take? And what values should guide the individual? How can these values be shared values of the entire humanity and not parochial ones?

We need facts to know where we are now (and why) and we need facts supported by the mind, heart and spirit to develop our ideas on where we want to go and how to get there. The articles referred to earlier at the beginning of this essay document all the facts adequately.

At present, all the well-known human frailties are exposed quicker and spread faster due to the combination of human activities and technology. The technology driving this trend is the social media with its emphasis on individualism, equal weight for all information factual or not (fictions and conspiracies), and monetized algorithm. The human frailties are uninhibited individualism at the expense of group welfare and erratic and often, irrational group behavior endangering the individual the society and the entire humanity.

Science has helped us understand nature better and has improved the quality of life in all parts of the world. Yet, inequalities abound. Amidst distractions and information disorder, we are struggling to find future direction.

There has been enormous progress in science in the past 200 years.  In my own professional field of medicine, the advances we have made over the past 100 years is mind-boggling. In my medical school days, I had seen every known infectious disease known to mankind from diphtheria to rabies. Indeed, there were special hospitals for infectious diseases in every major city in the world. There are none today. We knew by inference that viruses cause some of the diseases, but no one had grown the virus or seen it. Now, we know how each virus looks like, what it is made of and its genetic composition. In earlier era, even after we knew how to grow the viruses, it took several decades to develop vaccines, test them for safety and efficacy and produce them in mass scale.   Look at the rapidity with which the genetic structure of not only the original COVID 19 virus, but its mutants, are recognized in few weeks and effective vaccines are developed within a month or two.

In the 1950’s we did not even know that humans carry 46 chromosomes. Now we know the structure of DNA and can manipulate the DNA at precise locations.

A child diagnosed with acute leukemia in the 1960’s rarely lived more than one year after the diagnosis. Now there are several adults, survivors of childhood leukemia, who are battling secondary cancers.

In my medical school days, we knew the word “immunity”, but we did not know its components. When I was involved in research with the polio virus in Dr. Coriell’s laboratory, we knew about serum antibodies as made of globulins. But we did not know that there were Immunoglobulins G, M, A, D and E. We certainly did not know the cellular components of the immune system.

I had seen scores of children with severe malnutrition in India and elsewhere. Although undernutrition is still a problem, severe malnutrition is fortunately rare in most parts of the world.

Infant mortality rate in India used to be over 150 per 1,000 (189 to be exact) live births in 1947. Now it is still high, but at 29 per 1,000 live births. In the 1950’s life expectancy in India used to be 31 years and now it is 69 years. Life expectancy used to be 36 to 46 years in the 1950’s in many parts of the world. Now it is over 70 in many countries.

The corresponding figures in USA are infant mortality rate of 29 per 1,000 live births in 1950 and 5.9 in the year 2000. Life expectancy used to be 68 years in 1950 and it is 79 now.

Granted that all these advances are not just due to medical science, but due to other advances such as in public health, medical technology, and agricultural methods.  Yet, progress is undeniable, thanks to science and technology.

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