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Sunday, January 30, 2022

Shared Mythology for the 21st century: Pathway to a Shared Sacred Mother Earth (4)

 Every technology comes with its own set of problems and unintended consequences. Knowing the secrets of atoms is a good thing. But it also comes with the possibility of destruction of our civilization. Understanding the secrets of the gene is a great thing. But the possibility of someone manipulating the gene for nefarious purposes is an ever-present danger. Rapid travel is a great thing. But viruses also travel rapidly with the humans. Rapid communication and raid dissemination of news is a good thing. But misinformation and dangerous information also spread rapidly, more rapidly than correct information. 

New developments in science and technology makes it possible to develop new products and services. This is a good thing. But the problem is that everything, even health care, gets “commodified” which means stripping every item and every service of ALL its inherent values except the monetary value. When commodification allows creation of an item for sale it becomes the source of income for one person or one organization. Stock value and quick profit become the focus. Greed gets in. More and more legal contracts which are difficult to understand are developed. Caveats and escape clauses are written in small prints. Cost of the products and services increase benefitting a few and unaffordable to many. The gulf between the have and the have-nots increases.


It is also evident that we as human beings are growing apart from each other and from nature. Even as the speed of travel and ease of communication have brought us closer in some ways, many of us act as if we do not all belong to the same community of nations. Even within a nation, we have started talking and acting as if all of us do not belong to the same nation by using words like “taking the country back” and talking about “we” and “them”.


The benefits generated by science and technology have not been distributed equally, equitably, or fairly. The current pandemic has exposed the fault lines more than anything. Look at the rapidity with which science solved the essential puzzles and biological properties of the COVID virus itself. Look at the rapidity with which technology enabled the production of an effective vaccine in record time. Look at the usefulness of communication technologies which enabled international collaboration in studying the vaccine and accelerated and changed the way clinical trials are conducted.


Yet, the benefits of the vaccine are not available to the world population equitably. Poorer countries have been left behind. Even in countries with available vaccine, anti-scientific sentiments and anti-vaccine sentiments are rampant, thanks to the same communication technologies and political ideologies influencing vaccination strategies and endangering public health.


In addition to the socio-economic divide, racial divide, ethnic divide, language divide, and other divides we now must deal with digital divide. How can we bridge the divide except by communicating with each other respecting each other’s dignity, using civil discourse, with compassion in our hearts and cooperation in our actions?


The first step to set a new direction is to consider the entire humanity (indeed all living creatures) as our family and this Mother Earth as our home, where all of us live and must have the freedom and resources to live. An ancient Tamizh poet (Tamizh is my mother-tongue)by name Kanian Poongunranaar, who was born near my hometown, wrote somewhere around 100 BCE to 300 CE the following words (Puranaanuru Verse 192):

                யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளீர்

The translations is:  “Hark, hark. I consider every town  (village, city) as my town”


And, an ancient Upanishad in Sanskrit (Maha Upanishad 6:72)says:

                अयं बन्धुः अयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसाम्

       उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुंबकम्

This says that those of limited understanding says “this is my family, and this is not”; but for one with compassionate heart, the entire world is family.


Once we take this attitude, we will not even think of “we” and “them”. We will say kind words to everyone. We will be compassionate. We will cooperate and compromise as much as possible. We will look at the agreements and alignments in the “heart” and not overemphasize differences in appearances and insist on communicating with only those who look like us and think like us. 

During the past several decades, there has been vast movement of people across nations and continents for several reasons. We are told that almost half of the population of Toronto is foreign-born. In the city of London, three hundred different languages are spoken. It is predicted that by the year 2042 there will be no ethnic majority in the United States – only plurality. As pointed out by T G Ash, we are living in a “Cosmopolis, and we need to learn to live with differences. In his book on Ten Principles of Free Speech (Ash 2017), T.G. Ash includes Diversity as a crucial element. He further explains that “we should be able to express ourselves openly and with robust civility about all kinds of human differences.” 

We need more than tolerance to live with differences. We need acceptance of differences. Some differences are immutable such as sex and color and some which we are born into or choose, such as language, political belief, and religion. Skin color has been a particularly vexing problem. When a group of individuals in Brazil were asked to describe their skin color in their own words, they gave 134 different descriptions. We know that all our organs underneath that skin look the same. As Buddha pointed out millennia back “Blood is red in everyone; tears are salty in everyone”.

To live in a civilized society, we need to emphasize uniformity of “hearts” and not identical skin color or eye color or belief systems. In the book I referred to earlier on Free Speech, T G Ash suggested that “we express ourselves openly and with robust civility about all kinds of differences”. I suggest an addition to this statement: “we must concede freedom to others to be themselves with their immutable and mutable characteristics and express them with robust civility.”

Ash defines civility as: “respect for the dignity and the desire for dignity of the other person”. Civility is not just acceptance to be politically correct. It is not just politeness and good manners. It is deep acceptance capable of aligning one’s thoughts, manners, and actions. If not accepted deeply at the mental and spiritual level, the intolerance will show up eventually. It will also make it difficult to teach the younger generation what true acceptance is. They will see through our hypocrisy.

The need for full acceptance of diversity and the need for inclusion is upon us right now, in this 21st century “cosmopolis.”  We should be able to have open and civil conversation on all important topics such as diversity and inclusion, the influence of human behavior on our habitat and the role of technology and its use.  We must preserve the freedom of speech which is so essential for such conversation.

We need all the advances, and they are here to stay. We must learn how to use them wisely. We need to treat Mother earth with respect and concern for the future. We need to learn how to think on our own and modify our own behavior to avoid the dangers. We need to be humble and learn from all sources. We need to take care of the resources of the earth with care and concern and not use technology to just plunder nature’s resources as if there is no tomorrow.

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