As a species, we are peculiar from all others.
All other species eat only for survival; once their hunger is satiated, they stop eating. But not us. Our hunger is intertwined somewhere between the vast extremes of need and greed. As a species, what one capitalist aptly put “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” has been our guiding force. When I heard the quote first, it was a motivational quote. But today I realize this false motivation is the reason for all catastrophe.
The Food Chain
A chain is made of many links connected to each other. In this natural world, every living thing is food for another. It was to be the perfect system!
The biggest disruption in the natural world happened when we as a species stepped out of the food chain. Amused by our own maverick skills, we were not satisfied by being just outliers. We had to change the very structure of nature. From a self-generating circular network, we set up a one-way movement towards a vertical network – a pyramid – and sat right on top, above all other species.
The view from the top is something isn’t it? Especially when we were naturally not meant to have that perspective, where everything is below us and contextually looks smaller than us. How would the view be, if we were a few steps up ahead?
With food for survival taken care of, our species ventured into abstract concepts. As we wove this abstractness, we again took to the linear model. The cunning was quick to invent God and make the rules, convincing so eloquently the unequal distribution of dignity and all else.
What we call as culture today is nothing but myths of all civilizations. These myths are a cloak that renders us insensitive to the gruesome reality that unfolds through caste and racial discrimination. Our comfort is in the fact that we stand above someone, and as we may reach the next step up or not, our more focused endeavor is to ensure that no one from below steps up – and step up to become our equal.
Silk Routes, Voyagers and Empires
Another peculiar nature of our species is that we get easily bored. To break out of this boredom, we have put our lives at stake to venture beyond ice-capped mountains, sweltering desert patches and unkind oceans, to discover new lands. In these new lands, the exquisites of silks and spices captivated our collective senses. We dug the earth deeper to mine more gold to exchange for these perishables.
Then we wanted it all! Must have taken some ambition and desperation for us to be able to move cannons through these rough terrains to attain what was not rightfully ours, all because it elevated us by a few feet from the rest. Hands that were extended for trade exchange were laced with gun powder. Invasions by different empires became a recurring theme every few 100 years.
Many empires have risen and fallen. Risen again. Fallen again. As great lengths and breaths of geographies are added to various Empires, the autocratic supremacy at that high pedestal inevitably falls when it overweighs its own grace. Nevertheless, whenever an Empire is overthrown and the slate is clean, the hypnotic linear template continues to be the vision – only much steeper.
The Flickering Hope Called Democracy
Then came a day when the masses realized that they had strength in their numbers. Natural leaders emerged that led revolutions like no history of ours had ever seen. Passionate tenets of humanity lay the doctrines of this new age. Imperialism was overthrown, not through war but civil disobedience. In war you bleed mortal, finite blood. In a civil disobedience you fight with regenerating sweat and stop the levers of the economy. The base of the pyramid finally realized that the strength and stability of the ones sitting on top was fueled through their sweat!
For the first time in human history, theoretically at least, a level playing field was envisaged. Democracy – what seemed a mirage a few generations ago – was a living reality. It promised to hear your voice and give you an opportunity on your merit and nothing else. Industrialization too was a vital tool in providing the economic upliftment of the masses. Global markets, and access to them, gave us visions of a raging bull.
Somewhere in this theory there was a real possibility to switch back from a linear system of social operation to a more cyclical, interdependent system of social harmony. But the flaw of the architects of Democracy was that they were evolved and mutated humanitarians of our species who ‘Knew Hunger, Knew Wisdom’. They assumed the rest of the populous had also mutated. But alas!
Capitalism and Consumerism
Oil became the new gold. Corporates became the new Imperialists. Democratically elected governments became the jesters in the new ‘Imperial Courts’. Heights of addiction to heights!
As trade liberalized economies across the world, a few nations were constantly kept at war with one another. As the massacres spill blood in these nations; innocent blood, the alchemy of consumerism transforms the dense red fluid into a smooth gold liquid that strangely fuels our cloud networks. When the children of this stained soil seek revenge that is not masked by any other name, “phobia” is suffixed to the entire community they belong to world over. It’s packaged and marketed so meticulously. The bull rages higher and higher.
The wealth distribution has never been steeper and more disparate. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, it’s finally the billionaires who are running the system world-over. With the ancient tactic of ‘Divide and Rule’, communal divide, fueling migrant issues, and withdrawal of previously signed unions, we have been kept counter-productive. The false sense of security that comes with consumerism has distanced us from ourselves. With access to so many things that we do not need, mental wellbeing has never slumped so deep before. What’s worse is that we have treated the entire ecosystem as a pile of garbage with no regard whatsoever for other living things.
Flattening the Curve
Pre-teens and teens have taken on the new revolution, as the mutated humanitarian gene runs stronger in them than ever before. They champion the existence of every living thing. They have swallowed the hard facts disdained by us, that we are living on borrowed time. But their voices don’t reach the ones sitting right on top, whose immediate attention and action we need.
We were awaiting a climatic disaster – signs of which are all prevalent. Instead we witnessed the magnanimity of that invisible force of nature. A microscopic organism was all that was needed to put a screeching break on the mindless upward scaling at the cost of humanity and nature.
The Coronavirus, in the nature of the way it operates has a prophetic message, ‘flatten the curve’. But how? Like the mythological war formation, ‘Chakravyuh’, we knew only how to climb up and not down. Hence, we tumbled and fell with a huge thud on the vast base of the pyramid. The ugliness that we were covering up in the name of culture, tradition, policies, equality, philanthropy and what not lay exposed – a gruesome, gruesome sight!
In India, one of the world’s densest population, this gruesomeness was so powerful that even the blind could see it, the deaf could hear it but the men in control who have turned into stone were hard to move. Remember, earlier I had said that man’s hunger is intertwined somewhere between need and greed? On one hand, with a 3-week, unplanned lockdown of the nation to self-quarantine all individuals, the likes of me are stocked up for the many weeks to come. We are using this time to learn cooking, experimenting new cuisines, and sharing our weekly food menus with each other. We are eating 5 times a day and posting memes on how, by end of week 3, we would have become big blobs of flesh!
On the other hand there are the interstate migrant population of labourers, the engines of our economy, being displaced by losing their jobs. Being daily-wage earners, they have no luxury of even meager savings. With the raging apathy of their employers, owners and even their elected governments, this stratum of society shows us the ugly reflection of society at large. These unlucky humans, many with infants, set out on foot to walk 150, 300 and some even 500 Kms to reach a thatched roof that they call home. Nothing in name of food or money to give them secured company. Just the intent of staying alive and surviving for one more day. When they were asked why they resorted to such extreme measures, they said that if they stayed on in this city of deserted humanity, then hunger would kill them before the Coronavirus!
The hardships that this section endures, post their long walk, only gets ghastlier.
We will overcome this pandemic at some point for sure. We will return to a bluer sky, clearer water, fresher air to inhale, and new chirping birds to listen to. We will return to a healing Earth. But, the colossal damage of the world economy would leave fresh wounds. The infection will just about start spreading.
At that point we will be facing crossroads of either “Staying Hungry, Staying Foolish” or “Knowing Hunger, Knowing Wisdom”.
Stay safe till we reach that crossroad. And choose with awareness when we do.