“Earth has a disease called man”, says Friedrich Nietzsche in his book ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ in nineteenth century when the Western society was on a high in the wake of Industrial Revolution that had not only swept across Europe but was also in a process of getting itself imprinted on the rest of the world through the phenomenal advance of colonialism. Isn’t it surprising that he diagnosed the symptoms of the malady very early when capitalism, propelled by introduction of mechanical mode of production, was emerging as a universal vision of society with boundless possibilities.
Capitalism in its infancy was marked by two distinct but interlinked philosophic concepts: one, nature has infinite resources, and two, man’s mission is the conquest of nature. These concepts were not entirely new as they had been espoused by ancient wise men and religious traditions in the man’s unceasing struggle for survival in the face of hostile natural forces. What was new about it was the exponentially increased knowledge of manifest and hidden natural resources and enhanced human capacity to subjugate the nature and exploit what it held.
The notion of limitless resources was in fact born of ignorance. Scientific knowledge has convincingly proved in empirical terms that the planet we live on is finite. So how can our finite world provide us with infinite resources? Consequently how can we afford infinite consumption in a finite world as has been relentlessly advocated by capitalism? Craving for limitless consumption is a result of cultural habit inculcated in consumers by big business in its urge of unrestrained expansion. Such an attitude has obfuscated our understanding of crucial fact that if limited resources of our planet are exploited relentlessly, the act would not only accelerate the process of depletion but also damage the balance that sustains life. Why is the illusion of limitless supply of resources maintained and touted? The answer is greed which is euphemistically called profit. It’s profit for big business and corporations. What would happen if we insist to live beyond what discreet use of resources allows? The destruction of what sustains us! The destruction is already visible in the shape of impoverished world we at the moment have. Just look at the scene; environment damaged, air polluted, seas contaminated, ground water poisoned, sanctuaries of wildlife encroached, millions of species pushed to extinction.
The conundrum is that if the existing capitalist system openly recognizes that our planet has limited resources, it would have by its own logic to adjust to a new perspective; it cannot produce endlessly. It would have to recognize that greed is a disease. The admission would further imply non-emphasis on mass and conspicuous consumption resulting in the curtailment of profit, the raison d’eter of capitalist enterprise. Can a system sound its own death knell? Obviously not.
The other interlinked concept was that of conquest of nature. The conquest of nature is closely related with human consciousness which revolves around the perceived status of humans in the scheme of things at the planet. Mankind in its early harsh struggle to survive developed an anthropocentric vision underpinned by teleological thinking. Man was the centre of the universe, it was believed. With each incremental height that human consciousness gained, the human species was convinced that all else existed only to serve the interest of its existence. So each and everything was meant for its grab. Thus the process of conquest of nature turned into process of destruction of nature. The result is what nature offers has either been overused or destroyed in a vicious cycle of human lust.
With each passing day man wants more and subsequently ends up destroying more. And this is being done in the name of human progress and advance of civilization. But this charade ignores one fundamental fact; human being is part of nature, a product of nature in fact. And nature is a huge web of intricate interconnections. It exists through dynamic links created by interconnections which are kept in a state of equilibrium by a visible and imperceptible harmony. Disturbing the equilibrium means disturbing the very process through which life sustains itself. Vandalizing or disturbing even a single element in the process would result in its disruption because of domino effect.
The delusion of self-importance is no longer sustainable that by conquering nature man will emerge as victor at the end of the day. The nature, exploited and subjugated, may continue to exist in some form but the so-called victor would perish forever because he isn’t an essential part of natural life. Millions of species have already gone extinct in the evolutionary process. If man has to exist, he would co-exist as one of the creatures in conformity with natural laws. But unfortunately man is not that wise. Why? It’s because of the prevalent exploitative system geared specially towards profit making which produces false consciousness regarding human status on the planet. Human journey in search of richness has left this world denuded. How ironic that the world with a little human knowledge was far richer than what it is now when man’s accumulated body of knowledge is huge. Is something wrong with the knowledge or the way we handle it? The way out is simple; produce less and consume less. What we already produce is more than enough if it is distributed fairly and equitably in our skewed class society. Does a man need forty pairs of shoes in his cupboard to walk on the earth? Is man no more than his consumption? The naked philosophers in the Punjab had told Alexander, the Greek invader, that he made a futile effort to conquer the world. “… man can possess only as much of earth’s surface as this we are standing on”, Dandamis [Dandi Swami] audaciously told the bloody warrior.
But keeping in mind the human follies it seems reasonable to imagine that at some point in our journey human life would imply death of the planet as we want to live at its expense blissfully forgetting that we are here because of the planet, not otherwise. We need planet more than it needs us, if it ever does. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2020