Abstract: This paper analyses some subtle currents of power shift which according to the author’s belief are potent enough to transmute the whole debate on Balance of Power in the recent future. First, the paper briefly discusses the present boom in technology and its impact on the environment, society and mind as a system. Next, it discusses some important features of the growth of materialism as a way of life.
This is followed by a holistic appraisal of the future scenario in the light of technology and materialism, and a look into what went wrong. Finally, the paper hypothesizes why spiritualism would evolve as the dominant source of power in the coming few years.
(For sake of relevance and brevity, the author has avoided delving into history and philosophy to the extent possible.
Technology rules supreme
The present era is hailed as the era of technology. Technology drives the world. Especially after the IT revolution, technology has had perhaps the greatest impact on our lives than anything else. Our whole social fabric, thinking patterns, economic structure, lifestyle; almost every aspect of life is being shaped primarily by the emerging technological innovations.We are rapidly surging towards a completely wired world (without wires though!) where communication occurs at the speed of thought and distance is no more a constraint.
And this ‘seems’ to be bringing immense benefits to one and all. Be it the medical sciences, education, business, economy, production, communications or entertainment; pages can be filled on how technology is proving to be a boon for the particular field. However let me now discuss some other aspects of technology, which as I will discuss later, can lead to its own downfall from its present position of power supremacy.
The cruel face
Technology has its own its own share of negativities, the most discussed one being its impact on environment. This is definitely one of the issues which can force mankind to look beyond technology. However, I would explore two other facets of technology in this discussion which can be equally or perhaps even more impacting in snatching this balance of power from it.
The paradox of convenience
This is an interesting paradox which we all experience, but often fail to realize. Technology is supposed to ease our lives. Typically a technological innovation takes place to fulfill a need, solve a problem of past or facilitate comfort and convenience. However, the very fact that an innovation is at our disposal adds to the complexity of lives and puts further demands on technology for more solutions. Lets see how.
Please note that I would be using the word ‘system’ often in my discussion. For the purpose of this paper, it means social, economic, psychological or any other relevant domain considered for analysis.
Suppose a particular technological innovation X has taken place that has ‘eased’ our lives in a big way by addressing an issue I. For example, the internet technology or even the automobile technology.
First, the very fact that this innovation X is at our easy disposal brings down the issue I from the category of ‘challenging’ or ‘insurmountable’ to that of ‘expected’ or ‘basic requirement’. In other words, the system has now transformed itself by incorporating this solution as a basic feature. The search now begins again for newer solutions for the issues of this transformed system. And this process continues on and on. This is just as if one is attempting to catch her own shadow. It always seems as if the shadow is within grip in just one more step, but ironically it always eludes us.
Second, every innovation X brings with it the issue of managing the system under the transformations that this innovation has brought in into the system. For example the automobile technology brought with it the issues of managing the traffic and fuel supply. These issues themselves were so challenging that ultimately new needs arose in the system to displace and even exceed the previous ones in magnitude and complexity.
In brief, we can say that today’s solutions give rise to tomorrow’s problems and the solution itself proves to be a source of problem. I will analyze this issue in further detail later.
The paradox of easy Information
This is the age of easy flow of information. Unfortunately, this itself is increasingly becoming a challenge for most of us.
Though the amount of information at our easy disposal is huge, but filtering of useful information has become a issue. You type a few words into the Google search engine and get a list of a hundred thousand links matching your search criteria, but sieving of the relevant ones itself becomes a daunting task.
One can argue that technology can help us overcome this problem in future. However the very fact that the life is demanding upon you to search for so much of relevant information frequently implies that you have to cope up with an increasingly large amount of information in future. This is because as discussed previously, the need for coping with so much of information is becoming a basic requirement in the system and the transformed system now demands even more information to tackle.
The effect of this information bombardment is evident with the increasingly large number of cases of nervous-breakdown, hypertension, depression and insomnia occurring round the globe. Psychiatry is indeed becoming a demanding career!
This, that or that…?
Another way in which information bombards us is through the plethora of choices that it disposes before us. Product/service customization is increasingly becoming the basic fuel driving our socio-economic engine. While choices are welcome in the crucial aspects of life, the necessity of making choices for every trivial transaction again puts upon immense cumulative load on our mental energies. The insidious effect of this on our mental faculties does manifest itself over a period of time in form of mental strain and associated health problems.
Are we intelligent?
Finally, the protagonists of free flow of information make an implicit assumption that a person knows what is best for her. This argument has no scientific basis whatsoever for the simple reason that to know the best for oneself, one needs to have the following:
a.Complete information of all related issues.
b.The ability to analyze the full set of information as a whole.
The first may be made possible by technology (though I have my doubts, especially, for subjective issues). However the second one is next to impossible given the quantity of data and the amount of subjectivity involved in even the simplest of the mundane issues. Thus, a person may opt for information which is, in fact, harmful for her. The spurt in pornographic sites in the internet world is a classic example of this.
Apart from these two, there are several other perils of technology (as it is developing today) like man-nature alienation, over-objectivism and over-extrovertism. However, I would avoid analyzing them in detail for sake of brevity.
Let us now look at a related but broader issue of growth of Materialism.
The paradox of Materialism
The world today suffers from an overdose of materialism. Everybody seems to be running blindly in quest of mundane pleasures and instinctive gratification. Desire, lust and greed seem to be the drivers of today’s world. We seem to be gathering more and more of instruments of pleasure day by day; however ironically, happiness is still eluding us. In fact if we take a global view, the world has become a more dangerous place to live in than ever before. Its waiting for one pervert to occupy a position of power and the next moment the survivors among us may find themselves in stone-age. And mental peace? We are as far from it as never before. An average person today has more issues to worry about than ever before. And the effect: the world produces more lunatics and psychos than ever before.
Materialism holds the balance of power today. However this very fact can cause its own downfall, as I will discuss later. But let me give a clue.
The very purpose of material success is defeating itself. After so much of technological advancement, development of the so-called scientific temper and rationality, infinite knowledge at our disposal, advances in medical sciences and control over nature, how is it that we have only increased the mess in which we previously were (except that the nature of mess has altered)? Doesn’t it ring a bell that somehow somewhere there is some fallacy in our “rational approach”.
Where do these paradoxes take us in the recent future?
The enhancement in technology and materialism has been continuing since several hundred years and more prominently since the Industrial Revolution. But with the emergence of Information Technology and silicon world in the last few years, there have been fundamental changes in this process.
One, the pace of this enhancement has accelerated tremendously. So fast that before the system can prepare to gear up for a new balance, new changes occur. Asymmetries within the system are getting more and more prominent under the advent of these changes. This poses further challenges for the system to deal with.
Second, the very nature of this process has changed with the emergence of the virtual world. This is like having a Matrix within the Matrix! Technology will sooner or later provide us with instruments to simulate almost each and every aspect of the real: the beauty of nature, the sweetness of vocals, the emotions and the feelings. Thus the gap between the real and unreal is rapidly vanishing. The challenge of reconciling the two and coping with this artificiality is going to be a major issue in the recent future.
One may argue that the process of evolution will ensure that the human species adapts to these complexities. Unfortunately though, the process of evolution is a much slower one by the most optimistic measures and given the rate of progress of technology, the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory can only predict extinction of the large majority of unfits among us.
Thus soon we have a situation where our own progress becomes a threat to our existence.
Mental peace becomes a rare commodity. Everyone is fighting just to cope with the complexity of the system and in effect making it even more complex. The difference between man and machine is thinning with the man becoming more and more programmed and machines getting intelligent. Upon that if Artificial Intelligence and Genetics synergize and click together, the situation can be even grim.
Each individual has infinite freedom of choice in every aspect of her life and information is free. This further implies that the potential of an individual in affecting everyone’s life is very high. Thus the world waits for one pervert to come up with something crazy and threaten the existence of everyone else. With the growing number of maniacs in the system, the probability of this is also increasingly high.
This will be the time of technology and material fatigue. And when this fatigue exceeds a critical limit, the system will breakdown. It will yield to the internal pressures and asymmetries to its ultimate limit after which it will implode.
What went wrong?
This process of technoxification can be attributed to several factors.
Deviation from goal
What is the prime purpose of life? This is a philosophical question but one can assertively state that happiness has to be a prime purpose. The goal of all the systems in place is to facilitate each individual to reach her state of happiness in the most optimal manner.
Somewhere in history, the human happiness was greatly dependent on nature and hence the quest for mastery of nature began. But somewhere down the lane, we missed our track and this ‘mastery of nature’ and ‘gathering of the greatest amount of material benefit’ became our prime goal. The whole system was thus reoriented with the increasingly strong belief that happiness is a function of external instruments of pleasure. But, the fact is, at least after all basic necessities of life are taken care of, that happiness is more of a function of one’s own attitude and control of mind. And ironically, more the artificial one’s life, more the happiness eludes her.
If quest for happiness is the prime goal of life, it should be given the utmost priority in any system. All the other issues of economy, business, technology etc can only be secondary to it and cannot be prioritized above it. In fact, these exist only to facilitate the prime goal and should have no relevance beyond it. This wrong prioritization has been a major contributor to this mess.
Segmented view of life
The system today dominantly views life as segment with a definite beginning and end characterized by birth and death respectively. Without delving into philosophy, let me analyze how this seems to be counter-intuitive.
First, everything in space-time extends up to infinity, be it time, size of universe, number of particles. Thus, it doesn’t seem plausible that life is devoid of any extension up to infinity.
Second, if the segmented view is indeed correct, then all logics for values and ethics fall apart. Because, if it is only the present about which one needs to care, it is very rational to discard all ethics and seek maximization of self-gratification. This yet another paradox has been another cause for this chaos.
No one has an answer as to what the true picture is. However, it is more unfortunate that in the mad race for technological supremacy, neither did we bother to probe into these most pertinent questions.
Cause and effect may not be closely related in space-time. The effect of some event in one part of the globe at one point of time may have an effect on some other part of the globe at a later time. This is why we keep on repeating the mistakes of the past.
This is manner in which most technological breakthroughs prove disastrous. The adverse effects of a new development or the lifestyle patterns emerging out of it are not immediately obvious. It is only after some time that the dark face becomes evident. By that time the technology is already established and change becomes irreversible.
Further, until the ugly face is manifest, we tend to even enjoy the ‘boons’ of the development. This is like one enjoying cutting the branch of the tree on which she is sitting.
Further most technological developments take place with least consideration of their impact on the other aspects like society, value-system and mental health. These systems are left orphan to cope with the new developments. And more often than not, impact on these systems is irreversibly detrimental.
When it all breaks down…
Coming back to the breakdown, its exact nature and subsequent conditions are difficult to foretell but some predictions can be made:
(i)The mankind will be forced to reconsider this process of development
(ii)Search for mental peace will be the prime objective of the individual and the system.
(iii)The mankind will be forced to reconsider the futility of programmed instinctive pattern of living and research into the purpose of life and existence.
And then suddenly the whole power equation will change. With psychomania, depression and nervous-breakdowns spreading like an epidemic despite the best of medical know-how, spiritualists will be the doctors of the mankind.
Please note that what I mean by spiritualism is the art and science of researching into the meaning of life and ways of synchronizing the multitude of mundane activities towards the prime goal.
Suddenly all other issues except mental bliss and purposeful living will become unimportant. Thrust would now be on wisdom management rather than knowledge management. Rigorous research would now initiate into the wisdom of our ancient texts and art of living taught in them. Yoga, Zen and similar disciples, which are gaining in popularity even today, will be the basis of lifestyle.
This is not to say that technology will meet its death. However, the approach towards technology will change radically. It will now be more of a facilitator than a determinant of lifestyle. Thrust would be more on the actual judicious usage of technology.
Individuals and societies would now be in a mode of introspection, attempting to weed out deficiencies which can act as stumbling blocks to their prime goal.
And more importantly, mankind would now be looking beyond the segmented view of life to find a fuller meaning to life.
So far spiritualism has been largely discarded as an option. But the future will embrace spiritualism as its ruler, though out of compulsion. Spiritualism will reign supreme and in process transmute the whole debate on Balance of Power.
Sanjeev in summer of 2000.