17 Sep 2017 20:59 IST

Going driverless down a steep slope

We know where this journey is headed. Is there any way to change course?

That’s what we’re doing at the moment: tipping driver-less vehicles, brake-less, stuffed full with passengers screaming with fear, downhill towards the certainty of oblivion. The good times are over. We didn’t know it when it happen, but clearly, as a civilisation, as collective humankind, we peaked we can’t be sure when. The best of times are behind us. Or so the footprints of indelible clues all over the world indicate. What then can we look forward to?

Human beings have fought wars all through its existence, for power and pelf, to rule the world, to establish superiority, to subjugate, to enrich themselves, to be feared… Much as George Mallory declared he climbed mountains because they were there, the powerful grab land because it is there. What may have had roots in grievances, slights, injustices, have grown to enormous, egotistical, maniacal proportions. There’s no stopping this yatra of inhumanity.

Status quo

 

A van ploughs into a crowd in Barcelona. The Amarnath yatra is attacked in Anantnag, J&K. A van mows down people near Finsbury Park in London, and there’s an attack on London Bridge and Westminster. Several civilians are killed in a series of attacks in and around Maiduguri, Nigeria. Young black boys are killed in various cities in the US. IEDs and bombs bring down policemen in Somalia, Egypt, Kenya, Indonesia. A former Greek prime minister is injured in an explosion in Athens. Routine bombings take hundreds of lives in Syria and Afghanistan. Kidnappings terrorise ordinary people in Pakistan, Nigeria and elsewhere. Militants have the run of Srinagar and schoolgirls pelt stones at security forces. Terrorists strike everywhere: at shopping centres, music concerts, railway stations, airports, cafés, pubs, crowded streets. Journalists are killed in cold blood all over the world, in the line of duty, speaking up for the silent and suffering, writing against injustices, or recording acts of cruelty and oppression. Attacks on the Indian Parliament, the World Trade Centre, the Bolshoi theatre, schoolchildren in Beslan, the Japanese metro, Mumbai hotels enter the realm of horror; their narratives assume the aura of myth.

Figures released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the US Center for Disease Control reveal that “black Americans are eight times more likely than white Americans and 12 times more likely than the average person in a developed country to be murdered”. According to another study, as of September 15, 2017, there were 979 terrorist attacks around the world, and 5668 fatalities.

This is as much as we know. There’s so much more we don’t know.

Looking back

History books record details of revolutions and coups, despots and dictators, told from whichever point of view holds sway at a given time. We know about the Gaddafis and the Idi Amins and the Pol Pots and the Hitlers and the Ceausescus and others of their ilk. At this very moment we have Kim Jong-un, and he’s only 33. Pogroms persist through the centuries, targeting sections of society, communities, races: the Jews, the Kurds, the Armenians, the Sikhs, the Rohingyas… it’s a long, growing and depressing list.

Today, the target is anybody and everybody. You and I. Anybody who speaks. Anybody who doesn’t. Anybody who says yes, anybody who says no. It could be the intellect that triggers the hate, it could be the cut of your cloth; it could be the food you eat, it could be the pet you love; it could be the way you play, it could be the way you pray; it could be the colour of your skin or the beard on your chin; it could be lines going vertical, it could be lines running horizontal; it could be gender, it could be race, it could be language, it could be god, it could be godlessness… Any reason is good enough to end the argument with bloodshed. It doesn’t matter that most often, those who die, are innocent and have nothing to do with the hate that consumes the attacker.

 

As for the rest, we arm ourselves with words and line up on opposite sides of the barbwire fence: for and against, right and left, extreme right and extreme left, centre-left and centre-right and in several other permutations and combinations. We justify the actions in black and white, and we drum up support and we grow strident in our iterations, we yell and howl and shriek that we want to bring the roof down. Sometimes we manage to do that. Babri Masjid. World Trade Centre. Along the way, taking an eye for an eye, we grow blind. We see nothing. We know nothing. We feel nothing. We understand nothing. We begin to lose touch even with ourselves. We become pawns in the hands of manipulators. We are puppets on a string. We grow toothless and weak and needy. We fall prey to the tricks of charlatans and cheats.

Stumbling in the dark

One day our hearts stop beating. We grow selfish and intolerant. We grow inhuman and cold-blooded. We are bloody-minded and self-righteous. Hate women. Kill. Hate free speech. Kill. Hate hijab. Kill. Hate turban. Kill. Hate dark skin. Kill. Hate dalits. Kill. Hate brahmins. Kill. Hate rationalists. Kill. Hate scientists. Kill. Hate writers. Kill. Hate white man. Kill. Hate musicians. Kill. Hate playwrights. Kill. Hate children. Crush. Hate elderly. Ditch. Envious of the successful. Uncaring of the struggling.

People in government won’t play by the rules. The police won’t protect. Journalists won’t speak up. Doctors won’t treat the sick. Social workers won’t heal the needy. Teachers won’t teach. Lawyers will play the system. The people will suffer.

Everyone’s talking. No one is listening. It’s the Tower of Babel all over again. Has a higher power spoken? Who will show the way to churn the ocean for the elixir of good sense? There’s no conscience. No room for compromise. Nobody will listen to reason, and there’s little rationale behind actions. Chaos reigns and in chaos the world will end. If we keep pushing ourselves driver-less over the brink, we will only smash into smithereens.

Is that the ‘black hole’ Stephen Hawking’s been talking about that we’re heading towards, the one that will signal the end of civilization, of humanity, as we know it?