Essay on The 21st Century – What Does It Stand For?



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What have we achieved over the last thousand years; what we have projected to achieve in the next thousand years? Have we learnt our lessons from the unfortunate, manmade problems the world has faced in the previous millennium? These are the questions which need to be addressed and the time NOW!

Looking back to the history of the world, we find that the brilliant ape of civilization and enlightenment, as we know today, dates back to only about five centuries ago. Truly, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Egyptians and the Chinese and not the least Indians, have made quite some advances in civilization and knowledge, raising them above the nations of Christendom. But a student of 10th standard today would definitely surpass them in a competition of knowledge.

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There were great teachers like Plato, Socrates and Demosthenes but they had resources and they practiced oral teachings only and that just for the privileged few. There were other flashes of brilliance too but their ground ideas and noble lectures were lost to humanity due to the lack of the written word.

There were cities like Babylon, Thebes and Jerusalem, the pyramids were bult a thousand years before Christ and are still marvels and wonders of the world. Gradually over the ages, the dark mists enveloping the mind of the common man were cleared and thus started an era of constructive thinking.

The next thousand years, which is the just passed millennium, saw the birth of new scientific theories. Copernicus denounced the Ptolemaic theory of astronomy and declared the sun to be the centre of the Solar System. Harvey announced his discovery of the circulation for blood. Martin Luther revolted against the Pope and the narrow minded religious thinking of his time. Galileo expounded his telescope. But at the cost of what? They were thrown into prison and tortured or ostracized by society. We are aware of the ignorance and fanaticism of the imperious and arbitrary rulers who established the internal court – the Inquisition.

The torture of tearing limbs apart of the rack, the use of thumb screws and chains were all ingenious inventions and instruments to strike terror in the name of justice. But all these blew away with the discovery of printing process from removable types, by John Guttenbury and Dr. Faust of Germany in 1441. The invention was a little short of miracle, although the Chinese may have been the pioneers but unknown to the rest of the world.

The printed pages, books and newspapers became a potent power to link together mind and nature, the genius and the enterprise, with the world leaping forward into a higher genre.

The telescope was discovered and it gave a new impetus to astronomy. The Moon with its rugged landscape, Saturn with its brilliant rings and Jupiter with its bells and resplendent moons were clearly visible for the first time.

Benjamin Franklin flew his kite and discovered the electric telegraph, the fastest mod of message transfer over long distances.

The use of coal-gal for illuminating streets and offices was discovered and lightening the candle gave way to this intensely brilliant flames. The compass was discovered and proved extremely beneficial to the mariners in finding the direction. Gunpowder was discovered and it turned out to be a boon for blasting rocks on the surface of mines and a bane for humanity with the use of bullets and common shells during war, maiming and mangling mankind.

The power of nature overawed the scientists trying to harness the energy, even to a minuscule extent, became one of the major research subjects. The steam engine was discovered and with it the use of moving wheels and ultimately the steam locomotive which could haul tones of material over long distances, fulfilling the need of material in areas of scarcity, from places where they were found in abundance.

The development of weaving machines to manufacture cloth in large quantities, the power of electricity to run machines through motors having the power of a hundred horses, the discovery of vaccines to protect against plague and rabies, once considered fatal, these were all wonderful discoveries positively affecting humanity.

But if we check the period of the achievements, we find that the world had suddenly achieved more in the last five hundred years than what had been achieved in the earlier millenniums.

The speed of transformation, the power of the written word, the realization of social inequality, the change from autocracy to democracy, the rights of the common citizens, these were enhanced and highlighted during this period and reached a blinding crescendo in the last century of the millennium.

The last one hundred years; the literature, media, politics, philosophy, science and entertainment, of the period all have been spellbinding and changed the world for millenniums to come.

The twentieth century is called the age of Interrogation and Anxiety for the purpose of social, moral, political and new theories of economy, Man’s faith, his complacency of the Victorian Era has given way to rational thinking with a revolution in the world of science changing the attitude from behind, followers of religions to acceptance of faith, when it is test on the touchstone of reason.

In literature, Shaw with his socialism, H.G. Wells with science fiction and Kipling with his empire building and steam engines were all pioneers. The ‘old superstitions of religion’ and the ‘new superstitions of science’ were equally questioned. New psychologies have made their impact with the uses of friend, Mahatma Gandhi and Karl Marx creating a line of thinking totally new.

The printed media has an elder brother in the usual media which has gone to the extent of bringing the horrors of war to the drawing rooms of viewers. The recent war waged on Iraq is specific example of the current scene with the CNN channel creating history, transmitting round the clock.

The unfortunate disaster of two world wars, as result of which millions of himan beings suffered from the concentration camps by poison gas, making them dig their own graves before shooting them point blank, the horrors of partition suffered by millions of Indians in the name of religion, the mass rapes of girl children and women, the massacre of whole trains of refugees coming to India, have all been captured on celluloid. The carpet bombing of Vietnam, the terrorism in the name of Kashmir, the attack and total demolition of the World Trade Center with three aircraft full of passengers are now all there for the world to see, Is humanity going back to the horrors of Middle Ages?

This cynical view is balanced with the liberation of several countries from centuries of occupation. The whole of Africa, Morocco, South-East Asia, ransacked of their natural and material wealth by the European powers in the name of governance were ultimately granted independence with Mahatma Gandhi’ non-violent movement paving the way in India.

The formation of the United Nations, the General Assembly, and the Security Council in 1945 was a giant step after World War II in de-escalating tension. The step was laudable, its effectiveness is questionable.

The invention of the Rocket Engines was giant step again helping launch satellites for weather monitoring, information regarding geology and for purposes of beaming television programmes all over the world. Its pinnacle of use has been to explore outer space and landing men on the Moon and the worst possible utility is in its use as nuclear headed Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles.

The use of jet engines for aircraft has definitely enhanced the capability of passenger airlines in reaching destinations thousands of miles away in a matter of hours. But the same aircraft had been used to drop Atom Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki wiping out whole cities in a nuclear holocaust.

The invention of medicines for hitherto incurable diseases is another marvel. Organs like kidney and heart have been transplanted with Dr. Christian Bernard being the pioneer in hear transplant. Living animals like sheep, cows and cats have been cloned, introducing a scientific and medical breakthrough, the rationale being the ingenious cloning of rare and extinct breeds of animals. Medicines for cancer are very near breakthroughs for total cure of malignancy.

The bleaker side of medicinal science is the use of gemr and bio warfare where through viral, bacterial and poisonous germ infection the whole populations are to be finished.

Computers and Internet have made the world a Global Village, with e-mails and e-commerce turning exports into business from sitting rooms at home. Industries needing hundreds of workers are now on the verge of being made robotic, commercial offices needing scores of staff for Accounts, Store Keeping and Time Keeping have found the simple computer efficient enough to handle all the jobs. It’s a great achievement but what about the mass exodus from jobs and the staggering unemployment. What are this redundant staffs to do? How do they feed their family? These are burning questions and the bleaker side of computerization.

The conception of Global Village is indeed achievable but there has to be a considerable change in thinking. The big brotherly attitude is welcome without the bullying part of it, instead of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, controlled by the big brothers, getting stranglehold on developing and under-developed nations, dictating terms and would be a money-lender, the attitude should have been to train personnel of those poorer nations and show them the way to manage their own resources with the right perspective.

The new millennium will reap the fruits of what has been planted earlier and instead of being complacent, the world is generations to be born in and the present children to look forward to.

We have realized our follies over the century or have we? Efforts are now being made to improve on the depleted Ozone layer, to bring about a mental change in terrorism in the name of religious fanaticism, to control the stupendous population growth, to ensure nuclear disarmament, to cooperate in matters of agriculture, economy and human resources and the results are there for everyone to see.

The whole of Europe has agreed to have a single currency- the ‘Euro.’ U.S.A. has woken up to the reality of terrorism in the name of religion. The nuclear arsenal of U.S.A. and the erstwhile USSR and now Russia have been naturally agreed to be reduced. The closed economies of the Socialist Bloc of countries have now opened up to the large foreign investments which will definitely better their economies.

It is a good start and if this attitude is what we are sowing now, the harvest will be bountiful and beneficial for the world and generations to come. Let Good Sense Prevail.

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