Evolution of Man — Devolution of Mankind
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 7 Aug 2017
Ever since man has appeared in the present form, he has remained virtually the same all over the world. The shape and structure — two legs and arms, a face with a mouth, two eyes and ears are all found on people all over the world. Whether it is the man or a woman, the structure and the other features are all almost identical worldwide. The only perceptible difference in people is the colour of the skin and the shape of the eyes– what we call racial difference. The size of man has almost remained the same except for a marginal increase in height over the millennia. Is it not a wonder that man’s body has remained almost constant for thousands of years? However the social, political and economic structures that govern mankind have changed drastically. Here by mankind (or humankind to be gender neutral), I mean communities of people and how they live and interact with each other
The ways people lived in communities have undergone tremendous change or evolution. Is it evolution or devolution? I will discuss this point in my essay.
People lived in small homogeneous communities all over the world. We can observe this in some indigenous peoples’ habitats and their ways of life even today. There were no countries or nation states and obviously no visas were required for moving from one region to another. My own father who was born in 1901, used to entertain us children with interesting accounts of his travel in regions that are now parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. He did not need any travel documents and the money required was also not a big problem — the Indian rupee or occasionally a silver or gold coin was adequate for his basic needs while travelling. Today travel from one country to another is quite convenient since airplanes, railways and cruise ships are available; but getting a visa has become somewhat complicated.
In contrast to the indigenous or tribal peoples who live in small communities where there is a community feeling even today and generally have no individual rights over farms or forest lands, the modern man lives in isolation from other people or even his neighbours.
However, the habitats of indigenous peoples are being increasingly encroached upon as a result of the development paradigm and they are forced to move out to unfamiliar and unproductive regions. We all know how the Europeans conquered the world — in the Americas, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and countless other islands by displacing and killing the native indigenous peoples and impoverishing them politically, economically, spiritually. The regions in Asia were also colonised by the Europeans but the brutality committed in the above regions was fortunately limited.
What has changed over this period? Technology keeps evolving so that we have the power to exterminate the world several times over through the use of atomic and nuclear bombs. We have concocted many devices that make our life easier — bikes, cars, railways and airplanes for travel; refrigerators and washing machines for our homes, electricity for domestic use, libraries and industries; tractors etc. for farming and countless other appliances for communications. The simple telephone that Graham Bell had invented in 1876 has now evolved into smart phones that can provide all sorts of information and entertainment. For reading and writing purposes, the old printing press that published books and newspapers has also been transformed into mode devices that are available not only for print but also over the Internet in our computers and smartphones. In the field of medicine, again there is unbelievable progress — medicines, pacemakers, surgery etc.
With all this technological progress, the lives of many people all over the world have become easier, more comfortable and allow people leisure. But people, especially the elderly, remain largely isolated and lonely. At the same time one should mention that many poor and marginalised people all over the world are deprived of basic amenities and even food and shelter. For Europeans, Americans, Australians and Canadians etc. living in luxurious conditions with excess of everything, this may appear hard to believe; conditions of millions of people in many parts of Africa, Asia (Japan, S. Korea and China excluded) are deplorable and inhuman. They do not have enough to eat, lack shelter and health care and education and are without other conditions that make life meaningful and humane.
What are the principal causes of poverty and deprivation? This is a difficult question and one cannot generalise. Yet the socioeconomic system that prevails in the world today is largely responsible. There is exploitation of the resources and manpower of the deprived regions by rich countries. This is nothing new. This was so in the last more than 200 years when a small country like Britain ruled over many parts of the world through exploitation of the local peoples and their resources. Spain, France, Portugal and others also exploited similarly and became prosperous in the process.
Thus we see that individual people in the so called advanced countries have evolved in diverse fields – science, technology, philosophy and culture. But communities of people especially the indigenous peoples and those living in the countryside have not evolved – rather there is exploitation and devolution in their lives.
These indigenous peoples lived in harmony with each other in the past and to an extent even today. They believed in sharing, caring and coming together whether in times of grief or in joy. If a family on occasion did not have enough to eat, other members of the community helped them not only by offering them food but also sympathy and goodwill. In India, farmlands of the Adivasis (tribal people) did not belong to an individual family but were to be shared by all the people living in that area. Similarly fishing, building each other’s thatched shelters and sundry other requirements were also community responsibilities.
As a result there was goodwill, harmony and peace among them and the idea of isolation and loneliness was absent. Not only they lived harmoniously, they also discussed, debated and philosophised over issues. The Vedas and Upanishads that are a philosophical treasures even today developed in India under these circumstances. Similarly, Ayurveda – the holistic form of medicine that was based on the study of herbs and plants also developed in India, Sri Lanka and adjoining regions.
The Buddhist philosophy and religion also evolved in the region of India and modern Nepal had many humane aspects. One of these was the mantra:
Budhum, Shararam Gachhami
Dhammam Shararam Gachhami
Sangham Shararam Gachhami
The last line clearly enunciates that we must come together as a community of people if we want to live happily and harmoniously. The ancient Indian knowledge systems provided us with some practical method of living peacefully in the modern complex world. It informed us that a person may live in this world but the world need not live in him. In other words, he may not be attached to the world to the extent that he forgets his spiritual being.
Thus on one side there is material and technological progress among the people of so called rich countries, on the other there is isolation, loneliness and lack of neighbourliness in these people. There is a feeling of competition in economic terms and at the same time lack of security among nations. The expenditure on defence equipment is increasing in most countries at the expense of fulfilling basic needs of ordinary people. In consequence we see a spurt in the intensity and occurrence of conflict, violence, distrust, suspicion and the modern form of terrorism that is being witnessed all over the world.
On the other side we still have pockets of indigenous peoples living simply, harmoniously and with a feeling of neighbourliness. They believe in sharing, caring, helping each other, protecting and not exploiting the environment.
Thus we see that while individual people may be flourishing in terms of their comforts and fulfilment of their basic needs, a community feeling is on the downslide. Can we say that there is Evolution of Man but Devolution of mankind?
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Aug 2017.
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