In a recent lecture, Prof Noam Chomsky implied that the human species may be heading towards extinction. Quoting Ernst Mayr, the grand old man of American biology, Prof Chomsky said that “intelligence is a kind of lethal mutation.” The very same intelligence that helped mankind to become lord of the universe may drive it to its end.
The organisms that do quite well on the earth are those that mutate very quickly like the bacteria or those that are stuck in a fixed ecological niche like beetles. Such organisms may survive environmental crises. “But as you go up the scale of what we call intelligence, they are less and less successful,” says Chomsky presenting Mayr’s theory. “By the time you get to mammals, there are very few of them as compared with, say, insects.” The origin of humans may be about 100,000 years ago. According to Mayr, “the average life span of a species, of the billions that have existed, is about 100,000 years, which is roughly the length of time that modern humans have existed.”
Chomsky is of the opinion that with the present environmental crisis mankind seems to be on the verge of extinction. Human intelligence which helped the species to become masters of the environment may end up as the root cause of the extinction of the species. With the help of the intelligence, man made tremendous progress on the earth. Science and technology came from that intelligence. Our craving for luxury and comfort kept on increasing without limits. Our needs went from necessity to contentment to luxury to superfluousness. For example, we needed efficient means of communication. We had the telephone. It improved and became more and more efficient in the form of better and better mobile phones. Today, we are wallowing in the quagmire of mobile phones discarded sooner than they are bought because our superfluousness makes our phones outdated too soon. The same is the case with a lot of other things like cars, TV, computer, and so on.
The impact of such discarded things or things sold secondhand on the environment is tremendous. Chomsky calls the impact an ‘externality.’ The impact is external and we are not aware of it directly. The impact caused by the ever-increasing number of vehicles on the environment is not known to us when we go to buy yet another new car for another member of the family. Even the transaction of a secondhand mobile phone has certain externalities. A lot of our activities today are marked by externalities.
The aggregate of such externalities will be the root cause of the extinction of mankind.
Our social and political attitudes are of no help either. Environment summits collapse without coming to wise conclusions. Such summits are jettisoned by the selfish interests of different countries. Some countries like the developed ones do not want to cut down their pursuit of superfluousness. Others like the developing ones raise the question why they should pay the price for the damage done by the developed nations, and why they shouldn’t pursue contentment, if not superfluousness like the developed nations.
Economics is the ultimate driving force of people’s outlooks today. How to make more and more money, how to use that money for more and more comforts and luxury some of which are plainly superfluous, and how to amass more and more money maybe in a Swiss bank – these are the concerns today. The market is the place which satisfies all these quests. The market is no more the traditional one where you went to buy essential things like food items, clothes, etc. The market today means far more: the real estate, gold and diamond, stock market, fashion, beauty… Even professions such as medicine, teaching, and journalism have become markets. Politics is a giant market. Anything is!
Unless we revolutionise our outlooks we may drive our species to extinction. The final solution seems to be a very Gandhian one. The earth has enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not many people’s greed. Even Chomsky’s solutions seem to be a slightly different version of the Gandhian one.