April 04, 2012

Hitler Uttar Pradesh and the Cosmos

        When it comes to human affairs such as love, romance … or politics, things do not change much over the centuries. Which is why history repeats itself.
Surely we can find parallels in history for events occurring in contemporary Indian politics.
Much is different about the electorate here. In spite of extravagant dreams and hopeful claims about the orgasmic imminence of India becoming a superpower, the dumb data points to the brutal reality. While averages may not always reveal the truth, the per capita GDP of India doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Whereas India barely makes it to the $2,000 club, wayward Russia is sitting pretty at more than $10,000. Is Russia’s average inflated because of its billionaires? Well, India has minted many billionaires in recent years too. The people of Egypt and Libya enjoy a better per capita GDP figure than India… although how much of the wealth (oil and otherwise) of those nations benefited the people as opposed to benefiting the long-time dictators is an open question.
India is in the bottom rung of the nations in the HDI just like India’s world football rank. Very few Indians would even be able to name 100 nations of the world.


India’s poor enjoy a standard of living that’s comparable to the standard of living of the poorest people in Asia and Africa and elsewhere where the poor are to be found.
65 years of self-rule have not made much of a dent in the perennial state of penury of millions of Indians. Are we to expect a change soon? Has change in fact arrived?
No. I am not that optimistic. Change, if it arrives will be a bullock-cart and not a bullet train. Economics and its laws are more inexorable than the fickleness and bed-hopping nature of politics.
People’s standard of living will rise to whatever extent it will because of advances in science & technology.
We learn to subdue and defeat and eradicate various diseases thanks to advances in medical science.
Technology makes our lives more pleasurable in nearly countless ways … though ingrates that we are, we promptly forget about how beneficial a technology is and proceed to grumble about the failings of technology.
So how much of a difference does politics make? Not much.
In India, change happens gradually. In Uttar Pradesh, people voted out the incumbent. Change has come to Uttar Pradesh but with it light has shone on a new political dynasty in India.
What is one to make of this young leader of the most populous state of India? Is he like the young Clinton, the governor of Arkansas? Is he like Nelson Mandela whose persistence and personal character has been so inspirational in so many ways? Is he like Gandhi? Have we found our own JFK? Or Obama?
Mr. Yadav’s rise seems to me to be most reminiscent of Hitler’s rise to power. Hitler created the Nazi party whereas Mr. Yadav’s party was created by his father. But both parties have a reputation for thuggish behavior. At around 200 million, Uttar Pradesh is much more populous than Germany ever was.
But Akhilesh Yadav is no Adolf Hitler. Hitler was far more clever and had grandiose dreams of global dominance.
So there’s not much danger of the rise of a new Hitler if only because Uttar Pradesh is not Germany. If Hitler had been born in Uttar Pradesh or became the leader of Uttar Pradesh, he won’t have been able to cause as much damage as he was able to as the leader of Germany.
Similarly, the new Yadav on the block won’t be causing much harm on a global scale. Indeed, no miracles will transform UP into the UK in the near future.
Elsewhere in India, Bollywood will continue to bank on the bankable 40-something heroes. India will continue its journey towards becoming a more concrete nation as small towns become larger towns. Once sleepy suburbs of cities will sprout many apartment complexes. Delhites will have bought and brought onto the streets a million more cars ensuring more traffic gridlock and road rage. India will continue to produce babies at the rate of 20 million a year.
Soon, five years will pass. In the meandering tale of India’s civilization, that’s but a blip.
Richard Dawkins likes to draw attention to the fact of how lucky we are being alive at this specific moment. Our ancestry goes back through thousands of generations to the dawn of our species. Even more remote than that were the species that we evolved from. We can look farther and farther back in time through millions of years to the time when dinosaurs were alive on Earth. Dinosaurs thrived on this planet, we are told, for some 150 million years. Each and every year of them must have been as real as a year is to us right now.
We can go back in time even to a time before the dinosaurs. Life has existed in various forms for billions of years. Each of those millions of years must have been as real in their time as this moment is real to us. We will personally witness this passing of time for a few decades and then we will die. But time goes on.
Sentient life forms such as ours are a tricky business. The biological complexity that constitutes the human body is astounding. The long evolutionary process has been sometimes relentless and predictable and at other times fickle and dependant on chance and circumstance. Other planets in the Solar System clearly have not been home to intelligent life forms like us.
We do not yet know how common place or rare life forms like us are in the vastness of the universe. It’s only now that we have developed the technology necessary to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
The human species is a strange one. We have developed all these stuff and we can do so much and are doing great stuff. But we also carry shadows of forgotten ancestors as Carl Sagan put it. We are competitive and destructive. What crazy logic has led us to build and store up enough nuclear weapons to destroy us all?
The cosmos of course is not inherently quiet and peaceful. Stellar thermonuclear furnaces and supernovae explosions are way more powerful than anything that humans can conjure up as of now.
There are big questions we can ask. There is none that is bigger than this: are we alone in the universe?
But we persist in petty debates. It’s immensely saddening that in various parts of the world, people live in extreme poverty and lack the basic necessities of life. Other parts of the world are ruled by crazy dictators or dictatorial governments where people don’t enjoy a democratic form of government or basic liberty to enjoy their lives or live with dignity.
India is stubbornly middle of the road. In some ways, India and other poor nations really don’t matter. They won’t decide the fate of the world or the fate of humanity. The key technological advances happen in the developed nations. Scientific research is mostly concentrated in very few places in the world.
Our journey into the future will be guided by a few talented individuals. I hope nature will be kind to us as humanity struggles with its unsure adolescence. Once we are past this phase and develop outposts on many planets, perhaps we can be absolutely sure that our species will endure no matter what. Right now, a big meteorite impact could perhaps finish us off in the fashion of the dinosaurs.
It doesn’t matter to the galactic arm of the Milky Way galaxy where the sun is whether there’s life or not on Earth. If we are lucky enough not to vanish in some cosmic cataclysm, I think we have a fascinating time to look forward to.
The next thousand years will see many breakthroughs. We will hopefully have found a definite answer to whether there’s life elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy. We will have learnt to terraform planets such as the Mars and perhaps we’ll learn to live on other planets or some of the moons of Saturn or Jupiter.
Technology makes us ever more powerful. Now we journey between cities and countries using cars, trains and airplanes. We will learn in the future to journey between planets. It’ll become commonplace. Indians will visit their relations living on Saturn’s moon Titan or some such place.
Aging and death are aspects of human life that we are not comfortable with. We might learn to remain forever young and not have to meet an inevitable death. I hope our species will not end up as a species comprising entirely of grumpy old man and women who are 285 years old and 597 years old. Will conquering death be a good thing or bad? Perhaps time and experience will tell. May be, we’ll replace death with cryogenic storage. If and when someone gets tired of living, they can opt to have themselves frozen to wake up at a later time. It would be wonderful if we could choose to put ourselves in suspended animation mode — perhaps we can bypass a century and wake up a hundred years later to see what changes have occurred in the meantime. Imagine getting frozen in 2012 and then waking up in 2099 and then perhaps living for a few decades updating oneself with all that has happened and then going back into sleep to wake up in 2222 or 2525. How exciting would be it to be alive on New Year’s Eve in 2999. Will that time come? Will humanity survive? Will we have the wisdom to persist? Or will we perish in some meaningless war over really meaningless matters?

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