The industrial nations of the world and their governments have been swept forward by the pressure of invention, through a barrier they did not see, into a world they have not yet understood. As the resources of the earth become more depleted, populations more crowded and more deprived, the greater will be their effort to pass the problem on to the next generation. Self-deception will become more persuasive. Optimism will take hold.
The remedy for our ills is neither remote nor obscure. It is to recognise that the world is indebted to Europe for two great achievements, which have transformed human life in the last 500 years. One is the control of nature, which has led to our present crisis. The other is the understanding of nature and of man, which is our means of escape from this crisis. How you may ask, can the two things be separated? Europe forced them together on America, Asia, and Africa.
In the first place, let us imagine, what would have happened without that rough intrusion. The conditions of these continents could scarcely have changed in the last 500 years. China would still cowtowe to the Son of Heaven and Japan would still be shut up in the Shogun’s Cage. India would still be the pray to warring Rajas. Along the road to Tripoli, Khartoum, and Zanzibar; Arabs would still profitably drive their caravans of castrated slaves. Cannibal flotillas would still block the cataracts of the Congo. On their remote islands, Maoris and Melanesian’s would still be consuming human flesh. No population problem would have disturbed any of these lands. Indeed, it might never have disturbed them until genetic or ecological decay overtook them.
We must put aside our moral indignation about what the Europeans did, and how, and why they did it. What matters are the results?
For the first result, was the liberation of Asia and Africa. The way was opened for processes of change, favouring the growth and the unity of all human understanding.
The second was the subjugation of the whole world to the European idea of progress, by the control and unlimited exploitation of nature.
This good and this evil having been done, we can assume that the rest of the world enlightened by Europe will accept the good and reject the evil. Hardly so! The evidence is that the rest of the world will not generally accept free speech, representative government, and human rights as they are known in our Western World.
But, they will generally accept all the means they can get for exploiting nature and destroying the resources of the earth. The problem therefore returns, what we have let loose on humanity returns to us. Our chickens come home to roost. It remains for us to use our understanding of nature and of ourselves to control the dangerous power.
If we look back on the last 500 years, we see the Hebrew and Greek, and Christian confidence in man as the master of nature, orate-ing the Protestant Ethic of industry, ambition, and self-reliance, whose success especially in the New World has created the profligate societies we know. These, are the societies whose fraudulent promise the Third World so greedily accepts.
The peoples of course, know nothing of what is happening.
By the time their rulers have led them to disaster these rulers will be elsewhere. In addition, the industrial nations will be having all they can do to save themselves, without helping anyone else.
Our remedy, then is a respect for nature, the practise of thrift and the restraint of greed, and self-indulgence, which need not be too painful if we undertake it soon. But the longer we postpone it the more painful will it be.
To any such reformation, any such changing of course, one grave obstacle at once appears.
All the great industrial nations would have to change course together.
In addition, we know that each will believe it can do better than its neighbours can and will try to prove it. But, in all these nations, now, there are a few people who take seriously the future of mankind its quantity and its quality.
They are the people who know that our past evolution has been governed by the needs of future generations.
They are the people who recognise that the race, class, nation or species, which rejects this principle is putting its own future at hazard.
They are the people who therefore ask themselves the practical question, "Do we want to expand, to multiply, and to consume the good things of the Earth without limit, and without regard, either to the earth itself or to the children who will inherit it? Are we willing to set ourselves a limit, to measure the capacity of the earth to support our descendants, and us, and to fit ourselves to that capacity"?
The attempt to study the whole of our little universe, to understand its connectedness with the past and the future, to see the value of knowledge will perhaps persuade our own generation to pause, before it plunges into the abyss.
Professor, C.D. Darlington FRS. A summery of his book, ‘The Little Universe of Man’.