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The curse of scientific fundamentalism

A mother's homage to a Chernobyl victim in Moscow.

A mother's homage to a Chernobyl victim in Moscow.  

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can’t read and write, but those who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn.

—Alvin Toffler

As Professor B. M. Hegde says in his article, “Is science one of those fanatical religions?” (Open Page, June 17), “In the true sense of the word, science is only a method to understand the working of this universe.”

But science has somehow achieved the status of the only one method to understand the working of the universe. And there lies the root cause of all tragedies that befell the humans and the environment in the last 200 years. This “arrogance” of science wreaked more havoc on humanity and the environment within this short span than what they suffered in the preceding 1000-2000 years.

Terrible reminders

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are terrible reminders of our scientific arrogance. The atom bomb killed 118,661 people in Hiroshima, within seconds, on August 7, 1945 and another 74,000 in Nagasakki, two days later. Add to this the injured and the mutilated and the permanently radiation-hit generations. Then we have had the Chernobyl atomic plant tragedy and the Bhopal gas tragedy.

If the crimes on humanity committed by scientific arrogance are more than heinous, really horrendous crimes have been continuously perpetrated on the environment in the last 200 years. The very survival of the humans and of all other forms of life on Planet Earth seems to be impossible after we ushered in cataclysmic climate changes with the help of science.

With all our accumulated scientific knowledge or arrogance, we are still not wise enough to grasp the wisdom contained in the words of an American Indian, Chief Seattle, which were written 160 years ago when his people were asked to leave their land now called Seattle: “We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of a pony, and man, all belong to the same family. The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

In the name of development, man destroys trees, silences rivers, pollutes the waters, and makes the earth more and more scorching. With his scientific fanaticism, man inflicts irrecoverable damage on the web of life.

We have to learn precious lessons from tribal people on an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle. But we have only displaced them, damming their rivers in the name of the greater common good. Thus our scientific arrogance submerged their sustainable economy and lifestyle and territories. We called such dams our temples and sacrificed the people who have been living depending on the rivers and the forests and the animals for years and years. We told them: “If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country…” —Jawaharlal Nehru speaking to the villagers who were to be displaced by the Hirakud dam, 1948. (Quoted from Arundati Roy’s The Greater Common Good)

And we ‘requested’ them: “We will request you to move from your houses after the dam comes up. If you move it will be good. Otherwise we shall release the waters and drown you all.”— Morarji Desai, speaking at a public meeting in the submergence zone of the Pong dam in 1961. (Arundati Roy)

Ms. Roy says that more than 50 million people in India have been displaced in the 50 years since independence by the big dams and other development projects. She writes in her inimitable style: “Fifty million is more than the population of Gujarat. Almost three times the population of Australia. More than three times the number of refugees that Partition created in India. Ten times the number of Palestinian refugees…The millions of displaced people in India are nothing but refugees in an unacknowledged war. And we, like the citizens of White America and French Canada and Hitler’s Germany, are condoning it by looking away. Why? Because we’re told that it’s being done for the sake of the Greater Common Good. That it is being done in the name of Progress, in the name of the National Interest.”

It is high time we unlearnt science and the meaning of progress we learnt. And, of course, we have to redefine the phrases ‘greater common good’ and ‘national interest.’ This kind of unlearning is the way to sustainable development.

(The writer’s email is lscvsuku@gmail.com)

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 12:42:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-curse-of-scientific-fundamentalism/article3563303.ece

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