The Baggage Carriers

The world is close to facing a decline that can lead to the collapse of the system that governs its life and environment. The Western system of life and thought, which is the system that governs a large part of the world today, is a material-based system. (We differentiate between a system of life and thought, and a civilisation. The West apart, the rest of the world is still not bowled clean over by the modern Western civilisation). In any case, our point here is, a system and a civilisation based on materials can, by its very nature, only have a limited life span. Since material resources are of limited quantity on this planet, no matter in how large quantities, one day they will be exhausted. The life span of a material-based civilisation therefore, can be determined by stocks in reserve. But, instead of cutting back on consumption, the world governments plan greater and greater exploitation every New Year. This is expected to lead to a severe shortage of materials in the not too distant a future.

As the material resources dwindle, the greed for sole possession of the remaining deposits will also increase and, consequently, a general loot has to break out. (In keeping with the spirit of the modern civilisation, the pretext for military intervention will be staged following civilised decorum: the circumstances created, media hype worked up, the culprit’s crime proved, resolutions passed … and the rest of the dramatic acts). Today, most maps are not political maps. They are resource maps. (The politicians are not difficult to buy, in the self-same sweet eastern world, the cradle of wisdom. So, political maps are not important today. After all, as Peter Mansfield had said, his heart is eastern but the pocket is western). The first commodity of loot anyway, will be the life-blood of the modern Western civilisation.

To be sure, oil is not all the problem. Every other resource has its limits. And they will not outlast human greed. But it is oil which is expected to be the first cause of outbreak of violence and a serious disruption to human life on earth. This is not because there is not enough oil. There is perhaps enough for another 200 years at present-day consumption rates. Add to that the unknown stocks under the lids that have been tightened over the wells and left for a rainy day. We learn that in 1998 alone, the USA put the cap on, not very many, but some 130,000 oil wells. And, if the East believes that in Western Europe there are no deposits that have been quickly sealed after the discovery, then, it is no surprise. The Easterners will never give up being simpletons however clever in certain other ways. Anyway, there are enough stocks.

But, today’s consumption rates are escalating. A drop in consumption is a thing impossible and an idea nonsensical. The very governments that can ask their public to reduce consumption, are the ones committed to overall growth in economy. A 5-7% growth is considered reasonable in the West, but the East aspires for figures in two digits. Growth is essential. Growth is promised. Votes are won. Grants to scientists are awarded. But all that requires oil. Yet, oil consumption must decline?! Do we face a contradiction here?

We might also point out in passing that in any contradiction, it is the natural forces that win out in the end. In the short run, it might be the human will that wins, but, most of the times it is at human cost. That is how the forces of nature work – and ultimately win out. And present-day human will is devoted to an increase in wealth, increase in material productions, and amassment of goods. Greed unlimited is the soul’s mainstay of modern day humans. So, in the face of this human will and resolution, and the resultant growth, is there a crisis in the offing?

Further, when it comes to oil (or any other natural resource), the problem is not as simple as the question of supply and demand. There are added complications. For instance, as the demand for oil grows, the price has to rise. For several reasons. Firstly, demand escalates price. Second, supply cannot increase endlessly to keep pace with consumption and keep prices low. There is a limit to how much can be produced. If a large number of technocrats is put to pumping out oil alone, which will also mean sinking substantial investments into the wells, then who will work on the farms and factories to produce for the ever growing demand? (We are not talking of the labour class). Further, where will the investment funds for other activities of growth and development come from when a large part of it are sunk into the oil sector? Third, as time passes, higher growth is achieved, and scientists are rewarded, more and more systems of manufacture, distribution and consumption will come to rely on energy. So, a rise in demand is something inescapable, even if control can be applied to consumption. That applies not only to oil, but also to consumer goods. It is another thing that there can be no successful control over consumption of goods since greed is the basis on which the modern Western civilisation is built. It is the promise to increase the supply of consumer goods that brings political parties to power. Without greed, the civilisation will collapse anyway.

Further, any control exercised on fuel consumption, can only translate into rolling back development programmes. What does that mean? It means going backwards to the past inglorious days. Creeping back to the middle ages? If, for instance, more railway lines are laid in order to cut number of oil consuming motorists on the roads, what would be the message to the humanity? (And automobile is the pride of modern man, who, robbed of many things, is left with hardly anything to be proud of. So, don’t touch his baby). And, what about faith in the modern-day magic and magicians: science and scientists? What will be the impact, in turn, of cut-back of funds for scientific research and studies? It doesn’t work.  It is obvious then that every effort will be made to keep the pace of development continue at the present rate, if not higher. There will of course be efforts to somehow cut back on fuel consumption: so that, rise in cost could be avoided, so that protests leading to change in governments, leading to chaos, leading to anarchy, leading to revolutions, leading to the Middle-ages, could be avoided. Yet, a material-based civilisation is a linear civilisation. It can travel only in one direction: forward or backward. Raise your hands for a backward march. A silly suggestion.

Further, greed is not the only factor that determines human actions. What about pride? Will the USA for instance, the Qiblah of the greedy of the world, get over its pride of being at the top of the world, and start off a chain of reduction in growth affecting every country in the world, planned and monitored by the UNO, at the small risk of someone else stealthily making it to the top before the USA could say, hey? Talk of something else.

The absolute optimist will easily laugh this off. How about other forms of energy? Yes sir, there are a few around. But, let us see which of them can cut down automobiles on the roads, and transport farm products to the urban centres of consumption at lesser costs and at a faster pace.

The locking of horns, therefore, between the nations, to control the sources of essential raw materials, is imminent. How long will it be before that happens we cannot say. Any prediction will meet with its death: proven false by the Time. But, how is the habit of dipping the head in the sands when there is a storm in the horizon? A deliberately worked crisis is not ruled out. Simply letting the protesters protesting high prices keep protesting would be enough of an excuse, enough for fingers to be raised at the ever-greedy producers, unmindful of the sufferings of mankind … and the rest of the story. Human beings are interesting beings. Apart from other things, they are capable of some intrigues also. Remember 1990?

Already, some powers have placed their forces near some deposits. Others are not happy over the moves. They fear they might not get their share. Some, although concerned, are unable to do anything about it immediately. They are buying time. Yet others are preparing to build up a massive power-base which can play a significant role in future politics, war and peace. The creation of the European Union is one such effort. But, will things happen faster? Ask them.

There is another factor which can add strength to the age-old human conviction that only violent methods pay up in the end, at least to the victorious. After its recent spectacular successes, science, of the type that brought immediate and certain benefits to the humans, is now staring at black holes. That applies to the discovery of those materials that can be used in internal combustion engines. A search into outer space does not seem to be a very attractive idea either. It is now being realised (at last!) by greater and greater number of people that man will perhaps never be able to travel out to other planets, not to speak of other planetary systems and bring back materials and minerals. Man seems to be earth-bound. With that realisation, more vigorous struggles are expected to take place within the family of man on the earth, than for expansion of efforts to discover supply lines originating from the shiny heavenly bodies.

And, any conflict, if it escalates on the scale of the two previous world wars, would perhaps be the last one. At this moment, proliferation of nuclear weapons all over the globe is going at full – but quiet pace. After Israel, India and Pakistan, (the third-phase developers) it is now the turn of other countries: the fourth phase developers. They are not very anxious to announce their achievements. And those who cannot produce will buy up “ready for delivery” products. And, in the event of a war, they will be used following the central principle of all human action in modern times: when you do something, do it thoroughly. Also, “if we are not going to be there, let no one be there.” Apart from military installations and supply depots, nuclear facilities of the enemy countries would be the target. Sparing the cities will be no generous act. Clouds of radiation will skim over them anyway, and drift on to the adjoining countries. The chain reaction will bring down the whole of the edifice of the Western civilisation carrying in its sweep the mighty nations, pushing humanity back to the pre-industrial age.

Ruling out the possibility of a violent destruction, a peaceful dissolution of the Western civilisation cannot be ruled out for the very reasons stated at the beginning. To repeat, a civilisation based on materials cannot outlast human aspirations, greed and adventurism. It will collapse when the materials stocks are emptied. If humanity cannot (and definitely it will not) make steep cuts in industrial productions, a slow death could start in a couple of decades. What has to be understood in this scenario is that the collapse will not await a complete exhaustion of the essential raw materials. With half the resources gone, prices will shoot up, forcing (hawks turned doves nations, you are telling me!) to adopt simpler ways of life. That will have its chain effect on the world economy, and a fast decline will start working, despite the fact that some deposits would be in place. For instance, high price of certain commodities could make operation of the oil refineries, or coal-mining so expensive, that it would be given up altogether, triggering a decline in industrial production.

Add other factors. Such as, for example, increasing number of automobiles and industries, exhaling carbon dioxide and toxic acids at a goodly pace and in goodly quantities. With that the scenario gets less murkier to explain, although the atmosphere more so. Release of unknown viruses, disruption of weather patterns, some ice-cap melting and so on, will do the trick we are talking of. ‘Heads’ you lose, ‘Tails’ I win. Nor is the present-day stockpiling of any use. When the economy of the rest of the world crashes, the USA for instance, will not be able to build a China Wall around its borders to insulate itself and avoid repercussions. In fact, unless it has enough stocks to supply energy at cheap rates to the rest of the economies of the world, to the end of the Time, the biggest supplier will be the biggest sufferer.

We have a few more things to say on the topic. Such as, for e.g., vulnerability. But, enough offence to the ears for now. We shall be back on the topic some time later. For the moment, we wonder if Muslim intelligentsia ever thought of the role it should be playing, instead of simply being baggage carriers of a caravan blindly hurtling towards its destiny.

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