Dark Ages

It is nothing new - fundamentalism, fanaticism and ignorance taking turns plaguing the world; arts, music and literature, the cornerstones of human achievement, extricating itself from the current conditions, fear and uncertainty gripping humanity with no relief or respite in sight; occupations and invasions dominating the news; progress standing still while human race sorted out its differences, excising itself of all the sepsis built over bitter times. As said, it is nothing new, it has happened before, many many times. This cycle of developemnt giving way to doom and doom paving the path for renewed hope, perpetuated itself with varying periodicity. The historians called it the 'Dark Ages' - not just because of the fact that not much was known about it in recorded history, but chiefly because of negative improvement recorded in regard to the human condition. In astronomical speak, whenever a star exhausts all its supply of hydrogen to fuse into helium, decay begins to set in ultimately causing the massive star to collapse in itself and creating a Black Hole, the effect of which causes everything around it to be sucked in, by its gigantic gravitational field. The universe is replete with such Black Holes, just as history is peppered with Dark Ages. Dark Ages might be the historical equivalent of Black Holes, that occur when might empires collapse under the weight of their own unsustainable conditions. This phenomenon was first recorded in history at the turn of first millennium after the fall of the Roman empire, again during the 12th - 14th centuries when Islam and Christianity clashed violently in the name of Crusades, and more recently, just before the world jumped on the bandwagon of industrial revolution. It exhibited similar traits during all these eras - high unemployment, great dissatisfaction, massive unrest, simmering anger, and growing intolerance, all leading to clashes between different walks and ways of life. Sound familiar - the symptoms and the conditions? Does it seem that the Dark Ages are making a strong comeback all over again, even in this day and age of (purported) enlightenment and (perfunctory) embracing of all values humanistic?

At the root of every unrest lies a failed economic system. The unfair taxation that triggered the American revolution, the class differences that fomented the French uprising, the economic disparities (or the excesses of the Czars) that paved the way for communism and various other social upheavals attest to the fact that economic imbalances form the breeding ground of various malaises that fester and eventually rot the system out. Call it imperialism (British), autocracy (Czars), hegemony of the monarchy (France) or dictatorship (Latin America), it is ultimately a chosen few, in whatever shape or form, ruling over a lot of have-not's, clamping down restrictions so as to fiercely protect their own self interests - power and money (depending on the era, one always begot the other). Now, with the benefit of hindsight, one would assume humanity had learned a lesson or two, about how exploitation by the ruling class would always go against those same self interests that they so savagely try to safeguard. But stretching everything till its breaking point seems to be the only way humanity learns about its blunders, and the cycle repeats with a new cast of characters, new theory to espouse, and a new brand of fascism to impose. The dawn of the new millennium has a new master - capitalism.

Who would have thought that model that is supposed to have been founded on democratic principles and meant to foster innovation through a perfect mixture of competition and motivation would turn anything but for different peoples in different pockets of the world. And the reason for the revulsion is not petty envy or just jealousy as the votaries of capitalism would have the naysayers believe. At a theoretical level no economic model - capitalism or socialism - can be faulted with, as the fundamentals and guiding principles are mainly aimed at ameliorating the status quo of the practitioners. Socialism, with public enterprise shouldering the majority of the burden by devising and implementing plans with welfare of the citizenry at its center, soon fell on the wayside, as lack of ownership failed to spark the embers of innovation and motivation, which primarily fuel progress. Sure, socialism did a whole lot of to a segment of population subsisting on meager means, by helping them move a rung up in the social ladder. That it did it merely by providing the fruits of someone else's labor, instead of making the masses work and earn the benefits, worked to its own detriment, as the economic model soon created a welfare state, where rights trumped responsibilities, and entitlements trounced entrepreneur spirit. It became only a matter of time, before the bastions of socialism - USSR, China, India, and some lesser known states from the European Eastern Block and Latin American world, shunned the idea of group welfare for good and whole-heartedly/reluctantly embraced the idea of individual ownership to keep their states from slipping into economic oblivion and becoming social pariahs. And so it was the turn of capitalism this time around, with appealing terms like individuality, enterprise, free spirit and free markets thrown around with gay abandon, to come to the rescue of the woeful world plagued with economic ills. After all, it only seemed natural that if the state caring for the individual (to a fault) didn't work for the society, then the individual looking out for himself should be the (b)right idea to save the society, at least by the converse principles of mathematics. And so the society has setup the right platform for the individual to flourish, prosper and do good for himself, in general, in the hope that what is good for one, at the individual level, should be good for all, at the collective level.

But of course, no one predicted the devastating effects of the greedy instincts in the individual, when singing paeans for capitalism. Motivation, the lack of which is what was said to have failed socialism, ran amuck in the garb of greed, under capitalism, either unwilling to slow down for its own good, or unable to shield itself from the constant clamor for the impossible growth and the resulting profits. The idea of individualism, which was supposed to be at the heart of capitalism, slowly morphed into institutionalism, better known as corporatization. The whole scenario became utterly paradoxical, when individual did not matter in the corporate setup, as long as the results were delivered, and the situation was even dire, when the results didn't meet the expectations. So the individual who deserted one system for the wont of motivation, got passed over by a new system, whose motivations for growth grew beyond, and sometimes in opposition, to the individual's interests. The economists came up with a bunch of theories, whenever the model failed (and it failed as many times as socialism) that shook and shocked the system, leaving behind deep scars and casualty scores - bubbles, market corrections, cyclical growths, bad blood and many such. If governments were ridiculed as grumpy old men, who hated change and therefore held up innovation, when criticizing socialism, corporations should equally be castigated as ravenous and animalistic in a suave appearance with lot of smooth talk, when devouring the cause of common good, as capitalism proved, time and again, to be just another master preying and enslaving the weak and the weary. Sadly, the fallouts of failed economic models have serious ramifications - revolutions, civil wars, even terrorism.

Any movement, legal or otherwise, social or otherwise, is often viewed as an effect, when it should be treated as a symptom to more a grave issue. Religious fundamentalism, presenting itself as terrorism, is the issue du jour of practically every nation in the world, wrongly dubbed by the experts as the clash of the cultures and civilizations, making it sound as though anyone who is opposed to the western liberal school of thought is fundamentally opposed to the idea of liberty and free will, conveniently ignoring that terrorism is a more radical manifestation of economic ills, that surfaces when every single avenue for reasonable protest is shut down, when every single voice rising against the establishment is squelched mercilessly. Opposition spouts out in the form of armed resistance, compelling the establishment to sit up, notice and address the same economic issues of the grieving public that they could have handled much earlier, sans the bloodshed and the heart aches. Pick up any story of armed resistance - from Palestine to Kashmir, from Basque separatists (Spain) to Uighur muslims (China), from FARC militia (Columbia) to the drug cartels (Mexico). While the upper echelon of these struggles cling on to the movement, only to retain say and sway over the masses, the foot soldiers sacrificing themselves at the altars suit up, only to bring to the fore the economic iniquities and injustices, by incentivizing their lives for the sake ideologies. As the world grows more and more competitive, by the ways of governments and corporations fighting for every inch of rich and fertile lands and resources, displacing the downtrodden from their lands, lives and livelihoods, so would be the intensity of armed resistances, the last resort of the desperate, that grows in direct proportion to the expansionist policies. Pick any resource rich country in the African continent and the number of nations that wisely use their natural gifts for the welfare of its subjects, does not exceed the number of digits on one hand. With corporations and foreign governments luring the local governance with sops and trinkets actively encouraging rampant corruption, the prosperity and progress that the explorations and excavations of the resources were supposed to bring dwarfed in comparison to disillusionment that is brewing, simmering and boiling over among the local populace.

Progress cannot be for a chosen few and prosperity can't be hogged by those who can. Devoid of them both, struggle becomes the purpose of the suppressed. Once this purpose is set in stone, no amount of talks, compromises and middle ground ideas can bring them back on the path of least resistance. And this is exactly what is happening around the world. With media, another corporate entity craving for constant profits, hand in glove with the establishment, turning away from its responsibility of portraying the right picture of the prevailing conditions, for the fear of reprisals by the influential, the words 'truth', 'fairness' and 'justice' are held hostage by vested interests. In effect, what should have been an enriching economic model soon improverished an already distraught class, what should have been a free and fair media, thanks to the technological revolutions, became anything but, following the footsteps of the establishment faithfully like a house dog, in the pursuit of profits. And the dark clouds on the future does not seem to be floating away anytime soon. What has been a two-class struggle, between the have's and the have-not's, in the previous collapses of mighty empires, turned into a tug of war, this time around, with the middle class struggling to choose between the have's and have-not's, caught in the middle, trying to gain a foot hold in the upper class, while clinging on to its position in the have-not's. And the onset of the next Dark Age is determined by how soon the middle class gets disillusioned and ultimately defeated (an inevitability) in its purpose of becoming a part of the ruling club, and throws itself back with the lower strata, revolting for a better system, fairer standards and equal treatment.

Thus would start the search for the next -ism, and next -cracy. It has happened before, many times over. And with all the signs pointing in the right condition, there is no reason why it wouldn't happen again. It is time for the historians to add a new chapter to the ongoing saga of 'Dark Ages', with the title reading - 'Greedy times'.


Rohit said...

Interesting, insightful and haunting.
Sounds apocalyptic, but true.

Praveen said...

'by incentivizing their lives for the sake ideologies.'

Was it supposed to be:
'by incentivizing their lives for the sake of ideologies.' (missing the word 'of')