THE WAY IT WAS: Fifty-fifty chance

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Today the wheel of time has turned the full circle. If man has to survive he must make a new beginning. Instead of studying nature, man should now study man in conjunction with nature

It is astonishing that in an obscure corner of the universe there is our planet earth, which is green, gifted with water and intelligent life. How our solid earth was born out of gaseous clouds and then how as a result of chemical action primary life forms were ordained into existence is a long and complicated tale. Apparently it took a long time for life to manifest itself in its multifarious forms and existential dimensions. How ferns followed fungi and in turn ferns are followed by plants and bushes with berries, fruiting trees and forests. Scientists inform us that man has descended from fish, which crawled out of the salty seas, and then diversified into birds, mammals and reptiles, hoofed animals armed with horns and beasts with claws. The weakest of the mammals climbed up the trees and lived on tender leaves berries and seeds for millenniums.

A frail but wise cousin of the primates, for reasons best known to his family, was prone to curiosity and disposed to observe events, which enabled him to develop intellectual and manipulative skills requisite for long term survival. In the course of time he took courage and descended from his arboreal abode to live off the land below. This presented to him an endless challenge and opportunity to improve himself and prosper. Not being equipped with the strength and speed of fellow beasts he survived through deception and not confrontation. In due course of time he developed certain special skills and abilities which were to leave the mightiest of beasts, in fact nature itself at his mercy. Soon he learnt to stand erect on his hind legs. This enabled the Homo Erectus to survey the space around him for long distances. He could now detect an enemy from afar and make the requisite move to protect and defend himself and his group. By now he had developed a flexible rotary thumb which unlike other apes could curl to form a fist with the other four fingers and firmly hold objects.

With the passage of time he learnt to wield arms, fashion tools and weave baskets. Soon enough he harnessed fire, learnt to make clay pottery, paint and carve images. The erect posture helped to enlarge the cranium and develop the vocal cords by which he could produce a range of sounds, which were useful as a means of communication and expression of elementary feelings and emotions. This led to invention of hieroglyphics, cuneiform, ideograms, and alphabets, words and finally language. Language became a storehouse of observed facts, personal experience and common knowledge. Through employment of language he could now communicate his ideas and concerns with others and transmit collective knowledge to the next generations. The successive addition of knowledge spurred his imagination and he constantly improved himself and his material environment and established new cultures.

Language ensured accumulation of facts and furtherance of knowledge about nature. Language also enabled man to speculate, abstract and conceptualise. It enabled him to understand cause and effect, learn to synthesise and make laws of it. All this cerebral activity helped to enlarge his brain and broaden his mind and vision of life and himself. This gave him courage and encouraged him to consciously set higher standards for himself, which in the past were set by external nature and needs of survival.

It is true that quite early man had learnt to kill, but he killed either for food or to defend his person. He seldom killed for pleasure or to amass wealth. This was the time when he valued products and natural resources for their usefulness and not for their value in the market. Man himself was judged by his goodness to other men and not by his personal possessions. Later the value of things determined by their usefulness was replaced by the abstract ideal of value by profit. Undeniably this led to great expansion of man’s material civilisation. At the same time it also fragmented human personality and estranged him not only from products of his own creation, but also from the world in which he previously lived free. Profit led to the need for more profit. Men would now readily kill fellow humans for Gold.

Man in the beginning gathered knowledge through personal experience, which was sufficient for his survival, but insufficient for him to proceed beyond his empirical existence and understand the mysterious world surrounding him. He invented science to fathom the mysteries of nature, unravel universal laws and in the due process invented a whole New World. Furthermore he reasoned and tried to apply these laws to improve his own aesthetic and social conduct and above all better the world in which he lived.

Man today has reached a stage where Cartesian science is over. During that period man fragmented or dissected nature in order to study it in parts. The results of this method were undeniably breathtaking, resulting in electricity, radio, television, aeroplanes and what not. By this period the study of science became an end in itself. At the beginning of man’s appearance as Homo Sapiens he stood a fifty to fifty chance of survival against the physically better-equipped animal world. In order to survive he discovered and invented tools and then later science. With the passage of time the technological advancements made him the master of the world.

Ironically this technological advancement has reached a stage where once again he stands fifty-fifty chances of survival. Today the wheel of time has turned the full circle. If man has to survive he must make a new beginning. Instead of studying nature, man should now study man in conjunction with nature. While it is true, “Men are product of material circumstances, changing material circumstances should change men,” at the same time, “One should not forget that men are the creators of history.” (Feuerback) and themselves responsible for the world they create.

After thousands of years of sailing seas, man today stands on the shores of a cosmic ocean. He seems determined to probe new worlds beyond the stars, where no man has ever set foot before. But the question is, will man be able to undertake the journey? Will he survive his lust for power and greed for black and yellow gold? If he cannot possess all,

Would he not rather destroy Earth
Slip away with a Bag of Glitter
Exhaling Rancid Breath
Rash Pimpled
Pustules Bursting open with Muck
In Radiating Ugliness’

Like the early Homo Sapiens, man today once again stands fifty to fifty chance of survival.

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter and a member of Pakistan People’s Party