Monday, March 27, 2017

Modern Day Pillars of Ambition

In the old days, power through authority was the biggest pillar of desire and ambition. Kings could change the world. The Pharaoh even had the arrogance to think he could reach for divinity. He was rudely corrected and put in his place, but in the end Kings dominated the world. Power told! Alexander climbed mountains to conquer, Hannibal crossed seas to challenge Rome and Muhammad Fateh dragged ships across land to subjugate. 

Along came Magna Carta in 1216 and the authority of Kings was fenced. You can influence, but you cannot make rules without 'Us' (Us can be various segments of society at different times). The French Revolution in 1789 dealt a fatal and final blow to Kings and the future definition of power changed totally. From a throne, to a series of chairs debating in a hall. In various forms, for the last century this has been a constant. Though there are recent signs that a change is coming soon, in the power of authority, but for the moment 'Power is exercised via cliques and interest groups, while individual authority has receded'.   

Throughout history, money also had its place in individual ambitions. In earlier times, money could be substituted by land, or gold or flocks of livestock. In the Industrial Age it became factories, stocks of goods or commodities, plus paper. Paper which could translate into gold, shares or money. Today it need not be in any physical shape at all. Simply, a digital entry may be worth billions. Facebook, Uber, Google are just such examples. But money always had its limitation. It need not translate into power. Hence, Shylock had to concede to a judge and Qarun (in the Quran) was shown his real place, though he was richer than rich. And hence, China can shut out Facebook.

Nevertheless, ambition for money is a constant drive through history. For some it could be greed and for others it is that elevation of status which is another part of man's ego. We love to be admired and unfortunately this world admires money. So despite its limitation money attracts. I hear someone saying what about comfort and luxury? Comfort and luxury can be achieved with reasonable amounts of money and does not need billions of dollars. That extra bit of money ambition is placed at the door of ego. 

Modernity is shaping out in a different direction. Fame seems to have overtaken money and power. I have no research to justify this statement, but it is what I observe. People are dying to be famous. It can be through stardom, but it can be as big through social media. It need not translate into money, but it definitely translates into power.  

The Twitterati, Facebookers, Instagramers, Whatsappers, Bloggers can move governments and societies today. Remember back to the Arab Spring and see the devastation it caused. And then there was Obama, moving opinions and grabbing the biggest job in the world. It was all done through the power of connectivity and social media. Lately, so much of Brexit and Trumps power and success have come via online connectivity fame. 

This fame and power equation has been further accentuated by the use of 'fake news'. Just a decade ago, it would have been inconceivable that non-existent events could drive power. Today, if I am clever enough and skilled enough, I can create a false event on the net and get it accepted as truth. Based on this acceptance, I can then drive public opinion, my own popularity and eventually acquire the power to influence. Unfortunately, presently there is no defence against such an eventuality. We see that regularly, when totally false and illogical facts are being retweeted a dime a dozen.

We are entering a new age of power. More than anything else, ambition in our children will be connectivity and its trappings of power. The consequences of such a social change is mind boggling. More than ever, the up-bringing and value system of our children is an imperative. With no boundaries to truth, only values deeply set in the mind can keep this world on a fair and decent road.

*from the 1939 movie Gulliver's Travel

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A pivotal point in History

As Gollum struggled with Frodo at the edge of Mount Doom the world stopped. The armies of Aragorn and those of Sauron already engaged in deadly battle, heard Gandalf call out the time of reckoning is here. Hold still. A pivotal point in history had arrived. So it goes in the Lord of the Ring.

In our present real world, one has been waiting for just such a moment for decades. There have been pivotal points in history before. The moment when the world changed.  Imagine the people living at that particular time, mostly unaware that life was going to change.     

As Julius Caeser looked across from Gaul at an island which he was heading to conquer, would he have thought that his were the first steps to a British Empire on which the sun would never set? Or when Muhammad Fateh dragged his ships across land, past the Bosporus into the Black Sea, to conquer Constantinople, would he have known this was a four plus century event, which would culminate in the destructions of the First World War? Or when Archduke Ferdinands carriage trundled down the street of Sarajevo in June 1914, would the on-lookers have known that within seconds his assassination event would occur, leading to two world wars and death of a 100 million people?    

This feeling of a pivotal point in history is here and now. One feels it. Hold your breath, this world is about to change. Sadly enough, it's been coming these past three decades, but we have been blind and insensitive not to have seen it earlier.    

It is a complex matrix and the variables are many. But they are all coming into play.

- A global elite has led an economic onslaught, which has marginalised the 99%. Poverty prevails and the majority do not belong. So the poor majority are flexing their power to bring in leaders who will reverse the trend of 70 years and bring the world back to 1945.
- The baton of leadership of the West is passing and a new challenge from the East is coming. Never has the baton of domination been passed on without armed conflict. A conflict in the South China Sea is brewing. Not to mention the trade wars.
- A further conflict is shaping up in the old world. A clash of civilisation, where a secular ideology is at loggerheads with religions of the books. This presently manifests itself in the Islam versus West struggle, but actually can mutate into a Middle East conflict.    
- The various conflicts are causing refugees and starvation. Ten million refugees and twenty million starving are the highest such figures in history. 
- A technical advance which started in the late 60s with Moore's Law, is now coming to a point where artificial intelligence threatens to take over humanity's role.
- The social consequences of technology, materialism, a breakdown of traditional family structures are leading to many social challenges and the urban centres in the world are heaving with rancour, unrest and substance abuse.
- A combination of over population and material needs is driving man to produce and consume more. In five decades we have consumed 400 million years of resources. The pace of consumption is increasing and we are bordering on resource scarcity.
- The above has led to an environmental degradation which has tilted the balance nature has maintained from the beginning of time. The very existence of all beings is being threatened at the hands of rampant heat on our Earth.  

So what is coming? Maybe the best place to look at is eschatology. That seems to indicate that all the signs are pointing to an Armageddon (Malhama in Islam). A mother of all conflicts, which will lead to major destruction. This is so in all three religions of the book. The difference is that for the Jewish faith the Messiah (saviour), is considered the imposter in Islam. So even here, the religions are looking at the same events from opposite sides.  

History too is not encouraging. Civilisations last an average of 250 years. The West is reaching that. A Dominant Currency lasts approximately 90 years; the US Dollar is reaching that time frame. So a change is on the cards. A pivotal point in history is visible. Only problem is, this is the first time in recorded human history, that Man has the power to destroy the world. 

So all one can do is pray that better sense prevails and humans resort to talking and mutual agreements to resolve these conflicts.

*image is downloaded from Getty Images, as a free picture.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Nations, just do not happen!

The breaking news was as usual all about dire consequences of one action or the other. One gets used to it. This is the way of all channels and media world over. Somehow, bad news travels fast, gets more attention and attracts people. Nothing like a good old disaster to get people animated. Anyway, here in Pakistan we have become de-sentisized, as we have plenty of bad news and on top of it, dozens of channels vying for breaking news. More grief!       

All the bad news notwithstanding, I would like to add my two bits to this discussion on how things have become this bad and how we are in a mess. My personal take on it is that it is nature taking its toll. Yes, Nature!    

In the past I have written on our nationhood and blamed our duality of vision. The duality being a desire to be an iconic Muslim homeland and at the same time desiring a strong economic state. We got our wires crossed, losing our vision and in the process ended up doing nothing. However, over time and after due consideration, while I still think we need a vision to take us further - otherwise there is nothing to hold us together - but the reality is that nature is taking its toll.  
Let me explain my statement, which I assure you is not an effort to be facetious. In the worlds written history, there have been nine great nations. There have been other good ones, but what we would classically call great, are those who have dominated their period in the world, added to knowledge and their traces are left in the working of the world even today. Historically they have lasted an average of two hundred and fifty years. Want me to count them out? Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, China, Arabia, Ottoman Turk, Britain, America. More or less chronologically and another interesting point; there have been no repeats. China might well turn out to be the first repeat.   

Anyway, think of these nations. They were formed layer by layer. The Egyptians took thousands of years to come to a stage of absolute dominance. Same with the Romans.  From the discovery of Romulus and Remus on the banks of the Tiber to Julius Caesar was a good several hundreds of years. These years comprise a coming together, a homogeneity of purpose, a gathering of strength, conquest and respect from others that you are the leaders. Having reached this peak, the decline starts and first society fragments, then economics falls apart and finally the military strength declines. That is the round trip of a nation.      

Now think back to August 1947. When India got independence they had a memory. They remembered the Aryans, then Alexander as he came through the Khyber Pass, later the Huns, Mongols and Babur. They owned the Red Fort and Taj Mahal. This they took as their own. This was as much their history, as Chandragupta Maurya or Ashoka or Ranjit Singh. Their culture was a melting pot of homogeneity and in economics they were working against adversity together.

Then there was Pakistan. We had a seven year history (from 1940 resolution) two clearly varying lands and cultures apart by fifteen hundred miles, a western part which comprised borderland tribes who had only invasion history in common and were diverse. We had nothing binding us, other than a principle and we competed for the same resources. This all was running uphill against history and nature. No wonder! 70 years is minuscule in history, a dot in time. We are children and still learning. When we get to our teens our time will be different and hopefully we will mature one day. This might involve another hundred years for these layers to form. In comparison to other development of nations, I would say maybe we are like the Wild West of USA just now.  

We shall get there Inshallah. Just require patience and faith. Nations just do not happen, they are chiselled into shape.