Unhappy Endings or New Beginnings?
The world didn’t end – did anyone seriously think it would? – but we are one year closer to the demise of earth as we know it and love it. Love it to death might be an appropriate expression. However, unlike true love, we have taken more than we’ve given back. So this is a good time for a new beginning. Recognising that humans – and the resource extraction, industrialisation and motorisation we have fostered – have got the earth to where it is today. Asad Latif in the Straits Times is headlined: “It’s not the end. Life goes on” and writes we have work to do including “to prevent the collective suicide called global warming”. Is it beyond repair? Have we left it too late? Not if we start to act now as better guardians of our land, air and water. Not if we significantly reduce our consumption. Not if we adopt a sustainable way of doing things. If we stop digging up anything useful. If we stop burning fossil fuels. The good news for mankind at this time of goodwill and hope, is that we do have the answers. Solutions are at hand. We need the will – and the goodwill – to put ideas, innovations, clean energy and clean tech to work. This issue – the last for 2012 – is full of good news. So season’s greetings to all. Here’s to a happy Christmas and a new beginning. Cheers! Read More– Ken Hickson
It’s Not the End. Life Goes on.
By Asad Latif for The Straits Times (22 December 2012):
EVEN if the world had ended yesterday, there would have been much to celebrate because humans have made good use of their time on Earth. Now that the world has not ended, there is more work to be done.
Just think of how much has been achieved on a mere planet.
Adam, the first man, was also the first feminist: He listened to Eve. Obviously, as their case shows, the consequences can be fairly catastrophic. Cast out of the Garden of Eden, man and woman thenceforth had to work to live. But the first footsteps of exile also led Adam and Eve back to each other, outside the confining comforts of Paradise.
“I am your home,” she might have whispered to him. “Come, live in me.” Adam smiled so hard in the cold that his chapped lips bled. Eve kissed the blood away.
They set up the first family. Even today, when peasants lose their land and migrate to cities, their families move with them. Thousands find themselves on the streets, subsisting on the feral margins of urban dreams. They have no houses, but they are not homeless. A house is but a space; a home is a relationship. The mother, the father and the children who live together turn even landlessness into a home.
The first woman taught the first man the meaning of exile: to exchange security for freedom.
Ever since then, the great stages of history have been defined by a series of defining movements – from idyllic ignorance to profane knowledge, from bucolic bliss to the earthy struggle for identity.
Philosophy and the arts have been at the vanguard of this quest. Socrates’ defiant cry – “the unexamined life is not worth living” – echoes in Shakespeare’s quiet recognition that “Men must endure/Their going hence, even as their coming hither:/Ripeness is all”.
To be ripe is to have been an eager pilgrim on a journey, whether or not one arrives at the destination. Referring to Ulysses, whose epic travels Homer celebrates, the poet Tennyson exclaims: “I am a part of all that I have met.”
Reason has driven much of the shift to secular finality. When Galileo demonstrated that the Earth revolves around the Sun, his rationality was so subversive that he had to recant his discovery in order to stay alive. Today, his detractors have faded into scientific oblivion, but his universe is buoyantly alive.
In his universe, home to the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution, the atom has been split; children have been born with the aid of test tubes; pasteurised milk has been manufactured; the polio vaccine and insulin have been discovered; and the World Wide Web has been invented.
The restlessness of science, from Newton to Einstein, has made the frontiers of the mind mobile. Technology has followed in its empowering wake, with the sputniks and Apollo spaceships literally reaching new frontiers of the scientific imagination.
Politics has not been a laggard. Every society believes it is the last, if not the best, and every society is wrong. The English, American, French, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Velvet and Jasmine revolutions each overthrew the old order, proving that what once had seemed natural, fated, irreversible and eternal was no more than a passing way of life. The public intellectual Edward Said remarks that men and women who make their own history can also unmake and remake it. These revolutions turned remaking into the fulcrum of history.
There have been other revolutions as well. The spectacular victory of anti-colonial nationalism in India and Indonesia set the stage for the acts of political daring that led to Singapore’s independence. When the Vietnamese won the Vietnam War, colonialism well and truly began to recede into the textbooks. It is said that, in the centuries to come, colonialism will occupy no more than a footnote in the annals of African history.
But the palanquin of change does not move on its own: it needs willing bearers. Ordinary humans have filled in the everyday gaps between extraordinary events. In keeping events on the move every day, they are the true heroes of time.
Pablo Neruda’s ode, The People, celebrates these unknown partisans of the human journey. His anonymous hero was ordinary. He “did not stand out from others” because they were but himself writ large. And, because he was a part of others, he was inexhaustible: “When it seemed he must be spent,/he was the same man over again”.
Neruda’s hero “never fought with another of his kind”, “his struggle was with water or with earth”. Everything he touched grew. He made bread and buildings, he set the trains running, he filled distances with towns, and “spring wandered into the marketplace” that he had set up.
When we marvel at the Great Wall, the temples of Ajanta or Ellora, or the cathedrals of Chartres and Milan, let us not forget the invisible and unrequited labour of the thousands who translated the vision behind these masterpieces into the enduring reality of stone and rock. As Bertolt Brecht asks in his poem, Questions From A Worker Who Reads: “Who built the seven gates of Thebes?/In the books you’ll find the names of kings./ Did the kings haul up the blocks of stone?… Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished/Did the masons go?”
Where, indeed? And what were their names? It is a pity that we do not know. It is such unacknowledged achievements that deserve celebration as a new cycle of the Mayan calendar begins after the one which ended yesterday, with a promise of better times to come.
But those times will not fall from the sky: They will have to be built, up from the ground. It will take hard work to fight oppression in the name of race, creed or gender, to resist religious bigotry, and to prevent the collective suicide called global warming.
It will take back-breaking labour to stay human. The work of Adam and Eve is never done.
The writer, a former Straits Times journalist, is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.