Threats to human existence have been predicted, debated and analysed through the ages by mystics and scientists alike and also the science fiction writers and futurists particularly when it comes to meteorites, gamma ray bursts from distant galaxies, super volcanoes, apocalypses and catastrophes of the unknown kind.
There have been warnings, speculation and much amusement as I recall my own childhood reading of H G Wells, when more than a century ago in “The Time Machine” he tried to develop the science of forecasting and I was equally fascinated by Issac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke who do peep into the far futures. Also any talk of our future destiny may be imperfect if we do not speak of mystics like Nostradamus and the ancient Mayans who regularly tried to speculate and even predict the end of the world as we know it.
The outcome of our future destiny has nonetheless remained incoherent despite the best efforts of these pioneers. We are more privileged today as humans have steadily advanced both technologically and sociologically to predict at least our existential future and have developed the will to evolve strategies, deal with impending issues and to an extent mitigate these future disasters. The fact though remains that humans do overestimate the probability of events we know and underestimate events we do not readily recall. Let us for a moment assume that humanity becomes extinct, it would imply a loss of not only lives but also the loss of values, the intelligence, the knowledge and above all the consciousness generated by Homo sapiens through past several millennia. There is evidently a strong moral logic for humans to prevent existential threats of our own making such as wars and global warming from occurring.
Also in retrospect I do wonder, have we deliberated enough on the existential risks that we face today, mostly of our own doing. Yes, indeed we do face risks of just not the big disasters from the realm of the unknown but more importantly disasters that are man-made and recur almost every day in our life and times and these are the ones that may end history as we know. As Robert Burns almost two centuries and a half back commented ‘man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn’ when Edmund Burke was compelled to observe that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for the good men to do nothing’. Today we are no different and may be reminded of these ominous words in a world that thrives on violence, terror and killing where we value Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King or for that matter Nelson Mandela only for lip service.
It is in this context that an informal but unique gathering of a most extraordinary league of individuals was held at the Centre for Global Nonkilling with Professor Glenn D Paige from the 11th to 14th June at Hawaii. Indeed I was a participant along with some very unique and outstanding individuals driven and inspired by the cause for a killing-free world from across the globe. I had the opportune moment to further understand and also to highlight some of these threats to the measurable goal of a non-killing world that may or will endanger human existence in the foreseeable future.
One of the prime risk to my mind was the present state of geo-politics that may lead to a war like situation. The driving force may perhaps be purely economic compulsions as substantial parts of globalised economy as yet strives for a magic wand for recovery that does not exist. Be it inflation, unemployment, commodity shortages or even GDP numbers, a recent decision on crude prices by the OPEC actually translates into a war like confrontation with the West. The West on its part clearly understands that if war funding has to come down than the entire middle-East has to be kept under pressure. As per recent estimates despite the end of the Cold War the probability of a nuclear holocaust is one in 1000 in a year and hence any prediction of mass killing that may be the unwitting outcome of any major escalation of geopolitik may not be at all far-fetched.
Next is a bio-engineered pandemic as pathogens are easier to design and as biotechnology gets better and cheaper and as bio-weapons get more accessible even to fringe groups. Lest we forget the Aum Shinrikyo cult that tried to hasten the apocalypse deploying a nerve gas attack. Do we have the hindsight of the leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) at midnight at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal that killed thousands of citizens. In the Japanese biowar program since World War II up to 400,000 may have died, far more than those killed by the terrorists. And governments across the globe have killed yet more people in wars across the globe, and even more than in biowar and terror. Not that governments and military or even the industry for that matter, may both wittingly or unwittingly unleash bio-terrorism as a weapon of choice in the hands of a few misguided individuals.
It is said that humans are the crowning achievement of evolutionary history. As humans develop super intelligence and improve cognition through enhancing drugs and artificial intelligence software, traditional civilisational pace of change is increasingly threatened. The explosion in super intelligence may not follow the complex values and diffused morals that have been the cornerstone of the world that we had known until now. But that may be a distant dream and the outcome disastrous considering the explosive growth in human desires, future possibilities and aspirations as Gandhi said there is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed. The risk of autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons and systems through advances in nano technology where smart poisons can annihilate a whole population, where gnat bots and self replicating nano machines in the hands of a maniac may result in mayhem and mass killing on a global scale.
It has been estimated that on average a mammalian species survives for a million years and if that be the extinction rate for humans as well than it is going to be much less if we take into account the probability of wars and a nuclear holocaust or any of the other existential possibilities such as hunger, pestilence, climate change or any of those discussed above. Just one possibility where humans have absolute and avoidable control is war and even there our record is not only dismal but a horror story of the worst kind. In last seventy years alone since the end of World War II in some 250 major wars alone 50 million people have been killed, not to speak of those millions who became homeless and the millions injured. Yet we have movies and digital games now that do motivate our youngsters to be the killing machines for a world where revenge and wars are the ultimate goal and not our youth as the harbingers for peace and prosperity in a non-violent and non-killing world.
In our futures exercise at Honolulu we did focus on the preferred assumption of a measurable goal of a non-killing world in the next 30 years in place of a possible or probable world. The unexceptional conclusion was that though a time frame until 2045 may not be a fantasy as such as it can be visualised when we look back at our own past and the pace of change. The non-killing spirit is all pervasive among humans and with the right resolve it may be brought to the fore. Indeed violence and killing is not only self-defeating but also makes the attainment of other goals almost impossible such as sustainable development and universal education, hunger and poverty, conflict resolution and disarmament, human rights and religious tolerance, gender equity and unemployment, and the list goes on.
From times immemorial the all important human trait of cognition and symbolic reasoning led to our cultural explosion and helped our species not only to survive but also to thrive. As humans we not only learnt from our past mistakes but also adapted to variation itself over the the past few millenia, but has our morality really kept pace with our own rapid intellectual transformation. If our own past is any indicator, indeed we have not. The danger is therefore immediate and urgent as existential risks have to be eliminated here and now. Not surprisingly it was felt that a mass movement for a Global Nonkilling World was the only way forward that could bring human consciousness to the next level.