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Three mega-events which shape our minds

Asad Zaman

The following commentary has been extract- ed from a longer article by Asad Zaman in WEA Pedagogy [1], published on 21 June 2020.

What is the nature of the world in which I live? As I look around me, I see walls, windows, doors, furniture. But these are insignificant parts of the world as constructed by my mind. I conceptualize the world through the teachings of history, according to which our human history started in the remote past, with hunter-gatherers. I have a smattering of knowledge of the ancient civilizations of Sumeria and Babylon, and much more of the Roman Empire, the development of Christianity and Islam, the Ottoman Empire, and the Industrial Revolution in England. The NARRATIVE, or stories woven around these events, and my own place – or that of my ancestors – within these events, shapes my identity, my allegiances, and also my hopes, visions and projects for the future.

These narratives guide me about what is worth spending my life and efforts on. For my present purposes, the important thing to note is that this history comes to me via the reading of accounts, or by listening to oral presentations by a range of teachers and scholars. I did not experience the two world wars, or Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the “Era of Darkness” as has been described by Shashi Tharoor, but these events are of major importance in my mental landscape.

History creates the world we live in, far more than the bricks and mortar of the buildings around us, and far more than the rivers, oceans, mountains, jungles that we see. But what is history, and where does this history come from? I was taught that history is just a sequence of facts about the world – dates and events – in other words, just one damn thing after another. However, this positivist / reductionist view is extremely harmful to our quest for understanding the world, and our own place in it. Due to the influence of positivism, we might confuse the NARRATIVE, or the story woven around the historical facts, with the facts themselves. This leads to the false belief that past history is engraved in stone and cannot be changed. While it is true that the events of history are fixed and cannot be changed, we can exercise considerable creative licence in terms of the stories we tell to explain these events. In particular, the stories told by the victors and vanquished are dramatically different, and listening to both sides gives us an idea of how much flexibility exists in interpreting the same events from multiple points of view.

Below, I replicate one of my previous posts which analyses 3 mega-events that shape our thoughts, from the view- point of those who have been colonized and conquered.

To a far greater extent than we realize, the thoughts we think are shaped by the major tides of history. Colonization is primarily a conquest of minds – millions of people cannot be ruled by thousands without giving their willing consent.

To become a great teacher, we must first liberate ourselves from the low flying and carrion-eating crow-mentality that is created within our minds by our education. To do this, we must learn about three major historical events that have shaped the minds of all human beings living on the planet today. These are:

  1. European Global Colonization and ConquestAs Edward Said writes in “Orientalism”, nearly 85% of the planet was under European control by the early twentieth century. This event created the “West” (the conquerors and the colonizers) and the “East” (the defeated and colonized), and the corresponding mindsets.
  2. European Transition to Secular ModernityAbuse of power by Catholic Church led to the Protestant Reformation and the religious wars. This eventually led to the exclusion of religious communities from the public domain, and the creation of secular modern ways of thinking, which now dominate the world.
  3. The Great Transformation to Market Society

The industrial revolution created the possibility of massive surplus product- ion. To create and utilize this surplus for ‘love and war’ – that is pleasure and power — required a complete reconfiguration of traditional societies, along radically different lines in the political, economic, and social realms. Market societies wield tremendous economic power, and this type of society has now become global, penetrating our minds and hearts.

All of these three developments have had a major impact on ways of thinking, always in conflict with traditional values. As a first step, we must recognize the impact of these events within our own ways of thinking, and cleanse our own minds of the conflicts created by them. This involves a great deal of work.

Postscript: This is part of a sequence of posts about “How to Become a Great Teacher”. The next post in the current sequence is GT5: Reshaping Lives: Identity and Purpose: A great teacher reshapes lives of students by changing their goals and thereby their identities.



Commentary on Asad Zaman’s article – Ikonoclast (in RWER blogs, [1])

There is another mega-event happen- ing right now which will shape future human minds … if any humans are left on earth at all. That mega-event is the collapsing ecological and biosphere system. This collapse has now begun. There will be no economic recovery after COVID-19 which is just the first event of a complex, interconnected and very likely long-running collapse over the remainder of this century.

The main looming problems (all of them interconnected) are:

  1. Climate change (intensified heat, droughts, floods and storm events);
  2. Mass species extinctions (eco- system collapse);
  3. Failure of earth-systems and eco- services;
  4. Further novel zoonotic disease outbreaks (plagues);
  5. Food system collapse (famine); and
  6. Wars.

Capitalism cannot survive these events. Indeed, it is doubtful that homo sapiens can survive these events. The failure of capitalism is a moral failure and also an empirical failure. The attitude of capitalist economics to humankind and nature is at the centre of many of humanity’s problems. Exploitation is the keystone of the system. Humans and nature are both seen as resources to be exploited rather than as beings and processes valuable in and of themselves and in ways which cannot be counted by mere money and wealth calculations.

Viewed in this light, capitalism presents itself as a failure of brotherhood and of stewardship. We failed to care properly for our fellow humans and we failed to care for the world. Because all things are connected, we will pay for this failure with billions of deaths and the collapse of world civilization. Being a scientific empiricist and humanist, I see this as the simple working out of natural forces and processes. Others of a more religious mind will see this in another way.

Scientific hubris was and is definitely part of the problem. Many of us had a merely mechanistic view of the world from classical science. (“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”) By the time we learnt of the fully interconnect- ed nature of the world from the further progress of science, it was too late to re-inform an economic and production system (capitalism) which was based on inadequate mechanistic and instrumental reason / instrumental power considerations. Capitalism itself had become essentially a religion; one of self-interest and unconcern for others and the world.

Source: 1. three-mega-events-which-shape-our-minds/

“Climate Change March Vista” by Stanley Zimny (Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

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