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The Future of Humanity

Excerpts from the Deshamanya Dr P R Anthonis Memorial Oration 2011 organized by the JICA Alumni Association of Sri Lanka and delivered by Professor Carlo Fonseka

Born in 1911 while Ceylon was firmly under British colonial rule and English was the language of the elite standing tall over the predominantly Sinhalese populace the legend that was Dr P R Anthonis shared with his motherland and the world at large a critical segment of history that was the 20th century of human habitation of the planet earth.

He lived through the century and saw the dawn of the next millennium and just short of his own centenary year Deshamanya Dr P R Anthonis departed the world in 2009 leaving behind a legacy that would never be matched or equalled looking at the achievements and work he has indelibly committed to minds and memory of all who knew him and who had even just heard of him, a household name in Sri Lanka.

Deshamanya Dr P R Anthonis

Dr Anthonis was a great and good doctor, a healer and surgery was his specialty. Elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, England qualifying through rigorous examination procedure at a very young age which itself was a record achievement he was the consultant surgeon of the General Hospital, Colombo when the country’s history was being re-written in the late 50’s. The death of a Prime Minister, gunned down by an assassin and it was Dr Anthonis who led the team of surgeons who almost saved the Prime Minister’s life but for that dark hour in 1959 of country’s fortunes. Ever since then the name, Dr. Anthonis was part of history of Sri Lanka and of Medical Profession, the two areas which cover every inch of our land and every man dwelling on that land, the legend was born!

Historical identity

He was awarded the ‘Deshamanya’ an honourific conferred by the state on the most distinguished and valued few the country is fortunate to possess at any given time in history.

Dr P R Anthonis was honoured by Japan by conferring the Order of the Sacred Treasure on him in recognition of his:

i. Contribution to furtherance of friendly relations between the two countries.

ii. Collaborative work with eminent Japanese surgeons.

These two areas were most important for Sri Lanka in particular as Sri Lanka being a strategically located Asian country newly independent from Western domination could find comfort in the goodwill extended from Japan, the thread of Buddhism perpetuating the spiritual bonds that had always been a blessing for our two countries each possessing its unique natural splendour and historical identity - the Pearl in the Indian Ocean and the Land of the Rising Sun!

Dr Anthonis was perhaps destined to be a precious human being as a lover of peace and humanity with a Healing Hand which proved time and again his worth to the world and it’s no surprise that his country of birth heaped honour on him in life and in death - a commemorative stamp has been issued recently and Japan will treasure his memory as long as the country honours the Order of the Sacred Treasure.

Japan gives us the starting point, an opportunity to open the discussion on the Future of Mankind by being the country which almost saw the ‘End’ of mankind begin as the World War II was being fought at its fiercest and most decisive closing stages.

Atomic power

Atom Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Devastated the city. No words would ever be able to describe that split second destruction to everything that God had gifted to man since the creation. The physical, biological and genetic damage to the land of the humans, the only place in universe where intelligent life existed and somehow still exists through chance or mystery - was unfathomable. It shocked humanity’s conscience. Hiroshima became famous for the wrong reason. Nagasaki followed soon, with the Fat Boy, just a few days after the Little Boy of Hiroshima. Said Albert Einstein the ‘Father of the Atom Bomb’. “The release of atomic power has changed everything except our way of thinking... If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”

On March 1, 1954 a Hydrogen Bomb (with 600 times the destructive power of the atom bomb) was successfully tested by the United States of America. Bertrand Russell initiated a Movement to warn humanity about their extinction in the case of a nuclear war. Therefore was itself had to be abolished to save humanity from extinction.

Unarmed victory

On December 23, 1954 in a broadcast on the BBC titled ‘Man’s Peril’ Bertrand Russell asked: “Shall we put an end to the human race or shall mankind renounce war? He concluded with the words:... I appeal as a human being to human beings: remember your humanity and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new paradise; if you cannot, nothing lies before you but universal death...”

In July 1955 Bertrand Russell sent a statement signed by the most eminent scientific authorities on nuclear warfare including Albert Einstein to the Heads of powerful states, which urged the abolition of a future nuclear war. But the Cold War continued to be hotly contested.

In 1961, Russell then 89-years-old, felt impelled to publish a little book with an alarming title: Has Man a Future? The last chapter of the book begins as follows: “I am writing at a dark moment (July 1961) and it is impossible to know whether the human race will last long enough for what I write to be published...”

The ‘dark moment’ was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Russell addressed himself directly to President Kennedy and Premier Krushchev.

As urged by Russell, Krushchev did not challenge the American blockade of Cuba. A nuclear war was thereby everted. This was hailed as an unarmed victory.

In the context of this oration sponsored by JICA Alumni Association, it is appropriate to point out that Japan has taken the lead towards abolition of war.

Japan’s Nobel-Prize winning writer Kenzaburo Oe said in his Nobel-Prize acceptance speech in 1994 that as “a nation stained by its own history of territorial invasion and as the first victim of nuclear war, Japan should commit itself never to wage war again.”

Nuclear weapons

Today the danger of humanity being exterminated by homicidal lunatics waging nuclear wars has receded. But the technology of manufacturing nuclear weapons is available to several nations. Who knows, like the second murderer in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth there may be world leaders who “are reckless of what they do to spite the world.” But the danger of extermination by homicide is negligible.

The question that confronts humanity today is: Is humanity suicidal? This question is the title of an essay by the foremost socio-biologist in the world Harverd University Professor Edward O. Wilson in his book ‘In Search of Nature.’

The question has arisen because of two unmistakable trends:

i. Exponential growth of the world’s population

ii. Environmental damage due to technologies impacting the environment

Humanity is increasing in numbers and relentlessly seeking a better quality of life which requires the use of technologies that pollute the air, soil and water, exhausts non renewable resources and damages ecosystems.

Is this suicidal tendency inevitable and inexorable? According to the Jaggernaut theory of human nature, human-beings are programmed to be so selfish that a sense of global responsibility will come too late.

Economic wealth

Our genes pre-dispose human beings to plan only for one or two generations. The result of this is the exponential growth of world population which will continue an irreversible global environment degradation inevitably ensuing in due course. Planet earth will become unfit for human life.

Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus’s ‘Essay on Population’ first published in 1798 has become relevant to the world as a whole. “Power of population is indefinitely greater than the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for Man.” However this prediction did not come true in Britain because,

(i) Between 1315 and 1914 some 20 million Britons emigrated to other countries.

(ii) Agricultural revolution increased productivity.

(iii) Industrial revolution increased Britain’s economic wealth.

What is to be done to ensure a secure future for humanity? This then is the inevitable question every man shall ask himself.

Is it predictable or as happened with aforesaid Rev Malthus’ case predictions man himself makes will not come true due to underlying factors yet unforeseen?

Nano-technology

Searching for a valid answer might take time though and time is precious, as it’s running out fast on earth exponentially - as the population increases - and the shortsightedness thrives in comforts generated by post-modern trends of nano-technology fast invading the lifestyle of each and every earthling.

Let's now consider the two schools of thought which look at the problem in different diverging angles which seem to lead us to the two extremes and which are called;

(i) Excemptionalism

(ii) Environmentalism

Exemptionalists believe that humanity (Homo-Sapiens) is uniquely different from all other living species on planet-Earth. By its ingenuity, force of will and who knows, divine dispensation - humanity will survive and thrive forever. Environmentalists believe that humanity, its superior intelligence not withstanding, is an integral part of the web of life. They are necessarily dependent on the natural world for survival and propagation. If they do not protect the environment by controlling their numbers, humanity will commit involuntary suicide, sooner or later.

Which of the above shall we dismiss and which shall we live happily with?

Again we are left alone with a dilemma yet the answer lies in there itself. If the environmentalism is placed on top of excemptionalism and the problem addressed in that order of merit with broadminded and far-sighted dedication, hopefully humanity can survive.

 

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