It will soon be a new year and we are almost a quarter of the way into the first decade of the new century. Where are we heading now? What will happen to the human race? Will it overcome its shadow side and migrate to the stars, a vision of Star Trek, or will it annihilate itself, the way the Roman empire, the greatest empire on earth, the pride of the ancient world, whose brilliant legislature, political organization, unrivaled military might, grand architecture, innovative engineering and artistic achievements have now been relegated to dusty archives?
The future of humanity depends on awareness of its plight. Without awareness, extinction is highly possible. With awareness, a critical mass for change can happen.
At no time in the last ten thousand years since the Ice Age have we exhibited such astonishing genius or such abominable disregard for sentient life. Somehow we have arrived here in this new century despite the worldwide suffering and traumatic events of the past one.
The greatest peril facing our species may be the overpopulation of our planet. Our very success with science and technology to improve the survival of all human life may be our downfall. The current rate of growth is about 1.9 percent a year. This may not sound like an alarming figure but it means that the population doubles every forty years. Right now it is around 6 billion. By the end of this century it will be around 40 billion. By then, it will be too late to do anything. That is the current lifetime left for humanity unless we become sophisticated enough to migrate to the stars.
Can we do it? Can we survive as a species? In order to answer that question, let us look at the greatest century ever in the history of the human race, the twentieth century. Unless we learn from our mistakes, we will be condemned to repeat them. But this time, we may not have a second chance silk road economic belt.
The journey of the exploration of inner space began in the twentieth century. Sigmund Freud explored the unconscious, linked neurosis to the sex drive, and sought to heal the past by examining it in the present. Initially shocked by his ideas, those who read and understood him then spread a new burst of awareness.
In the famous painting, The Scream, Edvard Munch, a Norwegian artist who followed the tradition of French Impressionism, epitomized the anxiety and terror of the human psyche, the grief that arose from recognizing the personal and collective pain in the unconscious mind.
Pablo Picasso’s Cubism and Salvador Dali’s Surrealism created more waves of awareness about the anguish of the individual soul tormented by the traumas of life, and this imagery of suppressed emotional pain spread even faster through the medium of surrealistic films.
But while a small proportion of artists were making public the existential angst of humanity, other great minds were marveling at the mystery of the universe. Albert Einstein declared that energy and matter could be exchanged, x-rays showed the insides of a living human being, and microscopes and telescopes started to reveal the world of the very small and the very large. In addition, amongst numerous other wonders, science developed contraceptives, giving couples the chance to experience intimacy without the need to raise a new family.
Human genius was on the rise everywhere. Startling discoveries were being made in the sciences that were radically transforming the very essence of human understanding and the way society functioned. But the most startling of them all, was the power of the atom. By isolating, smashing and splitting atoms, an enormous power of unimaginable magnitude had been discovered.
After the first atomic bomb was tested in Los Alamos, the chief scientist Robert Oppenheimer quoted a passage in the Bhagavad-Gita, “Now I have become death and the destroyer of worlds.” The scientists were shocked at what they had discovered, but the use to which the power was put changed the entire history of humanity for the worse. The powers of the Western World opted for the short-term benefit of defeating Japan, but did not then realize that it had introduced an unfathomable nightmare of weapons proliferation that could destroy every living creature in the known universe.
Before the nuclear shadow fell on humankind, the most horrific cause of anxiety in the collective unconscious, total war had already been invented.
The first world war escalated human territoriality and aggression to an industrial scale. The mechanical energy that had been used to transform humanity from an agrarian and localized population to an industrialized and globally expanding population was now used for wholesale slaughter. Man became the victim of his own machines. Armaments could be manufactured on a large and rapid scale. The lethal invention of the gun now became the even deadlier machine gun; in the few seconds it took to kill one man, now a dozen could be killed.