My Address at SWASTIKA 14

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I was invited to deliver the key note address at Swastika'14 (Techno Cultural Fest, Kerala, January 24-25 2014), of Mar Baselios Christian College of Engineering and Technology, Kuttikanam on January 24th 2014. The meeting was presided over by Rev. Fr. Dr. E.M. Philip (Director of the Institute) and Inaugural address was delivered by Dr. Cyriac Thomas (member National Minority Educational Institutions Commission, Govt. of India and former vice chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam).Cultural events was inaugurated by Mr. Vinay Fort (Film actor and Theater activist) Dr. Paul K. Mathew welcomed the gathering and Mr. Nevin Issac (event co-ordinator) proposed vote of thanks. Here is the text of my address:



(Key Note Address Delivered at Mar Baelius Christian College of Engineering and Technology, Peerumedu During their SWASTIKA 14 -Technology, Science and Art Festival).

History of science in action or technology can be traced back right to the to the very first point of human existence in this planet.

The very invention of how to make fire in the Paleolithic age (2.5 million to 10000 BCE) was one of the first in that category. Invention of stone tools, wheel, plough etc. are some the earliest technological inventions. The primary purpose was to make life easier, effortless and qualitatively better.

All culture, no matter what ever we may call them primitive or dark, still have history of technology.

Technology sure will have a scientific principle in the back ground. The principle of ‘heat will be produced when two hard bodies are rubbed together’ was behind the invention of fire, I guess. Which came first the principle or the invention is a different question. A round piece of rock rolling down the hill may have caused the invention of wheel which eventually brought the knowledge that every thing that is round will move on flat surface swiftly.

India from time immemorial has been using technological principles to make life effortless. The first sign of ancient civilization in this sub-continent is seen at Mehragarh and further at other sites from 5500 BCE. Indus valley civilization certainly is a proof to this (3300 to 1300 BCE). They had trade link with Ancient West and Central Asian cultures. Egyptian, Phoecinician and Mesopotamian cultures certainly have similar stories to share. The shadow clock and Kongming Lanterns of Ancient China narrate its story.

Modern technology can be said as a product of Industrial Revolution (1760-1820) which was furthered by second Industrial Revolution (second half of 19th C to World War II) featured by electrification, mass production and the production line technology. It is a gift of the West.

Technolog (Tecnh  Logia) in Greek may mean in English “Knowledge of Tools”. It takes the application of rational principles.

Well these things you may knew already.

My concern today is basically the sociological aspect of technology.

For this as proud India, I would rely on Gandhian Philosophy of life.

It is many times wrongly said that Gandhi was against modern technology.

When he was asked. “Do you hate machines?’ ‘No’, was his answer. He rather said “… My spinning wheel or even this toothpick, for that matter, is a machine. I hate not the machines, but this growing passion for machines”.

It is true that people like Tolstoy, John Ruskin and William Morris who were known critics of technology influence Gandhiji to a great extend, he was not against technology in principle. His charka itself was a technological product. To him it was a symbol of his freedom, self reliance and also an economic tool to fight against the British monopoly of cotton and fabric material.

His attitude to technology was linked with his polital philosophy and was against misplaced and slavish confidence in technology that made it master of human. Gandhiji’s approach to technology is linked with his religious concepts too. To him there is something called atman which is beyond reason and intellect. Atman always has God- consciousness and is the source of all virtues and all insights in to the realm of practical existence. To him God was Truth and each should be in search of Truth. This helps us to see every thing in nature in relation and to respect them. All human creation should uphold these values as precious. Evidently Tolstoy’s influence is obvious. So only technological advancement that helps us to be connected, loved and respected can be accepted.

Human inventions are to be seen aesthetically inferior to products of nature. It should not mislead us to say that technology will lead us to moksha or bliss. When we put our complete trust on Gross National Production (of which Finance Minister Mr. Chithambaram talk high about) which is mainly due to the work of complex machines, we forget love, happiness, caring and togetherness.

Gandhi in reply to Rabindra Nath Tagore’s criticism of his attitude said, “I do want growth, I do want self-determination, I do want freedom, but I want all these for the soul. I doubt if the steel age is an advance upon the flint age. I am indifferent. It is the evolution of the soul to which the intellect and all our faculties have to be devoted” (Young India October 13, 1921).

He found moral progress more valuable than economic progress (Allahabad De. 22, 1916 in Speeches and Writings of Gandhi p. 349). He said, “What I object to is the craze for machinery… Men go on “saving labour” till thousands are without work and thrown on the streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind, but for all… Today machinery helps a few ride on the backs of millions” (Quote: Mahatma. DG. Tendulkar Vol.2. 212)

He saw the reason for too much dependence of machinery as greed. He said, “there is enough for every one’s need in the world, but not for every one’s greed”

The universe to him, ‘is an organic whole’, a thought he adopted from Rig Veda. Every one is related and every one’s joy and progress is interlinked with that of the other. Any ‘progress’ that forgets this will end up in the destruction of all. He would say that manual work can not be replaced by work by machines (Harijan Feb. 23, 1947). It is not that every thing should have the same, but for his/her need (Harijan Mar. 31, 1946).

He was against modern technology diminishing man to a small working part of the machine (I have seen the movie Modern Times by Charlie Chaplain who was influenced by Gandhi several times).

It also creates extensive production to lead to uncontrolled consumerism triggered by advertisements and which may also lead to unhealthy competition both between companies and between consumers. A Tamil activist Mr. Jayamohan in his book Indriay Gandhi (Today’s Gandhi) asks, ‘why there should be marble slabs in Tamil house floors from Rajastan?’

Gandhiji said, “Machines have their purpose and they will always be there sharing their space among us. But they shouldn’t ever knock off last set of human contribution from a working unit”. To him this contribution is inevitable, of course, not for the system but for man himself. “An advanced plough is great, but if one could plough entire Indian farmlands with a technology, thousands are left with no work to do and they, therefore, starve to death”.  (Gandhiji’s recorded conversation with Ramachandra of Kanya Kumari).

Until after world war II, the crazy race went after this enslaving technological advancement without a descending note. It was after that people like Ernst Friedrich Schumacher (Britis economist and environmentalist who said ‘Small is Beautiful and also suggested ‘Appropriate Technology’ over against centralized large-scale production), Ivan Illich (author of Deschooling Society and Medical Nemesis) and Masanobu Fukuoka (of One Straw Revolution) started talking about the dangers of this crazy race. They can be seen as the echo of Gandhi who talked about Gram Swaraj.

However, as we look at it, I am afraid, they did not help people much to have a realistic look at the matter.

Let me now translate these thing to my own language.

India has 1.27 billion people living and trying to make a living in this piece of land. Out of this 742617747 live in 593615 villages in most of which even the basic needs like water and health care are an un fulfilled dream. Only if they are provided with at least a square meal a day to fill their stomach (a dry chapathi and an onion bulb), clothing (at least Gandhi style attire) to cover their body, basic education to read, write and count with a roof above their head we can ever call a developed nation. We will not be judged by the high rise buildings like the 26 story building that house some corporate house head in Mumbai, the software that we export to US and other Western countries, extra wide national highways on which imported cars swift at 100 km or more per hour, airports at every door step and religious pilgrim centers where people flock from all over to forget their misery. Though we project these as symbols of our progress those million people under the poverty line will be the ones who judge us. No matter how much the planning commission vice chairman tries to lower the line those millions will still go to bed with empty stomach.

According to India Census Department survey the rate of unemployment in India has always been at a rise. It was 10.8 % in January 2012 over against 9.8% in Jan. 2010. Where will these people go to meet their basic needs?

One of the issues with modern technology is that it eliminates the need of human power to the maximum. Of course it may be needed in western countries where population is less and every year it is going down. But in a country like India, it has to take in to consideration the situation. There are people who say India’s population is the hurdle for its development which I don’t agree of course.

Dr. L. S. Kothari would argue in this line with me. “We have a huge population, and have got used to putting all blame for our tardy progress on this one factor. Population is something given, and it cannot be wished away. We have to learn to use it as an asset rather than treat it as a handicap. It can be an asset provided it is properly educated and trained.” (International Seminar on Gandhi And The Twenty First Century (January 30-February 4, 1998) New Delhi- Wardha). Nobel laurite Amarthya Sen’s thesis is that, ‘India’s problem is not population but lack of public distribution system’.

As said earlier, one of the issues with modern technology is elimination of human power in production and service sectors. ATM machines are convenient, but helps eight counter staff lose their job in banks. This is the issue in our country. We talk about fast dealing and quick resolution. The question is does speed help us in our interpersonal relations? I am afraid it worked the other way most of the time. Disintegration of families and communities are in the rise and people find it hard to keep relationship in better shape and with quality. What was meant to make human life easier with quality has become some thing that eliminates human presence from the face of the earth.

We need to have spiritual approach to technology. When I say ‘spiritual’ I must clarify that it is not the spirituality religions talk about. I mean human relationship and quality in togetherness. Einstein, the great Physicist says, “… Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of Universe- a spirit superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way, the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive."

Buddha said: "believe nothing merely because you have been told it or because it is traditional or because you yourself have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatever after due examination and analysis you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings, that doctrine believe and cling to and take it as your guide." (Karunayude Kathal). This once again emphasizes the need for conscientizeation and perspective building.

Technology should help mutuality beyond boundaries and help human of all cultures, races and regions grow with dignity and self-hood. Enslavement of all sort should be eliminated. Stratification in all areas should be abolished. Respect of individuals as part of community has to be enhanced.

Of course we are living in a world where our needs are in the rise and our minds are constantly at work. Both combined, we would advance in technological inventions at all times. How can we stop that? No we can not. But we can stop its negative impact on the life of people by considering the need and environment. In Indian context technology can not be used to minimize the number of workers at various fields rather should be used to make our output better and better. If this policy is implemented we will certainly be a better society. But if we blindly follow the western pattern where the situation is much different, we will have more social, economic and ethical problems. Even in western countries this has caused issues in their society. United States, which is supposed to be the wealthiest and technologically most advanced country, has not presented and passed any annual budget for the last five years in a row. Their total debt is 328 trillion according to US treasurery and out of it 1.268 it owes to China which is 23% of total foreign debt of US. US has always been blamed rightly for promoting greed through mass production and extravagant consumerism which put lot of people out of work and lot of families in to unending misery. We need to learn from history and from success and failures of other countries and communities for us not to fall in to the same trap.

Art and culture are two important areas that keep human with sanity. Technology is just one part of life of humans. People need to express and be appreciated their artistic, literary and other talents.

The world is a place for human to live in a healthy and comfortable environment. Exploitation of natural resources for the sake of greed of few is to be totally eliminated. People in many parts of the world waste much more than what they use. We have to continuously raise the question, are we really on the progress path with fast technological advancement or becoming slaves to the machines that we make with our technological knowhow. Development can not be at the cost of human existence in this globe with quality and as loving and caring communities.