Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Forgotten Map by Manfred Max-Neef: A Critique

The present is a reflection of the past. The state we are in today, whether good or bad, is a result of our actions of the past, the decisions that we made and the paths that we chose. Equally, the paths we choose today will determine our future.

The article is mainly concerned with the fact that the current state of spiritual vacuum and emotional turbidity that today’s generation finds itself in is a direct consequence of the ill-conceived decisions that were taken by the past generations. According to Max-Neef, human civillisation has chosen to bask in materialism and reason, while ignoring the spiritual. So while the world of brotherhood among all creations and nature introduced by St. Francis of Assisi was forgotten, we lapped up the principles of Machiavalli. Be it Pico Della Mirandola and Francis Bacon, or Giordano Bruno and Decartes, one point of view has always dominated, and shaped the perspective of people, the perspective of narrowness and mechanism.

In science, we have celebrated the doctrine of Galileo and Newton, who put reason and logic above all else. We have accepted mathematics and cold hard facts as the core of the so called scientific temperament. Goethe, at the same time had expressed the idea that the goal of science is spiritual enlightenment. That it is not possible to isolate the observer from the observed. That a spiritual dimension underlies everything physical. However his ideas have been obliterated by the sheer popularity of Galileo and Newton.

Thus, according to Max-Neef, our previous generations set humanity off on a downward spiral that has culminated in today’s world of unmitigated discontent and angst. As opposed to understanding, which is a holistic approach to learning, mankind has embraced knowledge, which is fragmented and incomplete. We are, therefore in a state of complete chaos, which is nothing but a result of the failure to take better decisions in the past.

The future, however does not have to be as hopeless. The decisions we will take today will present themselves in the future. We have to veer more towards harmony and true understanding as opposed to merely gathering knowledge. But for that to happen, a paradigm shift is required in the ‘language’ the governs this generation. According to the author, every generation has a dominant language the has to be consistent with the particular demands of that era. That was true until the present era, where ‘neo-liberalism’ has taken over the world. To change our approach to perception, we first need to change this language. Only then can the future generations escape the circle of spiritual poverty and detachment.

The article, although giving mostly one side of the argument, is not bereft of truth. Max-Neef feels quite strongly for the subject, as evident from his language and choice of words. It is true that for the most part, today’s generation is unsatisfied and frustrated. It can also be argued that such dissatisfaction is a result of the emotional bankruptcy and moral destituteness of present humanity as a whole. The decisions of the past, which included following the single-minded pursuit of knowledge leaving no room for spirituality has no doubt led to such a scenario.

Nevertheless, it is also true that such a pursuit has led to what we call progress. Perhaps if we had put more emphasis on spiritual upliftment, we would have been satisfied with whatever we had and not strived for a more convenient world. So while we can mourn all we want the loss of spiritual enlightenment, we have to accept that without the fruits of progress brought forth by the collective decisions that humanity took, living would have been a lot more difficult than it is today.

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