“Man in his arrogance considers himself a great work – worthy of the interposition of a deity. More humble and I think truer to consider him created from animals.”
Charles Darwin summarised his breakthrough work on the evolution of man with these very fine words. In the Descent of Man, he argued for the case of natural selection as a cause for the diversity of life and in turn, the creation of man himself. Although subject to much scrutiny from religious as well as the scientific community, his is perhaps the most elaborate theory on the development of humans. We emerged from as lowly a life form as bacteria, went through immense timelines of evolution, and finally through a complex branching out of the tree of life, humanoids, or so to say, anthropoids found a place on the planet. The story of our birth as a species and of our long journey through time is as fascinating and yet sometimes as overwhelming as it was in the time of Darwin himself. In an Indian context, I believe it is time that this story becomes an ideology for us to ponder upon.
In the present cultural scenario, India is plagued with ideas and belief systems that violate this natural logic of life. Differences have begun to define our identities. Religion is intoxicating people with envy, greed and a never-ending thirst for violence. Unfortunately, the Nazis too backed their policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’ with Darwin’s natural selection theory. Today, however, as we have become more informed about evolution and the way it works, we have come to realize that nature doesn’t discriminate the way we do.
Natural selection is a very elaborate process which is based on chance and survival. Religion and God has no role to play in it, neither has our social hierarchy. Our gift as humans, as Darwin too pointed out, is our ability to work together for a common goal, to strive for a way of life that encompasses everything that our species can identify with. A Hindu nation, a Muslim Brotherhood, or any such dogma of a totalitarian state is a doom for our civilisation. Human evolution has been a progress, a wheel that turned with time and is still moving. We as people have an obligation to respect this and to understand each other as members of the same race.
Darwin taught us that a walk on the moon is much more vital for the human spirit than an ecstatic sense of divine bliss that seems to offer nothing but a potent illusion of inferiority and self-pity. Not that religion is necessarily a problem, but that it often provokes feelings that ultimately strip us of our sense of inquiry and logical dialogue, and as evolution has taught us, our success as a species is owed to these very qualities of thought and intellectual assessment.
Moreover, our political system is also based on the same colonial and submissive mindset. Democracy is, without a doubt, the most favourable political philosophy that agrees with the natural order of things. Nonetheless, the contemporary idea of democracy has turned the other way. Totalitarianism, nepotism, and hypocrisy are now synonymous with what we so fondly call a ‘republic’. This kind of negative cultural evolution is threatening our very survival as a species as we are becoming increasingly intolerant of contrary views and opinions. The science of evolution teaches us that it is our collective effort and our commitment to growth in general that has led to our triumph as a species. This knowledge has to be promoted if we are to create a more habitable and progressive world. India has to reconsider its established faith in dogmatic belief systems, and it needs a more holistic philosophy to live by- one that is built on reason rather than blind submission to a perceived supremacy.
I end with this very retrospective monologue from Darwin:
“For my own part I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper; or from that old baboon, who, descending from the mountains, carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs—as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practices infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.”
Let’s think about this.
P.S. Darwin was British. Hoping that this fact doesn’t make me anti-national.