What is the first thing that you pay attention to when you are given somebody else’s vehicle to drive? Think about it! Is it not usually the brakes of the vehicle? (Okay, I admit, the title is a dead giveaway but let’s run with it.) At least I always test the brakes before I start driving the vehicle comfortably.

Now, is it not a bit strange and ironical that the most importance is given to a thing that has a purpose that is an exact antithesis to the very concept of a vehicle? A vehicle aids your movement from one point to another, brakes stop it from doing so. And still they are considered as important as, or even more important than, the systems that aid movement-viz. tires, engine and so forth. Their disruptive influence is welcome and essential. They are essential because had they not existed, the vehicle would never have dared travel at speeds it does for the fear of a wreck. Today, a vehicle with brakes is blissfully nimble, confident in the belief that there are brakes that would not let it go astray.

I hope you can see where this is going. Our civilization, as we know it is akin to a vehicle. It continues its relentless march to future and to the utopian ideals that human kind strives for. It has such wonderful tools such as science and technology and culture and traditions and philosophies and democracies et al. These are the engines of civilization, which move the vehicle of civilization forward. For eons, humans have been a witness to this juggernaut continuing on its relentless march.

Now, as a logical extension to this analogy, what are the brakes to the vehicle of civilization? Are there any at all? Are they as important as brakes in a physical vehicle?

The brakes to the civilization are the people who hold on to beliefs that are long irrelevant, refuse to consider new ideas and thwart all attempts to hold a meaningful discourse and discussion on any issue. They still ‘knock on the wood’ a hundred times a day, believe in horoscopes and planetary influences and live in intellectual caves. Every new idea, be it cloning, or erection of new nuclear reactors, or new vaccines meet with an inflexible resistance that make the progress of ideas as protracted as if they are moving in a pond of morass. They are a disruptive influence, without a shard of doubt, just as brakes are. Need examples? Here they are! Opposition to cloning. Opposition to Nuclear reactors. Stuff people believe in.

Now, is there a silver lining to this cloud? Does this self-ordained rectitude serve a larger purpose in social and civilization unpinning of human sociology?

It turns out that it indeed does. Consider what these attitudes do to our innovators. They compel them to make informed and cautious choices. They compel them to make their arguments bulletproof. It is the heat of skepticism that either bakes the hitherto ‘half-baked and worthy’ ideas or burns away the unworthy ones. Look at the safety regulations on the erection of nuclear power plants, all under the pressure of the vocal opposition. Also, opposition can act as a great catalyst to ideas, affecting the rate rather than the inputs and outputs. And just like the catalyst in a chemical reaction, all changes to ideas leave them by. And then they are ready to throw their spanners in the next set of wheels.

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3 Responses to Brakes

  1. khemu says:

    >Nice to see you writing after some time now!I am sorry but I would not agree to both the thoughts you put across. First, "A vehicle aids your movement from one point to another, brakes stop it from doing so." I would say that brakes are an intrinsic part of aiding your movement from one point to another. For e.g. if there were no brakes, you would stop at one (or may be 2) stations beyond your original destination!!I do not fully oppose the second point of linking certain people as brakes of civilization but I rather felt disappointed with the examples quoted. "believe in horoscopes and planetary influences". These more or less pertain to ancient India and people abroad may not even know what a horoscope is, unless they are already exposed to Indian culture. The reason of dislike is not that they pertain to India but the very fact that these are absolute sciences, yet to be discovered by humans in a laboratory. There are numerous examples of ancient practices which supersedes the latest technological advancements and scientists have no other reply than "researching on it".Anyways, hope you will take this as a opinion count and not a feedback. Waiting for more interesting reading…Khemu

  2. Vaibhav Garg says:

    >Thanks for the comment.An analogy is just that, an analogy. Again,the baggage that I was referring to are the religious and spiritual ones, that slow us down.The people are the carriers of the baggage. Sorry, if that wasn't more clear. The days when heretics were physically burnt at stake are long past, but you must see the opposition to new ideas even today to believe it!There were so many ideas thrown around that even the balance of probability ensures that some of them hit home.Repeatability and reproducability in controlled conditions are a prerequisite to scientific acceptance. Also, bear in mind that, correlation does not imply causation unless all variables are exposed.As for not agreeing, it is said that: " If the two of us agree on everything, one of us is not needed". Any disagreements are most welcome.

  3. Pingback: Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker’s Magnum Opus- a review | The 5th Dimension

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