Childhood’s End?


It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.

                                                                                                               Arthur C. Clarke, 1951

It has been a year since what has come to be known as the ‘Arab Spring’ came into being. In this period it has rolled through much of the Arab world, scalped four long standing state heads and led to protests and uprisings all over. A plethora of analysis to explain “Why there? Who is behind? What now?” has kept pace.

Explanations have ranged from Facebook, Twitter instigated unrest to rupturing of socio-economic systems dominated by authoritarian regimes. From crony capitalism to delayed maturing of civil society. From exposure to western thoughts to the rising aspiration of an increasingly literate and assertive youth.

The other day I was chatting with Abdul Rashid, an Arab holding a secure and well paying job. And he offered an interesting perspective. He spoke of a father dominated family structure. Of how the father loves his child and takes care of all his basic needs. But in return, he expects unquestioning obedience. Of how, as the child grows up and tries to follow his passion, he gets restrained in case he does not follow traditions. Abdul posed a question, “What solution would you suggest in case the child has to contend with such restraint for the rest of his life?”

The above set me thinking. If the child is being loved and taken care of, why does he feel restrained? And what factors are feeding his perception of restraint? My thoughts veered to the opening sequence of the Arthur Clarke penned Childhood’s End inspired movie, “2001: A Space odyssey”. Of how a futuristic monolith and its flickering images guide a tribe of prehistoric ape men to become discontented with their existing situation and aspire for a better tomorrow. A fascinating story of the origins of Man…. and his discontentment.

And as I ponder about the Arab spring, what do I see? An equation of the Ruler and the Ruled spanning decades which worked till now. A relationship which dictated that the Ruler “father figure” would love and take care of his “Ruled children” through huge welfare systems and sops. In return the latter would keep their side of the bargain by not demanding for uncomfortable freedoms like self expression and self governance. Unfortunately the equation and the relationship it harboured seem to be breaking down.

So what really happened? I believe Globalisation has turned into today’s monolith to show and reinforce images of “What could be” to one and all on this planet. Folks whose lower levers of motivation viz, food, shelter and money needs have already been taken care of, can now see tantalising visions of self actualisation and self esteem. And so we have Abdul above, with a secure job and lifestyle, hankering to follow his “passion” of self determination and self expression.

Could this be the moment when the Arab spring child grows out of childhood to reclaim his destiny? As he seeks more ownership in Governance and policy making? As he joins the global mainstream and political consciousness?

In Learning…….                                                                             Shakti Ghosal