In September 1969, the Nobel Foundation held a Symposium to reappraise human aims and values, at a time when mankind's newfound powers created immense dangers and opportunities. J.R.D. Tata was invited to address the Symposium on 'A Strategy for Human Survival'.
he present world crisis is a complex and multiple one, but for convenience, although admittedly an oversimplification, it may be divided into two main sub-crises. First, a crisis of the spirit amongst the more affluent peoples of the world, as evidenced by the deepening dissents, the confrontations, the growing rejections of old values and previously accepted national goals and policies, the alienation of youth and other manifestations in Europe, America and elsewhere.
While some of the causes of this crisis are still to be fully understood, it is clearly a crisis of change. Never before has man been faced with the need to adapt himself in so short a time to such drastic changes in his environment, his way of life, his thought processes, and his scale of value. Bewildered and devoured by the galloping advance of his own scientific, technological, productive, managerial and marketing skills, haunted by fear of the use his leaders might make of the cataclysmic powers which control of the atom had placed in their hands, indignant at the diversion to military purposes and senseless wars of a disproportionate part of the world's income and wealth, which could be used for the benefit of mankind, revolting against the excessively materialistic nature of present day civilisation, man finds himself unable to keep pace, socially or spiritually, with the traumatic changes wrought in his life.
Whereas in the past, in times of stress and danger, he could, and did, derive strength, comfort and reassurance from religion, from trust in his leaders or from an unshakable faith in age-old values, today's educated man, although largely free from want, finds himself bereft of guidance and succour and, like a sailor in a crippled ship drifting in mountainous seas, feels lost, abandoned and in mortal danger.
This sense of a doom, although shared by a surprisingly large proportion of educated people and particularly the younger generation throughout the world, is clearly an exaggerated one, with the obvious exception of the justifiable fear of nuclear annihilation. Even there, the realisation amongst nuclear powers that any atomic war would inevitably lead to the total destruction of both participants, and death or irreparable genetic damage to hundreds of millions of innocent people throughout the world, provides a reasonable certainty that there will never be a resort to such mass suicide.
All the other main problems created by technological change in the last half century, the pollution of air and water, the ghettos and the slums, the population explosion, the waste of resources, the organisational and managerial deficiencies, the social, racial and economic inequalities and inequities, are clearly within the power of modern man to solve within the next few decades, provided he does not destroy himself in the meantime. It is in the very science and technology which have been the principal causes of the present day threat to his survival, that he will find the solutions to the problems they have created. Thus, in resolving the crisis threatening Western civilisation, the problem is largely one of finding the means of harnessing and co-ordinating the abundant scientific knowledge, human skills and material resources required for the task.
The Crisis of Want
The other dominating element in the global crisis which threatens civilisation today, while encompassing some of the elements mentioned earlier, is a crisis of want amongst two-thirds of the people of the world. This crisis, if unchecked, will not only condemn hundreds of millions of human beings, along with their children and children's children, to continued poverty and mental darkness, but will have calamitous repercussions on the rest of the world. For the people of the underdeveloped countries, the problem of survival is concerned with securing the basic essentials of life – food, shelter, education, clothing and, above all, employment – rather than with the frustrations and doubts now afflicting their more affluent brothers in the West. It is with the problems of this crisis of want that those of us who come from one of those countries are naturally primarily and deeply concerned.
Except for the threat of nuclear war, this crisis is the more serious of the two. For, failure to meet it, to solve the problems which caused it, and to fulfil the tasks which will overcome it, will have disastrous consequences for the whole world. For, it is no longer possible to expect from the afflicted people of the underdeveloped nations the patience and resignation to their miserable fate which they have shown for centuries. Today, with the phenomenal development of mass media for the dissemination of news and information, with radio, television, newspapers, illustrated magazines and films spreading the image of Western prosperity throughout the world, even illiterate people in the poorer countries have become conscious of the staggering difference between their conditions of living and those of peoples of Europe, America, and now also Russia and Japan. They want a piece, however small, of that affluence for themselves; they want it not only for their grandchildren but in their own lifetime. Here, in the making, is a revolution of rising expectations, tremendous in its potential for good and evil. Unless, within the next decade or two, there is a visible and sustained improvement in the miserable conditions of life of the people in the underdeveloped world, two-thirds of mankind may revolt with violence against the grossly inequitable distribution of the world's wealth and opportunities.
Already in the last fifty years, humanity has faced two such upheavals – in Russia and in China – which have engulfed directly or indirectly a billion people. At this critical juncture in human history when the explosion of science and technology has strained to breaking point our capacity to adapt ourselves to the changes it has wrought in our environment, we just cannot afford another even greater upheaval if we are to save our democratic civilisation, painfully built up over the centuries.
Thus, one of the great challenges of the age is the two-fold one of bringing up the living and educational standards of the underdeveloped or developing countries to an acceptable minimum, and, as an essential part of this task, to halt the population explosion which today nullifies most, and in some cases, all, of the economic progress they are able to achieve on their own.
We know that there are people, some of them highly knowledgeable, who feel that the magnitude of the economic problems of countries like India, combined with the growth of their population are beyond solution or that the cost would be far beyond the capacity of the developed countries to finance even in part. They thus foresee, within the next few years, an inevitable Malthusian catastrophe with famine and death stalking large areas of the world. In my view, there is no justification for such pessimism. Much progress has already been made and is being made today in the planned economic development of India and similarly placed countries, while the population problem is being tackled with vigour, on an unprecedented scale and with distinct signs of timely success.
India – A Test for Viability
Because, of all the underdeveloped or developing countries (other than China), India has the largest population and amongst the lowest per capita income, the task of bringing up its standard of living to an acceptable minimum and of ensuring its self sustaining growth, would be the heaviest of all. India would thus provide the best possible test of the viability of any world-wide programme of assistance to underdeveloped countries. If it is shown that the objective can be attained in India within a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost to aiding countries, it can undoubtedly be attained more easily, quicker and at less cost elsewhere. Furthermore, a country like India, where the centuries still co-exist, where man travels by bullock-cart as well as by jet aircraft, uses wooden ploughs and handlooms as well as tractors and the most sophisticated automatic looms, uses both muscle and atomic power, would provide a unique workshop or proving ground for experimentation, for planning and achieving development in the full knowledge and understanding of possibilities and consequences.
No strategy for civilised survival can be meaningful unless it includes the objective of making it possible for all the people of the world to live a life free from want and fear. The means and the resources for achieving this great task are available in abundance. There is also much evidence of man's capacity to mobilise aid and to cooperate with his neighbour anywhere and whenever disaster strikes. What is now wanted, therefore, to solve the crisis of the spirit and the challenge of want which threaten our survival, is the mobilisation of these material and human resources and their application to a bold and sustained programme of global cooperation.