Over a century before we reached the brink of ecological catastrophe, Rabindranath Tagore had a glimpse of where we might be headed. Tagore, an Indian author and cultural reformer who lived during the period of British colonialism, was among the last of a generation able to examine the industrialized world from the outside. He issued one of the earliest and most eloquent warnings about the precarity of a world sustained, like ours today, on the twin pillars of industrial consumption and industrial warfare. On a sea voyage to Japan in 1916, Tagore witnessed an unfathomable event that seems almost mundane to us today: an oil spill. To him, it was a jarring image of an earth destroyed by humanity’s unbridled pursuit of power, now supercharged by the tools of modern science.
“Before this political civilization came to its power and opened its hungry jaws wide enough to gulp down great continents of the earth,” Tagore wrote in “On Nationalism,” his 1917 book of essays, “we had wars, pillages, changes of monarchy and consequent miseries. But never such a sight of fearful and hopeless voracity, such wholesale feeding of nation upon nation, such huge machines for turning great portions of the earth into mincemeat, never such terrible jealousies with all their ugly teeth and claws ready for tearing open each other’s vitals.”
Read More →