It will soon be a new year and we are almost a quarter of the way into the first decade of the new century. Where are we heading now? What will happen to the human race? Will it overcome its shadow side and migrate to the stars, a vision of Star Trek, or will it annihilate itself, the way the Roman empire, the greatest empire on earth, the pride of the ancient world, whose brilliant legislature, political organization, unrivalled military might, grand architecture, innovative engineering and artistic achievements have now been relegated to dusty archives?
The future of humanity depends on awareness of its plight. Without awareness, extinction is highly possible. With awareness, a critical mass for change can happen.
At no time in the last ten thousand years since the Ice Age have we exhibited such astonishing genius or such abominable disregard for sentient life. Somehow we have arrived here in this new century despite the worldwide suffering and traumatic events of the past one.
The greatest peril facing our species may be the overpopulation of our planet. Our very success with science and technology to improve the survival of all human life may be our downfall. The current rate of growth is about 1.9 percent a year. This may not sound like an alarming figure but it means that the population doubles every forty years. Right now it is around 6 billion. By the end of this century it will be around 40 billion. By then, it will be too late to do anything. That is the current lifetime left for humanity unless we become sophisticated enough to migrate to the stars.
Can we do it? Can we survive as a species? In order to answer that question, let us look at the greatest century ever in the history of the human race, the twentieth century. Unless we learn from our mistakes, we will be condemned to repeat them. But this time, we may not have a second chance.
The journey of the exploration of inner space began in the twentieth century. Sigmund Freud explored the unconscious, linked neurosis to the sex drive, and sought to heal the past by examining it in the present. Initially shocked by his ideas, those who read and understood him then spread a new burst of awareness.
In the famous painting, The Scream, Edvard Munch, a Norwegian artist who followed the tradition of French Impressionism, epitomized the anxiety and terror of the human psyche, the grief that arose from recognizing the personal and collective pain in the unconscious mind.
Pablo Picasso's Cubism and Salvador Dali's Surrealism created more waves of awareness about the anguish of the individual soul tormented by the traumas of life, and this imagery of suppressed emotional pain spread even faster through the medium of surrealistic films.
But while a small proportion of artists were making public the existential angst of humanity, other great minds were marveling at the mystery of the universe. Albert Einstein declared that energy and matter could be exchanged, x-rays showed the insides of a living human being, and microscopes and telescopes started to reveal the world of the very small and the very large. In addition, amongst numerous other wonders, science developed contraceptives, giving couples the chance to experience intimacy without the need to raise a new family.
Human genius was on the rise everywhere. Startling discoveries were being made in the sciences that were radically transforming the very essence of human understanding and the way society functioned. But the most startling of them all, was the power of the atom. By isolating, smashing and splitting atoms, an enormous power of unimaginable magnitude had been discovered.
After the first atomic bomb was tested in Los Alamos, the chief scientist Robert Oppenheimer quoted a passage in the Bhagavad-Gita, "Now I have become death and the destroyer of worlds." The scientists were shocked at what they had discovered, but the use to which the power was put changed the entire history of humanity for the worse. The powers of the Western World opted for the short-term benefit of defeating Japan, but did not then realize that it had introduced an unfathomable nightmare of weapons proliferation that could destroy every living creature in the known universe.
Before the nuclear shadow fell on humankind, the most horrific cause of anxiety in the collective unconscious, total war had already been invented.
The first world war escalated human territoriality and aggression to an industrial scale. The mechanical energy that had been used to transform humanity from an agrarian and localized population to an industrialized and globally expanding population was now used for wholesale slaughter. Man became the victim of his own machines. Armaments could be manufactured on a large and rapid scale. The lethal invention of the gun now became the even deadlier machine gun; in the few seconds it took to kill one man, now a dozen could be killed.
But this was only the beginning of mass-scale suffering because never in the history of humankind had evil men had the means to exploit and destroy so many people so efficiently.
Joseph Stalin initiated the collective farms of communism. Under his interpretation of the ideology of communism, 22 million people died in the labor camps of his slave empire.
The Japanese invaded China in 1937 and slaughtered 60 million Chinese.
Adolph Hitler promised the German people the restoration of their honor and self-respect after the humiliation of Germany's earlier defeat and the penalty imposed upon them by their victorious enemies. Nazi Germany slaughtered another 50 million. 27 million of these were Soviet citizens. 6 million of them were Jewish people, who were systematically hunted and captured, stripped of all human dignity and murdered with ruthless efficiency.
Yet the havoc that was unleashed by the machinery of the industrial age was only the beginning of the flagrant abuse of raw power.
The second world war had leveled down many previously flourishing cities through continuous bombing over months like Rotterdam, Dresden, and Tokyo, but when the atomic bomb was dropped by America on Japan, two whole cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were leveled in seconds.
Despite the overwhelming violence of these horrors, human cruelty continued unabated on a scale that had never ever before been witnessed on the face of creation.
Mao-tse Tung promising the Chinese people "a great leap forward," publicly humiliated landowners, initiated widescale persecution and torture on anyone who disagreed with him and gave the land to the peasants. These peasants overworked the soil, creating a famine of immense proportions and 30 million Chinese starved to death.
In Cambodia, Pol Pot, waged a war on his own people and one out of three Cambodians was murdered.
In Cambodia, Viet Nam, Rwanda, and Kosovo the bloodbath was relentless.
War had become remote, precise, and deadly. Human beings had become the cruelest and most savage creatures ever to have walked upon the earth. Even the Dinosaurs that once roamed the earth in the distant past did not have the same vicious intensity. They killed to survive, but human beings killed because of wounded pride. Intelligence enlisted to satisfy dark human drives created unspeakable suffering.
Yet somehow, remarkably, humanity, despite its new penchant for efficient slaughter, as a whole, still continued to progress.
Around 1950, America's statue of liberty became a symbol of hope for immigrants from around the world. With their zestful energy they infused renewed life into the country. Some of these immigrants were the greatest scientists in the world, including Albert Einstein; others transformed the New World through backbreaking labor. The result of this influx of brilliance and massive effort transformed the United States into a formidable economic and military power. To the rest of the world, exhausted and depleted by the aftermath of war, everything appeared bigger and better in America. It boasted taller buildings, bigger cars, a vast network of roads and railways, and a love for innovation and technology. America became the new hope, its vision of a promising new humanity dominating the rest of the world.
However a migrational shift existed across the whole world. Those who could not travel abroad moved in large numbers from the country to the city. Calcutta became overwhelmed with a population of 10 million people; Tokyo swelled as millions of country people became urban dwellers; and in the 18,000 square miles of Mexico city, an urban sprawl developed around the fringes of the city and discarded waste materials spread outwards.
All over the world, in rich and poor countries, cities became highly attractive: a place for greater wealth, broader freedom, and more excitement. Running out of room, cities began to grow upwards, becoming vertical, climate-controlled, and neon-lit. Their growth was due to a flight from the poverty experienced in the countryside and the lure of the promise of living in a consumer paradise. Shanty towns became common place around the fringes of many cities in the developing world, and the gap between the rich and the poor widened, with women becoming the poorest of the world's citizens.
Europe having exhausted its resources and population in colonization and total war now experienced an influx of the people whom they had subjugated. In the spread of imperialism, ties had been made with the conquered people. For example, Asians from India, Pakistan, East Africa, and Trinidad made England their new home. In Wembley, North London, the local Hindu people imported a magnificent temple, stone by precious stone, from their native country.
In the United States, too, migration continued, not only from overseas and from the country to the city, but also from its borders. Los Angeles has the largest Mexican population outside Mexico city. Preserving their cultural traditions, the growing Hispanic population is slowly changing the European mix of America into a Latino one.
After its victory in the Second World War, the United States became the strongest economy on the earth. Besides the influx of new ideas and labor from immigrants, the emphasis on science and technology created a revolution in telecommunications. Radio, television, Hollywood movies, satellites, and advertising from America influenced the rest of the world. American celebrities became popular everywhere, from the songs of Elvis Presley to the fights of Muhammad Ali. A celebrity in America usually became an international celebrity. Towards the last decade of the century, America initiated the network of computers that we now know as the world wide web.
Communications created the first sense of a global community. Everyone was able to see everyone else and share common human interests and values. 200 million people watched the wedding of Princess Diana and a little over two million watched her funeral. During the final World Cup Soccer match in 1998, 2 billion people watched it on television. With the advent of the mobile telephone, anybody on any street in the world could talk to anyone else anywhere on the planet.
Besides the thrill of watching each other, the human race also had a chance to watch itself. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the lunar expeditions was not pictures of a dead moon but the pictures of a living planet. Humanity began to see itself for the first time as a single species, rather than a collection of warring factions. From space, the planet looked like a big, blue marble floating in inky darkness. People noticed more ocean than land, the absence of any political borders, and the possibility of multinational friendships and the sharing of common experiences. Besides seeing itself, humanity also vicariously experienced the thrill of watching their home planet as a whole. Listening in to the astronauts live broadcast, they shared in their sense of awe.
While the balance of power shifted from Europe to North America, it then slowly began to shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific Rim. American supremacy was being challenged by the countries of the East.
One thousand years ago, Japan was isolated; in the 20th Century it started becoming an economic super-power.
Similarly, other "tiger economies" also erupted around the Pacific, with Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore creating cities that rivaled the cosmopolitan grandeur of North America. In Singapore, for example, the island has become a metropolis whose breathtaking skyline is only rivaled by that of Shanghai.
One thousand years ago, the silk roads to China led to the most refined civilization on earth. China had already invented printing, paper currency, the compass, and gunpowder. In the 21st Century, it is poised to become the new global super-power, because of huge foreign investments, particularly from Chinese living overseas, as well as its population of one billion people.
The greatest dilemma of the future is not our powerlessness, but our power, and not our stupidity, but our immense intelligence.
Initially, we used industrial and nuclear power to create carnage that made the terror of Genghis Khan look mild.
Later, despite whole populations being destroyed, we built up cities, explored space and our own minds and hearts, migrated closer to each other, and shared technology and communication.
In our most glorious century, we have known both the agony of wide scale destruction and the joy of rebirth.
We have seen what we all look like and shared our fondest cultural snapshots with each other.
It seems that in the last century of the last millennium everything changed for humanity.
Sigmund Freud exposed our dark human instincts. Evil men dominated whole nations and slaughtered millions. Conquering people began to coexist with those that they had once subjugated. Economic power shifted from one part of the globe to another. And the rate of knowledge expanded at a bewildering pace. Never before had humankind experienced so much, learned so much, and been exposed to so much raw power that it had learned to harness from nature.
In this new century we find ourselves experiencing an expansion of the cultural and global patterns we created earlier, and our greatest strength, our raw power and unsurpassed intelligence, can also turn out be our greatest weakness.
What will happen to humanity? Will the currently existing outbreaks of war expand to become an Armageddon? Will political, economic, military, industrial, and religious rivalry outweigh any common sense? Will we simply overpopulate and pollute ourselves to death? Will the accelerating economic inequality and exploitation of natural resources create its own brand of chaos? Will prevailing human helplessness at the size of our global problems overshadow us or will we choose to become more aware, educated, cooperative and communicative?
Humanity's future has become extreme: it faces either an apocalypse or evolution to a species that will live in space-stations and travel in star-ships. Everything hangs in the balance based on what we do this century. We have survived the past, but if the same naive patterns continue into the future, we will not make it.
Ultimately, even if we can overcome our individual and collective shadows, even if human decency can outweigh primitive aggression, even if human collaboration is finally possible and human genius is allowed full self-expression, we have one last hurdle to overcome, otherwise the past millennium will have been the last one for our species. Each decade, the stakes are rising. The warning of futurists has fallen on deaf ears. The probability of perishing in the coming millenium is no longer science fiction, it is becoming observable fact to even the most indifferent and ill-informed people.
A time will come when we will need a new home. No force on earth can stop over-population other than widespread devastation due to belligerence or the depletion of limited resources. Our only possible hope is to become star travelers.
Will we be ready to make the new leap to the stars or will the light of human genius, hindered by territorial animal disputes, fail to rise to a level that will save our race from oblivion?
Instant communication and rapid travel has shrunk the world. Can we now use our global brain, the Internet, to communicate in a meaningful way to create a collective change in the consciousness of humanity? We owe this not to ourselves but to generations yet to come. Positive action has to happen this century, a critical mass of awareness has to be reached, otherwise the resulting chaos will be beyond control.
In the past, according to the literature of various traditions, avatars would show up to guide us to wisdom, but we persecuted them. As witnessed by the atrocities of the past century, our shallow intentions and brute instincts are still with us. The only hope for humanity is a collective renaissance of awareness, because only the birth of a widespread intelligence will prevent catastrophe. An expansion of mind and heart has to happen at a critical mass.
Like you, I am no-one, but with you, we can be everyone. Please pass this message on. Throw this message in the bottle back into the ocean. A thousand years from now, one of our descendents will read it and be grateful for the life that they are now living; and it will probably not be on earth anymore. If you had the perseverance to read to this line, don't click "delete", click "forward." Here is why: The future can no longer be a revalidation of the past. There is too much at stake. Intelligence has evolved us from the apes, but the lack of it's positive application may also be our nemesis. Alone as individuals, we will not have much of a chance of saving our planet, but collectively, there is no limit to human genius. Can we evolve to a species that colonizes space or will we perish before we get there?
We are living on a dying planet, and you and I can sound the alarm bell. The Internet can make this possible. With each passing decade, the price of human ignorance will be extracting a heavier toll.
The antidote to apathy and withdrawal is awareness, which is the reason for this essay. Paraphrasing the words of Mahatma Gandhi, we can be the change we wish to see in the world. It begins with the click of a mouse button.
Unless sleeping humanity begins to wake up, it's emerging power of numbers, economic expansion, scientific exploration, and technological advances will be used for extinction not evolution. As you can see, we have already grossly abused the power that we possess; there is no guarantee that we will become wiser in the new year and in the new decade which will soon be upon us. Our power in all areas is expanding as our knowledge expands. Military toys are becoming deadlier; viruses are adapting to our most potent antibiotics and becoming unstoppably virulent; and ideological fanaticism is reaching a point where nuclear proliferation is not possible to contain. Awareness right now is our only hope. Unless, through awareness, humanity as a whole is willing to give up its conscious and unconscious hostilities, disaster is inevitable.
We can use the Internet to spread these ideas to every home and corporation and government in the world. Only 6 degrees of separation lie between us and anyone else in the world.
Without awareness, positive change is not possible. We owe it to generations yet unborn to spread awareness. This is the meme that will save our species. Awareness can blossom into knowledge and knowledge into positive action; but without awareness; through mere blind, reflexive living, chaos will erupt as surely as night follows day, or one century follows the next.
Please send this article to one or more people or post it somewhere. You can click "delete" or "forward." In a strange way, the fate of the world may have something to do with us. You and I will probably never meet, but we share a common bond. Despite all our differences, we are all connected. It is our greatest value. Let us act, each in our own small way, on an impulse, no matter how faint, to help the greater good.
Saleem Rana is a psychotherapist in Denver, Colorado. If you're up to the challenge and want to create the kind of freedom and lifestyle you truly deserve - starting now - then get his free book from