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On Insecurity

On Insecurity

Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink. – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Insecurity is a reality for every living thing on Earth. Over the years, Homo sapiens used intelligence to conquer several trials of life and overcame the feast and famine syndrome that continues to be a life-threatening reality for other life forms.

But, as humans evolved from the earliest bipedal creatures to become what we are today, the intelligence that set them apart from other creatures must have made them aware of future threats long before the fact. Thus, imminent starvation, predators, floods and droughts must have traumatised humans for longer spans of time than animals that suffered similar agonies, but not the extended and torturous anticipation of such agonies.

Eventually, our hunter-gatherer lifestyles (involving the use of stone tools, bone needles, fish hooks, jewellery and musical instruments) gave way to geographically fixed lifestyles in societies based on agriculture (c. 8000 B.C.), the domestication of animals (6000 B.C.) and eventually, industry. All this offered Homo sapiens unprecedented food, health and personal security but, predictably, these gifts were soon taken for granted. 

As money evolved from cowries, ivory and bone, to gold, jewels, and coins, and barter was displaced as a principal strategy to obtain desired goods and services, the juggernaut of modern economics made its appearance. Hard money, in combination with modern technology, now allowed humans to consume and hoard resources beyond imagination.

The consume and throw society has dominated our cultures for just a few hundred years, but it has grown so dramatically that the unimaginable has taken place – Earth’s ‘Horn of Cornucopia’ has been emptied. Consequently, there is not enough food, water, oil, coal, gas to go around. Worse, our disobedient lifestyles have had the effect of destabilising the planet’s self-sustaining mechanisms.

This is why the thirsty people of Adi Ganga, Kolkata (above), must scrounge around for clean water in the manner of the Ancient Mariner. This is soon going to be the destiny of us all, rich and poor, living in the North and the South. Extreme climatic events, delayed monsoons, rising seas and unpredictable temperature and humidity have already begun to inflict more frequent and intense diseases, floods, droughts and hunger on us – the very pestilence that the human mind had somehow learned to evade in the mists of prehistory. 

As farmers, fisherfolk and the urban and rural poor – that India’s politicians write off as acceptable collateral for developmental  damage – have discovered to their cost, insecurity is back in business.


Bittu Sahgal

August 2008


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