[We conclude by suggesting that incorporation of indigenous knowledge-systems in the mainstream is one urgent measure to save the species and the planet]
It seems plausible to hold, then, that the most progressive, enlightened forms of thinking on education fail to offer a sustainable perspective on the survival of the species. In some grim historical sense, the prospects seem irreversible because the so-called enlightened conception of knowledge, which is primarily responsible for bringing the species to the brink of extinction, is uncritically assumed to be the only one we have. In fact, liberal education, with its species-terminating edifice of knowledge, is often ascribed absolute value, since any alternative form of education is viewed as either inconceivable or politically incorrect.
What is missed in these universalist proclamations in favour of liberal education is that an entire range of indigenous knowledge systems have existed simultaneously, but in almost total isolation from the modernist liberal knowledge systems. These are not ‘primitive’ or ‘infantile’ systems of knowledge requiring further stages of development. These systems are current ‘adult’ systems of knowledge with their own high culture that have been sustained in favourable environmental niches for thousands of years. If liberal education can claim its historical validity by referring back to the Vedas, Sutras, Euclid and Plato, so do the indigenous systems, except that their classical heritage has remained unnamed in the absence of global propaganda. These systems define the alternative forms of what it is to be human as a species. The only problem is that these systems, with their construction of God of Niyamgiri and reverence for rivers, are viewed as inconsistent with the modernist outlook. But, that certainly is a problem for the modernist, not the Dongria Kondhs.
In other words, a real solution to the issue of survival requires that humans learn to progressively forget—or, at least, engage in severe criticism of—the knowledge systems currently advanced in the most dominating centres of learning. If indigenous knowledge systems, currently resisting extraction of hydrocarbons and bauxite from forests, are our primary route for survival, every bit of knowledge beyond indigenous knowledge must be subjected to serious critique for their relevance.
I am aware of the possible inconsistency in what I am proposing. While the subliminal suggestion is to defray action on all forms of so-called modernist high-culture, are we not led into this forlorn conclusion precisely by dint of the wonderful scientific work conducted by Mayr and his colleagues at Harvard, which has an annual budget of several billion dollars? So, is it not imperative that solutions to the dangers posed by the culture of enlightenment are to be found within enlightenment itself? Obviously, there cannot be an immediately satisfying answer to this question either way. So, let me ask a series of rhetorical questions to conclude the discussion.
Can we not view the otherwise wonderful results from Harvard as a reductio to the effect that this knowledge need not be pursued anymore? Elizabeth Kolbert has remarked with some irony that let us not ask the scientific question of when the human species might become extinct, because we might be extinct before we reach a definite scientific answer (Drake 2015). Sensible people have started advocating the disarming of the planet. Does that not amount to the demand that the knowledge systems that go into the construction of weaponry—from pistols to hydrogen bombs—be deliberately set aside? I am told that the Japanese monarchs refused to introduce guns in their army for centuries even though the Europeans have been trying hard to sell the lucrative technology. The reason was, in a battle with swords, you have to face another human being from close quarters; so you are compelled to confront the moral issue of killing a human being. In a gun-battle from a distance, you do not face that moral choice.
Why should that argument not extend to the knowledge of making cars and aeroplanes, since these technologies require extraction of bauxite from revered mountains? Once we get the feel of the mess into which modern living has pushed the planet, why should we stop at cars and aeroplanes? Why not computers, mobile phones, skyscrapers, libraries, orchestras, art museums, cities and asphalt roads? The children of the gods of Niyamgiri lived without them happily for thousands of years. Exactly what argument do we have for not emulating their lives in full?