Israeli Historian Yuval Noah Harari in his book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ concludes: ‘Unfortunately, the Sapiens regime on earth has so far produced little that we can be proud of. We have mastered our surroundings, increased food production, built cities, established empires and created far-flung trade networks. But did we decrease the amount of suffering in the world? Time and again, massive increases in human power did not necessarily improve the well-being of individual sapiens, and usually caused immense misery to other animals.’
He further adds: ‘Moreover, despite the astonishing things that humans are capable of doing, we remain unsure of our goals and we seem as discontented as ever. We have advanced from canoes to gallery to steamships to space shutters – but nobody knows where we’re going. We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever. Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to none. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystems. Seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.’
Nobel prize winner author Kazuo Ishiguro in his sixth novel ‘Never Let Me Go’ has deeply examined the selfish motives of human beings for their survival. The novel takes place in the late 20th century in England where human beings are cloned and bred for the purpose of harvesting their organs once they reach adulthood. These ‘human clones’ are reared in boarding school-type institutions. They are given limited access to the outside world while they await the summons to make their first ‘donation’ of their vital organs to the needy patients. They have nobody to look after them except some teachers called ‘guardians.’ They grow among similar types of clone boys and girls. Guardians teach them various subjects, make them take interest in arts, games and many things, but at the same time keeping many things secret from them, allowing them to speculate and discuss among themselves. Ironically, these human clones, characters of the novel, know their fate and still continue to live the best they can. They make friendship, fall in love, make sex (but not allowed to bear a child). Even though they are clones, they still have ups and downs in their relationships the same way normal humans do. They pass through all sorts of emotions. They also constantly try to search their ‘identity’, but in vain, because they don’t have any.
‘Never Let Me Go’ is the novel which shows what happens when a society is allowed to use scientific experimentation freely and without considering the moral implications. It is a novel that forces the reader to question the ethics of human cloning. The novel is a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different beings in our society.
The three central characters of the novel are friends and are part of the ‘donation program’. They are clones and created for the sole purpose of eventually donating their organs to non-clone humans to allow the latter’s continued existence. It is evident that the society does not consider the clones ‘human’, nor does it consider them ‘human enough’ to be granted the same rights as non-cloned humans. The novel pierces the questions about humanity. It almost underlines what Yuval Noah Harari told at the end of his book ‘Sapiens’: ‘We are consequently wreaking havoc on’ everything around us ‘seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement.’ It is evident that we, the human beings, do not wish to look beyond ourselves.
Astonishing technical achievements have given immense power to the mankind, still we remain dissatisfied and discontented. We may have become superpower and conquered all that is available to us on this planet as well as in the universe, but have lost the very purpose of our existence.
We have gone too far from the nature. We have destroyed our ecosystem, have lost connection with the nature and got lost in the wilderness of misconception of happiness. We have mercilessly cut forests, blocked the natural flow of rivers, tried to overpower sea and so on. We did everything for our selfish motives and ignored the nature today than we did a century ago.
There is a beautiful poem in Hindi by Shri Ashok Singh. A tribal man asks her beloved: ‘Where shall we meet now, Phoolmani? In which forest, on which hill? The thick forest surrounding our village has been cut, hills have been destroyed. There is no place left for us to meet and talk about our sufferings and happiness.’ The poem is not the cry only of a tribal couple, but of the whole mankind. We have left no place where we can go and find true happiness in nature.
The rhythm of life is disturbed. We have forgotten the ways of simple life. Happiness do not come from power, money or greed. On the contrary all such misconceptions bring the feeling of discontent and hollowness. The short story ‘Zima Blue’ by Alastair Reynolds and an animated short film based on the story of the same title (available on Netflix) deals with the same subject.
As the story goes, long ago, there was a talented young woman with a keen interest in practical robotics. She designed dozens of robots to do odd jobs around her house, but she was especially fond of the one she’d designed to clean her swimming pool. The little machine toiled endlessly, scrubbing the ceramic sides of the pool, but the young woman wasn’t satisfied with the simple job it did. So she gave it a full-colour vision system and a brain large enough to process the visual data into a model of its surroundings, ability to make its own decisions, design different strategies to clean the pool. When the woman died, the little machine was passed from one owner to the next. They added things, made modifications and the machine became more alive.
The colour of the blue tiles used in the swimming pool was called Zima Blue by the tiles manufacturers. And that is the first thing the little robot ever saw. Taking on the name of Zima, the machine becomes the world’s most famous and sought after artist. An air of mystery surrounds it. People think Zima is a human being.
Even after all the achievements and worldwide appreciation, Zima is not happy. The feeling of discontentment keeps growing and it decides to find the real purpose of its existence. All this time, Zima has been pushing the boundaries of science and art to find it, but not succeeded. Ultimately, it realizes that its search for the purpose of existence is outwards and not inside. So it turns its focus inwards and begins looking for its origin. It locates the swimming pool which it first cleaned. It understands that swimming pool was the real place where it belonged to. Cleaning was all that it needed to do to find the real satisfaction. It need not go after the so called big things and create a void within itself. The robot shuts down all its higher brain functions, and leaves just enough to appreciate its surroundings to extract some simple pleasure from the execution of a task well done.
The meaning here is quite deep yet straightforward. We humans seek the purpose of our existence, and everything we set out to conquer in this search is outward. However, we end up looking for the wrong things – riches, power, status, etc. If we start looking inward, we would realize that happiness is gained from the simple things we do and feel. The purpose of our life is merely to be a harmonious part of our ecosystem which in turn is a part of the universe. Like Zima, the robot, human beings need to go back to the basics and do the simple things to be happy in real sense.
What Melissa de la Cruz, Filipina-American author, told in different context, may be true in our context too? While describing one of her fictional characters, she says: ‘She was a stranger in her life, a tourist in her own body.’ It is for the individual to find out whether one wants to become a stranger, a tourist, in one’s own life or find the simple and real purpose of life.