If any of you have seen or remember the 2006 classic Blood Diamond, you will realize that it subtly brings out a stark reality of how complex a world we live in and how complicated it is to grasp what we are actually doing. The movie takes you on a journey in war-torn Sierra Leone where an African fisherman survives a rebel massacre of his village and is taken slave to work in a diamond-mining camp. He is soon rescued by government troops from the camp however, he manages to find himself a large rare pink diamond in the camp which he hides and keeps to himself. Word reaches the ears of a Zimbabwean smuggler-cum-mercenary who sees this pink stone as his one-way ticket out of the godforsaken country. Together they both then set out on a gut-wrenching journey to escape the war-inflicted nation with the help of an American journalist who is on a quest to uncover the truth. During the journey, it is revealed that even though apartheid & colonialism have long gone, what tears the country apart is its internal tribal rivalries and some local warlords, who drug and brainwash children for carrying out the killings. But the more important subplot is - where did these warlords get the money to fund such a large-scale operation? It comes from the diamond on that wedding ring or necklace you wear, that’s feeding these conflicts. The raw uncut diamonds mined from these African sites find their way to your finger or neck through a very highly intricate cross-country diamond network - maybe by even unethical or illegal means.
But do you think I can then accuse a DeBeers or a Tanishq of funding these civil wars in a war-torn African nation? Or can you accuse the celebrity endorsing the DeBeers’ advertisement of funding these conflicts? Or can you accuse me of funding the conflict if I bought a diamond ring? I have never even stolen anything from anyone or broken into anyone’s home or killed anyone. The movie may have been a fictionalized story to bring out a strong message to its audience but the truth is - are we actually bothered to make an effort to know what we are doing?
Everything today is so interconnected in such a complicatedly entangled way, that I find it hard even to answer the simplest of questions, like where does my food actually come from? What goes behind making the leather in the winter-jacket I wear? What the hell is the pension fund actually doing with my dad’s money? Or even worse, in what condition were the chickens bred whose eggs I had today for breakfast?
‘The system is structured in such a way that those who make no effort to know can remain in blissful ignorance, and those who do make an effort find it extremely tough to discover the truth.’ says Yuval Harari.
Now consider that you go to buy branded toothpaste from a nearby supermarket. As you hold the tube in your hand and flip to check its expiry date, you observe that this product is contract manufactured at a plant located in some remote area of the country. Satisfied by the date on that ‘branded’ product, you pay for it and simply walk out of the store. What if you dug a little deeper and found out that the plant that is manufacturing the tube you hold in your hand, dumps toxic waste in a nearby river that flows through a village, thereby endangering the lives of lakhs of people living there? Deeper research shows the residents of that village suffer from various health disorders that result from the consumption of toxin-laden water. Would your morality scales then tip or would you still go ahead with the purchase of that branded toothpaste? What about the morality of an investor who buys a hundred shares of this brand in the stock market knowing that it will generate a fifteen percent ROI next year? It may be a profitable company but what if it is using a large portion of its profits to employ a strong army of lawyers to ward off any liability claims that may arise or retain lobbyists to block stronger environmental regulations and even pay off local health officials to ‘hush up’ the matters? What if you are employed by such an organization and responsible for pushing the sales of that toothpaste?
We even see undertones of this in the information space. An extremely popular Big Tech company removes its own well-known AI ethics researcher who publishes a paper trying to warn its users of the societal risks of the machine-learning approach that her own company employs! As an avid user of the technologies from the Big Tech giants, you entrust them with your private information in exchange for a convenience-driven product, only to find that these forever data-hungry companies are evading accountability, pushing ‘extremist’ content to influence you, and employ behavior-mapping self-evolving algorithms to keep you hooked and addicted. Would you subscribe to such technologies if you knew about all this?
The bitter truth is that there is no way to know as the world has simply become way too complicatedly-interwoven to even comprehend what is going on and so, how can we even act morally without having the complete knowledge of facts? How do we act when the facts get hidden from plain sight? Unfortunately, everyone from top-to-bottom is deeply entrenched in this intricately designed structure because everyone’s livelihood is dependent on that structure. Seeing from the perspective of the villagers, it is a form of grave injustice inflicted on them and we are all complicit in it as much as the corporations or governments. In the previous eras and even during the age of hunter-gatherers you may have been responsible for the plight of only a few living right next to you or in an adjacent tribe or village. But today the world is enmeshed in such a way that each of our individual actions directly or indirectly not only affect the plight of our next-door neighbor but may adversely impact a tribe sitting halfway across the world. It is precisely in this context major debates like those on climate change or the technological disruption, or future of humanity with the rise of AI, etc rage on, that have widespread ramifications across all corners of the globe.
How can we ever cut through this clutter and the web of thousands of intersecting groups of people for getting clarity? Now, you may throw various conspiracy theories at me, by claiming that a handful of multi-billionaires control the entire world. But what if even the handful thirty or forty multi-billionaires themselves don’t understand what is going on – they, or even for that matter we, are so occupied in our own little worlds that we just don’t have the time and energy to make an effort to find out the truth. No Facebook, or Google, or CIA, or the so-called secret ‘Illuminati’ can figure out what is going on. Not even the Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Chinese, or Buddhists constitute the entire population, so their interpretations are also mere conjectures.
Despite all that it would not be right on our part to take a nihilistic approach by saying ‘everything is fake’ and that any attempt I even make to discover the truth is doomed to failure. Underneath that information, there may be real issues, real pain, and real suffering involved. Even if the odds are against us, it still is our responsibility to invest in the effort to dig deeper and keep verifying the authenticity of the information. If there is an issue that deeply perturbs you then be willing to dive deeper, be willing to put in an effort to read or refer to the relevant literature or be willing to maybe read the books written by experts on that topic, and even be willing to listen to what the experts have to say. and be willing to be a part of that debate. But if there isn't an issue that perturbs you any longer, then it's high time you start getting perturbed about what is going on around you.
So, seeing this mind-numbing ambiguity should we continue to make a sincere effort to know? Or should we simply give up and call it quits then?
I leave you with that thought.