Respectable scientific opinion holds that the human species is on the verge of untimely extinction. According to Noam Chomsky, the so-called “least advanced” people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us from extinction. Informed by their ancient knowledge systems, indigenous populations across the world are resisting the plunder of the planet. However, indigenous knowledge systems are in radical conflict not only with global capitalism but with modern education itself, thus raising the issue of radical choice. The issue goes much beyond the classical domain of the pedagogy of the oppressed.
Noam Chomsky’s grimly titled book Hegemony or Survival (2003) opens with some observations of contemporary biologist Ernst Mayr, who is sometimes referred to as “the biological giant of the 20th century”. After proposing a very reasonable notion of a species, Mayr held that about 50 billion species have appeared on this planet since the origin of life. He estimated that “the average life expectancy of a species is about 1,00,000 years”. Exactly one of these 50 billion species “achieved the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilisation,” Mayr notes. The civilisation-forming intelligence of this species is the topic for this essay.
Read an expanded version of Prof. Nirmalangshu Mukherji’s keynote address to the Philosophy of Education Conference at Azim Premji University in January 2015 in Economic & Political Weekly.