Center of Educational Technologies

The Decade We Are Living Through Is Really a Watershed in the Whole History of Mankind

Sergey P. Kapitsa,
Dr.Sc. (Physics and Mathematics),
Vice President of the Russian Federation Academy of Natural Sciences,
Fellow of the Rome Club and the European Academy of Sciences

I am extremely interested in taking part in this conference, because the issues we are discussing seem to me to be the key ones. The young people who are entering the 21st century will decide its fate. In final analysis, today is the moment of a certain historical relay, if you like. We are witnessing one generation go and another generation come. But today’s watershed is perhaps more powerful than at any time in the whole history of mankind. I shall speak about high categories, because I think we shall not be able to understand what is happening to Russian and the world as a whole without expanding our range of vision. Therefore, I’d like now to avail myself of this opportunity and prompt you to consider what is now happening from more general points of view.

I don’t think the magic of the number 2000 matters so much. If we lived according to the Buddhist or Chinese calendar, we would have to do with a different year-number. What really matters is that this year 2000, the decade we are living through is indeed a watershed in the whole history of mankind. I mean history measured not by decades or centuries or millennia, but, I would say, by billions of years. Man first became a social being and began to work and develop a culture a few million years ago. When man harnessed fire and began to speak, a human society appeared. Man had one idea of development — more children, more space, more weapons, more of everything. This is programmed in our essence on social and even on biological level, if you like.

Now we have come to a watershed when we have to discard this principle of development. Why? This is a big issue which has just been put across n and which, I think, must be the core for understanding from the point of view of social sciences. Yet, it is a fact, an experimental fact, an observed fact. One of the reason is that 250 thousand new inhabitants come into life every day, or 890 million a year. This is the peak rate of growth of mankind, which we are now passing. Within 50 years, this figure will half as much. Within another 50 years, it will be much lower. The world is population will become stabilized. Russians population has now become stabilized. This happened not as a result of wars, revolution, but as a result of the whole history of the 20th century. This is a historical process.

The same happened, strange as it may seem, somewhat earlier in France and Sweden. Their population got stabilized by the end of the 19th century. In all the other so-called developed countries, the population has also been stabilized. I don’t think we must regard Russia as a developing country. Simply we are living through a difficult stage of history. To call Russia a developing country, I think, would be a mistake. Doing so, I think, would be a political or ideological mark of reference. We have difficulties of development of our own, but there is development, it has singly assumed a different level of measurement.

Japan is another country with a stabilized population. Countries today are divided not only into developing and developed ones, but also into countries with a stabilized population and countries with an unsteady population. The population of China, the world largest country, with its one billion 300 million, grows at a rate of 10-15% a year. Russia had reached such a rate of growth only in 1913, before the WW1 crisis. The population of India has overstepped a billion. It grows at a rate of 7% a year. This is where world-important change is taking place; compared to it, change in Europe, America and Russia is meager. We don’t realize the scale of what is happening there n in numbers as well as in qualitative and quantitative terms. This is what we are to think about, because this is an inevitable historical process. Furthermore, the process of industrialization and, following it, the stabilization of population are twice as fast there as in the developed countries, involving 10-to-15 times as many people. This is a blasting boiler of the modern world. We are now, I stress once again, at the very peak of this process. Whether this period will pass without war or not is the crucial question. I mean a war between us, grope and, say, NATO, etc. but between China and, say, India. Mind it. If China were destabilized like Yugoslavia, it would lead to 30-40-year-long civil war. It might cost hundreds of millions of lives. And that in just one country.

Whether they will be able to sustain their political unity or not may be a key question. A war that might break out there would spill over across the world, including Siberia, Central Asia and many other regions. These are rough realities we are living in.

And this is why we must understand these processes. Unfortunately, we are only beginning to understand them. My view is that the crisis of understanding historical processes today does not answer, so to speak, the rate of material development. The situation is similar to what we have with computers. It is well known that change of computer generations, I mean, hardware, is now approximately cheaper by a factor of 10 to 20 than the efforts spent to develop software. That is how Bill Gates earns his billions. The same is, incidentally, true of human beings. It takes 9 months to “produce a human being, but 20 to 30 years to program their mind and educate them, in other word, to do precisely the things we are concerned with and discuss here. Roughly the same proportion as in computers in 9 months and 20-30 years.

Incidentally, human beings could multiply at the same rate as cats, dogs or, I beg your pardon, pigs, because we are built in the same way as they are. But we have slowed down our development for the sake of mind-programming. This is precisely the reason why the human population on Earth is 100 doused times as Will as that of these animals. I am making the point to make you realize the scale we are to consider. It seems, the crisis we are witnessing is connected with the blind ally in which we have found ourselves in the development of our culture, that is to say, the software of mankind. We are able to destroy everybody and everything. The atom bombs are enough to do it. Ordinary' weapons are capable of doing the same, too.

Once upon a time US president arrived in Vietnam to express repentance.

Fifty thousand US soldiers and more than two million Vietnamese had been killed there. None of the problems have been solved. And this emphasizes the situation we are living in. Roughly speaking, we must give up the principle of force prevalence. It must be replaced. This is the borderline which is expressed in the concept of a culture of peace and a culture of war. A culture of war is force prevalence. This principle does not work any longer. The point is how to transfer to a culture of peace. This is perhaps the most important challenge we are facing.

The times where there are no new ideas or guiding principles and the old ones do not work result in confusion in the minds and extremism. What are the ideas with which we can carry the younger generation with us? 1 was moved by what B. N. Pastukhov was speaking, because he referred to essentially correct things, but they, I am sorry to say, are 50 years old. I remember your youth and I remember my youth. They were all right at that time. Now, could these ideas capture the attention of young people now, as they did at that time? Probably, you are right.

I don’t know. The point you made seems to have puzzled the audience.

These are the issues I would like to remind you of, because much is dependent on them. We have gained colossal freedom now, we can speak and write what we wish. But freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility. I mean the responsibility of the intelligentsia, above all. Do we have freedom or not? When 1 watch many development of present-day culture, in particular, when is happening on television and in the media in general, I have the impression that we do not understand? What freedom means. Freedom is proportional to responsibility. This does not mean control over information. This is the inner responsibility of anyone who expressed their positions, point of view, etc.

There is euphoria of freedom. I think Alexander Zinoviev can describe what it is about much better than many of us. What we hear seldom is anyone talking about responsibility. I think the thesis of 'a culture of peace* could, be re-worded into 'a culture of responsibility for the destiny and development of mankind3. That is what 1 want to remind you of. 1 cannot suggest any solutions; 1 can only point to them. I don’t think the situation is hopeless. There is the colossal factor of the Russian cultural and Russian-speaking cultural space. This is the most import rump in our country’. This is our political trump. There is colossal advantage in our system of education. It was said that we have lost the Cold War. I think all sides have lost it. There were no winners in it. Now, what is quite certain is that our system of education has won. We can export not only gas, but brains as well. We must learn to made good use of them, too. There are ample possibilities for that. I think this conference will help make out the problems we are to deal with. Young minds must solve them. We can only help them do so by puzzling them, pointing out some direction, reminding them of how young minds were solving key problems in their time. Take, of example, the problem of the atom bomb and nuclear energy. Igor Kurchatov was under 40, and his associates under 30 at that time. And they did everything you all know. Whether they ought to do it is another question. The point is they could do it. They had been taught to do it. They had been prepared and motivated. And finally, they were backed up by society.

We shall hardly be able to get out of the present-day situation unless we go on thinking about these question, because, 1 want to say once again, we must replace the intellect is not needed where there is force a slogan. It does not work any longer.


Source: Молодежь России перед лицом глобальных вызовов на рубеже веков (Как противостоять агрессивному экстремизму, ксенофобии и насилию среди молодежи) : Материалы Международной конференции, 18–19 ноября 2000 г., Москва, Россия / под научной и общей редакцией И. М. Ильинского. Перевод на англ. яз. М., 2001. С. 35–39. ISBN 5-85085-643-9.