Experts tell us that it should take another 150 to 170 years to close the gender pay gap around the world. Bad news for the mothers, sisters, wives and daughters! They have to wait that long for an equal footing with their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Especially so, when it comes to salaries and jobs. Living together for centuries, the two genders have been living centuries apart.
The same thing is true between the rich and the poor. Microsoft founder Bill Gates gave us hope in his annual newsletter in 2014 that by 2035 there would be almost no poor country left in the world. But poverty being as old as mankind, its eradication might never soak up every last drop. When just eight men own the same wealth as half the world, poverty, you know, isn't going in the blink of an eye.
Neither is it different between the strong and the weak. Conquests and subjugations go back to the dawn of mankind, but slavery originated about 11,000 years ago. Historians believe that mass slavery must have proliferated after the invention of agriculture because it required economic surpluses and high economic density to become viable. We're hearing about the resurgence of slavery in this century amongst the refugee population, who are fleeing their countries to seek shelter elsewhere.
These are but three abiding examples of how history enters the equation of eternity as a function of time. Human beings started to exhibit evidence of behavioural modernity around 50,000 years ago. In so many years though, the flow of history has been negotiated between the surging tide and its indomitable undertow. In many instances, the change altered the constant. In many respects, the constant arrested the change.
Religious intolerance still simmers in many countries, resulting in frequent outbreaks of violence. Racial hatred is quietly seething under the surface of organised harmony. Sexual discrimination persists despite the most intimate relationships between men and women. Many loose ends are still dangling out there since the anatomically modern homo sapiens rose in Africa 200,000 years ago.
If you've ever dropped a stone into a well, you would know there's a time lag between releasing the stone and hearing the splash. Everything in history has been going back and forth, one generation throwing the stone and another hearing the fall. In between, history has been punctuated by the eerie silence of truths held in abeyance. These are the times of insidious interregnums when the sublime turned into the ridiculous.
And that's the underlying secret of human existence, talkative beings relentlessly mocking the terrible silence sitting inside them. Even the most outwardly popular person is inwardly lonely, emptiness swirling inside like howling gales. Driven by fear, uncertainty and hopelessness, every exhausted human soul feels like a deep tube well drawing water from exhausted aquifers.
Modern minds are even more miserable. Fickle and flimsy, their challenge is to stay focused on the fundamentals. The moral life for them is a trip to the museum, which houses the exhibits from a bygone era. It's more like an excursion than an immersion. They believe to live, not live to believe. The physical is forever at odds with the spiritual.
That discrepancy creates hypocrisy mirrored in human character. Opportunism is hypocrisy exploited for convenience. Cowardice is hypocrisy used in self-defense. Greed is hypocrisy applied for self-gratification. Courage is hypocrisy leveraged for admiration.
These are the four walls that enclose the human condition. If populism is rising, religious tension is growing, racial hatred is spreading, and gender equality is lagging behind, it's because that dismal condition runs in a loop. Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 AD, explained this ever-repeating loop in his famous saying that all things from eternity are like forms and come round in a circle.
The circular motion of history reinforces itself through a feedback loop. When human endeavours run their course, they trigger the feedback of hitting the wall, and it throws a monkey wrench in the works. Word eludes action. Crime evades punishment. Convenience takes over conviction. The Yeatsean Apocalypse sets in when things fall apart and the centre cannot hold.
Individuals, ideologies and institutions are the three levers of every civilisation, history mapping the terrains of their shifting coordinates. Power, wealth and gender haven't changed much in the incessant flux of time. Persecution, hunger and discrimination still maintain their iron grip on the world.
Tears of the oppressed, cries of the hungry, and sighs of the deprived are markers that show the locations of human engagement in its purported evolution. Material acquisition and mindless ostentation are roadblocks, which divert the journey from time to time. And, when men and women can't close their gap despite the fatal attraction between them, the fate of mankind must be a wild goose chase.
The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.