Ideas & Philosophy — 22 November 2011
The death of Steve Jobs and the decline of Western Civilisation

As Steve Jobs personal biography by Walter Isaacson hits bookshops around the world, a fierce debate rages about his rank amongst America’s greatest innovators. President Obama fired the opening salvo when learning about Steve Jobs’s (Ibn Jandali) demise. He said, “Steve was among the greatest of American innovators—brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it…The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.” For some, however, Steve Jobs has earned the right to be included amongst the world’s top inventors. David Ruddock writes: “When history remembers Steve Jobs, it will be not as part of Apple, but as one of the world’s great minds. We have lost not just one of the icons of the technological world, but one of the greatest contributors to humanity of the last four centuries.”

In any case, Americans feel proud about his achievements and given America’s domination of the Nobel Prize, there is strong belief that America’s pre-eminence in science and technology is set to continue. Indeed, some would argue that under America’s stewardship the West will continue to dominate the globe for years to come. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard states: “The American phoenix is slowly rising again. Within five years or so, the US will be well on its way to self-sufficiency in fuel and energy…Assumptions that the Great Republic must inevitably spiral into economic and strategic decline – so like the chatter of the late 1980s, when Japan was in vogue – will seem wildly off the mark by then.”(World power swings back to America, 23 Oct 2011). Others point to the dominant role of American popular culture and pre-eminence of American universities in the provision of education as evidence that America leads the world in thoughts and ideas. For instance, ion 15th of August 2011, the English newspaper The Times stated: ”US universities continue to dominate the upper echelons of world rankings, taking 17 of the top 20 spots in the Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking.” But just how true is the assertion that Western thoughts will enjoy unfettered primacy for the foreseeable future.

Let’s examine Western advancement in scientific thoughts. By scrutinising the annals of scientific thoughts over the past four centuries it is quite apparent that scientific discoveries or technical innovations fall into two categories namely: revolutionary and evolutionary discoveries. Revolutionary discoveries are associated with a step change in the scientific thoughts of a designated discipline. In other words, the discovery of the idea radically changes the fundamental precepts of the subject, and propels innovation and discoveries to new heights; existing limitations on thinking is superseded by a new wave of concepts and ideas. Progress in the subject is by leaps and bounds, and benefit to humanity is immense.

On the other hand, evolutionary discoveries are focussed on the progressive elaboration of the fundamental principles and thoughts about a particular subject. The edifice of the subject remains intact, but the application of basic thoughts crosses existing thresholds, and produces a new body of secondary and tertiary concepts that push the boundaries of existing research further and gives newfound impetus to explore fresh lines of inquiry. Advancement is small and the benefit to mankind is of diminutive proportions.

So in physics, its evolutionary moments are many, but its revolutionary moments are very few indeed. Newtonian physics dominated the subject for centuries and was eventually turned on its head by Einstein’s theory of relativity. Over a hundred years later, there is yet to be a revolutionary moment (although the recent discovery of neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light might change this). It was Einstein’s theory of relativity and its views on the sub-atomic world that paved the way for the discovery of the computer chip and mobile communication technology. Steve Job’s did no more than use computer chips, 3G and WIFI technologies to produce the Apple suite of products such as the iMac, iPhone, iPod and the iPad. The same can be said for other scientific disciplines such as biology, chemistry and others. It can be argued that in the past 100 years or the discoveries in science and technology are not revolutionary at all; they are merely evolutionary a sort of natural progression.

Leaving aside scientific thoughts, the same classification standards can be applied to other disciplines such as philosophy, literature, sociology, politics, economics etc. Of these disciplines, the subjects of paramount importance are politics and economics, as they have the greatest effect on human thinking and progress, and play a pivotal role in the development of science.

A close inspection of Western economic thinking reveals that two men revolutionized economic theory in the West. The first was Adam Smith who is regarded by many as the father of capitalism. The other is Karl Marx who developed Communist economic theory as an alternative to capitalism. The rest of the economists hitherto have either based their economic works on these two schools of economy or they have amalgamated capitalist and communist principles economic ideas to produce a third way. In sum, their collective efforts to date have only produced evolutionary changes.

Furthermore, although the ideas of Smith and Marx are widely studied, it can be safely said that both are discredited. Communism as an economic model is dead and Smith’s free market ideas are facing a catastrophic crisis of confidence. The collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 ushered in an epoch of enormous economic turmoil across the globe, exposing the erroneous nature of the ‘free market’ and inspiring millions to protest against these ideas. Even those who are charged with the responsibility of spreading capitalism to the four corners of the globe candidly admit to its failure. “The idea that markets are always right was a mad idea,” declared the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy in the autumn of 2008.

Likewise, the advancement of Western political thought is dominated by a handful of thinkers most—if not all—of whom was present in the enlightenment period. In fact, in the past one hundred and thirty years no one has produced any revolutionary changes in Western political thinking. On the contrary it can be argued that Western political thinking has stagnated over the past century and the West lacks solutions to contemporary political problems. The concepts of nation state, freedom, democracy, international law etc., when applied in practice are found to be flawed and unworkable. The current economic crisis in Europe and the colonial wars in the Muslim world have exposed the fallacy of these ideas. Its not surprising then, that some eminent Western politicians understood the limitations long ago and the erroneous nature of such ideas. Churchill famously remarked: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (excerpt from House of Commons speech on Nov. 11, 1947)

Hence, the demise of the West has been long in the making. Its political and economic thoughts are gradually loosing credibility amongst the people of the world and dying a slow death. As a countermeasure, the West is left with no other option but to employ force, both at home and abroad, to ensure that the elite who benefit from it retains their hegemony over other people and nations. Once the political and economic thoughts are discredited and abandoned, scientific progress will also come to a halt. The demise of the Soviet Union is an apt example of when people abandon an ideology, scientific advancement comes to a standstill.

So which nation will take the helm of the leading state after America is dislodged from its perch and Europe follows suit? Some advocate China, Brazil and India as the up and coming nations to lead mankind. But this view is short sighted and lacks thorough analysis. The question is not which nation will lead mankind, but which ideology will lead mankind in the 21st century. China, Brazil and India are fast embracing the very same Western thoughts that are discredited and responsible for West’s demise. Hence problem is one of thoughts and ideology, not people.

Islam is the only true ideology that is capable to lead humanity today. It has a proven track record of leading mankind in all walks life for over a thousand years, and it produced revolutionary thinking for well over five hundred years, as long as the people executed ijtihad (divine exegesis). The Islamic Ummah was blessed with an abundance of revolutionary thinkers, a feat unparalleled in the history of civilisations. Much of the inspiration and guidance responsible for the great Islamic thinkers of history was Islam’s prophet and messenger, Mohammad (saw). He is considered to be the greatest leader, thinker, strategist and teacher of all time. He left behind the Quran and the Sunnah, so that generation after him would continue and implement the message of Islam. This is what one of the most renowned thinkers of the 20 century had to say about him. “The world much needs a man with Muhammad’s bright thinking. I believe that if a man like Mohammad’s calibre were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.” — [George Bernard Shaw]

Abid Mustafa is a political commentator who specialises on Muslim issues and global affairs. He can be reached at [email protected]

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