We are these days locked in the debate for understanding the necessary premises to establish the most sustainable societies. Our only guide to attempt at deciphering this question is to look backwards in time i.e., going through history.
History as we know is biased towards kings and conquerors. We attempt to describe history with respect to periods matched to the rules of kings and dynasties. Now is that all there is to time or our metrics are flawed.
It is correct to view the history by tracing the footsteps of kings but only when the societies are monolithic arrangements around their rulers. How do we study history when the traditions of societies are a palimpsest always evading the final key?
The finer aspects of life which actually shape the society hardly get the due reference in the narratives. I can comfortably speak about India because I am not familiar with any other culture. During my school days I have spend hours trying to learn by rote the dates of various wars and coronations of kings. I still could not see the significance of it as the major influences on the lives of people have come from other sources rather than the reigns they were under.
How often do our history books tell us about the change in food habits with changing times and exposure to cultures. When did we actually start the foolishness of wearing a coat and leather shoes with socks as a sign of civility in daily life when it is unhygienic in Indian conditions. When did we ever discuss the toys and board games and their impact on fundamentals of the society?
I have heard that the best measure for understanding the society is by studying the toys that the society provides for its children to play. Societies that have physical strength and military aspirations build games around weapons like wooden swords, toy guns and punching bags which clearly explain the concepts of a victor and the vanquished. Societies that have innovation and scientific temperament as their core values build toys which subtly explain the nature of things like the Chinese toys which have magnetic properties or the kites that explain the nature of winds. Agrarian societies build bullock carts and farm tools as toys for their children.
Cultures that have evolved in the Indian subcontinent have been perennially obsessed with nature of life. The concept of good and bad karma and there effects on our daily life. The elders of the society may have thought that it was necessary to introduce these concepts to children. One of the games that beautifully deals with these questions is snakes and ladders. The players have absolutely no control on the game. The chance is taken based on the roll of a dice. The players can play only forward. There is no way you can predict whether you will be bitten by a snake or you will be rewarded with a ladder or you would simply be safe at the roll of the dice. The most profound learning of the game is to be excited about every roll of the dice, just like life. Further the game also teaches the importance of taking it easy with life and not getting obsessed with outcomes of our actions, as we hardly have any control over them.
Similar cultural overtone can be found in the British and American trading game known as monopoly. The game is very interesting as the basic themes of the game is run every competitor out of business and capture his assets. The game aims at explaining the market forces at a basic level and building business acumen of kids. The premises of the game gain significance because the Anglo-Saxon community has been primarily engaged in trading activities. The British India Empire was peculiar in the sense that it was built by East India Company. It was probably the biggest company in human history with its primary mandate was to trade with India for a profit. Empirically speaking the players in monopoly strive to create a monopoly by pushing all other players into bankruptcy, which exactly what the British did in India and built their empire.
Every culture has built games to pass on the subtle understanding of the values and tenets of the society to the next generation. It is these toys and games that give children the first understanding of playing by the rules or otherwise the game would cease to exist, just like societies. Waiting for your turn, accepting the rights of other players to score over you and most importantly to learn to lose gracefully are how stable societies are built and thrive.
The question of choosing the toys for a civilized society again comes back as a boomerang. It is my opinion that the demographics and culture of the last 50 years have tectonic-ally altered our relations with our planet. Around 7 billion humans on the planet have to worry about the long term survival of the race. The competitive spirits inculcated by games and toys of the past, have helped us survive nature, and now the same set of virtues may not let nature survive us.
Toys of the future have to build their foundations on communal living and surviving on pooled resources. One of the most phenomenal things that the internet has done is diluted the fundamental human neurosis surrounding winning and ownership. The primary cause for our obsession with winning and ownership may have been the uncertain future which encouraged hoarding and ownerships. Internet has changed all that by encouraging unlimited access and sharing. These virtues have to join the state of play for the future.
As a society we have to look closely at the toys and games that we provide for our children as the principles that they impart will help sustain the race.