Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Freedom and the democratic society - II

I really have not had a chance to read more existentialist works lately. But I can readily recall a couple of conversations in the recent past where I spoke of or alluded to existentialist attitudes. Ofcourse, I claim no certificates at all for my understanding of existentialism. At best, one could say that I have a very rudimentary feel for existentialism. However, the notion of choice that is available to us in this Godless world is one of the more intriguing aspects of existentialism. It is also reflective of freedom in the sense that we are free to choose what defines our 'own' truth.

As I wrote in my last post on the subject, the rule of law, the code of ethics, schools and value systems can, in a way, be thought of as constraints that push us towards the accepted and general good or right. But let us just imagine for a moment that there is a choice available. And imagine, too, a society replete with people who choose their right - and ofcourse they can choose their wrong too! -. Now choosing personal rights, as a general rule, need not be in complete contradiction to social rights.

So the essential difference between a society that chooses its rights & a society that follows its rights is that for the former that gamut of rights is a personal choice. And this therefore means that the chosen rights, patterns, ethics etc are already internalized. They are strongly believed in & acted upon, beyond any rule of law or fear of punishment can ever guarantee.

Passion, therefore, demarcates & underlines our choices.

Do we want to nurture a society, therefore, that nourishes our passions & encourages making choices? Or do we still want to play safe in the domesticated rule of law?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The team

The English play the Australians in the first semi final of the ICC championship this afternoon. English cricket has had a fair bit of revival in the past couple of months both at home and abroad. And the successes have not been limited to the shortened version of the game either. Two players have made immense contribution to this revival. Steve Harmison, the lanky right arm fast bowler, who blew away the West Indies in March in a breathtaking spell of pace bowling & Andrew Flintoff, ICC One Day Player of the year, 2004. If the English have to win the day, as my friend Yesh points out, these two must fire.

The Australians really could not care less. They can overcome individual brilliances, more often than not. Because, from the days of a certain Alan Border, Australia has been doing just that. Planning, practising and winning, as a team.

Time after time!

Friday, September 17, 2004

The instituted

One of the interesting developments in the recent years about acceptable social demeanour and speech has been the notion of being politically correct. This, as I understand it, is basically diluting an apparent truth or fact, or rephrase a certain opinion in an effort to not sound derogatory or hurt or demean any society, community or person. Now I appreciate that kind of concern. It is very humanitarian and asserts at a certain level the importance of kindness.

But its astounding as to how unthinkingly we subscribe to all apparent extrapolations of this idea. I do not see Why Jodie Foster would be offended if someone called her an actress, & not be offended if she was called an actor? I guess the idea here is that acting, like any other art form, should really be in no way related to the gender of the person. But what really is the problem we are solving? Is it derogatory in any way to be a woman in the acting profession & being addressed as one? Foster is not going to play "Spiderman", without solid doses of Marijuana. Is there a chance that the Oscars for lead actors & lead actresses will be merged into a best thespian award ever? When are we having the first black or even a female American president?

Kindness, in a way, is just an euphemism for political correctness. We are prone to be mean in our thoughts, beliefs and actions. We can sugarcoat our language as much as we like, but what we really need is not the commonality of accepted speech covering up our prejudices but rather an honest looking within ourselves and correct what is wrong, without giving a damn about political connotations!

Friday, September 10, 2004

Wisdom over nicotine

A friend of mine told me this over a cigarette this afternoon. He recently married & it is from this toil, I think, that such gems germinate.

"Marriage is like a well. If its shallow, you end up with a dull thud; any deeper, you drown!"

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Books: Kazantzakis and the carpenter

"The Last Temptation" by Nikos Kazanzakis was a book I read about an year back. It is the story of Jesus Christ retold the way Kazantzakis saw it unfold. I had no previous knowledge of Christianity and apart from certain vague details, or facts perhaps is a better word, Christ himself was a God unknown, stapled to a cross in catholic churches.

It is hardly my place to critique "The Last Temptation", or for that matter comprehend to the fullest possible extent the message the book, specifically, & Christianity, in general, holds for us. Also, I must also document the fact that I was stirred gravely by the story as a whole and therefore, the faculties of fair appraisal were blurred in the process. What I am writing here are just the strongest messages in my own personal experience that the book has for its readership.

One of the most dramatic moments of the book, in my opinion, is a dialogue between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ. In this book, Jesus asks Judas to betray him so that he may be captured, crucified & finally resurrected in order to save mankind. It is in the blood of Christ that humanity will wash her sins and be salvaged and so Jesus must die. Judas refuses to betray. In an impassioned piece of conversation, Jesus convinces Judas that he, Judas, is chosen to betray him & live with sin of treachery on his soul for he is the stronger man of the two. Christ is weak and therefore has the relatively easy job of being crucified.

The Last Temptation tells us that those of us who are stronger, more capable, must be put to the sword for the rest do not have the heart for it & the sword, or the axe, is a test mankind must pass on the way to salvation. So the strongest live with a tortured conscience, the messiahs plan meticulously for crucifixion. And so each one of us who is blessed must in turn answer her calling for being inflicted. With great power, that of healing, comes greater responsibilities, that of the cross.

Jesus Christ, the son of God, was resurrected. Christ, the son of God, spoke in parables. Christ, the son of God, could heal and nourish. All these are divine powers & we cannot aspire for these. But Jesus, the weak, domonized, vulnerable son of a poor carpenter, took his first faltering steps towards his calling. Jesus, son of Joseph, denied the devils of flesh, soul & the heart one cold, hungry night in the desert. Fear, temptation, love, the warmth of safe domesticity, death & all the nuances that define our choices in this world were confronted and conquered. Jesus Christ, the ordinary human being, chose to be chosen. In the victory of Christ therefore, we win, you & I; we of this earth, are vindicated with him in our struggle against the many fears & pains. Christ of Nazareth was one of us, & he is a modern day superhero who saved the world!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Freedom and the democratic society

I read Dostoevsky's "Notes From Underground" on a train to Bangalore from Mysore, in the summer of 2001, trying, with considerable difficulty, to comprehend his disconcerting thoughts patterns and looking out for a refreshing cup of tea at the same time. I do not quite recall all the reflections he sparked in me. I remember, however, that I thought about the book a lot in the following days & spent my twilit walks around the serpentine Berlie street trying to connect and comprehend the substance of what he had to say.

One of ideas that appealed a lot to my mind, still adjusting and malleable at 23, was one about freedom. From what I remember now, Dostoevsky viewed freedom as a fully blown, all consuming choice. Freedom is not constrained to certain permissible choices in a rule of law. Freedom essentially is a constant and fluid choice between all possible rights and all possible wrongs. It is an exemption from all limiting factors including morality, ethics, discipline and other sundry social codes we are encouraged to follow.

I do not know yet if this is really a practicable idea. Infact, I am probably inclined to think that it is not. I agree that benefits of conformance are manifest in plentiful ways. It does protect us from grappling with myriad choices at a certain level; indeed, it ensures that we are in a synergistic relationship with all that is around us.

However, where I really agree Dostoevsky is that conforming is perhaps a trifle 'safe' choice a society can make.The compromise is really attitudinal. Its a tendency, really, to protect from all that can go wrong than nurture all that can be productive. This limiting philosophy dictates that we learn what is already known and accept what has already been 'understood'. Oftentimes, these barriers are crossed by individuals who differ from this limiting paradigm of choices, who have either unlearnt their lessons or never paid attention in the first place. And we owe a lot to these people for all that we have today. The point, however, is that we, as a society, do not encourage such behaviour. We do not encourage reinterpretation, en masse, in our schools. Dissent is voted out by the majority in our parliaments. We do not reexamine our truths.

Therefore, we wait for our messiahs to deliver. And until they come, we live caged & safe, exactly like everybody else around us!

What one really is...

"the consciousness of what one really is... is 'knowing thyself' as a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. "

- Antonio Gramsci

Monday, September 06, 2004