A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece titled ‘Lust for Likes’ that spoke of our perpetual need for gratification through the verdict of the Collective, irrespective of the level of competence of the latter to pronounce a judgement. I am not sure how qualified I am to testify to the latter’s capabilities in this matter; however, I do believe that any independent opinion such as mine must count and so I must speak. In the earlier post I had mentioned how it was the number of votes in our favour, as evident, that mattered to us. The rest was amicably yet confidently damned.
Be it a piece of writing or an unadulterated opinion, both await response, if not recognition, from those around. Heavens forbid, if either should receive a not-so-positive acknowledgment (or no acknowledgement at all), then we are almost always convinced of our own incapability, instantly despising our sensibilities and expressions as we grapple helplessly in the dark for any scrap of consolation that would assure us that the ‘me’ wasn’t yet entirely worthless. We contain an inherent quality to doubt ourselves and an innate ability to trust the negative with regard to that self.
Just when I thought I had conveyed my remorse over our addiction to social attestations to our independent works and ideas, I noticed that the primary fault lay far deeper within a need with a pedigree that had been realised years and years ago when man had created the concept of social norms and behaviour for his immediate benefits then.
Here’s an oversimplified (almost stupid) outline of how I interpret the evolution of and the need for a society. When man decided to settle down and not wander about, he needed an assurance that things would be available and safe while he was stationed in his area of choice. But he eventually realised that nothing would come for free, and that he needed to be socially accepted first. He also figured that there was a possibility of conflicts if everybody had their way. So there needed to be a definite hierarchy and set of rules that favoured him and made his life unencumbered by stress and impediments. That is when the problem started.
In an attempt to straighten things out in his favor, he then created norms that reaffirmed and validated a defined set of right and wrong. In a jiffy, the inspiring intricacies of the otherwise free human mind and will were combed out following an oversimplified rationale and an even stunted intent. Since that moment we have only devised more and more ways to detain our minds and seize its spirit, threatening it from time to time in name of society.
With time these norms slowly became customs and traditions, and these customs that were initially designed to match our “requirements” slowly started dictating our mindsets. Over the years they established their unfaltering supremacy in our lives as a culture, and this we eventually came to regard as our cultural heritage. Before we knew, we had already fallen prey to the giant obsession for social acceptance.
We had to define and justify every relationship and every intention in a way that was expected of us by the society. Relationships needed validation; they often needed a sizeable justification too. Among these, a fair chunk of social sanctions were smartly weighed against a rational need and a thick smog of right and wrongs masked skillfully by a feel-good (and dangerously misleading) phrase – good intentions. This phrase has always made little sense to me.
Relationships too, just like schools and banks, were institutionalised, and that was all it took to get socially sanctioned. And just like the various kinds of bank accounts, there were different kinds of relationships too! And so they were legitimate (whatever that meant)! It was all good to keep us organised and safe within the parameters of law and order requirements, but I believe we took it way more seriously than that. Eventually, the legitimate became synonymous to the accepted that then became ‘right’. The others, that included moments of unadulterated yearnings and thoughts, roamed about like refugees and absconding convicts in the darkness of the night, since then. They refused to be tamed anyway.
Though even the sanctioned world too, just like the unsanctioned side, did bear the brunt of this obsession. I know a friend who had trouble finding a companion for himself after enduring two divorces in a row. The greatly glorified divorces had done an outstanding task in tagging him as the unworthy, or unreliable, or unlucky. His very own brother, on the other hand, who eventually decided to marry someone of his parents’ choice didn’t seem to bear that tag. Instead he became the ideal son. It didn’t matter if he had had an affair or a series of affairs before that choice. We only continued to see what was sanctioned.
Profound emotions like love and compassion too now waited in the same queue to be resized, sanctioned and stamped by innumerable rules like loyalty, duty, responsibility that waited to tickle our abused conscience and reaffirm our un-emancipated commitment towards making ourselves more mean-minded and shallow. Like a butcher we chopped and trimmed the very scope of those words into a handful of petty sanctioned relationships just the way we sliced the land into senseless bits. We took care of only what was ours, or so we thought it was.
In due time we seemed to forget those uninhibited emotions and the innumerable relations that slipped by into dark wilderness for having been unsanctioned or for having lived for a time span less worthy. Our minds had been manicured by then, and we all looked and felt and acted in the same way. We proudly called ourselves a society when instead we should have called ourselves a toy factory.
A levy and a sanction, which, I knew, were nomenclatures to defend the economic world, govern our social lives too, or at least, they still do in many parts of the world. These social sanctions only reduce us to mere commodities that are scanned at every station and then stamped in approval or disapproval. And most of us keep ourselves securely locked up so none of our insides spill out as we totter our way through each conveyor belt, keeping our anxious fingers crossed so that we are socially sanctioned just like the dirty luggage on the dusty conveyor belts at the airport or railway station. Any unrecognised luggage is treated like an explosive, a probable instrument for acts of terror …and will simply earn itself suspicious glances from those who have their head held high after being socially sanctioned.
This amalgamation of requirements that included a few lop-sided rules, among others, today seems sacrosanct and unbending in many parts of the world even now. As a result, we need social sanctions at every stage today in spite of being in a world of social networks! But must we always have everything defined within oversimplified closed quarters and parameters? Must we tag everything as right and wrong, good or bad? After all, how much right is right? Who decides? Why follow?
Must everything be weighed against self-appropriated consequences? Why can’t a thought, a moment, a relationship, an impulse count just as much, in its entirety, without having to scream out its meaning or significance? Why shouldn’t an indefinable relationship aspire to exist without any motive or definitive ending? Have we completely killed the wanderer in us? Are we willing to sacrifice our inherent free will of the wanderer? Or is it not the worst form of sacrilege of the human soul?
A new life is now tagged as legitimate or illegitimate just like other contractual relationships that have been drafted and resized to fit the petty mindsets in the name of social security. And yet, how many of us feel socially secure today? I remember reading a book recently that said that earlier there used to be far greater humanitarian values where households would accept and take care of an orphan child who was unfed or homeless. It was only after certain religions disapproved of unsanctioned relationships and lives that people turned away from and refused to be associated with the allegedly ‘illegitimate’. ‘This is mine’, ‘that is yours’, ‘she has wronged’… these judgments have only torn us apart and given us a fake sense of power to criticise or condone one another. On the receiving end, those judgments have started to matter to us far more than they should have.
I shall refrain from commenting on the role of religion and let you make your own inferences and belief for now. I just know that religion has cost us several lives and the world’s history is a solid testimony to that. Be it the holiest city, Jerusalem or the Babri-Masjid area, these landmark sites in history have only tried to tell us about our futile attempts to own what belonged to all of us. It only tells us of our twisted and petty self-designed sanctions, be it religious or social or political. It only spells our incapability and stubborn efforts to conquer, capture and sanction a fragment of the free land or the free human spirit. Yet we refuse to learn.
The day we learn to set our minds and hearts free of all sanctions shall we redeem that lost wanderer’s soul within us that is capable of looking at itself as a part of a much larger creation. What a futile conquest it has been so far! I wish we had spent half that time to conquer our minds instead so we could defend that free world within and around us.
I don’t intend to overlook or deny the amount of progress individuals and developed societies have made where they are free to express themselves, define their sexual preferences, and occupy themselves with the work of their choice. It is only that I am unable to overlook that vast majority that refuses to evolve with the changing times, thus making the concept of a society seem so immaterial and inconsequential suddenly. They are the sorts who judge you for what you speak, what you wear, and who you talk to (with regard to your socially-assigned status, mind you). I have despised such people ever since I can remember and shall continue to do so.
Of course, I don’t count myself as the solitary reaper though I dare confess that the solitary confines of my workspace do lend me far more seriousness and gravity most of the times. I am also aware that any statement as this would only culminate into a longer list of people who despise me or de-recognize me (secretly or otherwise), as they have from time to time. But being perfectly aware of the unfortunate plight of our majority today, a fear like this seems no different than a self-inflicted wound, a self-assumed threat or even a form of blackmail to me. According to me, sizing down an individual’s independence and choices is the worst form of abuse of the human spirit.
I have noticed the names and faces that appear and disappear each time I announce my perspective, and as much as I would secretly want to please each of them, I am constantly reminded of my loyalty to my own mind and its opinions first. My choice therefore is unanimous. And, I welcome everyone’s perspective with equal respect just as long as you can convince me that it is your independent mind that is talking to me.
© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013