July 1, 2006: There’s a myth that what’s good for your country, your community, your neighbourhood is good for you. “Hum tho tumhare hi bhalai chahte hain, beta!’, says desh aursamaaj. And, most of the times, you take it on faith that it’s completely true, because, after all, desh aur samaaj ka izzat karna hi apni sanskuti hai. I’d like to say that there’s a lot of bullshit in that belief. In fact, it’s at most only 50% true.
And here’s why:
It is common knowledge that the interests of individuals, even in the same household, often conflict. The grandparents may need peace and quiet for their own wellbeing, but the 8-year-old kid may need to make noise and enjoy jumping around for his mental and physical well-being and growth. The parents of the kids may need some privacy and space, but the children and the aged folk may need them to be available all the time.
And some situations pit the individual against the entire household. The adolescent daughter may need to have a couple of affairs to explore and develop her own personality, but for the family as a whole, ghar ki izzat rakhna is a major issue. These things often lead growing kids to run away or commit suicide, or, maybe just as bad, commit spiritual harakiri by suppressing the flowering of their personalities.
The more diverse the group, the worse these conflicts get. Between the citizen and the nation, the chasm is wide. For instance, tt may be in the nation’s interest to talk young men to serve in the armed forces. But all that talk about desh bhakti and valour can add up to a young man living all his life with a gallantry medal and a couple of stumps in place of his legs. Talking about giving your life for your country is all very well if you’re a senior citizen or housewife, because you know that you would never be called to serve. But for those who actually are, it means, in peacetime, mindless drilling, false discipline and a lifetime of saluting mindless people who outrank you, and in times of war, being sent out to die by someone to whom you’re just a name and serial number. Patriotism is an opium given to numb the sensibilities of those who are being sent out to kill or to die, and in retrospect, an opium given to the grieving parents and widows to numb their pain and sense of loss.
In reality of course, nobody gives a shit about your valour and self-sacrifice, least of all the seasoned, geriatric politicians for whom patriotic-sounding phrases are just stock-in-trade.
Something similar applies to joining the police force etc. True, society needs somebody to do the dirty work, to clean out the underworld hideouts, and, for that matter, the sewers. But does that somebody have to be you? Or your son?
I think not. That’s why I say that the interests of society conflict with those that you have as an individual.
Another example: When the Sensex was around 12,500, it would be in the nation’s (or the market’s — same thing, I think) interest if you, the investor, stayed invested, or even put in more of your hard-earned money. But it was in your own interest to have booked your profits and gone home a richer person. A KEY EXAMPLE We all keep pushing up our national GDP by buying more, consuming more and trying to earn more this year than we did last year. But as individuals, it is in our own interest to refrain from buying more than we really need to live our lives. It’s in our own interest to live with greatersimplicity, not because Gandhiji or anybody else say so, but because if you listen carefully to your own inner being, you’ll find out that it simply begs for simplicity, for less clutter.
What matters is the basic stuff that we all instinctively know about, namely: i) Not being in the rat-race ii) Cherishing yourself and your family — including aged parents — above all other things like work-pressure, peer-pressure, advertising spiel, false gurus and religious extremes etc etc. iii) Cultivating a good working relationship with your inner community by getting to know your inner demons and angels.
What’s definitely to be avoided is being herded along the way your country/economy wants you to go. My personal thumb rule here is: if everybody around you thinks you are a normal person, you’re probably going mindlessly with the herd. On the other hand, if at least a dozen people think you are an eccentric idiot, and an unpatriotic, self-centred, un-commonsensical bastard, I think you may be doing something right.
So my conclusion is:Let’s consume less, let’s work less, let’s be satisfied with less, because less is infinitely more. LET THE GDP, THE SENSEX AND THE ECONOMY GO DIVE OFF A CLIFF! Let’s be more sceptical about what society-politicians-media-public AND family-members/elders say (you find an internal contradiction here? go figure!), and more indifferent to their good opinion. Let’s listen more carefully to what our inner community — our inner angels, demons, gods, whatever — have to say. Because they are the ones who can make your inner life worthwhile or otherwise. Let us spend time with them, let us befriend them, let us go for long walks with them, let us give them the hearing that they have been begging and pleading for over months, years, decades, lifetimes. Let’s give our inner community back their voices by removing unnecessary noises from our lives. We have a lot of catching-up to do in that department. At least, I know I do. And, while I find it as hard as the next person to swim against the tide, and to walk my passionate talk, I have been doing so (and in case you haven’t experienced it for yourself, let me forewarn you that it makes a lot of people, including close family and friends, write you off as a borderline psycho). I intend to continue doing so.
Lengthy epilogue: I may have spoken a half-truth here. I’m aware there’s another side to this whole argument. But I think that to see the truth, you have to gaze at things from one side only.
I’ll save the other half of the truth — that about furthering the country’s and the world’s interests — for another day.
Maybe I’ll do that. Or maybe not.
Kyonki maine dono taraph ki baat kehne ka theka nahin liya hai. I’m a subjective, emotional guy, I’m an individual, and maybe I believe in the supremacy of the individual. I’m subjective. Don’t expect me to be objective.
And don’t anybody, ANYBODY, comment that I’m echoing Ayn Rand’s philosophy, as voiced in the The Fountainhead. I hate Ayn Rand with a passion, and I think her philosophy is completely phoney!