Saturday, February 12, 2011

Arguments with Myself: Pandora's Gift

I always see the positive: This is one of my biggest negatives. I often miss the downside. This isn't lack of experience, as I shall rate myself above average in terms of perspective and long term thinking. But I often go wrong as I am so irreversibly optimistic about people.

For example, I believe that given an opportunity, anyone can almost do anything. I do believe attitudes can change, and everyone has something in them. In a way, that's my Hindu belief: Everyone has a bit of God in them. I shall also think that this comes from the way I grew up, with my self-made entrepreneur grandfather, who obviously believed that everyone can make it in life if they try.

In a way, the middle class lives on optimism, in the faith that it is possible to be happy. However trivial way this happiness is defined, a mortgaged house, a secure job, a devoted spouse, or a big enough car, as long as one belongs to middle class, being optimistic about their chances in life is an inalienable responsibility. And vice versa, optimism, I shall claim, belongs to middle class alone: You don't HOPE once you are rich.

And, therefore, making a middle class start with preaching such hope. Consider this business of teaching employability skills to disaffected 16 to 19 year old kids that is such a big business in Britain. The whole act is primarily about dispensing optimism. This is about hand-holding the kids who knew no love or praise in their entire life and try to give them some, in the hope that they will abandon anger and embrace optimism and thus keep the society going.

And, in a way, the job of a democratically elected government is primarily to keep the hope going, so that it remains business as usual.

If you don't agree and still think of the government's role in grandiose terms, consider this: The stated aims of most governments in the world can be reduced to one word: Finding jobs for its people. One might cringe at this, and wonder why the government does not talk about enterprise, wealth or well-being, just jobs, which sound menial and defeatist in a sense. But, the point is optimism - as long as there are jobs, people are happy and optimistic and ready to give their lives for a mortgage - and everything can go on as usual.

I have used the words Hope and Optimism interchangeably, because, in this context, they are more or less the same thing. Defying the English dictionary, I shall claim the opposite of both the words would be Anger, not hopelessness or pessimism. The governments dispense hope wanting to keep people off the streets, to keep them away from anger which can burn everything down.

However, as we know, Hope was God's curse to humanity, so that they can keep enduring the pain and disease and death that he packed in a box and sent to Pandora. The point of optimism should indeed be not to see the point, but to always believe that no matter what happened before, it will be different this time around. This is why we must keep praying, even when we know the situation is hopeless, and dream, when the reality appears bleak all around. Whatever was God's intent though, one has to now accept the disease, disorder and pain as given, and hence, hope should serve rather than torture us. And, the middle classes, the great bearer of human hope and optimism, should allow us to defy God's intent, at least for the moment.

Also, the biggest enemy of hope is not despair, but privilege. I am not in the business of changing the dictionary, but the idea of middle class hope is based on the concept of fair play. That there is a fair chance is absolutely central to hope. Privileges, which segregate people and take away the fairness, take away hope. And therefore, middle classes always fight against privileges (as they did in Egypt last week) and try to create institutions against privileges, like democracy and what is rather meaninglessly called the Rule of Law.

Finally, at this time, when the rhetoric of hopelessness dominate public conversations, the middle classes are desperately waiting, wringing to change the topic, we must search deep and hard for a clue how may things change. Robert Nisbett said the future resides in the present as the present resides in the past; the bleakness of now can indeed be countered by the hope that we have been here before and life always moved on. We can talk about something called the human spirit, and it sounds morally superior than the God's will, particularly that of the devious Zeus who didn't like the Promethean ambition of man. We can turn Pandora's story on its head: It is not her foolishness, but her curiosity, which made mankind what it is today.

7 comments:

Niti said...

I completely admire the way you write. That said, I don't think that the rich don't hope. I believe the benchmark for hope changes. The rich don't hope for mortgage house or cars, just like the middle class doesn't hope for survival like a beggar does. Hope is what keeps one running all through their life, irrespective of their bank balance. If they have the money, they hope for a happier home.

And also, you're right - the concept of hope is based on fair play but don't you think when the fair play doesn't exist, faith takes place. This is where God comes in. :)

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Niti

You are right. The rich indeed expect and desire and the beggars indeed wish and pray, and the object changes depending on where you are in life's, and sometimes Maslow's, pyramid.

Rightly, you bring in faith. Yesterday, someone was explaining to me how faith is a great leveller. I am sure this is right. However, I shall think faith in God is somewhat like our expectations out of fair play, a good idea if it existed and which may serve as the basis of what we can expect life to deliver. I had so many people complaining that God isn't acting rationally, or that His sense of justice is difficult to follow, I tend to think that we impose our sense of fair play on God too.

May be as a last resort, indeed.

Supriyo

Niti said...

"I had so many people complaining that God isn't acting rationally, or that His sense of justice is difficult to follow, I tend to think that we impose our sense of fair play on God too. "

Well said! :)

Sherri said...

thought provoking post & comments, too.

The rich, whom I don't know and don't understand, must hope too - but sometimes I think they hope for pure power, the only thing they have left to aspire to. In their quest to achieve it, they crush the poor and middle class, whom they don't know or understand.

I notice that the 'elite' are after God lately. Instead of running around insisting that people have one faith or another as was done during the crusades (as just one example of a time when the state sanctioned violence in the name of religion) right now in the West, at least, there seems to be an insistence on atheism which offends me.

Without believing that there is something larger than ourselves surely we become less than is possible. In short, the removal of God is the removal of the greatest type of hope, and that is sad.

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Sherri

In a way, Church was right: Galileo started it all. Since his time, and Francis Bacon, we have started believing in progress, that knowledge can be enhanced and lives can be better, rather than accepting the inevitable cyclical nature of history and that since all is evident to God, we can't expand the knowledge anymore, but may gain some additional glimpse upon connecting with him.


In a way, this is what the age of science is all about - challenging the pre-eminence of God.

However, we are sort of reaching some sort of limits of progress, I shall argue. Technology has been effective in alleviating our physical limitations, but even a vast and effective information revolution could not make us better people. Our cognitive frailities were all too evident, on the global scale through the recession, but also in our day to day life.

We are at the threshold of creation of a new human super-race. It is possible that we shall have near perfect babies in about twenty years time, thanks to genetic engineering. Also, immortality will be possible. The rich will have perfect bodies, and perfect lives, and beauty, everything one can hope for. At that time, with immortality, time, God's sole refuge at this time, will be abundant, and therefore, be zero-priced. Like lives don't matter in a video game (and in similar setting, when one operates unmanned drones in Afghanistan sitting in Nevada), death will be optional and pointless in that world. God would not really matter.

I would like to believe that while this should mean the end of faith, it won't, because of our cognitive frailities that I mentioned about. We shall be emotionally unable to live forever. Even when we overcome physical degenaration, we shall drug ourselves. Even we are beautiful, because beauty will be abundant, silicon implants will continue to kill us. And while being rich may become the passport to heaven, we shall want to keep the space so small that it won't have any fun.

This is about reaching the limits of hope and plunging into hopelessness. I shall believe that the poor and the middle classes will keep things going though, as they will continue to hope and push things forward.

Supriyo

Niti said...

I think you over estimate the rich. I read somewhere that 'the size of happiness in a family is inversely proportionate to the size of the house.'

The God would never be redundant. God itself, gowever is a debatable issue. God is a very personaly choice. Some see idols, I see an energy that does exist, beyond our capacity to understand it.

Philosophically and spiritually speaking, technology does seem to have improved our lives immensely. But has it really? What we have today is a world devised by the human being, taking us away from the nature.

The Indian Vedic philosophy defines 'Yog' to be one with nature. the more we move away from it, the more unhappy we would be. From where I see it, we haven't really evolved. We have devolved as human beings.

However technologically advanced we may be claim to be, we haven't yet unfolded to the mysteries on the human mind. Was it Newton who used 7% of his brain and was claimed a genius.

The new found atheism is just convenience. Because we don't know what is it, we will deny it.

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Niti

I think we are in agreement, actually.

In fact, selfish accumulation of wealth leads not just to unhappiness, but lack of health and general well-being. Indeed, there is a debate raging at this time, starting with Richard Wilkinson's highly influential The Spirit Level, and Michael Foley's The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life makes it hard to be happy, and the conservative denouement of the theory as in Christopher Snowdon's The Spirit Level Delusion. But, I guess the general consensus is on the side of Happiness rather than material wealth, and thus France and Britain have now started talking about Gross National Happiness as a measure of national progress, parallel to the GDP. Indeed, Gross National Happiness was around for a while, but only countries like Bhutan followed this. You would say, when the economists from UK, US (Joseph Stiglitz is one of the key advocates) and France start following what was a Bhutanese approach, there is something going on.

But, it is still interesting to note that our faith in measurability of everything, including happiness. The 'faith' in measureability and predictability works as much to undermine faith in God as does our material fetish.

Interestingly, the conversation about hope inevitably leads to the conversation about God, though it could as well be about the travails of the Middle Class life. I am only trying to talk about the tensions inherent in the world we live in. The business of hope is what keeps us going, but the craft of modeling is about to put it out of business.

Supriyo

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