Monday, February 20, 2017

fight we must

Why do we write, make films, compose music, paint? No, I'm talking neither about the hobbyists nor the professionals. I'm talking about the believers. Those 'artists' whose mandate exceeds the aesthetic rewards and drives for cultural/ political change. As I write this, I'm having a conversation with two strong, independent, successful, intelligent, highly qualified women who're talking about harassment at workplace. What they have to face everyday just for being of the wrong gender and how, despite complaining, nobody gets punished. Nobody even gets socially castigated. I guess it's a cultural thing. Do you folks believe in standards of culture or are you of the sort which says what sells is what people want?

I'm reading Amusing Ourselves to Death and I can't recommend it enough. But let's come back to the Why of all expression? The post-modernist's greatest trick was to cast a shadow on the nature of reality itself. When you can't even trust your own mind, what's the credibility in standing up for anything? Ofcourse I'm a cynic but I like my statements backed by better writers. In the Dust of the Planet is next on my reading list.

But fight we must. For a world we want to live in, for a world we are proud of, for a world that is a reflection of the best of our thoughts. Now, don't go about asking me how there's a hierarchy of thoughts. There is and you know it. I'm not intellectually equipped enough to communicate it in words, yet. So why should we add our voice to the cacophony out there? Because humans are practitioners. We can validate our opinions and beliefs only by putting it out at world's scrutiny. Like it or not, we're constantly fighting; Wouldn't it be better if we consciously chose our battles?


And oh! I stumbled across the term Insight Porn sometime last month. I guess that's what I was talking about in my last two columns (it's actually one post that was published in parts).

Addicted to epiphanies

“If you can talk brilliantly about a problem, it can create the comforting illusion that it has been mastered” -Stanley Kubrick

God we love to daydream. I know it because that’s what I spend most of my day doing. We spend entire days in melancholic nostalgia even before we have accumulated enough experience to reminiscence over.

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” -Marcel Proust

What we are nostalgic about is not a certain spacetime but our innocence. Linear time corrupts- even valuable experience brings knowledge which in turn is still moving us away from comfortable, ignorant idyll. And we are not content at feeling nostalgia. We project it into the future in the form of daydreams. We dream of days when we can spend days being happy pursuing things we are passionate about which in itself is an attempt to recreate childhood. But there are two problems with this thought- 1. Childhood is so special, atleast for most of us, because of how unselfconscious we were. Even if we could recreate the external factors, what can we do to about the corruption of thought and soul? (Consumerism is a side-effect of this attempt to recreate childlike wonder. The ads tell us we can be happy and free if we bought their shit. We buy them.) 2. In our attempts to create the future from the material gained in the past, we ignore the possibility of new events which can totally derail our assumptions about ourselves and our fantasies and take us to totally new places. This means the future is never going to be a better present and we have to keep recalibrating because of the, if I may, grey swan events. Escapism can be therapeutic but not if you’re going to ignore living for it. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched, then, to say day-dreaming is akin to being drugged. The longer you’re at it, the more you need it and the less you’ll enjoy it.

(Disclaimer: I’d like to point out here that when I say we, I don’t mean the entire readership but other similar folks who are tuned into the same radio station as I am.)

We are constantly building narratives, writing our eulogies, tweaking with them constantly. This is akin to mentally typing the review of a book while reading it. It not only does great disservice to the new experiences we can gain from it but also confuses and irritates us for not sticking to the pattern of our notions.

If my piecemeal knowledge of the Bhagavad Gita is anything to go by, all we have is our Karma, literally action. The assumption on which all the world’s spirituality runs on is that while we may not be able to control or for that matter, find the source of our thoughts, we can well choose to decide which ones we choose to act on.

“I may do as I will but can I will as I will?”

Till a short time ago, I used to argue that we are not really responsible for our actions because aren’t we all just obeying the instructions coming from some dark corner of our minds? But with more real-life experiences, conversations and readings, I am inclined to believe that the conscious mind has atleast some say in what the subconscious tells the body to do. It might still be chained to that nucleus but there’s a possibility to expend energy to jump a few orbits. Now that energy, they say, comes from deciding to do the right thing day in and day out- the Dharma way. Every decision, and we make thousands if not more everyday, is an option for us to set ourselves on the right path. That comes from the sages, the rishis, the seekers, the philosophers and the poets. Again, I used to argue vehemently with this idea of received wisdom but I’m beginning to realize subscribing only to my experiences for life choices is seriously driving me towards solipsism and judgmentalism because I’m holding my experiences as the benchmark without conceding to the fact that others can have totally genuine stories of their own which prompt them to act the way they do.

If all of us are cruelly chained to causality, can we ever transcend it? Isn’t all advice then just misplaced. This was my line of defence. But now I’m willing to believe it can be transcended because though that is an uphill task, it is better than the abyss of indifference and meaninglessness that is waiting to swallow me. (I get repeatedly told my my mother and girlfriend that I should write about something new, that I’m perpetually wallowing about in my preoccupations that are so narrow. I have no defence for my lack of imagination but we must recognise that all roads lead home. We don’t write about what we want to, we write what we ought to.)

We only have the present. Daydreaming is great, I’m a huge exponent of its wonderful dopamine-inducing effects. But I also know firsthand how druggy its effects are. By escaping into imagination, we’re going ourselves a great disservice.

I’m a bad software engineer and I’m beginning to realize that is so because I find ideation more fulfilling than implementation. That makes me incompetent at most things. Thought and action, if not leading to and learning from each other, trap us, limit us, isolate us, leave us stranded in a limbo. Implementation is messy, takes effort, invites criticism but it also does two important things: 1. It opens us up to other ideas and views thereby expanding the self and 2. Focusing the entirety of our being on the action annihilates the self and we fuse with the object of our focus and craft. It is what, as I’ve understood, Buddha called Nirvana. By subsuming into the activity, you transcend the narrow confines of your personality. Not that one can’t do this with thoughts but for normal people like me, thoughts are too ephemeral and slippery to hold onto and work with. I need the heft of a physical action to keep me tethered. Mind needs matter, to challenge it, to feed into it, to grow, to move onto newer landscapes. Stop obsessing about your eulogies- they will be written if we end up doing something worthwhile.

“What other people think of you is none of your business”

Karma will free us, I hope. All thought unfocused is just escapism, Maya, at best intellectual masturbation. It is no different from collapsing into the couch, eating junk food while surfing through channels hoping for something to salvage you. It is a phantom existence. To be alive is to jump headlong into the sea of reality.

Can we choose to move towards who we want to be and not just keep drifting along? Why and how do we decide who we want to be? I don't know. For now, all I can see is that I can choose to interact openly with matter at my disposal or choose to loathe and begrudge it from the prison of my mind. Shouldn't a human be like a sponge to all experiences? All judgements come from prior experience. Opening up to new experiences will only create new alleyways of thought. An ideology is an hardened judgement and any ideology that does not learn from feedback is going to wither and die. If you were kind enough to indulge in my political theory knowledge, I propose an analogy- Communism is top-drown, thought-driven, it is the mind trying to impose prior learnt knowledge on the present reality. Capitalism is bottom-up, instinct-driven, it is the greed of the body trying to find the path of least resistance for present fulfillment. And like always, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle- between discipline and surrender, between thought and action, between the abstract and the tactile.

How to live- Isn't it the oldest question of them all? It is also the most immediate of our concerns.

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