Friday, May 4, 2012

On Suffering

There was a time when we were all happy. There was a time when we were all kings and queens. We knew how to suffer “in the grand style, toothpick in mouth, smiling”[1], we were strong. Something has snapped since then, and things have started disintegrating. Now, we fear more things than we used to, and we have become delicate, and verily so. We are afraid of non-acceptance; we fear meaninglessness and the infinite. We fear lack of ambition, and worse of all, we fear the genius that we could have had inside. We were never so pretentious as we are now, and the rebels, poets and messiahs have died alone in dingy rooms, choking with all the loneliness that comes with realization and intellect. We can’t take stands now, because we are conscious of how we present ourselves. Take politics for example – if we claim adherence to the Left, our bosses will get pissed, if we support the right, our social coolness will go down a few notches. All these have added up and now, more than ever, we fear looking at ourselves, warts and all. We were so busy with those powerpoint presentations that somewhere down the line we have started giving ourselves out through similar presentations, we had to sell ourselves, to the others, and, more importantly, to us. This has wrecked havoc with our survival instincts. We are so dependent on so many damn things that we can’t survive without them. My internet connection is off for two days and I already feel suicidal.

Suffering is a persistent trait in all living beings. Ants suffer while drowning, slaves suffer when whipped, the landlord suffers when he can’t get his rent, the tenant suffers when he gets kicked out because he can’t pay his rent. It’s there everywhere. But evolution had taught us to grow stronger with every suffering and every perceived defeat. This was an important learning, one that made humankind progress through repression – and I am not echoing Nietzsche here. We had designed our games of victory and defeat in a way that was needed – one’s victory was to be the other’s defeat and no two contestants could ever possibly win and lose at the same time. It was a primordial need – one that’s still here, and is very much evident through our social relations. But with time, we have stretched it to its furthest limit. We have sought to brand everything as a game of victory and defeat and now we have taken it more than a bit too far. All these have stressed our egos out, because the ego is a proud monster – it takes pride in the fact that it gets to control the id, and thus the mind, that it needn’t pay its homage to the superego all the time. The superego just smiles caustically and says “as if!”.    

Every religion is, at the end of the day, an attempt to answer questions on avoidance of suffering; each one of them contains codes and norms of attainment of that state where one becomes immune to suffering. Even philosophers have sought the same – the Hedonists taught us to avoid suffering by shunning the pursuit of ephemeral pleasures, Charvaka and his disciples, before being ruthlessly suppressed by the wave of Vedic Aryans, taught us to stop giving a damn about all the spiritual load and to enjoy living as it is, the Stoics taught us to be indifferent. And then came the bastard child of Rationalism – the Utilitarian doctrine – one that attempted quantification of pleasure and pain – a ridiculous one, might I add. It was one of the many attempts at forceful justification of European supremacy and imperialism. No one, apart from the European existentialists whose visions were tinted with all that’s Left, had made any serious attempt to debunk this, shockingly, not even the Modernists. And with the Post Crits, the focus has shifted very much towards freedom and development as a group – be it a nation in pursuit of self-determination (for example, Tibet), or a community in search of freedom from external interference (for example, the billion refugees dotting the globe today). Discourse on suffering, on the individual front, has taken the backseat now.       

With globalization, Bentham has been resurrected – wearing a hideous mask, sword in hand, ready to strike us down if we refuse to be content in the same way as the others are, and not in our own way.  This, in turn, has made us dependent on our surroundings more than we were before – a surefire way to kill off our survival traits. Thus, we suffer more in the absence of elements we depend on to lead our lives – be it canteen romance or electricity, and what’s worse, we are losing strength to cope and endure with such suffering. Our subversion, thus suppressed by all the social forces and elements, including, though not limited to, family, peer-group and work-commitments, often finds its way out through perversion, and through the growing tendencies of destruction – both of the self and of the others. This is perhaps best reflected through increasing rates of crime, suicide and sexual offences among the young urban middle and upper-middle classes. The present global economic recession has added the element of hopelessness to this crisis of suffering – both at the individual and at the collective plane, thereby accentuating its import and impact in more ways than one.

Being a member of the educated urban middle class, I speak for this group, not by choice but because I lack the resources or the experience to go beyond. I think I can safely presume that you belong to this same group. I won’t resort to the hypocrisy of finding solutions or writing a ‘what-should-be-done’ conclusion to this. We’re in the same boat, buddy, and it’s sinking. So let’s sink “in the grand style, toothpick in mouth, smiling”. 

[1] This quotation is from the poem “Song for this Softly Sweeping Sorrow” by Charles Bukowski. 


Soumi said...

It's a little too heavy for my understanding/relishing. But I DID like the 'not proposing what should be done' part. Dumb it down a bit for dumbos like me,maybe?

The Hobgoblin said...

makes me want to comment.
Then again,
we'll leave those for a time when they are called for.