When did doubt become this thing that plagued us? Inversely proportional to the burgeoning surety we exhibit in online forums and in offline lives.
Does this surety go a long way back to childhood, before screens, the stage, the written word, does it go all the way back to song, was it passed down to the next generation and to the one that came after that? We feel so certain when we tweet, or post. Doubt doesn’t exist anymore like it once did. We assumed certainty belonged only to experts, though even they get it wrong a lot of the time as history would tell us. Science was never scientism, but a process that amended itself by the hour, by the decade, as ideas ideated and changed over time.
Nostalgia is like a foetal crouch for the soul. This pandemic has been an engine, fast tracking our need to get back to the safety of a warm and golden time, which never really was.
People are stuck at home watching reruns from childhood. Here in India, mythological hits from the 1980s are raking in Game of Thrones ratings. Trapping the past in sepia-tinted euphoric recall, we could be making over our past life, treating it like episodes from The Wonder Years, airing in India now. That ’60s show from the ’80s knew how to package childhood memories and present them to us in a soft cloud. Winnie’s hair was always dancing in the wind, Kevin was eternally innocent, his father strong and brooding, his mother a sweet nurturing figure, his brother a universal bully everyone seemed to enable, mainly because soft focus distorts reality.
To exist is to fight existential dread. The human species survived extinction level events, tribal skirmishes, plagues and world wars, but the descendants of those who survived paid the price with post civilisational trauma. This dread is the background hum to our waking and sleeping existence. It is the anticipation with which we live.
The lockdown is meant to stop us from spreading a very efficient virus. In every nation, leaders and experts use the idioms of nationalism to move people into a war against the virus. But the lockdown did something else that cannot be addressed by those in charge of fighting a tactical war against a virus with medicine weapons and harried physician soldiers at hospital frontlines.
The iconic image of the Mona Lisa in the age of the smart phone now also includes visitors standing before her posing for selfies with her as their backdrop. The focus is not on the work of art, but on us, it has been so for almost a decade now. Is there then a difference between putting ourselves at the centre of famous art and us looking for ourselves in works of art?
When I prospect for meaning in a painting or a poem, sometimes just a bit, or a line or two call out to me, and the story of my life. Those bits become part of my very own bastardised biographical fallacy. Instead of trying to get to grips with the interpretations of the work of art, I am too busy looking for my ‘self’ in it. Critics were accused of suffering from the biographical fallacy when they picked out the author’s life story from their work of art, and not the product of their imagination.
I was trying to reply to a message without being rude, even though I knew the original message to be wrong. We can argue philosophy and say there’s your version of the truth and mine, but we should be able to call a spade, a spade without going into the merits of the different brands of the tool in question. Anyway, after a while I went back and deleted what I considered a carefully thought-out polite reply. I realised there is no polite way to reply to someone, however dear they are to you, without appearing rude even if you meant well. Meaning well can also be self delusion. Continue reading To text or to speak, that is the question→
When you think back on your life, it’s usually a rugged trail backwards through time, but think again. Modern memory science has shown that fictionalised retellings of the events of our lives constitute a significant chunk of memory. We do this possibly as a way to preserve some dignity when in the mirror we have to stare at the face of our own casual evil. Those who survived the long march of evolution were those who cast themselves in the roles of mythical super selves. This is why during a televised congressional debate, it is inevitable that each member from either side will get up to establish their self importance, while casting herself or himself in the role of a hero while those on the other side are always villains.
“Harms no one”. I have heard this again and again for too long. There is a temple in Kerala, India, that doesn’t permit menstruating women to enter and I have been told by many if you do not like their customs just don’t go there. How do you reply to non sequiturs, and other straw men? Of course, I am not interested in going there. I realised that years ago when I first heard about a place that treats women in this manner. How do I explain to people how this and other discriminatory customs followed in our public and private lives have so eroded my very structure, my very being that today I am reduced.
If we stop to think about it, there is something very important buried in the chronicle of stories written by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker. It’s in the detail deep down in the stories. Ostensibly, what we tend to remember are the Israeli spies, open bathrobes and emanations into potted plants—the dramatic circumstances. People are tuned to enact and respond to that in other people and in the stories they read and watch. Spectacle is what great mythology and morality fables are about, we live for the soap opera.
Were we always like this? Precocious virtual conquerors. Facebook, WhatsApp groups are filling with so many of us seeking instant validation: each one a more concerned citizen than the next. It’s counter intuitive but, perhaps, this is how everything went wrong. Everyone a plastic activist, animal lover, tree planter, vegetarian or crusading meat eater. We should have changed the world for the better, except for the troubling evangelism of the unquestioning do-gooders—Us.
Everything starts at the feet of our matriarchs. It is at the hearth where we are first lulled by fairy tales of the morally mighty, the self righteous who uphold the truth. We have to overturn everything that our matriarchs taught us. They loved us, but did not prepare us for the real world in which facts don’t matter. They did not tell us that with self righteousness comes vanity and naivete, a naivete that can ruin the world. A grudgy naivete that insists that every individual, especially them, might have his or her own version of the truth, their reasoning based on the science of changing eyewitness statements at the scene of a crime. But at this point we have entered the realm of prestidigitation. To save truth from the various bubbles we inhabit, let’s state at the outset that fundamental truth is the all-seeing security camera at the scene that saw what happened and not a version of it. Thanks to the amplifying mechanism that is social media we now know that the self righteous are illusionists able to shift the truth around as they please. And like Narcissus they have glimpsed their reflections and cannot peel their eyes away.