Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

An intellectual deficit in Indian Society

I am rather troubled in this moment. All around, I see tremendous rigidity and an inability to learn. Be it something like the slutwalk, or a political problem in Kashmir… we have lost the ability to discuss. Television discussions take the form of a patchwork of individual interviews conducted simultaneously. And there is still little agreement or conclusion. Is it a debate or discussion if participants are answering specific questions by the anchor?

Today, any debate in the public space is so polarized as to be totally dysfunctional. We hear Ministers unable to agree at all on channels like the Loksabha. We see joint committees come up with two drafts of the bill they were working on. We see media and people with specific stands defining issues indefinitely. Different publications have their pet guilty parties. No matter what the story, it will toe that line. Like a soap opera. Doesn’t matter if you skip a few episodes, the story is pretty much the same.

On this blog, I have criticized many things. Yet, each new story makes me a “mouthpiece” for some power or the other. Never mind the utter illogic of both BJP and Congress paying the same small obscure blog to promote them. I wrote about the dangers of Hindutva extremism, I was a UPA “paid mouthpiece”. I wrote in support of Ramdev, I was a RSS mouthpiece. I wrote angry words about the Congress, I was a BJP mouthpiece. Apparently, these are the only people capable of paying anyone to write for them, and it is impossible for a person to have an opinion without being paid for it.

But these things have nothing to do with logic. I have no clue why political parties have recruitment drives. They should have mass wedding ceremonies. Everyone who attends their rally is married to them. No matter how many scams happen, if you are married to the UPA, you bow your head down like a good wife, shed private tears of shame and stoically endure through that period of shame where you can’t criticize your husband, and you can’t defend his actions. The same with the BJP. If you are married to them, you somehow endure through tricky questions on happenings in Gujarat a decade ago (they will be asked for another decade at least as an opening question). You will apply your considerable skills to defending that castle of Modi and desperately try and shift conversation to progress in Gujarat. This will be unacceptable to those who want Modi nailed then and there and they will say any progress in Gujarat is built on the graves of innocent Muslims and so on and on and on. It is endless. Wives of sworn enemies fighting in the market.

This is crazy and it is dysfunctional.Having an opinion has become the same as having defense ready for all associated with your opinion. And that too in extremely ugly ways of invalidating or ridiculing questions raised rather than accommodating or answering. It is a method. Another ugly method is mud slinging. If you don’t agree with someone and there is no legitimate spanner to throw in the works, investigate tax returns, land records, criminal records, telephone records, maybe even traffic police records or pissed off ex-girlfriends. Something or the other will turn up, and when it does, this person cannot be followed, because he is less than perfect or wrong somehow. If the demand is legitimate, even a prisoner on death row has rights. So I don’t see how this is a legitimate countering of anything.

It is dysfunctional, because it takes the competition between parties for the elections and turns it into a permanent obsession. The country is forever fractured and conflicted and combative. And to what end? Why is it that all the youth of a village can’t join the awareness campaign of BJP for something and the environment something with the Congress? All of them for both, because their village benefits from both? That is currently impossible. So, if the congress is running an environment campaign, BJP supporters will talk about how it is fake, what Rahul Gandhi wore, etc and vice versa. No one is ever going to win these wars of words, but they will be fought nonetheless, like a stupid donkey put on a circular path (sorry, donkey). Who loses? The village.

This is outright dangerous for the country, because people are told what to think. You think once – and that fixes your loyalty. Post that, you discover every new thing through that lens. And it isn’t only in political parties.The slutwalk sees another polarization of thought. Always either/or. I don’t remember the last time someone did something as simple as changing their mind. There is no listening.

When it comes to discussion, the objective is to challenge the “opposite view”. I don’t remember the last time someone really listened and said something like, “Interesting. Tell me more” or “these are your concerns, these are mine, how do we make this thing work?” The goal is always to “defeat” the other side. It is such a stupid, short term thought, because you defeat someone, and that person is planning revenge before the back hits the ground.

It is a narrow minded, exclusivist way of thought riddled with stressful potholes. Then, to deal with its fallout, you need more power. More laws to force inclusion, more laws to fix each problem as a separate issue. In the end we have laws telling us about when to drink alcohol. We have laws getting kids to school that backfired. Laws banning sex-determination that backfired. Laws about many, many unnecessary things. Our important choices are laid out before us as allowed. No matter what the debate is, that is is the bottom line.

Regimentation has replaced wisdom and learning. And there is no logic to it. Suicide is bad. Ban it. WTF? Are you seriously saying that a person unhappy enough to want to die will be prosecuted? Alcohol and cigarettes are bad. Keep increasing prices, raise the legal drinking age. So, if you marry before you are 25, forget drinking at your bachelor’s/spinsters party. Sex discrimination is bad, make it illegal. and it goes on and on and on. We now have the government wanting access to unencrypted internet traffic! Yep, you heard right. Yep, your online banking account uses encryption. Forget privacy, but this is a government that got famous for stealing what wasn’t rightfully theirs and misusing power. Do you trust it to not steal money from your account? But no one is bothered about thinking through these things. We have been conditioned about what is “right” being told by someone else.

We are becoming an increasingly stupider society. Incapable of evaluating, having agile responses to different circumstances. The only person to gain is the one exploiting these systems.

I would like to suggest the following.

  • SUPPORT INITIATIVES, not parties. The minute you do that, you force parties to deliver. Feel free to support the BJP in one thing, the Congress in another and some obscure new party in a third. At the same time. It is your country. Support whatever is a good idea for it. Watch parties race to create good initiatives to develop a voter base.
  • THINK. This can’t be stressed enough. Think toward your goal, not your ego. In a disagreement, find ways around rather than force someone to accept you as superior. Keep asking “why isn’t this working” and “how can I make this work” rather than “who is at fault” and “how they are wrong”. Keep your eyes on the goal.
  • MOVE. If you are making the same statements all the time, move, damnit. Move to more evolved thinking, change your mind, invite other views, move to other subjects. Don’t pickle your opinions. Your brain stops working, though you may sound very smart repeating them.
  • ADDRESS THE ACTION, not the person. A person is far more than the one thing you are looking at. It is a lie to label the person based on any one, two or infinite number of actions. Persons should be inviolate. Even political persons. Feel free to disagree with opinions or actions. The nice side of it is that you are respecting the person rather than belittling them. The practical side is that an action can be changed, but a person is who they are. If you really want solutions to happen, this is a must. It comes with the added bonus of much decreased resistance. People can easily accept that something they did impacted another in an unintended negative way. They can’t accept themselves as evil. You will end up debating that person’s character and your objective will suffer.
  • ENHANCE VOICES that work. If there is someone doing something good, be sure to support. You can decrease the influence of bad in the world by making what is good more visible.
  • OR to AND. Change looking at situations where only finite choices are possible. The minute you change your thinking from “or” to “and” it becomes inclusive. It also becomes more about the diverse needs of the goal rather than pissing contests to gain sole control of direction. How can most interests be accommodated? In a democracy, this is vital learning.
  • Allocate one time everyday when you will not criticize anything. Absolutely any
So yes, these are my thoughts on the matter. I think we are in a very concerning intellectual state of being with a deep and dysfunctional distrust of differences. Issues are quickly polarized (or begin like that) and reach a stalemate. This is creating fractures in the society with very real and serious problems dragging on infinitely. We need to change this. We need to be different with all our hearts, so that we are engaging in and inspiring.
It is time to move from regimentation and resistance to nurture and honesty. To discuss with a genuine objective of creating change. To accept that we are all entitled to hold mutual respect as a value vital for our nation.