Friday, September 25, 2009

Freedom and Society

In the past one month, I have not been able to write much on my blog. The reason is simply that I have watched at close hand a situation of conflict where the human condition is palpable in all its sordidness.

It has been said that there are no atheists in a foxhole. A foxhole is a kind of bomb shelter where there is every possibility of being mortally wounded. The adage is supposed to mean that one becomes a believer when the circumstances are overwhelming, that atheism is simply a reactive condition which is given up when it becomes too much to face life and death squarely. (The film Nastik comes to mind.)

In Albert Camus' The Outsider, the absurd man refuses to compromise by starting to believe. Many others involved in the present conflict, though ostensibly atheists, have turned into believers in Karma, in a "higher power", in "justice beyond the human realm", etc. This situation has therefore been an acid test for me whether my practice of actualism could withstand a highly aggravating set of conditions.

The human condition (or rather, our animal heritage) is much, much more deeply entrenched in us as human beings than our surface beliefs, our rationality, our efforts at being "good" to each other, our inclination to be fair, and so on. When push comes to shove in times of war or in times of deep loss, it is quite shocking to observe to what extent we are still animals.

The question that has been flickering in me is: in the world as it is, is it possible for a human being to live without the constant threat of being targeted by others because of one's rejection of conventional morality, in which one is beholden to no God or man. Willy-nilly, people thrust obligations and morality on a member of society, and to reject morality in a traditional society is seen as a flagrant act of hurting the feelings and sentiments of others and is therefore fraught with danger.

As one moves from a village to a metropolitan city, the weight of an oppressive morality becomes lighter. Similarly, the moral brigades have less of a say in modern states such as Netherlands and France than in, say, India or Pakistan.

The human condition still continues to afflict the dwellers in these liberal regions, but since the social pressures are lesser, an individual has greater freedom to be different.

Freedom in the social realm is in many ways an important factor for a human being to be free from one's inner afflictions. Conventionality and authority not only stifles freedom of action, it also threatens an individual's thirst for experimentation, exploration and enquiry. In societies where the cost of being different is lesser, there is a greater possibility of new discoveries and ideas.

This is a unifying idea which appeals to me because it does not disregard social progress, but also considers it only as a platform for total freedom. In this view, the progress of institutions, the evolution of laws, the education of the illiterate, the advances in medicine are not at all trivial but are the foundations of a tangible platform from which a flight into freedom from one's psychic nature can be attempted.

It is no wonder that the questioning of morality and religion, two cultural artifacts which impose a spurious authority on an individual's thoughts and acts, is more frequent and insistent in advanced societies than in regressive ones.

17 comments:

MJ said...

I am sorry to hear of your crisis. Care to share the nature of the crisis. I am intrigued because I have not seen atheists turn so quickly to faith and supernatural explanations. It could be that they are only dissimulating so as not to hurt the feelings of the aggrieved.

Change said...

/It has been said that there are no atheists in a foxhole//

Recently noted in one of the blog, the definition of theist and atheist. Could not help myself except agreeing with that. It said as below.

Theists make "God" and then believe in him, while Atheists make God and then dis-believe in him.

As long as the atheists fall in this group, your statement of foxhole is right, because they are also believers – more preciously negative believers.

//Many others involved in the present conflict, though ostensibly atheists, have turned into believers in Karma, in a "higher power", in "justice beyond the human realm", etc.//

This may be exactly due to the above definition of atheist. They are just non believers, without any rationality. Due to the lack of rationality on their non-belief, under such circumstances, they try to find the reason for their problems, but it is not possible to find the reason due to irrationality. Hence the only possibility is change from non-belief to belief.

//…..in the world as it is, is it possible for a human being to live without the constant threat of being targeted by others because of one's rejection of conventional morality….//

If you allow me, I would like to put forward my views. What is morality? Is it not a set of rules which we either stick to do some thing or not doing some thing? Now we reject this rule and make another rule that, I will not follow the first set of rules under any circumstances, Is it not morality again? The point is we reject established morality and fall in the trap of new morality again?

So, the point I would like to highlight is that, just set aside the idea of morality and do what is required for the situation. Is it not freedom from morality?

Thanks!

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi MJ: No I would not like to share the details of the conflict, as it concerns many other people.

Hi anonymous, you write:

What is morality? Is it not a set of rules which we either stick to do some thing or not doing some thing? Now we reject this rule and make another rule that, I will not follow the first set of rules under any circumstances, Is it not morality again? The point is we reject established morality and fall in the trap of new morality again?

A rejection of morality, in this context, means rejecting virtuous principles (e.g. pacifism, vegetarianism, theism, compassion, charity) etc. as guides to one's thinking and behaviour and employing situational intelligence (what would be sensible to do in a particular situation). So this is amorality, and not a different set of rules.

naivecortex said...

The question that has been flickering in me is: in the world as it is, is it possible for a human being to live without the constant threat of being targeted by others because of one's rejection of conventional morality, in which one is beholden to no God or man. Willy-nilly, people thrust obligations and morality on a member of society, and to reject morality in a traditional society is seen as a flagrant act of hurting the feelings and sentiments of others and is therefore fraught with danger.

You are not talking of physical/material threat/danger, are you? If so, I assume it is an emotional one?

Harmanjit Singh said...

I am indeed talking of a physical/material threat.

Anonymous said...

Hi

I have been reading your blog on and off for a while now. Since I come and read, even if not so regularly, obviously I do agree with some of your observations about the human condition. But I also wonder sometimes if you tend to focus your energies on the worst that is possible in any given situation.

Curiously, I feel like asking you if you could be having traits of someone with a bi-polar or a multiple-personality disorder? Are you mildly depressed?

Anonymous.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi anonymous: One would not want to be free of the human condition till one realizes that even its so called good aspects are packaged along with the bad ones, and they keep each other alive.

Perhaps if you read my film reviews and travelogues, you might find a greater, umm.., positivity in them. :-)

Do you write?

Anonymous said...

:-)infact, you could put a disclaimer on this issue because Anonymous above has a point. Your travelogues are so fresh and full of humour
( in the writing style as well) that reading those and a few other posts will actually make a reader wonder if you were more than two people :-)...
or may be that's how human beings are, split personalities :-), even sincere thoughts on human condition can be evaluated and presented in a humour filled light!

additionally, what may make readers cringe is what appears to be Harmanjit talking down to the rest of humanity.

Although the fact that you share so many observations and thoughts and with such clarity ( obviously you put in a great deal of effort as well) is evidence enough of your actual caring.

So may be a bit of self reflexive analysis and making yourself a part of humanity which is caught in human condition will make you more accessible. Blogging is as much about writing as much about the blogger/writer, that is why this democratic medium.

Assuming that your question to the Anonymous was a sincere question and not an insidious retort, I will like to add that the writers do not have exclusive training/capacity to evaluate a piece of writing, keen readers can do that as well.

and finally, :-)...be prepared to receive flak and labels of all sorts because you are talking to 'insanity' among 'sane' people.

but you know that and also that name calling is a way in which human condition manifests. Your blog is a wonderful space, your posts eagerly awaited, so write some more!

toodle pip

Harmanjit Singh said...

Assuming that your question to the Anonymous was a sincere question and not an insidious retort, I will like to add that the writers do not have exclusive training/capacity to evaluate a piece of writing, keen readers can do that as well.

I was not questioning his right or even his remarks (which are quite valid), I was genuinely interested in reading something by him. :-)

katyayini said...

"It is no wonder that the questioning of morality and religion, two cultural artifacts which impose a spurious authority on an individual's thoughts and acts, is more frequent and insistent in advanced societies than in regressive ones. "

my inquiry is to find the reasons why are regressive societies so? because: a. lack of inquiry, b.lack of means of inquiry, c. lack of will to let inquiry flourish because it means questioning of the plank on which social norms are based, d. if C is correct, then who and how can this be negotiated to initiate inquiry.

what do the urbane elite do except for intellection and ways of devising to let the illiterate be? they do talk about the 'need' to bring reforms and bring about a change, but what do and how do they actually contribute. Your conclusions have been echoed several times over and good to see another voice added to the clarion call of freedom. but what next?

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Katyayini

what do the urbane elite do except for intellection and ways of devising to let the illiterate be? they do talk about the 'need' to bring reforms and bring about a change, but what do and how do they actually contribute. Your conclusions have been echoed several times over and good to see another voice added to the clarion call of freedom. but what next?

Patience! :-)

In my understanding, evolution of psyches at a large scale cannot happen through reforms, but happens due to gradual changes in the cultural milieu and prevailing mindsets.

Religion has a stronghold on the Indian psyche, and atheism and widespread rationality is a very hard goal to achieve at a mass level.

One's daily and unplanned interactions, and their ripples, are also significant in influencing the society at large.

Have you looked at nonspiritual.net?

katyayini said...

"One's daily and unplanned interactions, and their ripples, are also significant in influencing the society at large."

spoken like a true christian active benevolence tenet!

insignificant contributions that have been going on for ages. This country has seen several visionaries, who have contributed their mite in their own circumstances and times. It is easy for you and me to indulge ourselves over conversations which affirms our own actions or lessen our sense of failure in any concrete contribution.

Spiritual.net is accessible to educated, e-enabled populace and may enhance info just like any other website/portal/wiki. what intervention does it proposes to alleviate the situation. I do not propose you give up you seat of comfort, infact that privileges you and even empowers you to take action.

a dim light here and there will not hold against the increasing discontent and problems of the have-nots. you have to merely dig out a few studies on spread of Naxalite movement in India to gauge the severity of the situation. and whatever good you propose is being disposed by the impossible education system.

yes, you and several others are making micro efforts, but to what end.....ape chosen!
:-)

Amit said...

/The question that has been flickering in me is: in the world as it is, is it possible for a human being to live without the constant threat of being targeted by others because of one's rejection of conventional morality, in which one is beholden to no God or man./

I think rejection (complete absence) of conventional morality does make one vulnerable to physical threat by society. The extent of this vulnerability will depend on who and where you are. In Sudan you can get whiplashes if you're a Muslim woman who dares to wear pants. In China, you can be exiled to a Gulag (or worse) if you express views that are pro political freedom. And in most places of the world, walking naked publically will get you to jail (or atleast an involuntary visit to a shrink).

That said, if one wishes to behold to no (God or) man, one would do well to make choices that would lessen the need for such beholding. *Ordinary* social contracts impose some limitation to one's individual freedom (often explicitly and and sometimes implicitly) - most marriages imposes monogamy & submission to provider / nurturer roles, even humdrum friendship imposes requirements to be available (wherever possible) for the "psychological need" of the other. By accepting to be a part of such social contracts, one /agrees to behold/ to the other's legitimate expectations.

So, it would seems helpful that if one rejects conventional morality, one would make good caution to tread with relationships that are rooted in such a morality.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Very well said, Amit.

Amit said...

/The question that has been flickering in me is: in the world as it is, is it possible for a human being to live without the constant threat of being targeted by others because of one's rejection of conventional morality, in which one is beholden to no God or man./

I think rejection (complete absence) of conventional morality does make one vulnerable to physical threat by society. The extent of this vulnerability will depend on who and where you are. In Sudan you can get whiplashes if you're a Muslim woman who dares to wear pants. In China, you can be exiled to a Gulag (or worse) if you express views that are pro political freedom. And in most places of the world, walking naked publically will get you to jail (or atleast an involuntary visit to a shrink).

That said, if one wishes to behold to no (God or) man, one would do well to make choices that would lessen the need for such beholding. Ordinary social contracts impose some limitation to one's individual freedom (often explicitly and and sometimes implicitly) - most marriages imposes monogamy & submission to provider / nurturer roles, even humdrum friendship imposes requirements to be available (wherever possible) for the "psychological need" of the other. By accepting to be a part of such social contracts, one /agrees to behold/ to the other's legitimate expectations.

So, it seems but inevitable that rejection of conventional morality should lead one to rejecting conventional relationships rooted in such morality. Hmmm ?

dm said...

Amit, Harmanjit

both of you are well intentioned people, apparently. your latest comments on the blog were interesting hence my intervention.

No relationship or another human imposes anything without receiver's consent. To stay in a relationship/association has its own benefits and rewards, much beyond notional rewards of 'completeness'. yes, any imposition in a relationship between a man and a woman is tantamount to curbing freedom, however, voluntary monogamy in itself is not a reviled concept and neither stems from morality.

You may find the following interesting:

"RESPONDENT: I guess the most common and accepted reason why people commit to each other is because they feel attraction to the person and want to give himself/herself to the other person, what reason if you are ‘free’?

RICHARD: Quite simply: it is both a delight and a privilege being together.

To explain: to be with/live with the one person who, out of over 3.0+ billion such peoples, wants to spend their most irreplaceable commodity (their time) being with me/living with me, twenty four hours a day/seven days a week, for the remainder of their life is something special as it is, so to speak, putting one’s money where one’s mouth is big time (hence ‘privilege’) ... and the delight is, of course, in the day-to-day enjoyment and appreciation of being with/living with such a person."

quoted from : http://actualfreedom.com.au/richard/listafcorrespondence/listaf88.htm

best regards

dm said...

"So, it would seems helpful that if one rejects conventional morality, one would make good caution to tread with relationships that are rooted in such a morality."

it is more than rejecting, it is beyond rejection. It is understanding that morality stems from the social conditioning and construction of ego and identity arising from social notions. the moment it happens, except for the physical danger all other 'fears' dissolve. That one ought to be free to walk naked publicly is no longer a political fight. I can walk naked anywhere i go, just that i will not do it because i can catch my death by cold or through rape/murder is a sensible behaviour. Awareness/confidence that i can walk naked without any shame or cogent /emotions/ is more important than to be actually able to do it ( which is too much to expect from a social fabric which has such strict codes of dressing).

It is not as much a question of imposed morality or expected behaviour from an external agency but the 'me' and 'self' imposing these limitations.

toodle pip