Beware of the nameless citizen
Dec 30 2012 , New Delhi
Tristan Tzara, avant-garde poet, essayist and
performance artist; founder of Dadaism
Let’s blow out that candle tonight, and instead, put our New Year-eve celebrations on hold, in memory of the nameless Indian woman who died at yearend, ravaged by the faceless among us, unknown, unidentifiable, uncared for citizens.
May her soul rest in peace.
As yet another year winds up, we are confronted by the plight of the poor prime minister as a Wagnerian hero, waiting to die with his entire government and party in the Götterdämmerung of their creation.
I wonder what number Team Manmohan will allot to the next rape victim out there on the streets of the capital, even as the country descends down the malbowges of hell, as modern technology renders us mere mortals just another digit, eliminating our anonymous tribe faster than ever, reducing us to a statistical dot on the death register.… The state machinery indifferent to our being.
This is not what we anticipated when a technology tycoon, drunk on the success of deploying an army of anonymous low-skilled code writers in the service of a world that was not quite as flat as he believed, sought to give us, faceless Indians, an unique identity number. And his tribe prospered as part of the capital’s coterie.
For many of us, it may be easier to understand India today as a picture of a corrupt society than as that of the corrupt citizen. Yet, whichever way we start, we are likely to lead to the other. And as 15th century Italian visionary Dante so famously portrayed in his journey through hell in The Divine Comedy, here at the malbowges, flatterers exploit each other playing upon their desires and fears; using abuse and corruption of language as special weapons to destroy communication between one mind and another; plunging us in the shitpool that we have excreted upon the world.
And our public intellectuals watch in a state of limbo.
And as Oxford scholar Dorothy Leigh Sayers was to subsequently interpret, while Dante did not live to see the full development of political propaganda, commercial advertisement and sensational journalism, he had prepared a place for them. For, the circles of fraud and malice are an image of the City in corruption: the progressive disintegration of every social relationship, personal and public sexuality, ecclesiastical and civil office, language, ownership, counsel, authority, psychic influence, and material interdependence – all the media of the community’s exchange are perverted and falsified, till nothing remains, but the descent into the final abyss where faith and trust are wholly and forever extinguished.
Small wonder then, the politicians and bureaucrats of our day are images of that perverted intellect, while a willing media stimulates and excites our every passion -- whether love or lust, anger or greed – so that panderers and seducers may make a tool of us.
What drives us to such depths? What drove us to rape and ravage our nation?
The answer to that lies in our chase of national prosperity and glory, triggered by no other than the prime minister himself, first as finance minister two decades ago, and now as head of government. It’s time that in chasing the GDP numbers, we reassessed our real potential and our growth aspirations in our never-ending catch-up game. Instead, why don’t we peep deeper into the divide between those of us who have moved on, and those who got left behind, among the mobile phone haves and have-nots of our billion plus people in their race for rising incomes in the face of ever-increasing prices?
Kurtz in Jospeh Conrad’s Heart of Darkness put it aptly that horror rests at the base of human desire. The outcasts urge to be both god and beast, to rend, hoard, kill, dominate, indulge, pursue, satisfy and die at the limits of power and lust.
Scholars since Plato till Sigmund Freud have observed that we humans not only love ourselves, but we love ourselves endlessly and without measure. That is to say, that we only love ourselves, and refer all to ourselves to the extent that all creatures are only employed to satisfy us and admire us.
It is in this love for the self that we harbour a common tyrannical disposition at the bottom of our heart rendering us violent, unjust, cruel, ambitious, flatterer, envious, insolent and quarrelsome. And it is only to suppress these passions that we fall in love, binding ourselves in the first tie of civil society, out of fear of decay and death. It is also in this pursuit of happiness that we often grieve and pine at what we conceive to be happiness in others, leading us to envy.
Social psychologists will aver that there is no man or woman who has not been jealous. Often, in wishing ourselves good, we wish ill of others. And yet, our hypocrisy and our need to submit to the laws of communion restrain us from admitting so. For envy is the cocktail of grief and anger that leads us to denial and goads us into conquest, whether as a civilisation, as a nation, as a community, as neighbours, or just as one human being in pursuit of another.
In resorting to good, as we citizens are doing right now through our candlelight vigil in memory of the slain, or in pursuing evil, as in the depredations of the rapists, we are invariably led by the dominant passion of our hearts, deciding according to our temperament, the force of our habit, and the taste and sensitivity that we have acquired for certain things.
Nowhere through civilisational ups and downs, has man decided between two possible actions by his abstract knowledge of duty. Each and every move we make is determined by the particular judgment we make at the point of acting.
If we were convinced about the divine justice that would punish the guilty with eternal torment and reward the virtuous with lifelong bliss, we would always, and forever, flee from vice, renouncing carnal desire, because fleeting moments of gratification would drive us to eternal damnation.
But this is not our case. Our animal spirit forces us to chase our pleasures, often enslaving us to manipulation by others who pretend to lead us to a civilised order. We, all of us without fail, follow our Pied Pipers.
In India today, crime has subverted the values of our fight for independence. Our actions spring from the dream of our ignored youth of a once-promising nation, now corrupted in our minds, by the lure of easy money and the caricature of idiotic reforms.
As events of the past four years have unfolded, Manmohan Singh, may well not leave behind any other legacy to India, than our downfall as a nation. No matter what his personal integrity and uprightness.
And the nameless citizen is staring back, helplessly. And there are ominous signs in that.