So: anyone who will not be persuaded that socialism deserves to be given another chance will have to stand up and be identified as someone who a) either believes the world as it is is perfect or, if it isn’t, cannot be bettered, b) is quite happy with the prospect of seeing a small minority living extremely sybaritic, environmentally damaging, unsocial lives (remember, often with money they have not even earned – to wit the spouses and children of tycoons, and winners of lotteries, or those who have found the proverbial oil well in their gardens, or plain thieves), while the great majority simply scrounges along, their condition at best improving by trickles and at worst steadily growing worse (consider the case of environmental refugees, overwhelmingly from countries which have been ravaged by rampant capitalism), c) is sure that there is nothing wrong with the fact that capitalism increasingly makes a world where everyone becomes nothing more or less than just a buyer and seller – all thought (accumulated over millennia of philosophizing and preaching) of reaching for higher modes of living having been discarded as being either meaningless or unattainable, and d) thinks that political democracy makes a lot of sense in the context of gross and growing economic inequality. Fine, then: I know what sort of person I don’t want to hear from for the rest of my life. If I still retain some zest for living, it is because I still believe that not all people have yet become like that, not the best human beings that are around, pitifully few though they might have become.
My hope springs from the fact that I encounter so many young people who, despite being far wealthier than their ancestors, keep grouching that they can’t find rest, they can’t find security, they can’t find love, they can’t find contentment, they can’t find things to live for. And I have watched so many such youngsters growing old and finally giving up looking, resigned themselves to the idea that though they may buy another car or flat, travel to a few touristy places still, get married for a second or third time, draw out their existences for a few more years in modest comfort or even great luxury counting likes on Facebook and trying ever new video games, will never find these things in their lives: given up on them as people give up on mirages. They will come round, sooner or later (usually happens when it’s too late, when their lives are done, alas!) to the realization that a) money alone, especially when you have been chasing it obsessively in conjunction with the very unhealthy ‘high life’ you have been leading, will never make you happy, b) most people will simply burn out or go to jail trying to make money, and still won’t get significantly rich – that’s the iron rule of capitalism: millions must fail or nearly fail for a handful to become super successful celebrities, c) if great wealth made the happiest people on earth, psychiatrists would have routinely held up the Forbes’ 100 richest persons list as models of happy people, d) making a better world calls for simultaneously improving ourselves as individuals and working to create a world where such increasingly improved people set the standards.
Now however hard that second bit in (d) might sound, it pales in comparison with the earlier. And this is not newfangled wisdom: it is part of very deep human instinct that one tries very hard to deny even that one has faults, let alone trying to rectify them: people interfere desperately in others’ lives trying to change them not only because most of them love to play God, but that is the most effective way of hiding lifelong from one’s own defects (think equally of an average mother or father, a very very common human being, lecturing the son on morals as though they are Sri Ramakrishna reincarnate, and of a typical minister haranguing his constituents to be good in the same vein).
Changing ourselves is hard, firstly because so much badness, crassness and meanness is hardwired into our genes, and/or absorbed from our parents and immediate family, friends and neighbours while we are still young (think of peeing on the roadside or yelling into phones or telling tales or leching after girls or cheating in exams or spending hours before the mirror or faking love to get and hold someone’s attention). Besides, as one grows up one instinctively gravitates towards people who have the same faults (indeed, are either unconscious about them or deny that they are faults at all – the worst of them shrill ‘oh, come on, we just do that sort of thing for fun!’), because in numbers there is safety and comfort, and thus they make strong resistant groups to any kind of effort at improvement. By the time they reach thirty, they are virtually all like that: zombies for all practical purposes. It is harder still in a country where ‘good’ people are routinely mocked, harassed, ignored and taken advantage of, because good people make the rest feel bad about themselves, and that is unforgiveable. Where does one even start the job of clearing the Augean stables?
Looking at the countries which have gone a long distance in that direction, I feel that it should start with education and policing. And that in turn starts with politics, because everywhere politicians formulate policies about education and policing. Which brings us to a conundrum – if politicians are to start the reform process, who will reform the politicians?
It is easy to give up in despair at this point, but I console myself with the knowledge that all countries which are doing better than us today didn’t use to be so good always, which means they gradually changed for the better, and if it was possible elsewhere, it could be done here. All it needs is a critical mass of people who agree not only that things need to be changed and can be changed, but also broadly on the basic things that need to be changed. For that to happen, a lot of decent people must get into politics, and that in turn will happen as and when some sweeping electoral reforms a) sharply reduce the role of money and muscle power, b) ensure that legislators can be recalled and political parties banned on proven grounds of corruption and incompetence, and c) assure aspiring politicians of at least a modest living lifelong, so that they are not pulled irresistibly by both greed and insecurity towards corruption. Difficult, and time consuming, but not impossible.
Such a critical mass of politicians is bound to make a change for the better, in the sense that I understand ‘better’: I don’t think they can help it. But only up to a point. Whether they can change things that are fundamentally and very badly wrong with our national psyche, I don’t know, and there I honestly don’t have much hope. Remember that in a democracy people get the kind of government they deserve, a government that reflects them, warts and all. Now that I am growing old, I increasingly tend to think that good people are born in India to suffer purgatory by the decree of karma. And that, alas, is not within human power to change.
For what I think about ‘our national psyche’ and the problems that stem from it, the following earlier blogposts would help to jog your memory: My India, Freedom and responsibility, The world we are making for our children, A small dose of political philosophy, Juvenilia, India twenty years after and chhotolok.
[I should strongly recommend that this trio of essays, ending with this one, be read together, along with all the links provided.]