06 The Condition of the Modern World
Reader : The Swaraj that you have described seems unattainable in today’s world. The best we can do is become better citizens and hold our leaders accountable. That would be good enough.
Editor : Would it be good enough if your leaders did what you said? Do you think leaders today are truly free to act?
The nature of power in today’s world is skewed. It is like a cursed place where even the noblest of people finds it extremely difficult to move things forward, well.
In a centralized system like ours, leaders cannot ever fully empathise with people. They can only do it intellectually. This is simply because there is a limit to the number of connections a person can authentically have.
There is a dunbar number of 150 people that you can have a working relationship with (+/ 50). When the parliament convenes with its 800 odd members, how can they even know each other forget making decisions for the whole country!
In a diverse society like ours, leaders have many different demands to juggle with. Hence, any decision is bound to attract dissatisfaction and dislike from some section of people or others.
Reader : You are in fact supporting what I am saying that it is difficult to attain Swaraj in today’s world. Particularly your definition of Swaraj that includes the body and localities and all of that.
Editor : In order to understand how do we attain Swaraj, we need to first deeply understand the nature of the modern world and modernity.
To be able to do that, in turn, we have to minutely examine our own nature, because what we have created externally is ultimately arising from our inner stories and states.
There is a link between the inner and the outer. How you are feeling internally shapes how you respond to people and situations. Similarly the outside reinforces what goes on inside your surroundings evoke certain responses as well.
If we accept that there is a link here, we have a chance to examine our internal structures. This examination is important because we have access to these structures first hand. Unlike the structures on the outside, we can minutely observe what is unfolding inside us.
Reader : So you are saying that if we fill ourselves with love and compassion, we will create a better world. That is universally accepted as true.
Editor : No that is not what I am saying. Rather, I am saying that we need to observe what is happening in our psyche closely.
Let me share what I observe in my being and you could possibly verify it yourself.
In my mind I observe a very particular process, for the want of a better word let me call it “Abhishek”.
“Abhishek” as a process gives me an identity. It helps me navigate the world (where I use this label) and protects me. It makes sure I have my basic needs met and communicate with others to make it so.
As “Abhishek” has no clear physical location, I call it a process. My body is Abhishek’s body. My views are Abhishek’s views. If each of these is mine, it begs the question of who am i?
The “i” as I have come to understand is this egoprocess. It is a process that is very peculiar. Perhaps a process that has gone out of control and way beyond its original function.
There are several characteristics of this process.
For one, it is preoccupied with itself. As I write this, “Abhishek” is really preoccupied with how will it be recieved? Will I be validated for doing this? What about my reputation? Will I come out looking good?
Whatever happens in the world or with others, the process “Abhishek” successfully personalises it and makes that about itself.
It does so perhaps because it is dedicated to its survival. So second, Abhishek wants to live and live forever.
Abhishek has written and helped people and done many things in the past hoping to achieve some form of immortality, whether he may be consciously aware of it or not.
As the body, “Abhishek” knows that he is eventually going to cease to exist. And that disturbing realisation perhaps drives some of its actions to find ways to outlast this body.
In fact there is a huge scientific community working on “solving death”. To me, more than preserving the body it is about allowing the ego to live on, forever.
This phenomenon is so central that I become identified with it. I am Abhishek. This is Abhishek writing. This phenomenon measures and competes and tries to win all the time. It manifests as having a life of its own, as thoughts that hardly can be controlled and awareness that constantly gets hijacked from the present moment to past and future.
Reader : This sounds like a philosophy lecture. What connection does this have with our original topic of the condition of the modern world.
Editor : Since you have already jumped back to the topic, let me make a direct connection right away.
In my experience, we have created our current world and system in image of this internal process or the ego.
Look at our institutions nation states and corporations. They are here to live forever. They are overly concerned with their own survival. They are willing to crush any resistance or threat that arises for them.
Collectively they have cocreated this system (which can’t be labelled but the neoliberal capitalist system comes closest to it). A system that is willing to coopt anything that comes its way.
If you are kind it creates as ‘sharing economy’ and monetizes it. If you were a successful revolutionary in one generation, it starts selling tshirts and caps with your face in the next generation.
Just like my ego makes everything about itself, so does the system. It coopts anything.
An ego out of my control can impose costs on the same body that it was supposed to protect. The corporation or nation state, out of control can cease to serve the interests of the very people it was supposed to serve. Instead, it can end up creating a whole lot of havoc.
The condition of the modern world is like our mind. It is constantly looking for the next problem to solve (because originally the mind is a problem solving mechanism that helps us in our survival).
The speed of the modern world and the disconnection it brings are not too different from the speed of our minds and the (artificial) disconnection it creates between us and the world outside us, as well as with others.
Reader : I am now starting to understand this link. However, I feel that this link is essential if I am to survive in this world and function. What exactly are you suggesting then?
Editor : The diet of this process is fear when I am scared I am overly concerned about myself. When a nation is at war, its citizens give up all its power to the centre. If an advertisement makes you feel inadequate, you are willing to part with your money.
The modern civilization and economy thus rests on keeping us in a state of perpetual fear and greed.
From this fear and insecurity, we work to fend for ourselves. We borrow money for our studies and homes. We spend the rest of our lives working for banks and corporations to pay this money back. In doing this we trade the time of our life and vitality for the false illusion of survival.
Our survival doesn’t depend on our own reserves alone. It depends also on the state of the world and the communities around us. It depends on healthy relationships and a body that is resilient.
However, by placing us on this hamster wheel of civilization, billions of lives are lost in pursuit of survival. The irony of it is that there is already enough in the world for all of us to live and thrive. And yet, we’re stuck in this system really badly.
Modern civilization has also become excessively clever at hiding costs of participation in it. We’ve lost our connection with each other and we fill this void with more shopping and more passive entertainment. We allow our minds to be dumbed down and in turn further.
Perhaps it is time to pause this conversation here and share it with others before proceeding.
Reader : Why are we abruptly stopping this flowing conversation? Aren’t there more topics to be covered before we close this dialogue?
Editor : Indeed there is much to be spoken about. However, it is important that we pause here to see how this part of our conversation is received. Is there any use to having a conversation that is not followed?
Maybe this booklet will be read. But more likely we will get feedback on different ways of putting this out perhaps as podcasts or videos. Or maybe this book will be the way to cover this. I do not know.
However, I feel the need to pause at this moment and share this with others. It is only after getting a sense of how the book was received that we shall continue this conversation.
Reader: So is this the end of the book?
Editor : Not at all. In fact, it is the start of the invitation to every reader to start writing their own version of the Hind Swaraj.
The real intent of this booklet is not to preach a certain world view but to closely examine my own. In today’s time when we have no one Gandhi, each of us must embark on such an inquiry ourselves.
Hence, my invitation to every person reading this book(let) is to start authoring their own Hind Swaraj.
The My preface at the start of this clearly sets this work out as a personal postmodern take on ‘Truth’ (can there be personal truth at all is a question we shall examine later perhaps).
For now the work of this work is done. It is to invite others to start their own inquiry and writing. Reader : Do you think this will really happen?
Editor : No. I don’t expect it to. I understand that the pulls and pushes of modern civilization are too strong to allow for such an inquiry. Morever, the mind with its own mechanisms loves to jump into action rather than deeply reflect.
Action coming out of such shallow spaces will only create more trouble.
My hope is that atleast some of the readers attempt their own booklet if not a booklet, their own essay on how they see the world and how do they see change.
This is the 150th anniversary of Gandhiji and one of the best gifts we can give to his work is by 34
reflecting on our own experiments with truth. Hence, I close this with an invitation to engage in similar questions and have thousands of My Hind Swaraj booklets.
It is time to pause in our conversation for now.