O P I N I O N – P H I L O S O P H Y
“You are free and that is why you are lost.”
– Franz Kafka
In the very beginning of our lives, we were constantly fed the idea that the world we inhabit was just and rational, that there was an underlying structure to it all, and above all, that no matter how grim things may look — the worst would come to pass and eventually, everything was going to be alright. But by now, I believe most of us, if not all, have become disillusioned. The unpredictable nature of reality is really a little too much to bear, while maintaining a view that it’s all sweetness and sunshine. Yet, the remnants of those ideals we believed in our childhood still remain, ever so often flickering sparks of hope of a world of “what may be”. And while this may in a lot of cases be a nice thing, it isn’t so much so in a lot of others.
Now, let’s analyse a very contemporary issue. It’s about something you may have already witnessed in the very “thoughtful and courteous” comments’ section of popular social media platforms. Whenever you descend down to that cesspool of self-righteous opinions, you’re sure to find a few common traits. There always seems to be a great schism amongst the people, no matter how uncontentious the topic may seem, under every post which is popular, there are always ‘people’ squabbling, regardless of what the post in question was made about, and always ‘people’ asserting, with pompous hubris, that their opinion is in fact objectively correct and morally superior.
And every once in a while, ‘people’ find a random topic which reeks of controversy and then proceed to endlessly denounce, denigrate, and vilify it for about a week or so, before suddenly completely dropping it and moving on to their next target en masse. I’m sure you can recall at least a few such instances yourself. And so, let’s face it, ‘people’ are stupid; from their habit of forcing their opinions on matters they’ve got no idea about, to their baseless and fallacious arguments for said opinions. Yet as easy and comforting it may be to simply disregard “the people” as being stupid and ignorant, while one must admit that there’s some truth to it, things aren’t as black and white as that.
If we’re to scrutinise what the people say, and dig just below the surface, we’ll discover something which binds them all together. Let’s examine the most recent controversies regarding the biased outlook of our society towards women. Case in point, a few weeks ago, there was a massive uproar on social media due to a particular incident concerning a girl smoking. This simple act of smoking earned the distaste and indignant disapproval of thousands across the nation, simply because said act went against the antediluvian norms and customs of our society, which has already preordained “what a female can and cannot do”.
The same inclination of the general populace to stick to the norms and traditions whether they make rational sense or not, is perhaps more distinctly visible in the defences of the people who blame the victims of sexual harassment on the grounds of “Men have certain urges they can’t control and so women should remain veiled”, and other such outdated rationalisations — indirectly reinforcing the idea that nothing is wrong with our society, that men will be men, and the responsibility of all that goes wrong, lies solely on the very individuals who have been wronged.
In all these cases, we see an appeal towards authority, a tendency to blame society’s problems on supposedly “straying from the paths of old” and the assertion that there’s nothing wrong with the status quo, and all who say different are deviants; different justifications, but the manifestations of the same idea — “things good before, things bad now”. Naturally, the question arises, “But, why so?” Again, there’s no simple explanation but, I for one, believe the following to be true. I have broached upon the proposition that we were all taught particular ideas of a utopian world in our infancy which we gradually grew out of. Now, what were these ideas?
I’ll concisely address the ideals relating to the matter at hand. Firstly, we have the concept of a “perfect family” — a father who works a 9-5 job and a stay-at-home mother. The father’s purpose is to earn money and be emotionally distant and that of the mother is to raise the kids and look after their home. If there’s a son, he’s taught to be responsible as he’ll be the next head of the family; therefore to discard childish things like hopes, dreams, and passions and to only worry about getting a job, is seen as virtuous. If there’s a daughter, she’s taught to be representable as she’ll represent the family to her future husband’s family.
No matter how civilised we may think ourselves to be, deep down, it’s all the same. This ideal of a ‘perfect family’ exists in all our homes, with the only difference being its potency. If you don’t believe, just ask yourself why you’re doing whatever you’re doing, and you’ll get there soon enough.
And thus, whenever there is an anomaly, like a guy choosing a profession which is not economically viable, or a woman remaining unmarried past her mid 20s, or even as trivial as a girl smoking (a male-exclusive act), they’re immediately labelled the crack in the lens; the fly in the ointment; the bringer of the end of Civilisation. Just because someone doesn’t conform to the most widely accepted view of life, their views are immediately rendered immoral.
As for the second one, I’ll simply quote the renowned psychologist Walster,
“The theory behind victim blaming is that we, as humans, don’t like to think that it is possible for such traumatic, uncontrollable events to happen to us. What we attempt to do, when victim blaming, is find a cause or a blame for the event happening which then makes the event somewhat controllable or avoidable, and therefore enables us to protect ourselves from it.”
Being taught from childhood about a universal world order, which even if we don’t believe to be inherently good, is rather difficult to completely discard. We can’t come to terms with the fact that life is chaos; there is no structure to it, there is no greater meaning to what happens — that suffering is randomly distributed; that lofty ideals like justice and order are merely human constructs. It’s a bit too hard for us to comprehend the absurdity of existence, and so, we resort to the things we already know and believe, we dare not venture out into uncharted territory. We attribute meaning to arbitrary beliefs in an attempt to give the world around us a discernible structure.
And whenever that structure is threatened, we panic, because if that structure is lost, life will become devoid of its meaning.
It’s perhaps fitting to end with a quote to summarise all I’ve said thus far.
“The world is, of course, nothing but our conception of it.”
– Anton Chekhov