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Thoughts on civilization

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

This is, by no means, purposed to vaticinate or to present itself as a sound theory, but purely to lend structure to adventitious thoughts. I claim no validity — this short essay is the result of, at best, a perfunctory flow of the logical brook.

The history of religion so far, to my mind, demonstrates that, innate to it is a subconscious appeal universal in reach, and to the mind of the masses as a whole, it ties itself inexorably to their instinct of survival. So potent is the link that the faithfuls of one religion are often led to regard the mere existence of another religion as a potential threat to their survival. The self-professed votaries of enlightenment, whether out of mediocrity or of mendacity, are reductionist in their unidimensionally economic assessment of such motivations. Indeed, the invader salivates at the prospects of plundering wealth, but in an era when the forces of economics are subservient to the forces of religion and state, his proud memoirs consist not of his glee at the amount of wealth he once seized, but of the infidels he felled and the epicentres he razed of the faith the existence of which is to him an anathema.

Conflict between or amongst religions may assume two forms. The first occurs in the battlefield of debate; the theology and philosophy of one debate those of the other in an attempt to soundly invalidate the other’s edifice. The second occurs in the battlefield of arms; all theology, philosophy and mythology is reduced to a galvanizing war-cry, and intellectualism dissipates as adrenaline impels each side to engage in attrition.

A religion seeking to triumph in the former category of conflict must perforce have such autonomous institutions as temples. It is the deep study of its literature that spawns refined philosophers and theologians, and such institutions facilitate the process. Ceaseless intellectual refinement keeps the religion potent and perennially fresh.

Unforeseen forces, however, drag so active a society into stagnation. Chief amongst them are the forces of stratification, which while perfectly fruitful in the world of commerce, are likely to prove retrograde when expanded to all the spheres of life, and when heredity is attributed to the differences imposed by this artificial system of stratification. Over the course of centuries, the sun of religion loses its noontime, on its way to a prolonged sunset, into the saturnine sea of apathy and resignation to fate. The malignant forces of stratification have taken firm hold; there is only a vestigial consciousness that they are all adherents of the same faith — the identities created by that stratification grow more potent; so potent that the subconscious knowledge of their underlying unity as a people is suppressed and rendered dormant, and in some cases outright annihilated, so that if and when a reformer emerges from the group of the oppressed, his only instinct is to discard his religion altogether. He may be cognizant of that latent unity, but sees no hope of so profound a renaissance as to dismantle the edifice of stratification.

Yet, a memory of civilizational greatness lingers, and to its half-hearted defence there emerge a few warriors. They have not forgotten the worth of the institutions of their faith, and some of the land recovered from the invader’s grip is allotted to them. But they are not cognizant enough, and if cognizant not potent enough, to respectively realize how deeply the toxin of stratification has seeped into society and to expel it. The faith precariously sustains, chiefly because those oppressed either have not opted to yet abjure it wholesale, or have resigned themselves to their fate and are content in their small lives. In the words of Nobel laureate Sir V.S. Naipaul:

Out of a superficial reading of the past, then, out of the sentimental conviction that India is eternal and forever revives, there comes not a fear of further defeat and destruction, but an indifference to it. India will somehow look after itself; the individual is freed of all responsibility. And within this larger indifference there is the indifference to the fate of a friend: it is madness…

…quietism — compounded of karma, nonviolence, and a vision of history as an extended religious fable — is in fact a form of self-cherishing in the midst of a general distress. It is parasitic. It depends on the continuing activity of others, the trains running, the presses printing, the rupees arriving from somewhere. It needs the world, but it surrenders the organization of the world to others. It is a religious response to worldly defeat.

Yet, perhaps the familiar presence of the invader and his steely determination to fell your faith with either his sword or his blend of subtlety and disciplined militarism, is still reason enough to galvanize a few leaders into cultivating a mass consciousness of nationalism that must assume potency enough to expel him. And such nationalism cannot fetch panoramic appeal unless its imagery and its eloquence invoked some civilizational memory.

When the invader finally vacates, a long spell of subservience draws to an end, and the country is again entrusted to the natives. But the system of governance is still substantially derived from that of the later, subtle, cunning invader who segregated the natives further in order that his rule may be imposed with greater ease. And so it comes to pass that the policies are still in effect, so that the state is disconnected from the masses and, in its incognizance of reality, at once attempts to impose its warped vision of unity onto an illiterate, indigent populace while also entertaining the retrograde forces constantly at work to seek benefits in a quest to satiate an insatiable lust. In that course, the epicentres of faith — the institutions — have been reduced to cash cows for state corruption, deprived of all their autonomy. Academia is at work, studiously cultivating a posterity that sees no value in its national heritage, and if it does see any value, it is only in that supposedly ‘defining moment’ when the invader finally vacated the land, and in the ideals that were espoused by the luminaries who long struggled against the invader.

Nuance in academic conversations is lost — it is never permitted to entertain the notion that their ideals may have been topical, not eternal. The academia also morphs into a haven of fabulism; the many atrocities suffered by the defining faith of the civilization are whitewashed, in an ostensible pursuit of national unity, because the other major faith happens to be that of the earlier invader, who had not much intellectual sophistication and only made inroads by means of the sword; and because such disquieting truths may ‘offend’ the followers of that other major faith.

“But why?”, wonders the follower of the civilization’s defining faith. “Has not this fellow citizen, despite the differing nature of his faith, been welded into the firm sword of nationhood, forged by the fires of nationalism?” Such questions are heretical in the fundamentalist halls of academia. In the meantime, the minority religions, notwithstanding the enviably organized nature of their faiths, are afforded ever increasing aid from the state, subsidizing even mass conversions; and the fanatic factions amongst them being unfortunately influential, are inimical to the defining faith of the civilization. A government claiming to be firm in its resolve to protect the ‘defining faith’ has turned out to be only full of rhetoric and ever pusillanimous.

Thus, the defining faith, with its epicentres now bereft of autonomy, stands ever in the peril of dissipation, with the combined evils of its long extant forces of stratification and the insouciance of the state engaged in ceaseless assault. At bare minimum, the latter evil ironically did not exist, or at least was not as officious, in the centuries of the invader. The days were indeed violent, and no right-thinking citizen would yearn for their return. The evil today is two-fold and potent.

Administrative independence has ironically morphed into a manacle for the civilization’s sustenance. No wonder, therefore, that the adherents of that defining faith vaguely discern that their faith and they themselves are in grave danger, but because so few of them can cogitate upon the macro picture of reasons and historical trends, their claims come across as the diatribes of a crazed, paranoid conspiracy theorist. The civilization, however, stands to lose.

With amity of faiths
With the unity of multiplicity
With the structures of commercial progress
With the soothing green of Nature
With potency, prudence and prescience
To Valinor
Of scintillescent white mountains
Of cool, lush verdure
Under a swift sunrise
May my nation rise

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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