I begin with a question of lost importance: what is human in human beings? Perhaps answering to this question is a subject matter of deeper philosophical reflection. Our nature is not only defined by physiological needs, but demands something more than mere physical existence. We are humans, perhaps, because of a certain moral significance over other species, and because of the claims (rights) we ought to have by the virtue of that significance. My intention is not to establish this moral significance, but to emphasize some problems we easily ignore otherwise. Here I take it for granted that we generally believe in this moral significance to avoid digression. It’s an ontological assumption I take as the basis of my argument.
As humans we possess a multi-layered identity, corresponding to our cast, class (economic or social), occupation, religion, profession, nationality, ethnicity, community etc. Our identities are simultaneous as, for example, we may be Muslims as well as Kashmiris at the same time. This multi-layered simultaneous socio-political identity is a consequence of our collective and pluralistic life. By and large we tend to maintain a balance between these identities and do not let one to override our essential human nature. Multiple identities may not be mutually exclusive, for instance being a Kashmiri doesn’t force me to hate a Guajarati. Imagine if a Muslim doctor treats only Muslim patients, differentiating the bodies based on their identities, technically called as “othering”, no doubt it will be an outrageous practice. Now what if we essentialize and single out one identity and make it a standard of our existence. Will it not be an equally outrageous thing to do? The answer to this question will be yes, provided we are sensitive to subtle nuances of its working.
The story of this identity essentialism begins at our family: the primary institution where dreams are sold. We socialize our children in a way where we make them believe that their life has got meaning only if it brings benefit, which is understood primarily in monetary terms. Therefore the choice to do something in life becomes limited, even at the first place, where the alternatives which may seemingly not provide monetary gains, thereby a fetishistic dignity, are simply not made available or not given any preference. This point can be made simpler by considering a growing obsession towards medical sciences or engineering courses. Perhaps the most terrible time in a student’s life begins after the completion of high school, where the philosophy of life is related to a race. After tenth a student is not admitted to eleventh, rather he or she is admitted to a market where aspirations are sold at very high prices. They are taught to be competitive, which is a rule of market and which is not sensitive to individual differences. People are not equally abled to convert their strength into success. But if the order of market governs our social existence, it would mean: meaning of life reducing to profit for some and loss for others. The immanent impact is rise of inequality.
When a well engineered dream is set up in a child’s psyche, without letting him or her to explore different alternatives, their world vision gets constructed. They tend to think in linear ways, making their prosperity a function of an orchestrated dream. This dream becomes a desire, due to its bandwagon effect. Ultimately, the sellers of these dreams occupy market, where this dream is made to be felt as a need. A large banner on a roadside with a toppers picture paralyses an aspirants mind. He or she sees himself or herself on that banner, holding a gold medal with a first position. This is how market makes us feel that perhaps life is impossible, if this dream doesn’t come true. Our children end up being admitted to educational factories, which create mechanized beings, without being sensitive to their respective intellectual tastes. Consequently, they stand being alienated from their essential self. We lose good poets in being bad engineers; we lose good writers in being bad doctors and so on.
There is a second significant connotation it makes. When money promises dreams, it loses its value. Perhaps market doesn’t give you, what your creativity does. We can buy an acquaintance for a day but we cannot call it friendship, in a similar way we can buy information at a tuition class but we cannot call it a lesson, for the two are far apart.
However, the actual question is how much human we remain, when we tend to think of life in this sort of competitive sense? Do we continue to have that moral significance or does our moral worth get relegated? The problem is when competition becomes the order of the day our secondary identities get stronger than our primary self as we become more professionals or mechanized than being humans. As humans we posses two core values one is “compassion” –understood as empathetic nature, where we do not feel pity for ones misfortune but are able to understand and share other’s sorrow or joy as our own, second is “emancipation” –understood as an embodiment of free life, where all exclusions are excluded, an un-alienated life where we can polish our shoe without being a cobbler, make furniture without being a carpenter, teach students without being a teacher and so on; a life where we do not essentialize one form of living on our other similar associations; here we tend to be everything, in general, but still be nothing, in particular. Perhaps the most effective way of dealing with this problem is to evaluate ourselves on the basis of these two values and ask ourselves: are we at the driving seats of our lives to choose a way of life we have a reason to choose?
My intention is not to castigate certain ways of living but to emphasize the point that we need to live a more examined life, where we could examine the alternatives before making our choices, for “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Socratic dictum). Nevertheless criticism is welcomed, for “we are discussing no small matter but how we ought to live” (Illustrious Socrates in Plato’s The Republic).
(The author is a student in PG department of Political Science, University of Kashmir)