Saturday, May 05, 2007


Craftsman doing refinement work on a rosewood chair.

Out of our altruistic self come our beliefs and wishes, our public interest. Things that we want, as much as, or even more than our personal interest. And they need consummation too. Hence the urge to join with others, make common cause, and seek to realise one’s wishes. This is an example of life outside the marketplace. In this life, I can be one with a person who I am distanced from by market relations.

The public interest will also necessarily go against our perceived personal or private interest. For instance, if I wish to enjoy proper civic amenities then as a property owner I should be willing to pay the rates and taxes that will enable the civic authority to provide the services to me. The test of one’s public domain consciousness is the extent to which one can accept the public interest above one’s personal interest; and see in this one’s own long-term and enduring gain.

Refinement – consists primarily in caring for others above oneself. I should never cause inconvenience to others. If we observed what’s happening on any street in urban India – we would see that callous disregard of the other is the pre-eminent feature of everyone’s conduct. And everyone would belligerently assert their right to go ahead, unrestrained, looking out for their perceived immediate interest.

How does this refinement come? Where from? Who has it? And who doesn’t? Why? How is refinement cultivated? And can there be regression from refinement?

Parents and schools – can ensure that their children grow up as refined citizens. They can nurture the fullness of the child. But unfortunately that is not really happening. Young people are unconcerned about the public domain. They are willing and excellent adherents of globalised market-life, of disparity and exclusion.

Will there be time for a critical mass of people to come to awareness and act to bring fundamental change – before the violence and genocide implicit in obscene socio-economic disparity and mass poverty unstoppably explodes, bringing destruction, bloodshed and anarchy?


Yves said...

I feel you are being rather unnecessarily pessimistic here, Rama. Is it not the case that human nature is to survive personally as the no. 1 priority but to survive as a family unit as no. 2, as a species as no. 3 and as the whole of creation as no. 4?

Is it not also the case that public life has become dysfunctional because of the accumulation of power in the hands of few, through advanced technology which crushes the natural human ways of doing things?

You speak of refinement and altruism but I am not so sure these can be taught by parents or schools or made compulsory by governments. It seems to me that the people, as individuals (not assisted by artificial power) can only exert their instinctive humanity as per (1), (2), (3) and (4) above.

But in a more natural way of living there is enough instinctive kindness in the world to prevent it from becoming a hell on earth. Even in the way of living that we have at present!

irving said...

That is indeed the question, dear Brother Rama. Often in the past such periods have come, and lasted for many years. Inshallah, in the modern world with its access to immediate news and action, perhaps such upsurges and anarchy are a thing of the past. Perhaps we evolve out of them, both technologically and spiritually.

Ya Haqq!