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Archive for the ‘Social & Political Views’ Category

Recently, I had the opportunity of visiting Alaska. The breathtaking beauty of the place served as another poignant reminder of the sheer magnificence of our planet and also, its sad vulnerability. It was impossible to regard the stunning vistas of glaciers and snow-covered mountains without fearing for their capacity to prevail over human interference and indifference. I could not look upon such splendor with unconcern because the evidence of receding glaciers and dwindling icebergs was overwhelmingly visible.

Nature, even at its humblest moment, has the power of imparting pleasure. It is pure joy to sit by a window and watch the rain and inhale the smell of wet earth. But is it possible to exist in a simple moment like that, nowadays, without thinking of the dangers of acid rain or erosion?

I wish I could feel the caress of cool breeze without thinking of pollution. I wish I could look at a beautiful tree, with spreading branches and colorful blooms, and not fear that the tree might be chopped off by an unthinking hand, at any moment. I feel trepidation because I can not bear to imagine a future that is devoid of such artifacts of natural beauty.

To justify the rampant destruction of nature by stating that human need should gain ascendancy over everything is wrong, at so many levels. How is human need served by destroying that which keeps us alive? How can we survive without trees and mountains and clean air or uncontaminated oceans? What is life worth without health and beauty?

It is easier to proclaim false arguments and live in a state of denial than to face hard truths. But, for how long should we prevaricate and reject the dictates of our own conscience? It is imperative that all of us take responsibility for our Earth, right now. It is my hope that together we strive to overcome the forces of negativism and greed and make it our mission to rescue and save our beautiful planet.

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Beauty can often be equated with happiness and a sense of well being. We are beautiful when we feel confidence in ourselves and know in our hearts that we are lovely. We are also beautiful when we feel loved and cherished. True beauty is a state of mind.

It is important therefore not just to pamper our skin or hair but also to cultivate our sense of self worth. That can be done by reading a good book, going for a leisurely walk perhaps, enjoying a slow bath, or by going for a little shopping expedition. We can get an interesting haircut or take off to a mountain resort. Anything that makes us feel good serves to enhance our beauty.

Apart from doing little things for ourselves we need to also think long term. We need to take good care of our bodies, get good sleep, eat healthy food, and try to create a natural and wholesome environment around us. We cannot help but notice that our faces appear more luminous and unlined when we have had a good rest and are not bogged down by stress.

We must avoid using harmful makeup, even harsh chemicals at our homes. Developing a healthy self-image is essential. It means not obsessing about our weight and going for crash diets etc. Such rash decisions ruin our health and charm.

Beauty lies in the eyes of our friends and loved ones. They love not just our unwrinkled visages or shiny hair but also our inner qualities and convince us that we are attractive. Surrounding ourselves with people who appreciate us and suffuse us with positive energy is vital for it helps us to realize our own value.

Lastly, we should also listen to our own voices. Our hearts will tell us precisely why we are feeling down and neglecting ourselves and how we can alter such situations. Nothing can undermine our beauty if we are conscious of our desires and needs and take the time to take care of ourselves.

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Generally, I am concerned about conservation. I want to plant trees and resurrect forests. I want to protect and preserve nature. I want to stop wastage and pollution. I try my best to limit the usage of water, electricity, plastic in my household.

But to what avail?

An accident can dump thousands of tons of oil into the sea. And destroy the efforts of several lifetimes with one single blow. Countries dump radioactive water into oceans. And they keep building more and more nuclear reactors, everywhere.

We have so much clean energy around us….. the sun, the wind. And yet, for some obscure reason we are willing to spend unthinkable amounts of money on fuels that make our planet more and more unlivable everyday. How can we allow that?

Coal and Petroleum and other such industries make sure that we remain dependent on them. All for the sake of money. Money. More money.

I wonder about the people at the helm of affairs… people who have the power to make a significant difference and yet they do nothing. Don’t they have children? Don’t they have any regard for their future? Or, do they assume that their great financial  status alone will ensure perennial safety and invulnerability for their offsprings? Do they plan to carry money on their corpses when they die?

When does greed end?`

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I must admit to a time when I was thoroughly enamoured by the words of Ayn Rand. I was a mere adolescent then and did not have the intellectual or  perceptual wherewithal to consider her words deeply. I could not really look beyond the powerful fiction she created about the ubermensch or superman to the truth of her bloated assumptions.

Howard Roark, the hero of Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, was everything I could admire in a man. He was intense, single minded, intelligent, creative, non-conforming, sincere, and sexy. He endured impossible hardships, gained great success without losing his integrity, and commanded the complete devotion of an extraordinary woman. I was so drawn to him that it did not cross my mind at the time to question the nuances of his character or thinking in any way. For instance, I did not think much about the claims that Roark made about the history and interpretation of art and architecture.

Through Roark, Rand exalted Modern architecture while totally denigrating the rare achievements of the artists and builders of say, the Medieval Age. Maybe because their highest creations were too religious for Rand’s tastes. Or were the outcome of collective effort and not the individual enterprise that Rand supported. It is obvious that Ayn Rand did not think much about sacrificing truth at the altar of rhetoric. As long as she could get across her point, no matter how bigoted or one-sided it was. That, I think, actually made her quite like the villain of her own story, Ellsworth Monkton Toohey, a man with a scrawny body but with the voice of a giant. However, the novel does have some redeeming value because it commends self-enrichment and self-improvement. It speaks of heroism, courage, and resolution. Qualities that awaken a sense of romance and desire for greatness and even today, I have to confess that I find The Fountainhead quite engaging.

Rand’s later work, Atlas Shrugged, also had a cast of strong characters who seemed to possess the power to change the world. But by then the writer had begun to abandon all pretension to storytelling. Heroes and antagonists were all painted in extremely broad strokes. There was no organic development of characters or situations. Rand was the shrill force that moved the narrative. Things happened not because of the subtle and intricate demands made by a veracious and believable storyline but because the occurrences suited the author’s righteous and vindictive ideology. And, she indulged in direct propaganda of the most pernicious sort. The story-lover in me was, therefore, sorely disappointed.

After reading Atlas Shrugged, I felt that the novel form was allowing Ayn Rand to engage in half-truths, gross exaggerations, and outright lies while retaining the facade of fiction. She made the characters mere mouthpieces for her ideas.  But since the books were novels and not serious philosophical dissertations, she could get away with the absence of a proper outline of her political and social theories. Maybe, she was also spared a thoroughly rigorous examination of her thinking process because one, after all, could not be too critical of philosophical tenets in what was only a work of fiction. I also find it quite funny that while promoting a sort of exclusivity and elitism, Rand used an extremely melodramatic and populist style to generate mass appeal for her ideas. So, ironical.

Later, when I read or revisited the works of writers like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Steinbeck among others and was made aware of their broad and deep understanding of the human condition, I realized how Ayn Rand was lacking, not just as a writer but as a thinker. Her characters were mostly one-dimensional. Their actions were motivated by black and white ideas about freedom or altruism. And there was simply no complexity or genuineness in her portrayal of reality. I realized that people were not how they were etched by Rand. People like Howard Roark and John Galt were too cardboard-ish, too unaffected by human emotions and sensibilities to be real. And, even when I regarded them as philosophical or artistic ‘ideals’, I could not feel much enthusiasm for the kind of inhuman perfection they symbolized.

It is a known fact that Ayn Rand and her family were forced to flee Russia and its oppressive new Communist government, after the Bolshevik Revolution. It explains how and why the author developed a lifelong hatred for Communism and its dictatorial principles. And conversely, it tells us why she became such a strong proponent of Capitalism, the antidote for the great evil that was Communism. I am not too surprised by that. It is only to be expected that a burnt person should fear, even hate fire. Maybe, Rand should have been more balanced in her indictment of ‘collectivism’ and espousal of individualism. But her utter lack of objectivity is not entirely unacceptable in the world of fiction. However, the fact that her one-sided and biased views have mustered such credibility in political and philosophical circles, simply boggles the mind.

It is incredible that Ayn Rand has become such a loud name in political and social discourse. I understand why the heads of corporations or some politicians would propagate the Randian ideal. To put it simply, it serves their interest. It allows them to ‘search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.’ I can even understand why rabid Republicans and brainless teabaggers would quote Rand. Because it is somehow very fitting. It is only right that her pseudo-philosophy should attract spurious, inane, pretentious, and scheming adherents. What I cannot at all fathom is the enthusiasm for such ideas in the middle-classes and employed poor, who do not profit at all by mouthing Randian ideals, who are perhaps manipulated everyday by faceless corporations and are in danger of becoming nothing more than slaves or automatons.

I have come across ordinary individuals who greatly admire Rand’s philosophical ideas and regard her as some sort of messianic figure or prognosticator. They also base their entire belief system on her writings. Like Rand, they display a remarkably dismissive attitude towards other ideas. They just need to establish their sense of right and find a scapegoat (in this case, altruism or socialism) and every other historical fact or human instinct is relegated to the realm of apathy or contempt.

I cannot help but wonder at the sophomoric confidence of these people. I am not talking about people with endlessly deep pockets but those like us, who have had the benefit of education in government-sponsored schools and colleges. The ones who stand to gain from social security, healthcare, educational and scientific research, firefighting services etc. etc. Do they really think that privatization and the concept of personal profit alone will take care of all these needs? It is laughable that they can dismiss these things so easily when their idol, who was vocally against government hand-outs,  secured Social Security and Medicare payments, under the name of Ann O’Connor.

I wonder how the fanboys of Randism would feel if they could imagine themselves in the shoes of a young slum-dweller, rickshaw-puller, or inhabitant of a remote caste-ridden or war-stricken village. If they could be in the place of those who have no access to the basic amenities of life or  education because they were born too poor. Would they reject medicines or food or educational assistance just because they did not believe in altruism? Do they think that merit alone would suffice under such adverse circumstances? Would it matter to them then that Randians pontificate about  poverty being ennobling and selfishness being the only way to higher good? No, I do not think so. It would not be so easy to display smugness when poverty is more than just a vague theory. It would not be  so easy to preach against ideas that would help pull them out of misery.

It is very revealing that Ayn Rand had a great admiration for the brutal serial killer, William Edward Hickman, who dismembered and murdered a twelve year old girl in a most gruesome fashion and horrified the nation. Ayn Rand was so affected by Hickman that she based her heroes, Danny Renahan or Howard Roark, on him because it seemed to her that he had the ‘true innate psychology of a Superman’ and because he could ‘never realize or feel ”other people”’.  The fact that Rand could draw inspiration from such a monstrous sub-human creature does not only raise questions about her judgment and humanity but also about her right to lay down a moral and ethical code of conduct.

But well, Objectivism, has nothing really to do with any serious system of morality, has it? It does not demonstrate any understanding of genuine human relationships and behavior, or any sympathy whatsoever with noble human impulses. Also, it does not truly differentiate between right or wrong. Rather it advocates indifference and moral nihilism. But only towards the masses, not those who are like gods in Rand’s estimation. Glorious men like John Galt may bask in great self-admiration and have genocidal fantasies about destroying whole groups of ‘non-productive’ or ‘parasitic’  men and women. But any harm to men like Galt would certainly not be brushed aside as a simple amoral or self-interested deed. No, that would instead be regarded as a singularly heinous criminal act, by the opinionated and dreadfully prejudiced Rand.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand paints a scenario where the capitalists or ‘creators’ shrug off the burden of supporting all the ‘second-handers’ of the world by leaving them behind and forming their own exclusive society. The brilliantly funny Stephen Colbert suggests that those who love Randian ideas should truly follow her precepts and go ahead and form a perfect country or island, consisting of only people who make society work. People like hedge fund managers, CEOs, House Republicans, and TV pundits. With this satirical statement, Colbert hits the nail on the head. The very people he mentions seem to benefit the most by chanting random Randian words. But the idea of them making it on their own on an island is just so consummately farcical. In reality, can these people even imagine survival without those who sweat and labor? Definitely not. And yet, the lovers of Rand do not hesitate to detest the working poor, the unions, the so-called leeches of society. But who are the leeches really, I wonder.

I wonder how any thoughtful person can attribute the success of a man to individual enterprise alone or to his being completely ‘self-made’. Is it not true that most rich people and capitalists today are rich because they have inherited their wealth? Does not family wealth and status disprove Rand’s theory of meritocracy? Even those of us, who have not been been the recipient of handed down wealth, have had the privilege of some kind of support during our formative years. What would we have done if our Objectivist parents had denied all moral responsibility for us, granted us emancipation, and left us to fend for ourselves? Could we have then existed in an ivory tower of glorious individualism?

I suppose, it is very telling that Randian heroes are either orphans or have families that cause them grief or distress and the only way they can triumph is by destroying the family. Another instance of Ayn Rand’s rather attenuated and single-tracked approach to life. As if there can exist only pure good and pure evil, whereas in reality people are a shadowy combination of numerous traits and compulsions.

Another dicey idea that Rand establishes her theory of Objectivism on is that truth or reality is absolute. She recognizes only the supremacy of cold and unconditional logic, when it comes to ethics or morality, politics or economics. There is something very dismissive and intolerant about this assumption. Because truth or logic, I think, can only be precise if people are completely without any dissonance or contrariety, more gods than humans, like Roark perhaps. But real people are not like that. They are complex beings molded by circumstances and genetic predispositions. Even their reasoning faculty is subject to their quality of mind. So, how can they express a truth that is completely untouched by their individual perception?

Umberto Eco in his wonderful novel, The Name of the Rose, says that truth is ‘an adjustment between the thing and the intellect’.  The important word here is ‘adjustment’ or compromise. We can perceive order in the Universe only because of our mind’s capacity to perceive, interpret, and bestow order. But how can we be absolutely certain? How do we know we know? With experience come knowledge and doubt. And the need to adjust perceptions and the understanding of truth. Cocksureness can only be the prerogative of extreme youth, extreme arrogance, or downright stupidity.

If I leave the pages filled with rants alone, I mostly find Ayn Rand quite entertaining. As an author, she is second-rate, but she knew how to create arresting heroes, terrible villains, and overly dramatic but fascinating situations. And to generally give the readers a good time. I would have been happy if Ayn Rand had written only The Fountainhead and it was regarded as just another novel by mature people.

But the hullabaloo surrounding her so-called ideas confound me. She celebrated originality in her books but all her ideas were carelessly borrowed from other far more accomplished thinkers. Like Aristotle, Nietzsche, Auguste Comte, and Hugo. Even Plato, whose thoughts she barely comprehended and overtly rejected.

And what absolutely galls me is the fact that seemingly intelligent and potentially compassionate people, who are no longer the impressionable, rebellious, or disgruntled souls of their teenage years, will still fight tooth and claw to prove the moral and rational rectitude, rather superiority of Ayn Rand’s theories and preserve the illusion of her almost divine status. Objectivism is like Scientology, I think, founded on low fantasy and followed by those who wish the world to revolve around them alone. Or those, who wish to affect the conceit and complacency that are associated with intellectualism, without possessing a shred of intellect or a modicum of philosophical imagination.

If only, Ayn Rand had not aspired to be more than a novelist, albeit a lurid, aesthetically impoverished, and not quite believable one. If only, she had not indulged in such eye-popping exaggerations and sociopathic ideological rantings. If only some powerful and idiotic people had not traced back to Rand, their right to froth in the mouth with an inflated sense of ego and their right to openly engage in anti-social diatribes. If only, Rand had even faintly comprehended the value and beauty of human feelings such as love, empathy, tolerance, and generosity, I would not have found her so repulsive today.

 

 

Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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While browsing casually over the internet, I came across a few blogs that left me in a daze. No, I was not overwhelmed by the literary or imaginative prowess of the writers. Though some were not bad at all. What stunned me was their extreme indulgence in a confessional mode of writing.

The only way they seemed to communicate was by sharing every little detail of their lives. And I mean every minuscule, clandestine detail. There were a few picturesque sections on their roaring or whimpering sex lives. I also viewed prodigious and tedious elaborations on other equally intimate themes.

It can be argued that these subjects provide good writing material. And there are some noted names in literary circles, who have become famous by adopting the confessional style of expression. Sylvia Plath, for instance.

I also believe that any kind of expression is to an extent confessional. We cannot write a word without divulging something about ourselves. No matter how factual or objective we are, we cannot transcend the limitations of our own genetic predispositions, backgrounds, and education. We are no more or less than the sum of our experiences. And we can only express what we are.

But how much of our inmost selves should we lay bare? Is there a point that we should not exceed? Or, is everything permissible? These are the questions in my mind.

At this point, I am reminded of a particular work of dubious art by Britain’s Tracey Emin. Her notorious ‘My Bed’ was exhibited first in 1998. Emin captured our attention by displaying intimate objects like contraceptives, dirty bed sheets, stained panties, cigarette-ends, slippers etc. Those things symbolized her personal space or messy life and was thus supposedly, art.

That might very well be the case. Exhibitionism undoubtedly gets attention and appeases a certain voyeuristic tendency in us. It lays claim to our sympathy. Maybe it even amounts to art. But not in my book.

In the same way, I feel that over-sharing is neither synonymous with good writing, nor does it make for interesting reading. Of course, a person keeping an online journal is expected to scribble about personal matters. But the operative words here are ‘moderation’ and ‘discrimination’.

The writers, I have grown to admire, do confess. But theirs is a secret kind of confession. A subtle rendering of experience. A personal truth wrapped in quiet poetry, delicate fiction, or complex thought.

What is the value of indiscriminate, wholesale experience? Only knowledge that has been sieved through good taste, restraint, intricacy, deliberation, and deep understanding is significant. What is the worth of an account that relies on too personal a system of expression, is too self-absorbed, and offers only momentary attraction?

Such diaristic indulgences and tell-all memoirs may excite scrutiny for a little while. But, only writing that lends itself to subtlety, multiple interpretations, and a universal symbolism is truly interesting.

I am not the last authority on writing. But, as an avid reader, I claim the privilege of stating my preferences and opinions. And I think that, disclose-every-fact kind of writing is a bit like nudism, albeit of a more psychological variety. It gives some people a sense of freedom and openness. But, it is not for the likes of me.

 

Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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I am proud and happy to be a Bengali. Reasonably, judiciously, gently so. I am not zealous enough to think that we are the best people on earth but the realization has come to me now that there is, after all, something quite  special about us.

During my growing up years in Kolkata, I did not have any significant regard for my people. They were mostly like me. What was so wonderful about that? In college and university, I started meeting men and women who, for some reason or another, often made me cringe. Perhaps it was the blatant bohemian aura they put on with such unwarranted swagger. Perhaps it was their fake accents, the cigarettes dangling from their lips, or the fact that they were always so ready to spout seemingly learned stuff, without delving too deep. Maybe it was their fierce competitiveness, superciliousness, pretense of musical and political expertise, a certain arrogance, or braggadocio. I could not exactly pinpoint my source of irritation but I was put off.

I began to agree with many who thought  Bengalis were ‘pseudo-intellectuals’. I also hated the excess, the intemperance, and the mob mentality that I sometimes saw on the streets. Don’t get me wrong. I always had a great admiration for our past, culture, and our intellectual heritage. I was very proud of the fact that we used to be the ‘Renaissance people’. But all that glory was in the distant past. The future looked bleak.

I suppose, young people are wont to judge more strictly and unforgivingly than those who have been tempered by experience. Youngsters are less inclined to be tolerant of the quirks and conceits of men. In my case, there was also the familiarity which breeds contempt.

However, circumstances and time have, I think, given me a better perspective. I have had the opportunity of meeting people from different parts of the country. Some have beguiled me, some have upset me. But on the whole, I have got to know that we are not alone in our weaknesses, prejudices, and flaws. In fact, I feel that Bengalis actually blunder on the side of some positive ideals.

We are guilty of affectation maybe. But not small mindedness or malice. No matter how bloated we are, we do have a genuine appreciation of learning and culture.We may take excessive pride in having a cosmopolitan outlook but that does make us more open-minded than most.

In my encounters with non-Bengalis, I have become suddenly very aware of foul realities like the caste system. I have learnt how entire communities and even sacred places of learning can impart the conviction of inferiority to many a young boy and girl. Appalling! It is not like I was completely unconscious of these things. But my knowledge was purely theoretical. I had not witnessed such a climate of degradation and intolerance in Kolkata, when I was growing up. And I am inordinately thankful for that.

I am also thankful for the kind of teachers and educators I had, in my school days and later. Not all, but most of them were interested in more than just brainwashing the students with bookish information and commonplace norms. They encouraged us to think for ourselves and pursue creativity and perfection over meaningless qualifications. We were taught to appreciate not only our doctors and engineers but our writers, singers, and dancers.

There are also a few other things that I value more highly now. Like our ability to engage in lively conversations and hot debates. How we love to exchange ideas and discuss all subjects under the sun! We may argue and spar a little but all in good humor. I did not appreciate this quality much, until I came across specimens who take offense at every word and care more for stiff formality and lifeless ceremony than vivacity and joie de vivre. Those who prefer to politely and indifferently gossip about trivialities for hours than contemplate matters that require a modicum of passion, intelligence, and understanding.

Another thing that I have noticed is that men and women meet more as equals in Bengal than in any other part of India. I am not referring to education or other opportunities. But to a more subtle divide.

I realize full well that I am indulging in generalizations, even exaggerations. But, my purpose here is not to belittle the non-Bengali people. Rather to think aloud about my experiences so far and understand them. I think highly of many non-Bengali individuals and I have met some truly admirable ones, including my better half. What I really want to do here is to acknowledge the fact that the Bengali character is certainly much stronger, brighter, and finer than I realized.

 

Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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