Monday, July 09, 2012

The curse of abstraction




And happy little men relished the juices out of the marrow of the now dead beast, whose carcass had twitched in the immense pain of a reckless death only minutes ago, owing to stale electrical impulses left behind in its body, having been severed from its head, when its tender neck was slit casually behind the alleyway, in an unknown butcher's shop. The beast's head was still mildly bleating in dull agony, and its teary eyes twitched for one last time until the last spark from the brain ended whatever misery that thing was being subject to. Most of us beast-eaters, most definitely incapable of carrying out firsthand such a first class act of cold murder ourselves, as that of slitting the throat of a conscious thinking animal capable of emotion, despite sometimes finding ourselves to be genuinely moved with the cuteness of pet puppies when they wagged their tender tails and ran around us with love, not to mention, even inanimate toy teddy bear dolls, are definitely comfortable in the thought of not knowing or just willfully setting aside what happened behind the scenes, and as we indulged in the flesh and bones, deep fried in splendid fat, we indulged in all the sinful pleasure like the great demons of myth and never hesitated to boastfully expound our happy hedonistic ways of a carefree life, that to us, somehow resonated proportionally to our ability to carelessly chew flesh. Many a time have I been asked as to why I quit meat, and some such hedonist buddies of mine even tend to take pleasure in identifying all the many contradictions in this seemingly illogical time-old decision of mine apparently riddled with inconsistencies (such as 'you'd kills mosquitoes', 'medicines kill germs', 'plants have life too', 'experiments prove even plants feel a little pain', 'you have eggs too, and now that's a killing', etc...).

But, this piece is not about vegetarianism, although my choice serves as an excellent example of the topic I herewith intend to write on. It also isn't similar to few other pieces that I've below written, in that, I have put aside all pretensions of being burdened with an apathetic nihilist's understanding of the 'cosmic' perspective. For the moment, we shall all assume the humbler roles we've all been fatefully assigned to - as simple thinking beasts, that are subject to plain instinctive elements of love, pain, pleasure and often sympathy towards other thinking life forms that we know are capable of emotion and pain (such as ourselves), for reasons that we will not seek to rationalize here and would merely acknowledge as genuine parts of ourselves. I only wish here, to elucidate the convenience and the curse of systems of abstraction we've gracefully adopted over time, and how we casually do deeds everyday that we'd dare not, if only we 'knew' more and had the faculty to eliminate the layers that separate us only a tad bit from being exposed to, what we'd normally come to regard as sheer atrocity that unfortunately effected from our very own acts.

The prime generalization of the aforementioned meat-eater prologue is essentially our innate tendency to perform acts of innocent crime, pretty much all the time, owing to the comfort (if granted) of being blanketed cozily inside systems of convenience that essentially mask us from brutalities behind our backs, things that our conscious selves will likely not prefer to be part of. Given the limitations of the supply of basic needs, the endlessness of demand, and the immense complexity of the massive people network of give-and-take (or sometimes stab-and-grab) we exist in, one might safely generalize that, for every infinitesimal change that is the output of the most unassuming acts of ours, there is at least a beneficiary and also a loser, mostly in disguise or as an indirect consequence, and often also simply, owing to our blissful lack of awareness (of the details of the underlying system). At the very core of the architecture of this incomprehensibly complex system, one that is highly essential to sustain its lack of overall humanity (despite individuals themselves being human), is the central element of abstraction. The collective intelligence of the human whole has been pretty good at architecting this, although the individuals participating in these systems themselves mostly do not empathize with (and often even resent and curse) the deeds and causes of the collective whole. And, thus wars are fought and countries were reshaped on large scales, and at another corner, as a much smaller scale example, women yelled at one another as they waited in a tedious line behind water taps for their day's government granted limited water supply.

It never ceases to boggle one's mind if one were to dare step out of the bounding boxes and just try imagine all the possible connections both from the past and into the foreseeable future, to things that one does, only casually.


'Blood Diamond' and 'Syriana' unfold everyday everywhere around us, only in a much more full-blown grandiose dramatic style with infinite interplaying elements and the most incomprehensible densest plot, with people influencing one another's lives in myriad and often terribly destructive ways. What bad blood could have possibly been shed, with political dethrones and mass civilian casualties in a desert thousands of miles away, to enable the liter of fuel one had just filled in his brand new car, so that one could drive to a entertainment show that costed 300 bucks in 'black', a show that stylized violence and promoted the greed for extravagance and glamor in the commonest of men and women, and whose production company had exploited young women and poor stuntmen and earned a millions of bucks for a local politician who'd fight his game of power and in his many scams squish the poor, while at another corner, the uneducated little boy who lost his parents to a reckless drunk lorry driver, worked in a community of beggars for a mafia gang left untroubled by policemen working for the politician's goons, and the boy starved on a street at Delhi, longing for the next customer whose shoes he could polish next and with the little money he got, he went on to layer his lungs with carbon from the smoke he'd then buy from a local pan shop guy who obtained his supply of cigars from a european firm through an infinitely complex supply chain powered by few first-class engineers and businessmen of the world. Now, that statement does no justice to how deep the rabbit hole goes, but it is an effort from a simple human mind with a limited faculty that is only capable of absorbing and synthesizing selective and simplified models of tangible and accessible parts of reality. Reality itself, however, is always ever more infinitely richer and deeper than the best we could ever fantasize. The human architecture is layered like a huge bunch of a billion wires irreversibly entangled in a holy mess, and masked with several sub-units abstracted behind blankets, and the nexus always goes deeper than any could possibly comprehend. The connections are myriad and astounding.

Now, there is no simple way out of this. A system this interconnected seemingly behaves pretty much random. In efforts to avoid effecting possible illness, one cannot just cease to act, but surely often, as we act, we dump more and more bits of entropy into a huge pile of garbage, through most simple acts of ours, adding up infinitesimally to a whole stinking indigestible mess. But, one can still strive to do two things here towards not facilitating few consequences that one might prefer to not be part of, in whatever little way one could. Firstly, and perhaps importantly, to try and be aware of as much as one can, of possible ill consequences and connections behind simple everyday actions of ours and also the root causes or channels through which we reap our very rewards - from deeds so seemingly infinitesimal as dumping a plastic cover, averting a petty tax amount or under-registering property to add to the woes of an existing black market, or getting behind the steering wheel after a friendly social drink, or running a tap open at high speed, buying toys in an underground market that were possibly burgled for cheap, smoking at places where passive cancer-prone smokers can be exposed to, ill-treating or haggling with a poor roadside vendor, developing an addiction towards a triple-cheese burger, or in little more extreme cases even aspects like visiting (or even in theory, taking for granted and showing apathy towards) communities that sexually exploit women and even children, or say, passing broadly generalized hate racist messages in public forums. The examples are endless and the consequences of many of these actions can go deeper than one might foresee and could range anywhere from mild to catastrophic. One might never exhaust the understanding of the connections in the maze, but the fearful enlightenment one gets by going down the rabbit hole is scandalously rich. Secondly, one might want to try and change a few of these actions that, based on the knowledge thus acquired above, one knows for sure, is more or less directly correlated to something that one does not in all honesty to oneself, approve of. In many cases, this possibly cannot be a complete stop of the action, but will usually manifest as a restraint of some form (as a direct opposite of what earlier could have been some sort of indulgence into something not healthy for the overall whole, and to our own conscious selves). Doing so, will, of course, not change the principle itself nor would revolutionarily fix things in the system. It might just be about maximizing whatever infinitesimal change one could effect. And, sometimes, small deeds do infinitely percolate and add to someone's smile or survival in some corner of the world, possibly invisible to ourselves. And, more personally, it is also about getting into honest terms with your own self.

Towards this cause, one must strive to break the layers of abstraction as much as one can, the veil that obstructs clarity and vision, and facilitates the effect of damage, and one must try peer honestly at things near oneself - other people, the environment, one's rewards, liabilities and casualties, corruption, exploitation of the poor, even other thinking life forms, and of course, one's own self, pretty much everything, and effect a few restraints in certain practices of ours, for, unknowing to oneself, one might in actuality, be destroying more and more things that one genuinely cares for. Simply put, change a bit of what you yourself might not come in to terms with, in the knowledge that you acquire, while being watchful of the nexus. Next time, you ate a lamb, be sure you are personally capable of killing one on your own. Or had you bought a non conflict-free diamond for yourself, realize you possibly contributed a tad bit to child militancy in Africa. If we seek to brush such and such acts aside, we are, by our own subjective definition, pretty blunt cruel in all that unreasonable and thoughtless apathy of ours.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am happy to see you touch on these topics and to some extent envy your ability to put words for your elaborate thoughts.

I would like to add that when attempting to change a system or lending your efforts to other a "step into their shoes" approach is necessary rather than imposing our collective wisdom on others in the guise of rationality and undermining their intelligence & humanity. Any act, other than for ones own self, is an act of intrusion. How much ever good heart and faith it is executed with, only a slight skew is required for it to become a cause for the next conflict and undo, or even reverse, the original intent. A "step into their shoes" approach takes time & effort, but I can only console myself that a gradual change may be a stable one.

Arun said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous. Hope, the tone did not sound as one that could offend others' intelligence/sense of humanity. Only wanted to allude to, how we might at times, unknown to ourselves, might end up doing inhuman things that we ourselves do not really like, and also might otherwise be able to avoid, if we are a little more introspective and watchful. Totally agree with the importance (and difficulty) of 'step into their shoes'.

சர்வோத்தமன் said...

Collective Sin!

I don't know whether you had watched the Kannada movie 'Mane' directed by one of the finest directors of Indian Cinema Girish Kasaravalli.In the Climax scene of the movie, Naseeruddin Shah would witness a big machine bulldozing a Slum.Naseeruddin Shah scrutinizes the Machine even closer only to identify that it is a product of the Company he works for.

Maybe the money hard earned to buy the 'Mane'(House) is the infinitesimal labour invested by Nasseruddin Shah to destroy a Slum.

A Collective Sin!.