Was there ever a year like this ? Every literary cliche you can think of, can be brought into play year. And yet, as 2016 makes way for 2017, a question remains – will 2017 be better than 2016 ? And there are two answers to that – a) how can it be possibly worse, and b) abhi toh shuruvat hai (it has only just begun). To say we are in for a rocky ride, is an understatement. There was a twitter joke a few months ago, a few years from now, whenever a quiz question is asked “when did event x take place” the safe answer would be 2016.
Amongst the more popular urban legends is one pertaining to a quote by the ancient Chinese, which was also a curse, “May you live in Interesting Times“. The only problem is that no one can find a single ancient Chinese reference to this. It is a bit like the stuff my grand mother would tell us, when we were growing up – ‘if you do this, this will happen’. Brought up to be inquisitive – or sceptical – we would ask “how do you know”. she would respond “the elders said so”. I have never been able to figure out if the elders indeed said so, or did she attribute it to the elders. But, there you go.
In a post truth world, it is useful to remind ourselves that all falsehoods didn’t spontaneously come into existence in the last 5-10 years. We have had post truths that have defined worlds. the earth is flat; The King is God; Our Religion is the Best; The Caste System is God’s will; An Angry God will condemn you to eternal damnation; people of colour x are better than people of all other colours; I can go on and on- but, you get the gist. Those in power tell lies to stay in power. Those without power tell it to get into power. I think that most normal people, outside ivory towers and echo chambers, get this basic fact. Leaders lie. These could be outright lies, or these could be being economical with the truth. There is that old joke. How do you tell when a politician lies? his (or her) lips move. In today’s world, with fragmented power bases – add corporate leaders, media stars, top journalists, and every other ‘manufactured’ image to this – and you have a certain fuzziness as far as truth is concerned. If events were always represented from the observer’s point of view (and the observer was always the winner), in today’s era that observer is manifold and can add his or her voice to convincing you that night is day. Orwell wrote about this in 1984. Way back in 1949, when the book was published, it was an allegory of those times. It really wasn’t that dystopian. It was their current reality. One of the most famous created words, Doublethink originates from this book :
Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary.
And, while the former was considered to be the process that those in power used to create the sense of social coherence, this is how Winston, the main protagonist in 1984, saw it
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.
If we look at the world around us, based on both social chatter and main stream media – you will find that you are living in a rather schizophrenic world. There is a part of it that tell you we live in the worst of times. And, another part of it tells you that this, indeed, is the best of times. Nether data, nor evidence seems to matter. What matters is belief. Their hero approximates to God or Prophet, or a historic hero of mythic proportions; and all others approximate to the demon, or the enemy. And, conversations tend to follow partisan lines. Very little discourse, and a tremendous amount of validation and re-validation. It is almost as though the process of dialectic and the evolution of a synthesis is discarded, and we are reversing back to dark ages – where a truth is prestated and accepted without question. Questioning is seen as blasphemy, and the punishment for blasphemy is death. And, blasphemy was defined as anything you didn’t believe in, and attributed to God. Today, you look at topics as diverse as beef ban (in India) or abortion rights (in the USA); climate change or automation – the middle ground is being squeezed out, and all of us are being asked to take polar sides. This or That ? A or Z? And, while death may not mean the state will shoot you, it means that enough nutcases, frenzied enough in their belief, might. And, we see the most extreme forms of this behaviour from organisations like ISIS. If something doesn’t fit their world view – and given how warped their world view is, most things don’t fit – they destroy it. People, history, institutions, everything. If i spend a lot of my time on the interwebs – and i do – this is the world i see. A world with two opposing sides, battle lines drawn, no conversations, everyone snarls at everyone else, and there is no common ground even in areas there should be.
But, is the real world really this polar? is all of humanity gathered around two poles of opinion, on each topic. Do each of us, in real life, want those who have divergent opinions from us dead or worse? Are we really, as a species, so bereft of decency and niceness ? Does the world depicted by Main stream media, and increasingly by social media, reflect us as a species? are we really that terrible ? Is the dystopian future already upon us ? is there nothing really to look forward to. And, the answer, no matter how politically or cause aligned you maybe, is no – the world is actually a comparatively nice place. People are nice and helpful. Random strangers are kind to people. Families are still the source of support. Friends still catch you when you stumble, and help you up without any expectations. It is still possible to have a healthy exchange of ideas, and even disagree with people without being called names, or threatened with death. Even on social platforms such as twitter that are accused of fermenting hate and fascism, you find decency and niceness.
It isn’t all hunky dory. You find the nutcases too. But, and this is the big question, do you want to focus on the ugliest aspects of human behavior to the exclusion of everything else. If you see the world through a distorted lens, the world is going to look ugly. If you take away all lenses and see it, you will possibly see it for what it is – mostly good, often helpful, mainly decent, with a bit of humour, instinctively helpful. At the worst of times, the decency of ordinary people has shone through. Maybe we all, especially those who are in AC offices and run the media or social media, need to get out of our comfort zone, and stop having pure social media conversations. The nuances that come through real life conversations, may redress our balance and our world view.
And, on the last day of 2016, ask this question of yourselves – was the year really as bad as it is made out to be, or do you feel it was terrible because everyone else is saying it is terrible?
My year, like all years, was a mix of the great, the good, the nice, the fun, the sad and the tragic. And, as with most years i am grateful to the people in my life, my friends, my family, my colleagues, and my dog(ess) who have been there for me. stood by me. and made me feel loved. There isn’t much else one can say about 2016. If you ask me a few years from now, i will possibly remember it as the year Mohammed Ali died.