Diogenes, the celebrated cynic philosopher, spent his later years living in a huge jar belonging to the Metroum. I think I can now understand why.
Like most modern people I also thought materialistic progress and power over others were coveted possessions. I could not understand why, when Alexander asked Diogenes if he could oblige him in any way, the latter answered, "Yes; you can stand out of the sunshine." I simply could not imagine why he could not have asked for something better from the most powerful man of the time. But now, when I see the true face of the U.S., the epitome of material richness and the ultimate in worldly power, I am compelled to revise my opinion. How vulnerable such power is was amply demonstrated by the September 11 tragedy. However, this tragedy or the equally unfortunate retaliatory action of the 'civilized' world that killed thousands of innocent people in Afghanistan would not have made me change my views on money and power. I would have remained convinced that the U.S.A. is a powerful nation and, if I had a chance, I would have visited the country.
It is only a few days back that I was converted and realized that the U.S. is simply not worth emulating or even visiting for a day. Why? I came across Zizek's comments that made me understand why I need not go out of my "jar" (symbolism!) and that the "music of distant drums is sweetest as you see not the drummers' anguish nor hear the disturbing noises that trouble those nearby." Slavoj Zizek, in an interview, had quoted the fact that there are over two million "cutters" in the U.S. who cut themselves with razors just to convince themselves they are "real as persons."
If this is the condition of a large number of Americans, there must be something drastically wrong with the modern concept of power and the prevailing system, which considers the vulnerable and the weak as powerful—the misguided as the beacon-lights and the slave as the champion of liberty.
Where symbols are taken as reality, people have to cut themselves to convince themselves of reality. The Statue of Liberty is no longer a symbol of reality but is converted into an unreal reality that, if destroyed, would be taken as "an attack on American Freedom." The words we utter and write have ceased to be symbols and have attained the stature of reality. But is this "reality" real? Is it the truth? I do not think so. We have simply hypnotized ourselves into believing that the unreal is real and there is no Absolute Reality—no Truth.
Whether it is the U.S., India or Africa, the same "dwarfishly critical" (as opposed to creative and thoughtful) system of education prevails as it is administered by and caters to the needs of the most financially powerful groups. In literature and philosophy there is the "death of the subject" and "the death of the author" while the capitalist who provides us with the finances has secretly devised the death of the individual. In other words, the multinationals and the modern capitalist society have done what the communists and the socialists could not do—they have effectively exterminated (or should I say eliminated?) the individual. And for what? For greed and for selfishness.
As a close friend and writer Dr. Rajesh Sharma put it, "Even the medieval world had something to look forward to: they had God." Now, with the destruction of the individual and the coming of the unreal reality, God has died a natural death. Again, something the communists failed to do has been accomplished!
In the communist world at least there was some semblance of Truth, of Reality that was the community. But now, in this symbolic world of unreality, where nothing is true , we have disguised our greed and selfishness as mere symbols without realizing that these very symbols have enslaved us and become our "Alexandrian Reality." The murder of the individual is complete. No God, no communist community, no individuality, no reality. India, Africa and America are one! Globalization is here! Global brand names are reality! Enslavement is complete.
When Alexander asked Diogenes what he meant when he called him "the slave of my slaves," the latter reportedly replied, "You are the slave of greed, ambition and selfishness while I have enslaved all those so you are the slave of my slaves."
You don't need to travel out of your jar to understand that reality. But how many of us can do that? The tragedy is not the present system but the fact that the number of people who question the system are decreasing and becoming increasingly powerless. The danger is that planet earth may eventually become a planet of cutters, not of humans who can develop despite the system and grow through systematized schooling into educated people who can think for themselves.
The danger is there and the danger is real but I am optimistic. My thirteen-year-old daughter, while watching an English movie recently, commented that both Hindi and English movies seemed to have a storm scene whenever the supernatural or unnatural was to happen. She had seen through the symbolism which had seemed the natural reality to my schooled self for the past forty years, and so I feel there is reason to hope that the coming generation will penetrate the dark womb of symbols that envelops us and break out into the initially dazzling sunshine of open thought and plainspeak, which may eventually lead to the Hidden Reality Within that forced the proud Alexander, who glimpsed it in the fearless Diogenes, to comment, "If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes…"
Copyright © 2002 Deep Inder. All Rights Reserved.