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Confusion Reigns

I am confused. I am perplexed. About many things. I’m confused just thinking whether it’s just me who is like this or everyone else feels some of these emotions as well. I feel confused when I see people going about their daily lives.

I see people being busily busy and I am left bewildered.

What occurs to me is that there are so many rules of the road about how to live one’s life. And these rules differ from society to society. They vary widely and people in each society follow those implicit rules. Are people undiscerning or is it that those rules make sense to most people?

Individuals tend to have an identity of their own in advanced countries such as the United States/Canada and in the countries of Europe. Old civilizations such as India are still quite old-fashioned. Here, society tends to predominate over the individual. Individuals are supposed or expected to mold themselves as per the long-held and therefore (so it’s claimed) tried-and-true norms of society.

In the normal course of upbringing of the kids, they are exposed to various traditional ways of thinking and traditional norms. Questioning of any sort is frowned upon. Kids grow up with a combination of very fixed worldviews and attitudes. Often the worldview tends to be narrow whereby only their culture and cultural value system is thought to be the correct and appropriate culture to have and other cultural value systems are looked down upon.

Life is defined in very predictable ways with very definite and important milestones. Children’s education gets a lot of stress. But education is not supposed to be about developing an inquiring mind. Education merely provides a means to acquire some skill set that will lead to a job. A job brings money. Money leads to prestige in society. Money is essential to buy the bare necessities of life. Beyond that, with more money, one can acquire more and more. These acquisitions can range from smaller to larger cars and smaller to larger houses. The larger, the better.

You won’t hear of any conflicts about science education in school. Is it because people in India have realized that evolution offers the true history of humankind? Have people realized that religious creation myths are mere stories? No. the reality is that people have compartmentalized their brains in such a way that they are happy to subscribe to contradictory beliefs. At school, evolution reigns. At home, religion is supreme.

Marriage is an important milestone after getting a job. Youngsters even today in a traditional society such as India opt for something called an arranged marriage. May be, it’s the only game in town. An arranged marriage is a traditional way of hitching together a boy and a girl. The parents and other elders play a remarkable and overriding role in this form of marriage. The elders tend to be already related and therefore known to each other. Or, an informal search for a suitable boy or a girl might proceed through informal word of mouth publicity. The search area tends to cover only a few villages near to one another. The key considerations in deciding the suitability of the boy or girl tends to be their religion and caste antecedents. Of course, one’s religious identity is such an inviolable part of one’s identity in traditional society that the thought won’t even cross anyone’s mind to jump across religious divides.

Caste is a complex inherited structure that’s as bewildering as it’s meaningless. Yet the old guard clings to it. The youngsters may not be too steadfast or rigid about caste structures but they don’t question it explicitly either.

Then there are the rituals themselves. These rituals have originated probably hundreds of years ago and might have been suited to that time. These rituals might last for a few days at the time of the marriage itself and there might be additional rituals to be performed on an annualized basis.

These rituals essentially are about taking an imaginary god’s permission to marry the concerned people to each other and also about acknowledging the dead forefathers or taking their permissions as well.

Of course, the purpose of marriage is sex. Essentially, marriage is a euphemism for sex. So, it’s supposed to be a lifetime commitment and a one-to-one relationship. After marriage, the next milestone is naturally giving birth to kids. The purpose of life is defined to be the continuation of the gene pool.

All these rigid structures however leave little room for imagination. How can anyone predict that two people will spend a lifetime together happily? Horoscopes are matched in India before marriage. This is some astrological mumbo-jumbo based on one’s place and time of birth. This is too ridiculous a basis to deserve much thought let alone debating.

What if the couple discovers that they are not psychologically compatible with each other after marriage? There’s really no solution available in the traditional way of doing things for this problem. One can only grin and bear it and pretend to be happy and remain together for the sake of the kids and for the sake of society.

I do not know when people — educated people — will begin to question moribund traditions and rituals. I hope it’s soon. I hope technology will show ancient practices to be irrelevant in our time.

Beyond this, however, coming to the people who might like to claim that they don’t have a racist bone in their body (and I’m quoting what Sam Harris had said in a different context), it’s interesting to analyze deep-rooted biases.

I remember Christopher Hitchens saying in a different context that the human species is remarkably similar in genetic terms. If we were a species of dog, Hitchens says, we’d all be one breed.

That’s a stunning fact to realize. And yet how efficiently we have learnt to focus on our minuscule differences: the color of our skins, hair, the shape of our eyes, or the nose, our heights, everything is used to differentiate ourselves from one another.

Is it possible to overcome this strange, innate tendency which is surely evolutionary in origin? I can only try and reflect further about my own life experience in the past and my expectations for the future.

In the modern age, we are all defined by perhaps tens of thousands of likes and dislikes. And we are able to develop some deep bond with only those people who have somewhat overlapping likes.

·         Who do you follow on Twitter? Sarah Palin! I can’t date a girl who follows her! Or, I can’t date a guy who follows her.

·         Who are your friends on Facebook? And how many friends do you have? 397 friends? I think I won’t want to date a girl who has got more than 50 friends. Or, well, I’ve got 721 friends myself! So, bring it on!

·         What’s your favorite sports car? Well, my dream car is a Ferrari. Not Lamborghini? A Porsche will do just fine. Yawn …

·         What sort of sofas do you have in the drawing room? Oh, the sofas are quite cool and modernistic in design and matches the overall architecture of the room and the interior is designed quite tastefully. I would love to date this guy. Well, ugh, he likes to pick his nose rather incessantly, obsessively, overtly, and shamelessly. Hmmmm, I guess I have to reconsider.

·         This guy knows his Neruda from his Sartre. That’s cool. A dazzlingly bright intelligence. Brains! Exactly right for a brainy girl looking for a brainy guy. But the guy’s underwear and socks are hanging all over the place. The guy on average showers about once a week during the hot Indian summer. Deodorant use can only achieve so much. If only he had a better sense of personal hygiene … Sigh!

·         A traditional Indian girl … expert in cooking and other household activities. But completely impervious to all modern influences such as technology. Girls don’t drive cars. What’s the Internet?

·         Beautiful girl. But too extrovert. Drinks a lot of alcohol. Parties a lot. Smokes cigarettes. Guy likes exclusivity and is not sure if he will get it or not.

·         Girl and boy both like to have open relationships. They’re living together in the same apartment. If they want to have sex with each other, they’ve it in the apartment. But they’ve agreed with each other that they’re free to have sex with others of their liking as well. Brings its own set of complications. But so far so good. Future uncertain.

And I’ve barely touched a few of the thousands of choices that are made.

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