Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind.”
Image credits: GalleriX
In Cantos 3 of Dante’s divine comedy, he, alongside his guide Virgil, sees an endless procession of miserable souls blindly walking into deeper parts of the inferno and having a feeling of timelessness in this maze built to punish everyone inside it. Similarly, In King Lear, we also see the effect of a blind and gullible faith that Lear has towards his daughters in a futile attempt to be loved by them. It is interesting to see this theme in both of these great works of western literature. The first one was written in AD 1320 and the latter in 1606, but the emotions are pretty similar even with this difference.
We see this today in our political discourses, where we get nothing but fractured echoes from inside a gas chamber of ideologies and debates which we have built ourselves over the years. This is present on both the spectrums, which defines its form of national identity as the best and the other, which takes issue if you even remotely break their political correctness guidelines. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors, whose intellect was far bigger than all of ours combined, wrote in the 10th mandala of the Rigveda this beautiful verse and I quote “How many fires are there, how many suns, how many dawns, how many waters? I say this, O you Fathers, not as a challenge. I ask it to know, O you poets”. This tells us about the foundation of greatness that is tapa meaning a dedication to gain more knowledge and deepen our understanding of the world.
This reminds me of the famous tale in the biblical book of Samuel, the story of David and Goliath, which is about How one day the large army of Palestine decides to conquer the land of Israel once and for all they ask the Israelites to send their best warrior to fight their best. Whomsoever may win will keep this piece of land, after seeing their opponent, all the soldiers are too scared to fight and finally David a shepherd boy asks to go into the battle when everyone else steps back the king permits him to go into the fight against the Palestinian giant Goliath who by many was considered the greatest warrior of all time.
Before going in, he disagrees with wearing any armour or taking a sword with him as he says they are too heavy, and he has protected his sheep’s from lions over the years without any of this, so he walks down the mountain without any hesitation and throws a stone with the help of a stick on his forehead the power centre of Goliath’s body which kills Him instantly and then with his sword David chops his head off which scares the Palestinian army who retreat, and the shepherd boy saves his land.
In his book of the same name, Malcolm Gladwell talks about a theory that suggests that Goliath had dyslexia and could not see David properly, and that is why he was a sitting duck ready to be attacked by the right shooter. This resembles our struggle to reach where we were when we decided to choose an alternative called “Democracy” created by Athenians and perfected by the Roman senate who became nothing more than a puppet for the rulers and philosopher like Socrates having a hatred for this system, which saw its decline in Athens bringing in religious and structural feudalism where saying a word wrong was considered blasphemous and against the will of God.
This later turned into an outcry for justice that spread in the entire world and its most prominent example and exporter. The French Revolution showed how the poor questioned the political intelligentsia when they asked them why nothing was done and how their countries were dying in flames. Then we finally took down the rulers of our world who were dyslexic after consuming the alcohol of power and control. Even In the before mentioned quote from the Rigveda, The rishis of the 10th Mandala are divided into Shudra Suktas and Mahasuktas, that is, sages who have composed "small" versus "great" hymns.
Then how come we reached this place where we replaced this system to create another one in which we who thought ourselves to be the puny Davids who defeated the giant Goliaths from the feudal lords to dictators and other oppressors we ourselves got blinded by this luxury and became who we always despised because we must remember that the songs and slogans of chivalry and power fade away in the far distant past and what remains are the harsh words of history to judge our doings.
From the Canterbury tales written As a love letter towards The English knights and knighthood Or the Babur and Akbarnama to show the greatness of these rulers are all part of this process of evolution of society until it’s faced with the truth, which is filled with many shades that one initially doesn’t see. Like Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey, we too are trying to reach our home but are being held back by our own fatal flaws and desires, which come to light when we face monsters along the way, which has been a challenging task for him to accomplish, whose other name Ulysses was written as a great hero by Alfred Tennyson in his poem of the same name but we must remember what Kabir Das once said about great heroes he said “Saints, I see. The world is mad. If I tell the truth, They rush to beat me. If I lie, they trust me. Hindus claim Ram as the one, Muslims claim Raheem, then kill each other, Knowing not the essence.”
That essence needs to be found like the Rotational force of earth was measured by Foucault's pendulum and the connection of the individual in Roman architecture with the help of a Vitruvian Man or like Jay gatsby reaching out our hand to touch that green light on a distant shore and realising what Alexandre Dumas taught us in The Count of Monte Cristo about How only after escaping a prison one understands what is the true nature of freedom.
In his book A man's search for meaning, Viktor Frankl says that freedom has two parts: one, the idea of freedom and the other responsibility. The thing we must ask ourselves is what that responsibility is?
THE PRINCE AND HIS KINGDOM
The idea of responsibility and morality in people change through time like the transformations any culture takes with every new century from its clothes to politics and language like the one l am writing in now was alien to this land until the English colonised us.
One of the exports we received with it was perhaps the greatest writer in this new language who was William Shakespeare, whose play Othello was first staged on the shores of Calcutta in the 1780s to now being a crucial part of our school curriculum in his play Othello we see a character like Iago who represents the moral decay of a person to cease power and his distaste for A world of Social Darwinism which says that “only the fittest will survive” and is totally against the Machiavellian principles which in his book.
The Prince argues that politics has no relation to morals, almost like the Atheist philosopher Charvaka who believed there is no afterlife and all that there is now. And as it is said in Macbeth that “Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair".
I am talking about these two because, in actuality, they are pretty similar as both faced the same situation in front of them. Machiavelli himself was not Machiavellian, which means his works need to be looked at in a different light as the Medici family of Venice grabbed power Venice was divided into different states.
Machiavelli, who was a bureaucrat himself for almost 14 years, was imprisoned and tortured, so what he created was the need of the hour as he wanted to see a united country similarly during Shakespeare’s time, we see that the rule of Queen Elizabeth I and complete censorship as no one could write or speak anything about her he wanted more freedom, so there was a struggle to attain a balance, and this could only be done by someone wise enough to deliver as Machiavelli himself said that “The lion cannot protect himself from traps and a fox cannot protect itself from wolves so one must be both to survive”.
When you think about it, this is more in line with Chanakya as he, too, was a man who helped create a centralised Mauryan empire and destroyed the Nanda dynasty. He didn't shy away from using different tactics to get to his destination in one of his classes. When asked the question, what is Dharma, he replied: “Anything which is the need of the hour is Dharma”.
Many conservatives like Henry 8 and Churchill took what Machiavelli taught word to word. On the other hand, the Marxist historian Antonio Gramsci argued that Machiavelli's audience for this work was not the classes who already rule (or have "hegemony") over the common people, but the common people themselves, trying to establish a new hegemony, and making Machiavelli the first "Italian Jacobin". In Henry V, we see the character of Sir John Falstaff, a guide to Henry in his conquest to win France and to whom Trotsky would refer to as a bourgeois front runner for the proletariat and a great teacher by the old guards of aristocratic politics.
Similarly, Shakespeare’s other play Coriolanus which is about a war-loving anti-democratic tyrant, was viewed by fascists as a representation of their ideology of a totalitarian strongman who was an idol of Blood and soil. On the other hand, leftist’s Like playwright Bertal Brecht saw it as the awakening of a proletariat who questions a dictator. During the American Revolution, the continental army that fought for democracy talked about Coriolanus as the symbol for democratic rights. The continental poet Jonathan M Sewell wrote, “ Learn my countrymen Rome’s guilt to shun Honour, justice and attitude”.
This journey from an Iago to Falstaff, Coriolanus, and hamlet are all different variations of political morality’s best and worst parts of people like Spectroscopy they are all examples of different colours and wavelengths falling in a row from the rise and eventually fall of leader’s, Falstaff because of alcoholism, Hamlet because of his madness, Othello and his virtue, Iago with his tricks and Coriolanus with his gullible yet furious nature, Are all signs of the lacklustre that eventually sets in a feudalistic society.
WAR AND PEACE
Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher, in his book, The Global Village, talked about how the Modern day technology of television is creating a sense of village and tribal identity in all of us as we don’t have any individual personality because we are lost in mind-numbing screeches of today’s discourse and the only way we can attain yourself is through force as he said on the front a soldier gains his identity through violence.
We too, not just by physical but verbal assault, are doing the same. The retweet being a hunt and likes and shares of a story, the butchering of the animal, Political or just another post all of it is serving this idea of us trying to form an identity. The election age is now a social need that has sucked us in as an Amoeba traps its victim to feed on, but this doesn’t mean that this change was terrible. However, quite the opposite of why we feel this way is because of human nature. We still face the aftershocks of historical events because this sense of breaking up in a society is not new.
During Roman times, there was the rise of Spartacus to free slaves, and after his fall, control was needed, which was seen in the form of Julius Caesar. Similarly, after the French Revolution, the rapid anarchy spreading throughout the land gave way for Napoleon Bonaparte. Still, they too couldn’t control their faith and fell as it is said in the Vedas, the only constant in the cosmos is the change which is set in motion from the first day of a new order the death of Caesar made emperors out of madmen like Nero and Caligula, A battle at Waterloo saw the end of the new French order created by Napoleon.
Stalin, who came in centuries later in an interview with H.G Wells, said that “No society gives way for the other peacefully”, but then one would think is this justification enough for the irrational choices of the people who were sent to the Gulag causing the death of millions, or The cultural revolution of Mao, Pol Pot’s Cambodian Genocide, Stormtroopers burning Jewish homes, lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan are all an excuse for what the Tamil philosopher Thiruvalluvar one’s said about in his poem on kings “A king without critics will fail even if he has no enemies”.
From Genghis Khan, who created an empire like the world had never seen before, to his grandson Kublai Khan whose thirst for power was even more. A true symbol of Macbeth’s philosophy of “Blood for Blood". Samuel Coleridge, in his poem about Khan, wrote, “That loud and long l will build that dome in the air, That sunny dome! Those caves of ice! And all who heard should see there, And all should cry. Beware! Beware!”.
After his death saw the collapse of this empire into many pieces between his successors, the same man Marco Polo was in complete awe of, including his palace in Xanadu, saying that it was something to marvel at and his following generations could not maintain that same power and aura.
Attila the Hun won entire Eastern Europe is known as the Scorch Of God, who killed his brother Bleda to gain power until he was defeated by Roman general Flavius Aetius and saw his kingdom shrinking, choking to his own death, or the fall of Constantinople ending the Byzantine empire. The Golden path of Mansa Musa, who was said to have more wealth than gods themselves, a man with Midas touch, has withered in the sand with his Empire of Mali, where today there is nothing but poverty. There are countless empires and examples like these in the pages of history, which are concerned with the memory of humanity teaching us about these arrogant rulers that Thiruvalluvar talked about. The falling of empires because of Power, Glory, Land or religion all face the same fate.
Glasses of Trotsky, Cigar of Che and Churchill, the dagger that stabbed Caesar, Pipe of Stalin, the Hat of Napoleon or the Flute of Nero are all Parts of their personality which don't stand the test of time. No matter how fiery a speech one gives like Hitler, the theatrical gestures of a Mussolini or Well thought out debates on Non-Violence of Gandhi, Shrewd political instincts of Nehru and Christian anarchy preached by a Tolstoy don’t matter. All that remains are the final products of what is considered the sum of a whole.
The senate of Rome and colosseum for gladiators to the Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana, which was made in Mussolini’s Italy, are all that is called In Marine Biology as environmental DNA that is taken from the saliva collected by oceanologists of whales & other species which shows the changes that are taking place in the waves and current over the years and like minds of different species vegetating on its own over time by which the ecosystem of earth is affected. This unending continuum keeps moving, as the Vedas had said about continuity of Change.
So what is the answer to the question earlier asked by Viktor Frankl on our responsibility in today’s democracy?
In the 9th century, a Buddhist monk Linji Yixuan said that “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”.Which wasn’t meant to be taken literally. What it talked about was that in debates, spiritual or non-spiritual, all the things are out of the material realm, so they need to evolve and change. They are not going to remain the same forever as no system is.
Even democracy has seen different shapes and forms, so it’s better to keep the conversation going no matter how much we may agree or disagree with it because if this stops, there is nothing but bad news for all of us. We all have come a long way from that stroke of the midnight hour to calling ourselves Atma Nirbhar, but whatever the slogans are, we need to kill the reluctant attitude in ourselves and develop empathy. Only then can we have morality.
After the war of Mahabharat, Ashwathama was punished for his acts of murdering the children of Pandavas by a life of immortality and pain with blood constantly dripping from his forehead and flesh wounds always reminding him of his Sins. Similarly, we too suffer the consequences due to these acts of suppression each side commits in all the debates and has a tendency to backtrack its ways and regurgitate our own vomit and views, never letting the other opinions have a say. We have seen enough violence in this country since the partition.
We have seen too many situations From Kashmir to Mumbai, Gujarat, Delhi, U.P and Bihar. And there are many such countless places, spaces that have been a victim of this bloodshed because they have an attitude that does not allow one to listen to the opinion of what is viewed as the other. Reason can be anything from one's Caste, Creed, Sex, Religion or ideology, The results are usually the same. We are not Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree trying to gain enlightenment so let’s not pretend to be and allow ourselves to make mistakes.
As Mao said, “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend”. Because one of the founding fathers of our neighbouring country Muhammad Iqbal who had a distaste for democracy, said, “Democracy counts the heads and does not weigh the brains”, it’s time to prove him wrong. Or else there is always a shepherd boy with a stick in his pocket ready to knock us out.
BY VISHESH CHAUDHARY