Life is a sequence of choices that the universe puts before us, and decisions that we take from them. And in today’s world, we all seem so sure about ourselves, that the journey from one to the other is almost effortless. In this age of broadband internet, when we face a particular question, we choose the answers that statistically dominate our google experience.
Every individual (if we still have the luxury of subdividing society in these basic units) constitutes of a set of overlapping and ever-evolving permutations of ideas that are already out there. The spark of an original idea keeps lighting up here and there, in the world of ideas; but we have developed a collective habit of cynically looking at life as something already lived. We take pride in thinking about ourselves as the epitome of evolution that knows-it-all, and is laid back on its course that will automatically drive humanity to its final frontier.
We are living in a time of forgetfulness so that one step leads to another, in a Markovian process of sorts, without having any correlation with the past. The concept of a lost free-will and the inevitability of materially abundant life is getting more and more hardwired as we progress from one generation to the other. So, at this point, what we need to ask ourselves: Is there something that will shake us out of this illusion?
In order to study this phenomenon, we must first try to make a periscope that may help us look beyond this well we find ourselves stuck into. This is not a very difficult thing to achieve.
Catch a bus and reach the hinterlands! You can do this in whatever part of the world you are in.
I choose to sit at a window seat and I chose to imagine that I was on an intergalactic quest, where my own world slowly passed me by, and like a free fall, I felt a discomfort as well as an attraction due to the vertigo (as Milan Kundera would express this condition), transcending into a new world. As I stepped down from this bus and entered this alien territory, I got the feeling that the laws of dynamics of this world might be a little different.
First thing I noticed is that, human beings are a minority in this realm of natural abundance. The only sign of our own modern world, I found, were scarcely sprinkled man-made houses and electricity towers. Second thing I noticed was that the most resourceful of resources from our world – money – had little value here. I was thirsty and I jingled the coins in my pocket but it did not get me any. For water, I had to take pains and go down to the stream or go to a house and request them to give. There were no shops or vending machines. A replacement for money was good-will and a little money (little money because there is nothing else that I could offer).
As I embraced this new experience, and watched the day go by, I could slowly identify the building blocks of the socio-cultural aspect of this new realm. One was the artlessness of the way people went about things in their daily lives: Oxen pulling ploughs with the same mental coolness as the men making them do it. Women returning from streams with the same balance of mind as the pot of water they were carrying on their heads. There was an aura of timelessness about everything. It all seemed a part of wisdom accumulated for thousands of years and still simmering.
An exception to this observation were the children. Some of them hopping on their way back from school, some bouncing stones off the water on the stream. All of them bubbling with joy. The joy of learning. Learning to reconcile a thousand year old culture with the lessons of the modern age. But, even with this, there is one entity that breathes in the young and the adults alike — the sense of time.
At first it seemed to me, an urbanite and person of this modern world, that time mostly is a surplus that had no tangible value here. However, as I started to breathe in tandem with the residents, I discovered that time is the best nourishment to life here. Life is simple there – no now that I am here in the realm of nature – I shall say, life is simple here. It is made up of some indentations, a few ups and downs. It is time that evens everything out. One consumes resources here too, in the hinterlands, in the realm of nature, but there are long gaps that exist here between the consuming of one resource to another unlike the modern city where multiple resources are consumed simultaneously. In these long gaps that exist in the hinterlands, one contemplates the relation of self with the milieu, which leads to (if not all answers) a sense of fulfillment.
Everyday experiences get registered in the psyche, in bunches and individually. These experiences are digested to provide strength for every moment as well as for a lifetime, due to the slow but steady progression of time. Curiosity of the young is nurtured and quenched by the germination of original thought, and through it, the discovery of the means of survival in this world. The world of ideas is robustly fastened, by its memory and imagination, in their minds. They remember their own lives, their own people, their own land.
That is what I perhaps take back after spending a whole day here in the realm of nature as I catch the return bus to a destination where I have no time to remember.
Back home now, at-least in all its material aspect, these thoughts about my experience in the hinterlands are hanging in a limbo. In this state of mind, I performed a thought experiment. I went into the shoes of a person from the hinterlands. I thought, “What if I were to live inside the mind of a person from the hinterland, the kingdom of time, and become a temporary visitor (a legal alien as the Americans call the visas they hand out to foreigners) in my own modern city, this land of forgetfulness? What if this man from the realm of Nature became an observer of this realm of Consumerism for a few days, what would he make of it?” So I opened a logbook and start to jot down the alien’s observations.
People here start their day by reading the newspaper. Sometimes, it is the same news every day, but they somehow manage to forget this. They undergo activities as channeled by bodily functions and then they head towards something called a ‘job’. Almost all adults have one. One thing that is fascinating is that there is a lot of diversity in the kind of jobs that people do in the modern city, at-least as compared to the drudgery one goes through back in the realm of nature. However, there is little connect between what these modern people consume and what they do for it, as opposed to the people who live off the land where work begets resources in a very simple way. This world is a labyrinthine connection, where understanding what leads to what is a lost cause; seeing through the system is no longer considered to be important and everyone is so sure that their material needs will be met that they don’t even think much about it.
People, in this modern post-industrial world, live in a constant state of consumption, may it be goodies that suit the palate or buying things projected by the media, which regulates peoples fancies and in the process strengthens the underlying structure of society. People no longer contemplate on their basic necessities and means to achieve their fulfillment. Subsistence is replaced by a newer concept that drives people towards the blurry vision of an imaginary place that shall fulfill their never ending desire for ‘success’.
In this soup made up of people and regulated ideas, it seems a little difficult to identify individual entities. However, everyone over here is obsessed about something called as their ‘individuality’.
And how can we forget the children? Right from day one, their life is finely tuned with parameters as family, friends, teachers, television etc. They may appear to have a very lively sense of exposure to the well of experience, but they still can’t see the universe beyond this well. Between consuming and imbibing the artificial life they are presented, with the constant noise of information thrown at them, they don’t realize (and alas they never will even in adulthood) the hot breaths of time that may leave them totally direction-less.
Adults, instead of nostalgia for their childhood, remember only the psychological complexes that they contracted from their experiences, which still haunt them. Every condition is easily described by fitting it into boxes that are created, which many take as fundamental truths. Back in the realm of Nature, these boxes would make us very claustrophobic.
Even-though the residents of the hinterlands live a monotonous life, the flight of their thoughts have infinite possibilities and are relevant to their infinitesimal details. The observer wishes to go back to that world.
In this essay I have contrasted the life of two extreme worlds. The earthly experience, however, encompasses both these extremes, and with it, everything in between. And when these worlds co-exist, they are no longer a closed system by themselves. They interact, and inevitably, one is exploited by the other, in terms of resources. One world keeps devouring resources in, a seemingly, never-ending crescendo. The other, pulled by the vertigo of the first world, still resisting to take the fall, with an endeavor to harmonize till eternity. And the confidence with which the first world consumes, will face some serious cutoffs, when the planet can no longer support their conviction and our over-evolved species frenetically heads toward extinction by the virtue of its mental dormancy and physical ruin. This is the original dilemma.
It is the dilemma between equilibrium and pushing the boundaries. The boundaries cannot be pushed indefinitely and there is a future only in a balanced approach. It is a dilemma between knowledge and information. The initial quest to understand existence, was forced to change its course for profit and exploitation. Knowledge is the process of understanding the universe without disturbing it, whereas, information is a polished and easily consumable by-product of knowledge used to erode our existence. It is a dilemma between adaptability and pleasing oneself. Which species has a better chance at surviving the upcoming mental and physical crisis? The one that can adapt to extreme impulses or the one which require their milieu to behave favorably? It is a dilemma between the past and the future. The past stands firmly on the ground of sustainability for all and the future is leaning on the fairy tale of life elsewhere (Other than earth, life on Mars). Will the future sustain us all? Or have most of us become an outdated commodity, which can be easily done without? It is a dilemma between the ideal and the material. Ruminating over our lives and its necessities reconcile our ignorance with the universe much more than an endless consumption.
However, for me, most importantly, it is a dilemma between time (memory) and forgetfulness. We may very well choose to live our lives, without taking time to remember it. We may also choose to forget all this hocus-pocus about equilibrium-crescendo, knowledge-information, adaptability- self-pleasing, past-future, ideal-material and many more faces of the same dilemma. For that matter, we may have already ignored this dilemma, and it doesn’t pose a choice for us any longer and we have already crossed the point of no return. We may forget almost everything and go on with our brazenness. After all, if the Mothership has to crash, why not be a cowboy about it? But one thing we must all remember – the force may not be with us.