Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Children of Darkness

Darkness is a pervasive theme in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth.  The play opens with three witches one of whom says ominously, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”

The protagonists are Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth both of whom are described as ‘children of darkness’ by the Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley.  It is worth quoting Bradley in some detail.

“These two characters are fired by one and the same passion of ambition; and to a considerable extent they are alike.  The disposition of each is high, proud, and commanding.  They are born to rule, if not to reign.  They are peremptory or contemptuous to their inferiors.  They are not children of light, like Brutus and Hamlet; they are of the world.  We observe in them no love of country, and no interest in the welfare of anyone outside their family.  Their habitual thoughts and aims are ... all of station and power.”

Ambition in itself is a good thing.  But when ambition is coupled with the characteristics highlighted in the quote above, it paves the way to darkness. 

Psychologist Karen Horney (1885-1952) listed ten sources of inner conflicts which give rise to neurotic needs in people.  One such source is ‘the neurotic need for power’.  This need expresses itself in craving power for its own sake, in an essential disrespect for others, and in an indiscriminate glorification of strength and a contempt for weakness.  People who are afraid to exert power openly may try to control others through intellectual exploitation and superiority.  Another variety of the power drive is the need to believe in the omnipotence of will.  Such people feel they can accomplish anything simply by exerting will power. [as summarised by C. S. Hall et al in Theories of Personality]

The similarity between Bradley’s (a literary critic) and Horney’s lists of characteristics of the power-hungry is striking.

We come across people who suffer from this “neurotic need” all too often in our surroundings, not just in politics.  Horney’s solution for this problem is that the person should understand (or be made to understand) that his/her worth does not lie in sitting on a throne pretending or claiming to be a god/goddess.  Psychologically healthy life lies in learning to live with other people on a kind of equal footing, accepting them as they are as well as accepting oneself without the facades of the inflated ego. 

Horney, however, added that the neurotic is not flexible.  Hence the change is not at all easy.  In the words of the literary critic, that neuroticism is the “tragic flaw of the character.”

Not all neuroticism makes people children of darkness.  The simple fact is that most of us possess certain degrees of neuroticism of one kind or another.  The problem is when we start inflicting other people with the fallout of our neuroticism.  It is then that we become the children of darkness and create a world where fair is foul and foul is fair. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Centenary of World War I

Today (July 28) is the centenary of World War I (WWI).  The War started as a family affair and then spread to the whole world because of more family affairs.  Wars are, more often than not, family affairs even today.  We, the human beings, are still as clannish as we were when our forefathers descended from the tree and started feeling ashamed of the groins that gave birth to families.  Shame breeds wars.  Shame is the other side of honour.  

What triggered WWI was the murder of the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand.  The year was 1914.  France was already a republic and England was a constitutional monarchy.  The rest of Europe remained conservative monarchies.  But the monarchies were already feeling the fire beneath their bottoms because of what had happened in France and England.  The common man was beginning to assert himself.

It was a common man who shot the archduke Francis Ferdinand.  A common man’s crime could not have triggered a world war. 

Francis Ferdinand was the nephew of the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph.  Francis Ferdinand was a close friend of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm.  Connections.  Relationships.  Politics is all about connections and relationships, whatever illustrious historians may tell us.

But the historians are not all wrong, of course.  How can they be?  They are the scholars who determine for us, the ordinary mortals, what is right and wrong.

Historians are the people who will make a mahatma the villain and a villain the mahatma.  Wait and see how it is going to happen in India in the coming few months.  NCERT is going to rewrite history textbooks.   Just as it did when BJP came to power the last time.

During the WWI, the Prussian field marshal Helmuth von Moltke wrote: “Perpetual peace is a dream, and not even a beautiful dream.  War is part of God’s order.  Without war, the world would stagnate and lose itself in materialism.  In it, Man’s most noble virtues are displayed – courage and self-denial, devotion to duty, willingness to sacrifice oneself, and to risk life itself.

In August 1914, young men in Europe rushed to enlist themselves in the army of their countries.  They wanted to relish the entertainment called war. 

Today, we are told that young men of India are going to the Arab countries to fight against the enemies of Islam.  War is a good entertainment, it seems, even today.

In the olden days, Kings led their soldiers to wars when they were bored of the women and wine in their respective palaces. 

Can we give more entertainment to people and avoid war?  I think it is possible.  But the entertainment has to be more stupid than what we are providing already on the numerous TV channels.  We should give a lot of God on the channels. 

Freedom is something that people can’t understand.  Enslave them with God and spirituality.  Temples and Mosques have failed.  Give them God on TV screens and computer screens.  Make God digital.  Make God a relevant drug. 

WWI marked the final end of absolute monarchies in Europe.  Yet there was another World War just a few decades later.  Why?  Because there were too many people in Germany, the country that was defeated in WWI, who were unemployed.  Too much poverty.  Too much exploitation.  And Germany sought its saviour in Hitler.

Hitlers create wars.  They don't know how to create relevant Gods.

These are some random thoughts of mine on the centenary of WWI.  I’m no historian, no scholar, no strategist.  I am not one of those Israelis who entertain themselves watching their missiles kill hundreds of people in the Gaza strip. I’m not one of those “experts” who are going to rewrite the history of India in the coming days.