The Project Of Civilisation - Eastern Mirror
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Op-Ed

The project of civilisation

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By EMN Updated: Mar 26, 2024 11:12 pm

Monalisa Changkija

                What separates human beings from other living beings is our ability to speak. So we believe that we are superior to other living beings. But what places other living beings much above us and renders us inferior is what we say and how we say it. The project of civilisation, one believes, is so much more than the scientific, technological, economic, political and social revolutions for growth, development, prosperity ad progress. And, at the core of this project of civilisation, one also believes, is human beings’ verbal communication. Due to the astonishing tools and means of communication in our hands ~ today we are no longer far away from anyone, everyone and anywhere. But the quality of communication in our public sphere is abysmal. The quality of our communication has descended to such depths that it has rendered the project of civilisation impotent and extraneous.

                While the quality of mastering languages has improved tremendously, the quality of using languages to communicate our thoughts and feelings have deteriorated. This not only creates stresses and tension in public life but also exposes the character and calibre and exposes the civilisational quotient of people, who believe that theirs is the right to exercise the right to free speech ‘unfiltered’ and consequences be damned. Two groups of people come to mind ~ political parties and politicians in power and those who feel ‘empowered’ by technology to rave and rant anything at anyone. For the first group of people, read and listen to their ‘speeches’ in the various forms of media ~ a lot of them appear to think and believe that political power extends to violating all norms of human and social decency, decorum and dignity and absolves them from the responsibility of the project of civilisation. We will see more of this as the dates for the Lok Sabha elections draw nearer.

                As for the second group of people, while the question of upbringing always lurks in the backdrop, it appears that besides some kind of emptiness inside them probably due to which the insatiable need to attract attention, therefore the incurable angst ~ so the need to live in the full frontal view of the world. Ergo, the raving and ranting of drivel made out to appear as important and relevant. It takes all sorts to make the world, I suppose. But doesn’t such low levels of human communication speak volumes about the project of civilisation? Or is this project no longer valid in our world today? So, what actually are our projects today? What actually are we hoping and aspiring for and dreaming about? Attend coaching classes, get a job, earn good money, buy a smartphone and rave and rant against the world and his wife?

                Belittling opponents and those we don’t like is human nature but so are several other characteristics that we tame because human society wouldn’t exist if we gave in to every emotion we felt. One would like to believe that the entire project of civilisation is aimed at elevating the human being from the lowest to the highest forms of self-expression through language, arts, literature, music, science and technology, etc., as well as through numerous other cultural expressions. Ah, but these too have been monetised and commercialised and so today we live in a world that values ‘likes’ and incomes. Pointless to ask whether technology has made us this way or it is human nature to corrupt everything around us because there will always be diverse opinions ~ unfortunately, little or no solution.

                In the final analysis, who and what we have turned ourselves into must certainly draw our attention? Look at political parties and politicians, who talk and act as if they are flawless, can never be wrong and hunt their opponents relentlessly ~ all to uphold their ‘whiteness’ against the ‘blackness’ of their opponents. All these create the sense of going back in time ~ before the rule of law. All these also give the sense that mental health issues are rifer than we thought. Imagine most in power talk, act and behave as if political power has elevated his/her to a state of divinity higher than the Divine Himself and that too in a vociferously declared “mother of democracy”! And, never mind the tripe that is spewed, as if it is the gospel truth. A scary world, indeed ~ especially if one considers how and where the country is being blindfolded and taken. Indubitably then we must talk of the values in our home and school environments, quality of education, etc., seeing that we seem to be unable to distinguish right from wrong, light from darkness, lies from truths, facts from opinions, the enduring from the transient. I think the project of civilisation has been abandoned and we remain silent spectator to this abandonment. Is it now too late to reclaim this project? Or, have we lost interest in the quest for civilisation? Perhaps human beings are more comfortable with Maggie noodles than with Cordon Bleu so we make gods of those who provide mass appeal?

                It is then not surprising that bad-mouthing, insults and humiliations attract more attention than polite and civilised presentations ergo, the regressing quality of our communication to get across a point. So, why do we feel the need to insult, humiliate and stomp on those we don’t like, which have become the hallmark of this country’s public discourse? Yes, mental health issues are definitely rifer that we think. Or, is it a case of bhejal manu, bhejal maal? I am told that there is a saying in Assamese, which loosely translates: you can sell sour mangoes in the market only once. But what if buyers want to buy only sour mangoes? What does that say about us? That we don’t know quality? Is that why we take so much nonsense and pass it off as free will and our right to speech and expression?

                India was one of the foremost civilisations in history and the legacy and heritage of wisdom are still palpable in numerous aspects of our lives ~ however dimly. This legacy and heritage of wisdom was not built on lies, distortions and plain debasement of others, especially opponents. This legacy and heritage of wisdom must be revived because we are fast descending into a chaos that would make us forget the word ‘civilisation’. Civilisation is also not the sole prerogative of any individual or group(s) of individual. It is the collective project of the people for whom sagacity is more imperative than political power.

Postscript: Influencers are said to be big these days and that besides the show-biz, music, fashions, sports, cosmetic and accessories corporate, tourism, etc. sectors, even political parties are wooing them with the most attractive packages. Now, why are Influencers doing so well? Because there are people who can’t decide and need validation on what to eat, wear, dress, which music to listen to, movie to see, sports to play, place to go, even who to vote? Yes gods, what has happened to parenting, our education system and media?

(The Columnist, a journalist and poet, is Founding Editor, Nagaland Page. Published in the March 25, 2024 issue of Assam Tribune)

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By EMN Updated: Mar 26, 2024 11:12:51 pm
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