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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 37 New Delhi September 5, 2015

Challenges before Rationalists

Saturday 5 September 2015, by P.B. Sawant

The irrational thinking and doing is mostly the result of desperation and loss of balance of mind. People fall a victim to it on account of three main reasons: i) ignorance and fundamentalism which is nothing but orthodoxy combined with fan-aticism; ii) the uncontrolled passions released by the inherent enemies of Man, namely, lust, anger, greed, fear, egoism, jealousy and possessive love; and iii) insecure and uncertain conditions of life.

Ignorance may be curbed by proper education emphasising scientific outlook. However, if the education itself is rooted in teaching traditiona-lisim, blind faith in written and spoken words, and conservatism, it produces die-hard believers. Such “educated” individuals are worse than the illiterate and ignorant. Having been brought up to believe what others have said or say, they not only lose their capacity to think independently but remain opposed to anything new which they have not read or heard during their educative period. It becomes difficult, therefore, to reform their thinking and conduct. That is why most of those who want to brainwash the individuals and convert them to their own ways of thinking and doing, catch them young and make them as fundamentalists as they can. It is therefore always necessary to examine the content of the education given to them from the primary to the higher stage.

The world has witnessed and is daily witnessing today, the phenomenon of fundamen-talist education, and its victims. Much of the violence, disturbance of peace and turbulence in the world, has been caused and is being caused by the untruths, semi-truths and distortions of facts and events that permeate not only the education imparted in the educational institutions but also the propaganda among the masses. Child is the father of the Man. What individuals inculcate in their childhood and formative age, create their likes and dislikes, biases and prejudices, loves and hatreds, and they remain with them till the end of their life, consciously or sub-consciously forming their views on all small and big issues. Even when they grow up and come in contact with the other ways of thinking and doing, they do not budge from their already hardened ways. The impressions printed on mind in the early age remain with them throughout their life, in whatever field they may work.

In order to promote the scientific outlook, the spirit of inquiry and independent thinking, it is therefore absolutely necessary to reform the educational system by promoting rationalism from the early age. The reforms should include not only inclusion of rational knowledge in the educational curriculum but also selection of teachers who have an unorthodox and rational outlook. Independent and scientific thinking must emanate from the teachers to pass it on to the pupils. If the teachers themselves are prone to fundamentalism, the pupils are bound to be backward-looking.

It is amazing that we have not paid sufficient attention to this problem. The dangers of leaving secular education in the hands of the non-secular and the like, is that this country will never make progress in knowledge, science and technology and the product of our educational institutions lacks initiative and independent thinking. No wonder we have made no worthwhile contribution to science and scientific inventions during the last several years and have remained only imitators of others in all branches of knowledge.

Education is the foundation of progress. It must open the doors of information and knowledge, from all directions and on all subjects. There cannot be any limit to knowledge. Knowledge and wisdom grow by debate, discussion, and experience and experimentation. Fundamentalism and fanaticism are the products of one-sided and limited knowledge. The liberal rational education is a powerful force for peace and progress. It is necessary therefore to concentrate on rationalising the educational system.

The present increase in the assassination of the rationalists—the latest victim being Dr Kal-burgi, is the direct consequence of our irrational teaching and preaching which has created fundamentalists.

As regards the uncontrolled passions created by the born enemies of Man, they remain with him till the end of his life. The only way to deal with them is to control their licentious play. The upbringing at home and in the educational institutions with inculcation of moral and social values, can teach an individual to control their wild play. The rules of moral conduct set for the individual and the code of social ethics prescribed by the society along with the material, cultural and spiritual atmosphere of the society also determine the extent to which the born evils are reined in. Since no one, not even the saints and savants, those holding high positions in life, those in charge of regulating the affairs of the society and of shaping its destiny, are also not immune to the influences of the devils, this aspect of Man’s nature assumes a grave importance in the life of the society.

The progress of culture and civilisation of the society depends on the extent to which these enemies of Man are controlled by the society. Law alone cannot control the wide and wild game of these passions. Many of the street- crimes as well as the white-collar crimes are spawned by them. If only these failings were controlled, the world would have been a different place to live in. But all violence, small and big, has been unleashed on mankind by the reckless and uncontrolled play of these passions on the part of one or the other actor holding the stage at a particular point of time. The spiritual bliss consists in being at peace with one self and with the outside world, but the peace is always in peril because of the shortcomings of Man. The saints are revered and the prophets are honoured mainly because of their control on these failings. It is unrealistic to expect that all men and women will be saints. It is however certainly within Man’s power to devise rules of moral and social conduct, and shape his educational, political, economic and social systems in such a way as will help us to keep to the minimum the evil consequences resulting from the inborn failings of Man. The task before the rationalists is, therefore, to work towards this goal as well, and devise ways and means to negate the irrational consequences flowing from them.

The insecurity and uncertainty in life is created by both manmade and natural disasters. Even some of the natural disasters are caused by Man’s irrational activity. The deforestation, mining, destruction and pollution of air, water and soil, warming of the earth and thinning of the ozone layer are all on account of Man’s activities. The other natural disasters—such as earthquake, volcano eruptions, cyclones, draughts, cloud-bursts, floods and famines, epidemics of deadly diseases, the emergence of fatal viruses etc.— cannot be controlled by Man at present since Man has not so far succeeded in eliminating or preventing them. The most that science has so far achieved is to forecast and prevent their consequences.

The other insecure and uncertain conditions created by Man are corrigible. They are the products of the systems that Man operates, whether in economic, social or political life of the society. Unless the systems and institutions through which they operate are suitably corrected to create security for every man and woman, we will not succeed in making the individuals rational. In other words, we have to rationalise the systems before we rationalise the individuals.

Our economic system, which is the base of the society and which shapes and makes not only society but also decides the future of the individuals, is a case in point. We claim to have advanced scientifically, and are now planning to colonise the Moon and the Mars. But have we ever cared to have a scientific look at our economic structure? The present system, known as the capitalist system or free market economy, results in concentration of wealth and economic power in a few hands, while starving the millions, creating unemployment, compelling even those employed to live a marginal life in an atmosphere of constant uncertainty of the existing job, destroys the environment to the detriment of all life—human, lower animal and plant; pollutes air, water and soil; breeds deadly diseases; and creates extreme inequalities, and compels man to eke out a life without dignity. The cycle of depression and economic crisis with consequent disaster in all walks of life, keeps mankind on toes, every few years.

For whom is this system meant—for the handful millionaires or for the rest of mankind? Is it not possible for Man to organise his economic system on a planned scientific basis, and provide every man and woman at least his/her basic human needs, and minimise the inequalities? Should we not therefore rationalise our present system to achieve at least this minimum goal to ensure human rights to all? We insist on a scientific outlook and the spirit of inquiry in every field of life, and yet choose to live in an unscientific, unplanned and uncertain gambling economic system. How can we justify this irrational conduct on our part? Should we not replace this system with a rational and scientific system?

The political system which we have adopted is so far the best—the democratic system. The essence of democracy is the participation of the people in the affairs of the State. Since it is not possible for all to participate in the decision- making process, we have adopted the represen-tative system of democracy, that is, participation in the affairs of the State through the elected representatives. These representatives are supposed to act for and on behalf of the people who elect them, to voice their problems, grievances and demands, to act in their interest and for their Welfare. Does the present electoral system give us such representation? How many honest and diligent social and political workers are able to contest elections today—whether of the Panchayat or Parliament? The cost of elections are so enormous that 99.99 per cent of our eligible electors can never even think of contesting them. The representation in the present Lok Sabha proves the point. Out of 543 Members, 442, that is, nearly 82 per cent, are millionaires, while 182 members, that is, 28 per cent, have a criminal background. If this is the state of affairs in the august Central Legislature, we can imagine the situation in the sub-legislative bodies.

This is not all. Very few of the representatives get 50 per cent or more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. On an average only about 50 per cent of the total voters cast votes. In the last general election, we had about 60 crore voters in the population of about 120 crores. Out of this, about 30 crores voted according to the Law of averages. The present Central Government secured only 31 per cent of the 30 crore votes, that is, about a little more than 10 crore votes out of 60 crore votes, and yet they secured an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha and are now ruling the rest 50 crore voters and 120 crore population.

Is this real democracy? Should we not therefore rationalise our electoral process to ensure a real democratic representation?

Do the kind of representatives who get elected through the present electoral system, work in the interests of the masses? The experience so far, including that of what is happening today, gives the answer. This is a combined result of our present economic and electoral system. It is not only the economic power, but because of it, also the political power which gets concentrated in the hands of the few. Is it democracy or a plutocracy of the few powerful? Should we not therefore rationalise our electoral process which is working in the present economic system only to subvert democracy?

Our social system was never rational. From the inception of our civilisation, the caste system was the mainstay of our society with scandalising inequalities in every walk of life. We have today thousands of castes and sub-castes, many religions and sects, many tribes and wandering communities who hardly ever formed a part of the mainstream or were cared for. It is a kaleidoscope of a sea of humanity, with different faiths, community and caste loyalties, different races and different cultures, languages and even scripts. Although we have succeeded in bringing them all under one political umbrella, we have not yet succeeded in forging unity and fraternity among them. On the other hand, the distance between them is growing every day on account of many factors. Elections are fought on caste and religious basis, reservations are demanded by every social group, religious fundamentalism and fanning of communalism is on the increase, the feeling of discrimination, the observance of casteism and untouchability have not abated in the least, but are intensified everyday. All these factors are responsible for division of our society into many splintered groups and are making the life of all insecure and uncertain every day.

All these causes of divism and insecurity are undoubtedly irrational. What is more, they are sensitive and hard to remove. Today, they are assuming ominous proportions. Unless they are handled sensitively, wisely and with states-manship, they may prove irreversibly disastrous. How do the rationalists propose to deal with them?

They cannot be removed by law. They cannot be eliminated by the so-called education we are imparting today. It is the educated, more than the illiterate, who are observed fanning divism in the society, on one ground or the other. In addition to the ignorance, that the educated share with the uneducated, there are now motivated teachers, books, and daily propa-ganda machine, to reinforce the irrational thinking and doing.

We have to rationalise our education system to imbibe, among others, the scientific outlook, spirit of inquiry and independent thinking. We have also to work to create a spirit and culture of fraternity and respect for others. We have to preach with missionary zeal, in particular that Humanity is the only caste, and Humanism is the only religion and the only creed, not only for this country but for the entire world. Let us therefore spread the religion of humanism to all corners of the world. That is the only long-term and enduring solution. Long Live Humanism! n

[This article is based on the author’s speech delivered as the president of the inaugural session of the All India Rationalists Conference held on August 7, 2015 in Pune.]

The author, a former judge of the Supreme Court (now retired), is an erstwhile Chairman of the Press Council of India.