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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 1, December 22, 2012 [Annual 2012]

Questions of Freedom and People’s Emancipation — V (b)

Thursday 3 January 2013, by Kobad Ghandy


Kobad Ghandy from Tihar Jail is writing on the concept of freedom vis-s-vis present-day society as also in relation to a future just order, bringing out some causes for the failure of the erstwhile socialist states. It will comprise a series of six articles. The first article (covering Part I—The Context) appeared in Mainstream’s Independence Day Special (August 18, 2012), the second one (covering Part II—Search for Freedom through History) in this journal’s September 15, 2012 issue, the third one (covering Part III—Socialism and Existentialism) in the October 6, 2012 issue, and the fourth one (covering Part IV—No Freedom without Values) in the November 10, 2012 issue. This is the fifth article. Since it is quite big, it is being published in two instalments. The first section came out in Mainstream (December 8, 2012). This is the second section of Part V. The sixth and last article will appear in the Republic Day Special of this journal on January 26, 2013. —Editor

PART V — Values, As Central to a
 New Just Order

3. Question of Freedom

The path towards greater and greater freedom is achieved by the twin tasks of: (i) a more exhaustive knowledge of the laws that govern society and ourselves (inclusive of our inner being), and (ii) by bringing harmony to the conflict within our alienated selves, that is, between our inner feelings and desires embedded in our subconscious and our outward self, reflected in our conscious reactions and activities.

The first is achieved by acquiring genuine knowledge of the natural sciences as also the social sciences. The latter is achieved by transforming our alienated lives and by imbibing the values of goodness.

The first is merely a question of evolving a more scientific educational system which inculcates one’s creative and thinking abilities. There have been numerous experiments in this, which can be developed further. The second aspect is far more difficult. Here I will focus only on this aspect.

(a) The Framework

Marx said (in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts): “Man alienated from himself is also the thinker alienated from his BEING, i.e. from his natural and human life. His thoughts are consequently spirits, existing outside nature and man.”

Marx further elaborates that the unalienated man is the man who does not “dominate” nature, who becomes one with it, who is alive and responsive towards objects, so that objects come to life for him. The alienated man is not only alienated from other men; he is alienated from the essence of humanity, from his “species-being”, both is his natural and spiritual qualities.

So then how does one reduce this alienation in our lives? First, its generation in the material conditions of production and life need to be eliminated. Next, changes have also to be brought in the realm of our thoughts.

Regarding a change in the material conditions, it entails a change in man’s relations to production and also to nature. In the change of our thoughts it would primarily entail a change in our value system.

First, let us look at the question of the material conditions of life.

As we have already seen (Article II), in capitalism the roots of alienation lay in the productive process itself. To change this, we cannot, of course, go backwards to the handi-crafts form of production. Also, the mammoth state enterprises in the socialist states, with bureaucrats replacing capitalist managers, did not give a solution to the problem of alienation. Obviously some alternative to both these is needed.

A second aspect linked to production, is that capitalism has wrenched man from nature. Particularly in this neo-liberal era, with the consumerist mania reaching peak levels, there has been a systematic and brutal rape of nature—destroying everything; the flaura, fauna, forests, soil, water sources, even the air. Here too, we cannot obviously go back to the old feudal system of dependence on agriculture. Yet again, the huge state farms were not only economic failures, but also did not help connect with nature. Today, in fact, what is needed is not merely living in harmony with nature, but also the repairing of fractured nature.

It is these twin tasks—that is, unalienated production and living in harmony with nature—that can help realise the material conditions to reduce alienation and take society towards the realm of freedom. Once the material conditions evolve in these two spheres, a conducive atmosphere is created to facilitate changes in our thoughts and values. Of course, this is not a one-way process, it is a dialectical relationship with each affecting the other. A change in values allows people to move easily (voluntarily) accept the reorganisations brought in society; the re-organisation of society that reduces alienation, encourages the best in us to come out.

Marx further added (EPM), on the question of man’s relation to nature, that: “Activity and mind are social in their content as well as in their origin; they are social activity and social mind. The HUMAN significance of nature only exists for social man, because only in this case is nature a bond with other men, the basis for his existence for others and their existence for him. Only then is nature the BASIS for his own HUMAN experience and a vital element of human reality. The NATURAL existence of man has here become his human existence and nature itself has become human for him. Thus SOCIETY is the accomplished union of man with nature, the veritable resurrection of nature, the realised naturalism of man and the realised humanism of nature.”

Regarding change in the realm of thought, the process would be more slow and painful as our prevalent ideas and emotions come with generations of conditioning. No amount of imposition can change man‘s thoughts towards acquiring the qualities of goodness—it HAS to be through a process of self-awareness.

So, with this framework let us now briefly touch on the possible orientation for: the re-organisation of society, the reorganisation of thought, and thereby the evolution of the natural man.

(b) Reorganisation of Society

In order to reduce alienation in the production process the community needs to produce as much as possible for its own consumption, together with blending agriculture with industry. Through this alienation in the production process can be minimised and the break with nature restored.

But, how would the economy then have to be structured? An ideal form could be communities organised into commune-like structures. When I say commune-like structure, I do not mean communes as such, where land is commonly owned and run. If one recollects, this got quickly reversed in China, barely five to 10 years after being set up. In hindsight one can say that in China (in most communes) man’s consciousness had not evolved to fully accept common living/agriculture, without private property of their own. Man’s mental growth over the centuries has deeply inculcated a sense of private property (linked to selfishness), and this consciousness cannot be done away with quickly. To accept commune living may take generations, and that too when many of our negative values have changed. With values of selfishness, greed, possessiveness, jealousies etc. still existing, people will not voluntarily accept a commune-style of living.

In the commune type I am speaking about, for a long time to come, living will be primarily family-based in one’s own house and plot, while gradually more and more activities can become common depending on the level of acceptability. So, far example, activities like solar energy, re-cycling waste etc. can, at first, be both private and also common. Slowly, as people realise they can gain more leisure time, many of such private activities can go to the common pool.

And as far as production for consumption purposes go, it can operate at two levels. Each family plot could mostly grow their own vegetables, fruits and, where possible, meet poultry and dairy needs. For a large number of consumer items, given today’s high technological levels, most of the toiletary, furniture, toys, shoes/chappals, educational equipment, cycles etc. could all be produced locally with know-how provided centrally.

In this article. I do not intend to go into details. I just seek to give an orientation—a direction of the path to tread. The aim should be to raise the standard of living of the bottom rungs without depriving the better-off (except the super rich) and also improving the quality of life all around. Together with a better living standard the aim should be to progressively reduce the material basis for alienation in our lives and gradually acquiring, what Marx said, the “naturalism of man and the realised humanism of nature”.

In this entire process of change an important factor must be that it should be all voluntary, where those willing should initiate the process, with those in power leading by force of example (not through fiats). Coercion should be reduced to a minimum and confined only to the bad/criminal elements and those who consciously try to sabotage the process. A strict distinction should be drawn between such elements, and those who are not yet prepared for the change.

The two systems should be allowed to co-exist. If the new leads to greater freedom and happiness, others will soon follows it. One must remember that centuries of conditioning cannot be wished away in a day.

(c) Reorganisation of Thought

For reasons earlier explained, the goal here should be to impact not only our conscious mind but also our subconscious with the values of goodness, to bring emotional stability and harmony in our instinctive desire—that will lead us on the path to genuine freedom and happiness.

To talk of changing people’s thoughts may sound like crude brain-washing. In fact, this is one of the main accusations against Communists and socialist states—no freedom of the press and thought control. Though partially true, it is, in fact, the present system that has the most insidious forms of thought control, wherein the entire media is controlled by big money power and vigorously promotes the values and culture suited to it. Only, in the present system, it is subtle (giving an appearance of free speech) while in the socialist societies it is crude. So, whether we like it or not, all societies promote the values of the rulers through the controls they maintain.

What then would be the problem for a new power to promote good (as already defined) and counter evil? Of course this should not be done through crude propaganda, but creatively through logic and, more particularly, by force of example. The stories of the Panchatantra, the writings of Sufi philosophers like Rumi, Ghazzali, and others and numerous novels by classical writers and socialists (for example, Premchand) are some good examples. Propagation of good should not be done by suppressing other views, but by allowing all thoughts to contend in open debates. If one stands for truth, a scientific understanding of reality, and for justice/freedom/happiness, why is there any need to fear a counter-view? It is in fact the liars and fraudsters who fear the truth being expressed and tremble at the idea of open debates and resort to means such as ‘paid news’.

And what is valid for all views/ideas/thoughts should even be more particularly applied to the issue of God and Religion. Being one of the oldest and most deeprooted ideas, their impact will be enormous.

It is ironic, but socialists/communists seem to fear God more than the Devil (that is, evils within us). And to banish this sceptre hovering over the people they convincently repeat ad nauseum a quote of Marx—torn out of context—that “religion is the opium of the masses”. But, what Marx said in his Towards the Crituqie of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right was: “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the Sigh of the Oppressed Creature, the Heart of the Heartless World, Just as it is the Spirit of the Unspiritual Situation. It is the Opium of the People.”

Further Marx added (Letter to R, 1843): “Our motto must be: reform of consciousness, not through dogmas, but by analysing the mystical self-confused consciousness, whether it has a political or religious context.”

The reality is that man does not live in a spiritual vacuum. Religion/God gives man an anchor, without which he will be let adrift on a turbulent ocean. Religion has three aspects: a value system linked to heaven and hell; God and worship; and, rituals, customs etc. much of which are us much products of the era of their birth (slave, feudal societies) as of the religion.

The first are mostly common values of goodness. To throw out this aspect of religion is like discarding the baby with the bath water. Regarding the second point, to seek to destroy one’s faith in God, without the people imbibing, as deeply, the positive values, only results in a spiritual vacuum. Without the alternative, it at best results in the emotional instability of the person, at worst turns him into a crass-materialist monster.

The third aspect of religion—rituals, customs etc.—is what needs to be dropped. Most of these promote superstitions, feudal customs (for example, caste system, patriarchy etc.) and retrogressive thought. These are most suited to be utilised to subvert a new just order.

Religion should be confined at the level of a person’s personal faith, delinked totally from the state, and not be allowed to divide people.

The main point here is that the correction of people’s value system is far more important than tinkering with their religious beliefs. As one gains more and more humanity and the values of goodness, each individual will decide himself his beliefs—to be religious (and the religion), or agnostic or atheist. And when one’s focus is on the value system, quite obviously no malpractice in the name of religion will be tolerated by the people.

In India the question of religion is a little more complex as Hinduism is deeply connected with the heinous caste system and ‘untouchability’.

So, in the realm of the reorganisation of thought, any new power needs to particularly focus on changing one’s values, acquiring humanity and evolving the unalienated natural man. With such values alone no person would tolerate poverty and the suffering of others, or, for that matter, any form of injustice.

(d) The Natural Man

As man moves into the realm of freedom, where the subconscious and conscious mind are in greater harmony, we are able to slowly re-assert our natural self, rather than our alienated self. We are then able to react and behave naturally—childlike, Anuradha-like—shedding our layers and layers of pretences and hypocrises. With the new values prevalent, we are confident that we will be accepted for what we are, not what we are being forced to appear to be. With less of jealousies, hatred, one-upmanship, manipulativeness etc. around, we can be confident that our weaknesses will not be used by others against us. This facilities our natural behaviour, no longer afraid that our weaknesses/shortcomings may get exposed.

In such an atmosphere of goodwill every person can gain in self-confidence no matter what her/his abilities. People gain emotional stability, particularly getting over their thousands of fears. With such values and emotional sensitivity, they will be able to harmonise their instinctive desires of sex and hunger that will give pleasure without hurt to another. They thereby evolve from being a victim of circumstances, a slave to their environment, a “crippled monstrosity”, into a free being, basking in the sunshine of a new humanity.

To evolve this natural man, an added necessity would be man’s sensitivity to nature. Not only does nature also have life, man is dependent on it. Dependent, not only for All his needs, but also for an envigorating life with fresh air, water and non-polluted food. Man’s sensitivity to nature is a part of his/her overall sensitivity to life.

Though man has to necessarily live-off nature, and would thereby appear in perpetual conflict with it, today he has the scientific wherewithal to return even more to it. But, much of this conflict is linked to today’s consumerist craze wherein man seeks to destroy any and everything in order to satiate his voracious and ever-growing appetite for more and more. The commune-like structure, earlier outlined, will help make man sensitive to both nature and his fellow beings.

We have, in fact, seen how the Green Revolution in Punjab has destroyed not only nature (soil, ground water, type of crops etc.), but also the people living there with their epidemics of cancer, suicides and drug addiction. On the other hand, when man lives in synce with nature, growing part of his own food, he not only gets healthy food, but also evolves a life-style (even with modern amenities) which helps develop not only his physical health but also his mental/spiritual life.

To sum up, this path to freedom and the evolving of the natural man entails a long process, wherein the changes in the material conditions of life will change in sync with the changes in our values and thought process—each impacting the other. Thereby society will be driven to higher and higher levels of freedom, evolving, in its wake, the natural man and greater and greater happiness.

And there, in this Garden of Edan, breathing in the fresh air of freedom, amongst thousands of Anuradha-like beautiful angels in all their purity, one can really realise Rabindranath Tagore’s dream:

“Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms
towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee
into ever widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
Let my country awake.”

4. Question of Happiness

Finally, whatever changes we seek in the nature of man, in the socio-economic system, in the political structures etc.—these should all have one goal: The Greater Happiness of Mankind. Even gaining greater freedom and acquiring values of goodness is to bring more happiness all around. Why, often even a social worker or Communist painstakingly tries to act good (knowing this to be night); but if this effort is without a deep-rooted change in values, every act of good will be like a heavy burden, a sort of imposed DUTY that must be alone. Such a person will be far from happy and at the slightest opportunity will seek release from such impositions and will, like others, turn to pleasures as his source of happiness.

From this three questions arise:

First, where does the sense of duty fit into the framework of happiness? Would such duty impact our happiness quotient?

The second question is: where does pleasure fit into the framework of happiness? Today, instant pleasure is equated with happiness. For the crass materialists the two are synonymous. At the other extreme many a religion and even Communists speak only of sacrifice (tapasya) and treat pleasure as some sort of sin. So what then is the relationship between the two?

The third point is: where does the question of values fit into our sense of duty, our sense of pleasure and, in the final analysis, our overall happiness?

Let us look at all three points. The third point will be intern oven into the other two.

(a) Duty and Happiness

In the present system as also the socialist system, the term ‘duty’ has an element of compulsion in it; something forced on us, either by circumstances or by an institution/leader. The two most common ‘duties’ are: (i) the need to earn in order to survive, and (ii) tasks/rituals done in order to gain social acceptability.

For most people employment is a duty to be suffered, while pleasure is gained in our leisure time. Marx had said (in EPM) that man’s labour in the present system is alienated because the work has ceased to be part of the workers’ nature and “consequently, he does not fulfil himself in his work but denies himself, has a feeling of misery rather than well-being, does not develop freely his mental and physical energies but is physically exhausted and mentally debased. The worker therefore feels himself at home only during his leasure time, whereas at work he feels homeless.”

He will begin to enjoy his job only once this alienation at the workplace is reduced or ended.

If we turn to tasks one has to do in order to gain social acceptability, however painful they may be, there would be numerous such daily tasks. Often religious customs/rituals fall into this category. Even in socialism most tasks are duty-centric which are done on instructions, rather than a sincere belief in than.

Whether some duty is done out of sufferance or whether we desire pleasure from it, is very much linked to our value system as well. If we have positive values we will automatically have a sense of responsibility (to the job at hand and towards others), and will do good/useful tasks not as a sense of imposed duty, but with pleasure. So, for example, in a socialist system if I am a selfish type, ‘serving the poor’ will be done as a sense of imposed duty, to gain credibility/acceptability. On the other hand, if I have genuine empathy for the poor, it will be a source of pleasure. That is why in a socialist system a change of values is so very important, as otherwise all tasks will feel like a heavy burden, an imposition; and people will seek an escape/release whenever an opportunity comes by.

Even today, in our daily lives people with positive values will have a greater sense of responsibility to tasks. They will fulfil them with enthusiasm and on time. But, with negative values, they take responsibility as a pain (unless, of course, they personally gain from it), do a haphazard job and seek all types of pretexts to delay/shirk it. So, here again the question of duties and responsibility is intrinsically linked with our value system.

Duties that are done out of compulsion necessarily act to restrict our freedom and happiness. In a new order, where alienation is minimised in the production process, even earning can become a fulfilling and pleasurable task.

(b) Pleasure and Happiness

There is a dialectical relationship between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is one of the sources of happiness, but is not synonymous with it. Pleasure, enjoyment etc. are derived from activities external to us. Happiness, on the other hand, is internal to us; it is a state of mind wherein man is at peace with himself, with a sense of contentment with his overall life. To achieve this, no doubt, pleasure plays an important role.

Pleasure is no sin as long as it is not at another’s expense. There are basically three forms (sources) of pleasure—the first is universal, the second is linked to our individual tastes, and the third is value-based.

Pleasure derived from our instinctive needs—primarily food and sex—is universal to all people. Though this is common to all, every person has his/her personal likes and dislikes regarding both food and partners. This category is a major source of pleasure.

The second form of pleasure is derived purely from one’s individual tastes and is not universal. Activities like sports, music, literature/drama, arts/painting etc., or even spiritual activities like meditation are all sources of pleasure—some enjoy a particular activity/activities, others another. Involvement in such activities helps develop an allround personality and needs to be facilitated in any new order. If freely accessible, people can choose the field they enjoy.

The third form of pleasure is value-based. So, for example, some may derive pleasure from causing pain to others dominating others, deriding others etc. Another may derive pleasure from helping, assisting and caring for others.

Often the pleasure factor in happiness is negated by religions as being sinful, and even by Communists as being ‘petty-bourgeois’. No doubt, any source of pleasure that acts to harm others, or achieved at another’s expense, is bad. But, those that add to happiness for ourselves and those around us should be welcomed.

So, pleasure is one factor for happiness. Others involve our values, our emotional stability and the extent to which we have been able to minimise the conflict between our inner selves and our conscious actions. Here, of course, we are assuming people have already acquired the basic necessities of life.

To sum up, in any new order the maximisation of happiness should be the goal. Then again sadness and happiness are no black and white formulae to be switched on and off like a lamp. As society progresses, one has to increase the quantum of happiness all around. This, of course, will be directly proportional to the amount of freedom we have been able to acquire. This, in turn, is based on the quantum of goodness we have been able to imbibe.

All these three are, in fact, deeply inter-linked and inter-connected. The real civilisational progress of society can be measured not by its scientific advance alone, but by the quantum of progress in these three spheres as well. And it is with progress in these spheres that people’s individuality will begin to emerge. Freedom and happiness, based on a new set of values, results in this flowering of the individuality in man.

5. Flowering of the Individuality

In the feudal era individuality was mostly reflected in the romances of kings and queens, while the masses had a clan identity. Capitalism tore the individual from the clan, but the individuality that had the potential to evolve, was crushed by the person’s alienation in production and otherwise. In socialism the alienation in the productive process continued to a large extent.

A distinction needs to be made between individualism and individuality which are often confused. Individualism is based on selfishness, the me-first mentality, ego, arrogance etc.; on the other hand, individuality is based on one’s self-respect, self-confidence etc. The former crushes the individuality of others; the latter realises the creativity, initiative and effectivity of the individual. Individualism is idolised in the cult of the heros where all others are dwarfed in comparison. The Ayn Rand novels, Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, reflected the epitome of this ideolised portrayal of the individual—the super-man, super-hero, super-don, superstar etc. Portrayal of our film stars, cricket stars, political leaders etc. one of the same nature.

In any organisation/institution facilitating assertion of the individuality of all creates a greater pool of creative and talented people—not just one super-hero, but the potentiality of a hundred such. In any organisation the more the individuality of each individual (not just the leader) is promoted, the more effective the organisation. Often we find the opposite happen —the cult of the hero (leader) is promoted, while the weapon of ‘discipline’ is used to crush the individuality/initiative of the ranks.

In India the individuality is doubly crushed—first by the production process and then by the caste system. The bulk of the population, particularly Dalits, are treated as ‘born inferior’. Even their human status is questioned, let alone their individuality. As for the assertion of the upper-caste, it is more caste assertion, rather than assertion due to one’s abilities. So the caste system destroys individuality.

Among socialists what is often said is that only the petty-bourgeois speak of individuality, the proletariat stands for class. In practice though, it is often the ‘leader’ who is able to assert himself as he likes, while the ranks are confined to the herd. In reality the relation of the individual to the class/party/organisation is like that of the tree to the forest. There is no forest without sturdy trees. If the trees are decrepit, dry and stunted, there would be no luscious forest. Similarly the flowering of every member of any organisation only lends it strength, as the more creative the people comprising any body, the more effective the organisation.

Yet, all the above questions of effectivity etc. are mere pragmatic equations, not the main issue. The real issue is whether we truly seek freedom, happiness and the growth of people’s individuality as a goal in itself. This is the essential question, not how valuable a person may be to an organisation or to society. The latter factor may merely be a positive by-product, not its essence.

There is one last point—the assertion of one’s individuality is dependent not only on our value system, but also on our emotional stability. Emotional instability, lack of confidence, nervousness etc. crush a person’s individuality. Particularly the psychosis of fear (dealt with earlier)—fear of not conforming, fear of the boss/leader, fear of the patriarch etc. etc.—reduces a person to a cringing worm rather than an upright and self-respecting individual in oneself.

To sum up, we find the flowering of person’s individuality only when alienation reduces and freedom grows. These in turn are possible as and when we begin to adopt the values of goodness, acquire emotional stability and bring harmony in our instinctive desires and urges. Finally, all these result in greater happiness all around, for which man has been seeking since time immemorial.

Though all the above are intrinsically interlinked, where lies the key? What is central to this entire process to create the new man, the natural man. From where does one start? We have already seen that whether it is a question of freedom, or emotional stability or even the question of justice and people’s emancipation, the central aspect to facilitate change is the transformation of our values; eradication, to the extent one can, of bad/evil and acquiring the values of goodness. We have also seen that even sustaining a more just economic order is impossible without proper values; the system tends to revert back. So, in whichever direction one looks, without traversing a path to change one’s values one cannot sustain any new order built on justice, freedom and, above all, happiness.

So, central to all the above changes is a change in our value system. In the final article we shall delve more into this.

(To be continued)

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