Thursday, August 19, 2010


The predilection towards violence is an especially studied feature of humanity, only limited by the lengths that researchers will go to in the means they use to fulfill the end they surmise. Everything we do, it appears, has to do with fulfilling a base, haunting dream of violent death – ours and everyone else’s. This death takes on forms not wholly indistinguishable from the myths portrayed in popular fiction, but when those with the means to put in place what the rest of us can only vacantly fantasize about, actually visit the extent of their potency in reality, a huge longing for the Better Human Being envelopes our collective consciousness.

The philosophy of Absurdity has emerged over the last century and a half in western thought, starting with Kierkegaard, traveling down to Nietzsche and culminating in the seminally popular work of Camus, who taught us that life devoid of meaning only invites us to infuse it with whatever meaning we wish to give it – the absolute freedom to live without hope, in other words. Illustratively, it would mean that I would be free to get up and go down to the store for a packet of cigarettes, witness a beggar being run over by a car, rush to the man’s aid and possibly even check him in to the nearest government hospital, and then leave to welcome my wife home at the end of her long work day and ask her politely how it went. Evocative fiction has to do with what our reactions to a particularly unordinary occurrence are and how they resonate among the recipients of that illustration who momentarily suspend their disbelief to immerse themselves in the fiction. And our reactions to the immersive world of violence easily trump other ways of engaging an audience driven relentlessly to its contemplation by a social conditioning that has had no equal. It is difficult to imagine a world where violence is an end unto itself – it seems that it must lead onto dissertations into anthropology, metallurgy, creativity, philology and yes, even philosophy.

It seems so easy to blame the military-industrial complex for our descent into this collective madness of absurdly fictionalizing the true causes behind being intimidated and threatened by our fellow man. That line of reasoning is only too reminiscent of the blame the tobacco industry bears for the carcinogens infiltrating our species. But what we don’t seem to want to confront is that we are relentlessly driving ourselves into a collective hysteria about a fact of life that we have culpably given rise to by our way of life. The remote farmer in the upper reaches of cultivable land in Uttarakhand faces more of an immediate threat to his existence than most of us just by fetching a bucket of water to cook in from a rapacious mountain stream. But he doesn’t dwell on his mortality for more time than it takes for him to see through his task. But when we contemplate war between Iran and Israel, or death to the environment in Bellary, or the curse of an unfeeling God in Pakistan, the absolute and dire import of the violence we face hits us with an intensity that is unassailable – Why Is Life This Way, is the question that comes instantly to our minds, but Did We Always Imagine It Would Be This Way, is perhaps the more pertinent inquiry in this absurdist conundrum.

"Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world."
William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (3.1.114)

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