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Sunday, 12 April 2015

The problem with the System is...

Generic, casual but serious discussions, particularly those pertaining to corruption, politics, education, depeleting value systems, ecological consciousness, healthy food and habits, organic farming, etc have a typical tendency. Within no time, the discussion enters the area of ‘shortcomings and defficiencies of the existing system’. The unanimous culprits are greed of capitalists, ignorance & indifference of consumers and inefficiency of governments. Every participant bashes the three entities as if he belongs to no group. Reality, however, is that he belongs to all of them.

 Till this point, the discussion is in the arena of entertainment and/or social interaction. As a natural fallout, a few people feel initiated enough to take charge of the situation and act responsibly. Their conviction and action begin with an assumption that the system needs correction and it can happen through an awareness about what is wrong with the existing system.

At this point, let me elaborate by taking an example. Let’s say ecology. The argument of those educated on the subject is that we (mankind) have misused natural resources to satisfy our greed and in the process caused ecological imbalance, thereby threatening sustainability. If man had been more conscious, we wouldn’t be sitting on a time-bomb. We must correct it by being ecologically conscious and spreading awareness.

When the awareness is being spread, the audience (people outside this group of committed individuals) accept the rationale undisputedly. There is indeed no logical flaw in the argument. However, most of them do not refuse the plastic bag offered by the vegetable vendor nor remind themselves to carry a bag when they step out to buy vegetables. Which means that though they agree with the message, their actions are not aligned. They also have very plausible reasons for not being able to adhere.

Naturally, this enrages the person who’s spreading awareness. He says, “Yesterday this guy agreed that we should be more conscious about our ecology and today he forgets! People are so insensitive and indifferent. The government must ban plastic bags altogether. That is the only way to stop this mess.”

At this stage, let us review what the activist is saying. He says that the businessman in his greed is destroying the ecology. The consumer is insensitive and indifferent. If the government actually bans plastic bags and enforces it effectively, the activist feels a sense of victory. But the government in the long run, is a representative of people, unless it is a dictatorial type. So sooner than later, the goverment also becomes the adversary of the ecology.

My argument with the campaigner is as below.

Any characteristic demonstrated by the system is not by design. It is by default. What I mean is that the system appears to be insensitive, because a critical mass people happen to be insensitive. The three entities are not working together to destroy the ecology. Ecological destruction is an incidental fallout of the way they are! Important to note here is that people are the way they are, not the way they have made themselves. Since people just happen to be the way they are, they cannot change themselves to become otherwise. It is beyond them. Therefore, it is not possible to change the characteristics of the system. To me, it appears quite naive to think that logical argument can turn an insensitive person into a sensitive one. He hasn’t become insensitive by choice, so he cannot choose to be sensitive.

So, what should the campaigner do? Give up?
Yes. The campaigner must give up trying to cleanse the businessman of his greed, the consumer of his insensitivity and the government of its inefficiency. The more he tries, the more they will resist. The campaigner must accept that these systemic realities as given and then address his concern for the ecology, which is in-turn a concern for the same people in the system.

Is this like saying that you accept defeat and still keep fighting? 
No. As I see it, there is no fight. So, there is no defeat. If the ecology continues to worsen, is that defeat for the activist? Surely not. It is a direct fallout of people’s characteristic and their actions (which stem from the characteristics).

If I were as concerned about the ecological imbalance as the activist is, I would live a life, which does not create imbalance or creates least possible imbalance. If I were too troubled living in the imbalanced ecology, I would try and live in a place, where I’m not subjected to the illeffects of ecological imbalance. If I find that there are other people, who are equally concerned about the ecological imbalance, I would try and figure out if it is possible re-create the systemic realities in which people would be sensitive, businessmen will not fill their ambitions by over-looking or ignoring the imbalance created.

It seems logical to me that if there are sufficient number of people, who are willing to live a life without creating or creating the least possible ecological imbalance, the system will automatically reflect ecological sensitivity. But, and this is an important but; if there aren’t the critical mass number of people, who are willing to live by a principle or philosophy, it is futile to alter the system characteristics, because system characteristics are purely a reflection of the way people are.

I was initiated to write this after reading about a movement, started in Bangalore, in which the initiators of the campaign are trying to impress upon other people and the government, why they must act and take decisions, which ensure sustainability in areas of agriculture, education, cottage industries, etc. My humble submission is that if there aren’t enough number of people, who live by the tenets of sustainability, the system cannot reflect it. Living by tenets of sustainability means living holistically, not piece-meal, not only those aspects, which are convenient. These people must then discard all practices of what they agree as ‘unsustainable’ way. For example, and these are quite tough to execute, market price cannot be the base on which price should be determined for transactions, the framework for education and occupation may need to be re-invented at a very fundamental level, the various useful fallouts of the ‘unsustainable way’ like the internet, money, scientific inventions in the various areas, need to be reviewed for usage.

If there is a critical mass number of people, who can live by making ‘sustainability’ as the pivot of their lives, then the unsustainable and the sustainable ways of life can co-exist till the time either everyone lives sustainably or the unsustainable way of life ends life itself. At the cost of repetition I would like to re-iterate that the system has never been modified and cannot be modified by conscious action. Systemic change is simply reflection of change amongst critical mass people. Satyagraha is quite a tough act!