Friday, June 27, 2014

Conservatism and Modernity



Tradition without intelligence is not worth, said T S Eliot.  The word tradition brings to my mind the celebrated movie The Fiddler on the Roof.  Tevye, the protagonist, tried his best to stick to his religious traditions, but the reality overtook him at every step.  Finally, having given away each of his three daughters in marriages that went against his "tradition", he has to leave his home too because of the persecutions against the people of his religion (Judaism).  The fiddler on the roof, the recurrent motif in the movie, accompanies the Jews in exodus playing on his fiddle the theme of tradition.

Tradition sent the Jews into exile all through their history.  Finally when they got their Promised Land of Israel, they became encroachers who have had to fight a protracted battle.  Why does tradition engender so many battles - at home, in society and in the country?  In spite of such battles and other forms of enslavement, why do people stick to traditions?

Tradition tends to be unintelligent.  It looks backward all the time.  It wants to "conserve" the past when the whole world is racing at the speed of light into the future. 

Does it mean that the future is intelligent?  Not at all.  In fact, neither the past nor the future is any more intelligent than the village idiot next door or the Einstein in the school assured of admission to IIT.  Both are natural parts of human reality.  In simple words, there are intelligent and not-so-intelligent people.  There are people with different levels of understanding.  In every age.  At any given time.  Past or present.

The past was no less intelligent than the future to come. The earth moves but moves round and round on the same axis.  In the same orbit.  Circular movements.  Just like civilisations.  Just like conservatism and modernity.  There are people even in today’s America (the Superpower) who argue that Darwin’s theory of evolution should be abolished from academics because it is against the Bible!  Conservatism at its best!

Those who swear by traditions have been the worst fascists and reactionaries.  Hitler was a conservative.  So was Mussolini.  So is, I think, our present Prime Minister. And all of them, HitlerMussoliniModi, promised better future for their people.  So they were not so conservative, after all: they were ready to accept changes for the sake of a better future for their people.

I think the question should not be about tradition and modernity.  It should be about cunning versus wisdom.  Wisdom is all that matters, be you modern or conservative. 

Wisdom is knowing what really matters and what is merely ephemeral. 

Even if you don’t acquire any wisdom you will survive.  In fact, you may flourish if you don’t acquire wisdom.  You need cunningness.  Is cunningness modernity? 
 
Wisdom was not the prerogative of people of the past.  Nor was foolishness.  There were people of both category in the past too.  There will be people of both category in the future too.  But wisdom takes time to be understood.  In the meanwhile, cunningness will rule the roost.  And the human world has always belonged to the meanwhile.

The question that is raised by the latest Indiblogger debate is why tradition and culture are labelled conservatism while modernity turns out to be mere fads like dressing style.  Well, Gaurab who suggested the topic has labelled it under prejudice.  I think both the terms conservatism and modernity carry a lot of prejudice.  They mean differently to each person. Even Gaurab displays some prejudice in equating modernity with “clothes rather than thoughts.”

Conservatism and modernity mean differently because each one of us is a Tevye, the protagonist of the movie I mentioned above.  Each one of us is trying to cling on to some traditions given by our culture, religion, etc so that we remain rooted somewhere.  We need roots, each one of us.  The wires that connect our mobile phone or any other gadget to our ears cannot act as roots for long. 

Tevye found his roots in his religion.  He was a simple person who did not possess the brains or the means to question his religion and its 'absolute' truths.  Yet he overcame the bewitching magnetism of that tradition when he looked into the eyes of his daughter and saw love in them.  Tevye knew the meaning of love.  He knew that love meant more than traditions, more than religious truths. 

My answer to this debate started by Gaurab who seems to be on a genuine quest is this: neither conservatism nor modernity is an absolute.  Nothing in human life is an absolute.  If I can look into the eyes of my daughter and see love there which defies my tradition, I will defy the tradition for the sake of the love.  

But if I find only lust (modernity?)  in the eyes of my daughter...

Tradition will be useless.  I will have to enlighten my daughter.  Or I will be the fiddler on the roof: in a precarious position.

Traditions are mere guidelines.  Wisdom is what matters.  And wisdom is nobody's monopoly: neither of the conservative nor of the modern.  Who is modern anyway?  



22 comments:

  1. Wonderful post Sir but I've said people actually equate modernity with clothes rather than thoughts and that's why I gave the topic. I think the people are modern by their thoughts not by clothes. I would have probably given examples of Raja Rammohan Roy and Swami Vivekananda who worked and said a lot in this field.

    I agree with the basic view point of the post but not so much with some examples. A research on different cultures showed that Jews are the most progressive people on earth though they still maintain their culture that shows are beautiful co-existence. You have to be modern in your mind i.e., reject what is wrong but don't reject just to disrespect your forefathers and that's where Rammohan Roy's teachings comes in.

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    1. Just to clarify the quoted words in the topic is a general perception and not my own prejudice. ;) :)

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    2. Thanks for the clarification, Gaurab. The way you stated the topic led me to misinterpret it. What fraction of people think of modernity in terms of fads and superficial styles? 50%? I don't know.

      I can understand you don't agree with some examples I mentioned. Some of the examples will become clearer later with hindsight. Hindsight alone makes history clearer. It's all the more so when one person I mentioned is still claiming that he is in "honeymoon" period.

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  2. Wonderful post .....though sticking with your old ideas for so long will not help you to progress

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    1. I'm saying the same thing, Karanvir. The example of the Jews shows that sticking with traditions won't take one far. Yet one can't ignore traditions altogether either. That's why I have said that we need both: the roots given by traditions and the upward growth accepting the new.

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  3. Interesting,but i intend to read again to understand your take on this very subjective theme.

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    1. Subjective, yes, Uppal; it's highly subjective and can't be otherwise.

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  4. A truly great post sir, Yes nothing is absolute because people and their thinking and the entire universe is not absolute. A really thought provoking post.

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  5. This is so true Matheikal, each faction trying to cling on to its own set of beliefs and not reaching out half way.. Such a blatant reality!

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    1. "Reaching out half way" or making compromises is possible only when one is aware of the relativity of one's own truths.

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    1. I was not equating them, Namrata. That's why I put the question mark. I was raising a question: is modernity a kind of lust: an endless quest for something that's not really essential?

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    2. I don't know if I am right but someday in future..what we consider modern today would become a part of tradition. Our thoughts and practices must evolve with time. Thus, modernity and tradition must go hand in hand. That's how I think about it.

      I very support the fact that we follow tradition to keep our identity alive and to remain attached to our origins. And I would love to be traditional for this cause. However, in my society I feel that the name tradition is used as a tool to govern by some people.

      I respect you for you said you would value love more than tradition and tradition more than lust. I would do the very same. My family doesn't do it. So, am I being modern?

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    3. You're absolutely right, Namrata, and that's why once I made the statement that you're in the path of miracles.

      Yes, what is modern today will become part of tradition tomorrow provided it is worthy of retention. In fact, you've hit the nail on the head. Modernity is merely an aspect of tradition unless it is at some extreme positions (in which case they will be fads that come and go like mushrooms in the rain). Most of us follow certain traditions simply because they are integral parts of our very human nature. But we also learn to accept certain changes because passage of time demands changes too. I cited the example of Tevye with a clear purpose: he is extremely traditional and yet accepts changes because he loves the people concerned. That's the right attitude, as far as I'm concerned. We need a dynamic balance between tradition and modernity.

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  7. Amazing post. :)
    "The human world has always belonged to the meanwhile." - so true.

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    1. Yes, Kiran, it's a kind of 'adhocism' that most people accept for various reasons. And it remains just that: ad hoc. It cannot provide any lasting happiness or meaning in life. Hence the problems.

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  8. And in our ancient days, Lord Krishna also arguing intelligence over certain so called traditions.

    When Bhishma and Yudhishthar has taken many wrong decision due to priorities so called traditions over real karma or intelligence.

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    1. Yes, Rahul, traditions without intelligence are useless if not harmful.

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  9. Good one. I liked many things in this post. If we keep on following traditions blindly, then we will be upto nothing useful. We need to change our thoughts with time and abolish all the social evils that are categorized under the traditions.

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