Platitudes and positive thoughts are like palliative drugs: they make us feel comfortable in a world full of evil and negativity. Beyond the comforts of a drug, they provide little else. Otherwise our world would have been a paradise by now because there is never a dearth of platitudes and positive thoughts thanks to the increasing number of religious activities, cults, gurus, and what not.
The naked truth is that life is drenched in evil in spite of all the gurus and cults, motivational therapies and mass spiritual exercises. Why?
Social psychologist Philip Zimbardo proved experimentally that social situations affect individual personalities and stimulate behavioural patterns. In simple words, we behave in certain ways because the society demands us to behave thus. With little provocation, formerly good people will discard their values entirely, he showed. It is easier to make people do bad things than good. We are all susceptible to the lure of “the dark side,” he argues in his 2007 book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.
It is easier to get people to perpetrate atrocities on fellow human beings than make them do benevolent social work. No dictator would have succeeded without the support of thousands of people who were ready to torture, rape and kill for them. No mass murders will take place without the support of some social or political system.
More often than not, religious rituals and spiritual exercises are platforms for people to wash away the sins they have committed hitherto so that they can go on committing more. The rituals and exercises fail because they do not change the society and it is the society with its manipulative systems that actually determine human behaviour. It is also true to say that religions uphold the manipulative social systems; both support each other as they need each other.
If we want a world of goodness we should create social and political systems which sprout and nurture goodness. We now have systems which feed on greed, jealousy, hate, and other evils. They reproduce themselves.
On the other hand, if we have a system which encourages people to cooperate with one another there will be more cooperation than competition because most people go by the public behaviour. But can we really have such social systems? Even the incarnations of various gods didn’t succeed in creating such systems!
So what’s the conclusion? If you really want to be good, stay away from society as far as possible. Dealing with our own inner devils is far easier than grappling with those out there.
PS. This post was inspired by Indispire Edition 139: “The ten head of Ravan (ten social evils) you would like to kill this Dassera. Atrocities on women? Judging beauty by skin colour? or some others? And in which order?” I shied away from the topic all these days. It continued to haunt me, nevertheless. I could never bring myself to make a list of the evils let alone prioritise them. Life is beyond any list, beyond neat compartmentalisation. Ravana cannot be done away with except in comforting myths. So I chose to take a very realistic look at the theme.