The other day I was having a conversation with my father regarding the recent minimum support price that Rahul Gandhi is bringing up as an election agenda. Sadly, when I tried to contest this idea he shut me up saying these agendas he is getting is from Harvard. This, made me pause and think. Although I refrained from putting up another possibly “hollow” argument with him (because I am not properly equipped), what has really pushed me into writing this is the idea of how precisely do we frame a perspective. Not to say that my father is wrong or that I am finding some kind of new found pleasure in being a rebel to his views, it has become obvious to me that he and all of us are definitely standing on a fault-line when it comes to the way we look at the world. The very fact that everything we see,observe and practice can be put to question and the idea that every conflict is justified has been missing from our understanding as social actors. This might also be a core reason for the contemporary crisis of the world today.
Human beings have defined themselves as “modern” ever since they have been living in an individual-centric society that dates back to the renaissance and evolution of the christian society. There has been a shift from a holistic (primarily governed by what is holy) society that was influenced by the church and the values that it legitimized into a society that recognized individuals with a certain set of beliefs, morals and values that were purely individualistic (influenced by the ruling class and the state apparatus where the values and skills a person acquires is through school legitimized by the Ideological State Apparatus). The fact that the church has been replaced by the school tells us that children are made to realize and recognize themselves as actors and entities that play a important part in a human social world can also be seen with certain skepticism. While a Marxist would argue that schools today are a mere tool to feed in the capitalist notions of skills and knowledge in order to keep reproducing the relations of production, I would want to think that not much has changed since when it comes to thinking of perspectives.
The believe that “what I think is right” might through combination of experience and personal values change over time in a person’s life but little does an individual think of “why I think what I think is right”. To give an example, my early memories are of that of people telling me to become a Brahman by getting my sacred thread ceremony done. Then as years passed I was often influenced by people who said “Muslims” are different and that our neighbor country “Pakistan” is our enemy. Gradually, this got refined and reshaped by my family influence, which basically rejected the idea of the previous identities that were attached. I refused to associate myself as someone who believed in caste, religion or nationality. But strikingly a scary realization has been freaking me out. Although my family despises the identity that the society gives us, somehow they are attached to another set of identity that they have been trying to constantly legitimize. For years me and my brother were led to believe that Soviet Union was a true friend of humanity in general to put things simply. I had kept this belief alive and have over the years built up my stand with such a foundation. I would go to any extent of time debating that my perspective stood true. But what is that makes me hesitate to completely polarize or defend my beliefs these days? The answer is, the realization that my beliefs are also questionable. The more I try to question what I think is right the more I observe that I have been a “like” unit who is another part of the larger ideological apparatus.
As someone who is newly attached to social science, I have been dealing with an internal battle against my own way of thinking because social science teaches a million new ways of thinking of an issue along with training one into approaching every other problem . It is hard to believe that my mind has not been open enough to question how “I” think of the world rather than how someone else is thinking . I for once have been trying to inculcate my own understanding and remain careful of not considering any strand of perspective as obsolete and unjustified. While I thrive for being a pluralistic individual I also accept the fact that we cannot achieve perfection. As human beings and persons with conscience we are bound to be imperfect but the very idea that we “can” have imperfect notions is an essential element to keep in mind. Perspectives and facts are like a portrait and a picture; while a picture gives us the exact details that are there, a portrait can be something that the painter wants to paint and how the beholder would like to see it. While we don’t always have to consider every accurate details a picture might give us, our version of the portrait should acknowledge the fact that there “are” certain details that we wish not to be included when we admire the painting.
One of the major reasons that I have derived from the question of “why we think what we think is right?” is that of identity. Our identity generally shapes how we perceive the world. Foundation wise, every individual and social scientist thinks that identity shapes a person’s individual interests, social goals and limitations. I would like to lay the emphasis that identity also shapes the extent of a person’s way of going about in the world. To simplify this already simple idea let me once again give you an example from my very own experience. I was very gender sensitive from my early age, when I was schooled at home the opposite gender for me was some kind of dystopia from which I thought I was supposed to remain distant. Here two things played, first, I had the identity that I was a boy and second, my identity was a constant and unquestionable sense of self that defined the way I shaped an identity of the “other”; that is in this case the girls. The second aspect,which is the shaping of the identity of the other is to a great extent influenced by the people who are associated with a person’s upbringing ; which is the family, friends, relatives and whoever a person(here a child) comes across. I find it difficult to mention but the fact that demonizing the opposite sex came from my family itself. Small incidents play a big role in a child’s mental growth and so it happened that every time I had a conversation with my grandmother, my mother and my classmates they unintentionally were making me paint a version of their perspective that was shaping mine.
Coming to the later phase where I went to a boarding school and my perspective about life as a whole started changing, the identity of the “other” also started changing. Now that there was considerably less family influence and more peer influence, the portrait in my mind got new colorful strokes but even now the picture remained all in all the same. Not until the time that I started intensely engaging with the girls of my class that the identity I had created of them took a very different shape. The more I tried to understand them as “individuals” rather than as an “other” the more I found myself in crisis of my previous understanding of their identity. Three phases that helped me filter just one aspect of life, this makes me shiver when I think of every other aspect that I know which might take thousands and thousands of phases and not possibly a lifetime to be filtered. At this point in my life I can claim to be a feminist and as someone who enjoyed high school, I can vouch for the fact that high school, college or even regular life romance or friendship can make a person a lot more wiser than he/she already is.
Identity makes you believe in something, but identity has to be kept in a constant engagement with other identities so that they do not become opaque enough not to let any external light to come in . The fact that I recognize my social standing is strong enough for me to have created a space to think of what is right does not take away the other fact that I have to be aware of the identity of the other individual when I engage with him/her, even to the point where some person as a social entity might not be enjoying the same thinking space as I do due to their identity.
Since I was the boy of the hills for six years, I would like to end using an observation that I have found to be apt; In Mussoorie when we used to go for treks there were always a set of people who used to reach the hilltop before others and there were different sets depending on the speed that each one had. The one group that reached the hilltop before the others saw a different kind of view of the sun,the sky and landscape than the ones who were below them. The ones below would often find an adjacent hill blocking the view that the people at the top enjoyed. Maybe perspectives and identity are same, we tend to view it depending at which height we are standing; it might not be the same for others who might be on the same hill but at different heights. What if my father understood that the biggest challenge of understanding the problem at home was the challenge that we saw everything from the lens of the west? what if he knew that the western economic model of development had never really worked for Asia? what if he knew that the value relations of Asian farmers were very different from that of The United States? That the core crisis was that Harvard is only a lens which has not aligned with the realities in India to understand enough and that agenda might still be at crisis, what if he understood that this very notion of thinking that the western economic understanding was precisely what has kept South Asia from growing? what if he was aware of Myrdal’s Asian Drama in which he has talked precisely about the same problem of understanding? If he would have kept that in mind probably he would have had the room to accommodate what I was going to say.