Wednesday, 6 December, 2023

How Cultured Are We?

How Cultured Are We?

Prof. Bhupa P. Dhamala

We have passed millions of years to develop our physique in the present form. We have undergone countless experiences to develop the mind in its present capacity. Experiences are pleasant and unpleasant, easy and difficult, meaningful and meaningless. Life has thus been going on in this way for generations. Today we are living in an age of technological development. Industrialisation has evolved out of the agricultural economy. Capitalism has replaced feudalism. Urbanisation has rapidly increased. The world has been globalised. Industrialism, capitalism, urbanism, and globalism have been indispensable. Life, in general, has become sophisticated but mechanical. Considering all these things, we assume we are living in an age of civilisation.

But the facts are different from what we assume. Technological development has enriched material life, but simultaneously it has replaced the values of spiritual life. Industrialism has caused pollution and climate change. Urbanisation has spoilt the beauty of pristine nature. Capitalism has made us self-centric. Globalisation has invaded indigenousness. Things that a civilised human being is expected to do are not being done today. Materially speaking, we are civilised, but in spiritual terms, we are decadent. Civilisation and decadence, in this sense, are interchangeable terms. Looking at the way things are developing so rapidly in the other direction, what we call civilisation has turned into decadence.

There are other ways we are turning decadent. People tend to protest against things that they don't like. Some people are fanatics who like to tear down existing institutions without bothering to build new ones. Likewise, there are also non-conformists who oppose anything that others propose. People have turned utterly selfish. They have no heart for love and compassion for others. Some cold-blooded people have turned criminal. Weird though it sounds to many of us, we have come to an age when civilisation has gone to reverse order.
If we are gone too far from the norms, or if we violate established values, or if we deprive the joy of others for our benefit, or if we become witness to the most detestable things being done in front of our eyes without bothering to avert them, we may not be entitled to be called civilised in real sense.

Marks of civilisation
Civilisation is characteristic of societies, which distinguishes from what anthropologists call 'advanced' from 'backward' societies. The first man who started civilisation, for example, was probably an Athenian who brought a rabbit home to cook and distribute to his family members instead of eating its flesh uncooked then and there. Likewise, the person who first learned to make sparkles of fire was a civilised being. So soon a 'savage' begins to apply reason to instinct, so soon he begins to acquire a rudimentary sense of values, we can say he has taken the first step towards civilisation. The second step is a deliberate rejection of immediate satisfaction gained from physical comfort with a view to obtaining subtler.

When people are considerate, or when they are affectionate to the other people who are in trouble, or when they offer help to people in need, or when they think of the others first, or above all, when they have the sense of sacrifice, they can be called civilised. The absence of these qualities in individuals as well as communities is the mark of decadence. Many thinkers claim that oriental values are invaded by Western civilisation. The South Asian culture, for instance, has been dominated by the Western modernist culture that is marked by capitalism, urbanism, industrialism, and globalism. These social conditions are not negative in their own rights, but when people follow them uncritically, they cannot satisfy civilised human conditions.

Nepal is no exception. It looks like we are turning out to be self-centric. We want to make more and more money and hoard the wealth for the future. Our values have been capitalistic. Village people are migrating to the cities deserting their villages. It seems everybody's motto has been to buy a piece of land, no matter how small, and make a house in town with modern facilities. The prestige of a person in big cities today is measured by the size of the building, make of car, and the number of shares, but not by intrinsic human qualities such as love, affection, and the sense of cooperation. We do not value quality education which makes life beautiful. Mere academic degrees have been thought of as enough. Socialist values are hanging in limbo. Even politics has been polluted with greed and avarice. Our politicians seem to be more driven with a desire for wealth than social service. Paradoxically we call this downward trend civilisation.

Undoing the done
There is a famous saying: what is done cannot be undone. But this is not the absolute truth. Many things done cannot be undone. But there are some things that can be undone with incessant effort. Most importantly, a few things should and can be done immediately to improve the situation: one, we should develop a sense of ethics, and secondly, we should strictly implement laws to sustain human values and social norms. Moreover, we should make people aware of what civilisation is and what is not. It is essential to understand that civilisation is a relative term that retains its value if it is contextual.

This has been done in the past as well. If there were no laws against the negative trends, the fanatics would do anything they liked, and anywhere they liked. If there were no restrictions, the heretics would be engaged in gratifying the senses by doing things that are detrimental to social balance. If there were no established values and norms, the non-conformists would disturb the equilibrium that had long been established. Let us, therefore, cultivate socialist civilisation sooner than later if we want to avert decadence.

(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation.