Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rawness

I earnestly resist the lazy temptation of casting it all into the "American" mould (and they would spell it as mold). As much as I use several American inventions and thank scores of them for making life easy, I also look around myself and try to figure out which aspects of humane life have they really touched and enhanced. Now, when I say "they" I really mean the West.

A friend of mine and I were discussing how the "Americans" have made everything so vulgar (including the words they seemed to have invented). Junk food, to start with, is very tasty but devoid of nutrition and only worsens the health of an individual. Nuclear power transmission was well conceived (although mostly as a part of the notorious Manhattan Project) "there" (though the transmission to a grid was first done in USSR who don't really form a part of "them") the current state of nuclear warfare and devastation owes a lot to "them". Art has become crass and silly thanks to "them". Jokes are better when they are laced with "American" words for various anatomical parts. People consider themselves cool and the like only when they speak with a false accent and use four letter words as punctuation. MTV, Ms. Spears, Janet Jackson, divorce (if you wish to believe that the man with the higher rates is responsible for your son following suit)... name it. The tone seems to be of "do whatever you feel like doing" which only brings us closer to our animal self which we alternately justify or condemn depending on which side of wall we are on (and sometimes the same person condemns some of them while rooting for the others). Why, a perfume brand is now called FCUK. Like I need to be a rocket scientist to figure out why the lady in red was smiling when her eyes fell on that vial of vulgarised aroma!

But then that would be silly (no, not the rocket scientist part). I think what "America" has done is to take their philosophy of capitalism beyond the industry (and capitalism is so misunderstood to its own undoing). What works in the context of an industry (create goods in demand and sell them for a profit, re-invest and continue to grow the business) doesn't work well in facets of life outside the industry. Art is also created based on sheer market forces. How else would we justify Harry Porter, chick-lit and other short-lived sensations aired on the Big O show? Look at the crazy world of movie making (there was a post about this, a while ago). Look at how children interact with their parents in the West (they want to do what they want to do and are entitled to their individual rights with least concern for their parents). Old age homes are justified on the simple rational that it doesn't work out to be worth one's while (and one's time and energy are vital and valuable as resources in the capitalist scheme of living). With notions like "only you matter" and "you are the most important person in your life" a possibility of cooperation based on intangibles is wiped out (and what might they be?). Life becomes a sheer barter and profit making venture which cannot be censured on the grounds of logic for what simpler logic can a man call upon than the need to satisfy his hunger which seamlessly extends into satisfying his needs and like one cloud merging with another at no particular point, into a satisfying his wants. No argument on earth can logically deny a man the means to satisfy his wants unless it brings direct harm to another person. But extrapolating that to every walk of our life doesn't always make sense. That "they" have actually made a business out of nearly everything "they" touch (academics, visual arts, sports, music, journalism, etc.) has ushered in a lot of good and professionalism but doing the same to several other aspects of life (interpersonal relationships, entertainment, sense of worth which is quite a senseless thing, etc.) has overshot the possibly intended purpose and has become a moral famine where everyone seems to be doing well based on what they own or achieve but a dirth at the core.

When I look at the commercialisation of nearly every aspect of life, I tend to wonder whether this makes any more sense. Surely the commercialisation of human sentiment and pride (which goes by the name of self-help and positive thinking and a lot more) feeds immorally on people. People are more comfortable at a material level and have gradually allowed their finer side to be corroded by the tell of the West. Undoubtedly, people in the West have a fine finish and many (and many more, though the Joshua Bell episode still makes me smile) have retained their suave side of conduct, but as a philosophy the West has contributed and promulgated a lifestyle of irreverence and short-sightedness, focusing on the gains and profits of today and this lifetime rather than on moral correctness. This is not an attempt at preaching from the moral high-horse (or rather, condemning à cheval) but at trying to go beyond the obvious rawness in display to the underlying motivation.

I read Ginsberg's "Howl" and I see no sign of anything beautiful though irreverence screams out in glitzy neon. All that is described in there, if it were true, only speaks for a highly irresponsible world made possible because everyone is free to do what they want. While great industries and movies are made there, the need to educate the individual into becoming a responsible individual is clearly lacking and where dropping out of school to found a company is considered sensible and right as it makes an Ellison out of wannabes. But is that the point and purpose of life!? What is!? The lack of a holistic approach and lack of inculcating patience and restrain is the hallmark of present day education. Although this is the case with education systems all over the world (as far as I have bothered to seek and find out), the "American" way of life itself popularises the "go-getter" attitude which, again, is fine in commercial business but falls flat in most other aspects of life.

I think it is vital to realise that no one philosophy works well everywhere. That faster processors sell more is fine, but that sex sells and hence have skimpy women in advertisements for coffee or wheat flour doesn't make sense and only takes us closer to our animal nature. "As long as it sells it is ok", doesn't work everywhere. What is the point of prosperity in a void? Popularity and prosperity are good motivators for certain things but when applied to every aspect of life, it doesn't really work well.

When a person caters to the banausic and base needs of one's animal side, what one essentially is doing is making righteous the pursuit of such needs and hence causes an entire generation to sway in confusion without a firm spine to provide direction and robustness. It is not a matter of morality in the religious sense but morality in the core fiber of being human. Such a rapid degradation can only be herded in when the lack of strengthening the core is associated with success of various sorts and one mistakingly marries them together and makes the former essential for the latter's realisation. The sheer rawness that "they" demonstrate in every aspect of their presentation only facilitates several generations of incomplete individuals living irresponsibly and irreverently.

10 comments:

  1. Whoa there! - don't get too carried away by all that is deplorable in all that is American!

    I would suggest that the greatness that is America as seen by its excellence in almost each and every field of work, doesn't come from this rawness you are ranting about - it comes from a dedication, long term singlemindedness, a plodding and dogged tenacity to the profession/business/art that is one's own, and I would suggest that (unlike what you propound here that there be different values for business and for family etc), these their values and virtues work wise, should be mapped onto their private lives too - not withstanding difficulties that focus and sincerity automatically demand, they should have the same attitude in handling problems and thorny inconveniences of say looking after elderly people, as they do when dealing with the various difficulties of their work.

    As to Britney Spears and the like, they are not all of America, that would mean that India is just poverty and illiteracy or ignorance and communal violence, and not spirituality, music, architecture you name it. When one is personally involved with any American workwise, most often than not, it is a pleasure to work with their efficiency and expertise.

    A sense of right towards oneself, may always contradict what is right towards others, or for that matter, what is right by a second person may not be right by a third.

    The bottomline is that ultimately in all matters, all of us do what we want to do, if we can do it, I suppose (be it idealistic, animalistic and wild, vulgar, virtuous, righteous, socially abhorrent, or socially worshipworthy, you name it). Not just the Americans.

    The animal is there and the god - nobody stops anyone from living one or the other. Why blame the cause when I respond willingly as an effect to all that is vulgar and not to all that is refined and exalting?

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  2. Dear P,
    I have nothing against America or the American (for the number of friends I have in America, I think I would be the last person to do that). What I wish to bring forth is the manner in which certain things "American" (as in, the West) have lead to a degradation in human values for the simple reason that the "American" has always espoused rationality, the scientific spirit, freedom, individuality and capitalism. These are fine where they should be applied. The human fabric is getting abraded continuously and often unintentionally.
    Like it or not, Rock n Roll, Jazz, Hip-Hop and the like all represent America and definitely "America". So does Ms. Spears as much as the Superbowl. Poverty is pan-continent but is still used to represent India because it is something we are comfortable shoving under the carpet of our India Shining carpet. India is also represented by BPOs and ISKON, whether we like it or not.
    Although every human being is liable to vacillating between God and Animal, there are certain cultures (e.g. the cultures and societies which enjoyed invading other territories still continue to do the same) which seem - if I may be so hasty - to be genetically inclined towards certain mannerisms. The "American" culture and the environment they foster is the perfect hotbed for irresponsibility and irreverence: that some people from there do not adopt it is not argument enough to debunk what is said here.
    Undoubtedly, the Americans and the "Americans" have excelled in nearly everything they have touched but should success be an end or a justification for anything? Though the average man is not entirely affected by the truly "American" philosophy, it facilitates anarchy of various sorts and at various levels.
    Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, ... is this what you see as being responsible? Or would you join hands and say "But this is the truth"? Why doesn't this "truth" happen in Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh?

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  3. What the hell! - how can show business be considered to represent all of American genetics or culture? That would be like saying that Rakhi Sawant and the pelvic gyrations of all from Aishwarya Rai and Bipasha Basu represent the Indian culture or the whole of dominant Indian psyche and mind.

    Generalisations are anathema to me. Wish it were so for you too - we have to look at every single thing case by case - be it individuals or a movie or a music show.

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  4. ah, the american individuality, making the country filthy, flawed and yet gorgeous at the end of it all!!. Like they say 'America has gone to the dogs. And the vermin is spreading rapidly to all parts of the world.

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  5. Lovely thought provoking post. I was raised in the US but I too struggle with some of these so-called liberal values.

    In all fairness though, FCUK originated in the UK of course. Can't blame those damn Americans for everything :)

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  6. Dear P,
    Anything, including a culture and country is known by what one gets to see about it, and I was hoping that for one so grounded in reality this wouldn't have been missed! :-) It is not about generalisations or anything of that sort. Be it Thailand (and a lot of its sex trade), or France (and its fashion market) or Cuba (and its dance, drugs and cigars) one learns by seeing what is projected. I have seen that in Germany nearly everyone drinks and sometimes from the age of 15, but I also know people who don't. Undoubtedly things should be taken on a case by case basis but it is also fine to gain a collective summary of certain things even though they might get shattered later. Learning is constant, but what a culture or country projects is conscious and will always shape the image others will form about them. Inevitable. Show business is no exception. When the 70s and 80s had shows like Wonder Years, I dream of genie and things like that, people elsewhere thought America was like that. Now it is based on Sopranos and the Desperate Housewives. People who have first hand experience might know otherwise, but for those who don't (which forms the majority of the world) such images only aid in forming their own idea of what life is all about and how when people of such a prosperous nation can do all this and still be happy and successful, then why shouldn't we do it too. Think about it. My gut feel is that its core business philosophy is the reason behind this state of affairs, because the irresponsible outlook of "while it brings money/profit/success, it is ok" works in business (not much with the current focus on business contributing to society). That is my point...

    Dear TTAAM,
    Welcome to this blog. If I may bring to light the point I make, it is not about America as much as it is about "America" and not so much about "America" as it is about the particular capitalist philosophy that "they" seem to wrongly apply to many facets of life...

    Dear ZD,
    Welcome to this blog. As I said, "America" is more than America. I didn't know that FCUK was from UK but it didn't matter at that point and I didn't, hence, venture into associating it with America though I do so with the growing approach towards things. Being liberal has become often confused with being unaccountable and irresponsible. I think that is where we need a good education system (which would include schools and the immediate environment of the child) which educates the individual to recognise the deviations and the aberrations from what is actually being stated.

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  7. Indigo Bubbles9:33 PM

    "Junk food, to start with, is very tasty but devoid of nutrition and only worsens the health of an individual."
    Now, that doesn't make sense. I really don't think Americans receive all the credit (blame?) for it. As if Bhel Puri and samosa chaat are nutritious? Everyone enjoys and indulgences in junk food.

    I think there's a bit of confusion in the first part of your argument. It's not so much the Americans or the West that have all the negative attibutes. I think you're not happy with the Indians who are quickly copying the negative parts.

    However, if you look deeper, you'll see Indians are also copying the positives.. just like simple courtesies to each other, which I find lacking in Indian society.

    It bothers me when Indians praise their own family values as if Americans do not love their children or their parents. I've seen up close the dedication and support among Americans families. I also have a problem when people think divorce is something new or "fashionable". I believe people actually spend more time thinking about divorcing than they do about marrying.

    Also, regarding capitalism and the chase for materialism, I see this being prominent among immigrants, which is natural. Immigrants came for a prosperous life and they will seek it.

    I don't think art is short-lived either. Mass media may dictate what's hot or not..but the good ones will survive beyond the media frenzy.

    Anyway, I can understand your point of view, but I don't agree with any of your statements. :-)

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  8. Dear IB,
    Welcome to this blog.
    I agree with the samosa and chaat part. Junk food is there in every culture, but who is pushing samosa or pani puri in every Scandinavian country? Now you might want to consider the number of "American" junk food companies entering various non-"American" markets! When you are asked to specify 5 "American" foods, what are the first that come to your mind? :-)

    It is not about who possesses negative attributes. That would be on a case by case basis. The question is which country/culture projects the raw aspects of the human being in a manner which is very raw. Indians are filled with stupid qualities and pettiness (I am one of the last individuals on earth to feel proud about being an Indian). I am discussing what a culture/country presents as its face to the world. I think India projects a herd mentality, but that we'll take on later!! ;-)

    Courtesies to each other which was lacking? :-o That's strange. I thought that was not to be found lacking. Which part of India, if I may ask?

    Americans surely love their parents, but prefer sending them to old age homes after a time, believe more in nuclear families, feel comfortable involving the law in several family matters. The sheer tone and way a student addresses a professor in the US is hugely different from how it happens in a similar institution in India or China. So the facts are there, if one wants them.

    All said and done, I have enjoyed the company of several American family and have felt so warm and calm with them. When I discussed matters with them, they revealed various aspects of the American family which I found interesting. My uncle feels safer raising his children there than here and his points are valid.

    But go ask anyone about the impression they have about the "Americans" (which is different from Americans), and you will have an idea. You cannot blame the entire world for forming impressions based on what they saw, heard and noticed. So why do they consistently observe just this about the "America"?

    Divorce is new when compared to the age of marriage. The earliest known divorce was in Roma, several centuries ago, while marriage has not been dated (AFAIK), though as an example, the earliest notion of a wedding ring was around 3000 BC. Pretty new, if you ask me! :-)

    Capitalism popular amongst immigrants? You are talking about probably the last 20-30 years. America is nearly full of immigrants, and you might want to study the history of capitalism in America as well as the "Americas". The American Industrial Revolution started in 1820s. Very few immigrants (as we know them today) then. The Industrial Revolution for the "Americas" started much earlier...

    True, the good ones in art might survive, but the point is not what happens to art itself. The custodians of art will keep at it, but how the world is coming to treat art nowadays has to be observed and recognised.

    If I may copy your statements in part:
    I don't see your POV, and I don't agree with your statements!! :-D

    All in good cheer...

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  9. Eroteme,
    If you go to England, you'll see samosas available right with egg rolls. Give Indians some time..They have bags of flavored Papadums at Whole Foods.

    The courtesies I have in mind are simple "thank you" when someone holds the door open or actually holding a door for another. Not elbowing or pushing your way forward, but just standing in a line. An Indian who is visiting commented how surprised she was when strangers said Hi on the street. In India, I think the lifestyle leads to such rigidness. Of course, in India, a stranger might not say hi, but will ask personal question about your marriage. ;-)

    "Divorce is new when compared to the age of marriage." I don't think divorce is a bad thing. I think couples who stay together in unhealthy and unhappy relationships are more detrimental to society.

    Also, capitalism is not new to immigrants. Isnt' the American dream about capitalism? It's about going from rags to riches. And, the first immigrants are the ones that came in 1600's. It's always been about making a better life, using the resources.. yes, the Industrial Revolution came later..but you don't think anyone was out to make money before then? America is full of risk takers.

    "Americans surely love their parents, but prefer sending them to old age homes after a time, believe more in nuclear families, feel comfortable involving the law in several family matters. "

    I don't think it's all.. I have seen a number of Americans who have cared for their elderly and sick parents in their own homes..or if the elderly parent wanted to live independently, they respected that and took care of them. Home Health Aides are very growing field. Americans are more likely to keep trying to make it work and only give up at the end. You can't say they prefer to do that. Real people make real decisions.

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  10. Dear IB,
    You must visit Lucknow or some internal parts of TN. Out there the courtesies would be in excess!! But I loved the tehzeeb of Lucknow and panpaadu of some places in TN. Similarly I watched and learned from people in Palakkaad and also from Chinese immigrants. They are very courtious. If you are referring to the large cities, then we would need to compare them to the streets of NY - and I am told that they are a lot alike.
    Divorce is not a question of good and bad but a question of character. Once a person is aware that they have an option, the inclination to work things out and explore different ways of rectifying things is severely reduced. Recently a friend of mine was divorced because his wife walked out. Reason: She had a postgraduate degree and he didn't!! Sticking has its virtues. Undoubtedly, there will be times when all options have been exhausted and there is no sense in the marriage. Then, yes, it might make sense. Nevertheless, the point is not about whether it is good or bad - it is about what a culture projects and people do not associate divorce with, say, the Belgians or even the Sri Lankans. Understandably, since the US has the highest divorce rates (per 1000 population per year). Are we trying to say that the Americans are the only ones who end up in bad marriages? Surely, we can't say that about all of "America". Then why?
    As I said, America is nearly entirely immigrants, so it might not be worth discussing whether immigrants created the "American dream" or did they adopt it. Point is, whoever gathered in there and flourished also nurtured the capitalistic approach towards business, which is fine, but when that is applied to several other facets of life, it fails. That is all I am saying :-)
    If you look at the demographics of aging society and the care, you will notice that a very meagre population actually stays with their family. What is so unreal about a society having a family-centric culture where everyone is treated with love and respect till they die and not off-loaded onto someone else's shoulders? The Asian countries have survived millenia with such an approach. If it were unreal, I doubt their longevity. If you also study the psychological problems that a senior goes through in old age homes, it is quite sad. I think it is a matter of ethics and not logic. Finally, it is about a country's image and how others perceive that. The "America" is perceived as a culture which lives on the utilitarian value of an individual. We would housed grand-aunts and ailing relatives because they don't have children of their own. I haven't heard of that being common in the West. A sense of duty is not menial to a sense of convenience and logical correctness. Yes, it might be more expensive, yes, it might be very inconvenient, yes, it reduces the family's mobility and yes, it is our sense of duty.

    Very little of what "America" does can be put down on grounds of logic, because profit motivation is a strongly valid reason. Who has the right to say that I should not seek higher returns and profit? No one. Hence, I can do all that is required to get that, right? Well, ... :-)

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