Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thought: Shades of Grey

Uncertainty scares people. The moment there is a doubt, it leads to paranoia. Paranoia breeds panic amongst an individual which in turn then spreads to the entire society.

The financial markets are a prime example. If one large player for whatever reason starts selling heavily then everyone seeing this develops a fear that something is wrong and follows suit and starts selling even though there maybe no real justification for this selling on their part. It is this human mentality that has been cultivated and developed over the ages by society.

Society creates so many unnecessary linkages that they are capable of influencing and subverting a rational flow of thought and logic that would have otherwise existed in the absence of societal pressures, codes, signals and rules. It results in the creation of uncertainty which breeds fear and whenever there is fear there then emerges an order or a setup that aims to remove this fear and thus results in a king, or a dictator, or an oligarchy or a democracy or some other form of institutional leadership.

This leadership although aims to remove the cause of fear – uncertainty – so as to restore the confidence of people in life and to make them comfortable eventually gets corrupted by the beauty of its power and the luxuries that come attached with it. This makes them blind to the needs of the people and eventually instills in a desire to retain this power at all costs.

George Orwell’s brilliant political satire Animal Farm which also happens to be witty and poignant makes the message of “Power Corrupts” brilliantly clear with this famous line – “All animals are born equal, though some are more equal than the others.”

Thus to combat the fear of uncertainty a higher governing order was set up to take care of the people but which lost its path in the need to retain power. However once the institution was put into place it wasn’t possible to remove it. Though various attempts were made to remove it and a school of thought evolved as a result of it, that being Anarchy.

Anarchy states that or may refer to :

· "Absence of government; a state of lawlessness due to the absence or inefficiency of the supreme power; political disorder."

· "A theoretical social state in which there is no governing person or body of persons, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder)."

As it is pretty obvious this school of thought was considered socially radical and outlawed by the political institutions in place as it was a direct threat to their power and was thus banned.

The popular grunge band Nirvana fronted by the ‘late’ Kurt Cobain were also at the forefront in promoting anarchy and their song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a seditious twist on the “mass mentality of conformity” amongst the people and in the music industry around them. The music video was also shot with the aim to send out the same message.

Another notable punk band was called “The Sex Pistols” who had amongst many rebelliously themed songs a song titled “Anarchy in the U.K

However the anarchist movement doesn’t really have any momentum or force and no practical examples as such exist either.

Going back to the topic, with the “more equal animals” failing to do the job for which they were given power, society responded by aiming to kill the source of fear – uncertainty.

Society now has so evolved that it conditioned people to look for answers in the form of Yes or No, Right or Wrong, Here or There, Heaven or Hell, Black or White etc. The middle path was totally eliminated and every one adhering to it was ostracized.

One of the most powerful symbols of balance and order according to Chinese philosophy - the Yin-Yang

is also dualistic in nature. It also propounds the theory that there are two and only two equal and opposite forces in the world that balance it.

Being dualistic is NOT a bad thing however it kills creativity by reducing the number of avenues in which the human mind can wander and also prevents testing the depths of the human mind in known and unknown directions.

Consequently the colour grey now attracts criticism and mockery and is indicative of a rebellious spirit and soul. I mean this symbolically of course.

Thus to survive in society it isn’t a good idea to adopt any shade of grey unless you are willing to break (or at least not be completely dependent on) societal ties (ties by birth, family etc), willing to step outside the boundaries of what society allows you to do, willing to not let what others think of you influence your decisions and your desires in life, willing to fight against retrograde societal norms.

In the same vein, the legendary Sidney Lumet’s critically acclaimed masterpiece 12 Angry Men also dealt with the subject of doubt and uncertainty. The opening scene of the movie starts with the judge directing the jury to deliberate and return a verdict. The case is that of a murder and the sentence demanded by the prosecution is that of death. On the face of it the evidence overwhelmingly points towards a guilty verdict.

However one of the jurors says that the evidence is not completely conclusive and it would be only fair to clear this doubt but to this suggestion he is met with stiff resistance and even anger (hence the title) from the remaining 11 jurors who want to give the verdict even before an hour’s worth of deliberations are complete. They feel that the prosecutions argument was strong enough

However when the greyer shades and nuances of the case are examined inconsistencies show up which actually changes the circumstances in which the case is viewed. This is one story that is brilliantly told with no melodrama and no wasted film reel.

This movie also highlights the fact that any facts when presented in a convincing manner are accepted by the common person as the gospel truth. He doesn’t digest it or reflect on it or think about it for that would mean questioning it and falling into the realm of doubt and uncertainty – an area where he is socially conditioned not to go to.

There are numerous examples and stories which deal with this subject, for that matter the very fact that in the medieval period sailing too far from the known world wasn’t undertaken because of the mistaken knowledge that they would fall of the edges of the flat world shows what fear of the unknown does to man and how it limits his potential of knowing more.

All that is advocated is looking in those places of human thought which are overlooked and where looking is not socially recommended, this might result in stepping on a few toes but at least something new would be learned in the process.

This is a topic where many may disagree with whatever is said either by me or anyone else but disagreement and even for that matter criticism is good, for it would merely lead to more thought and introspection and hopefully to a better understanding of the human psyche.

Also published in The Pundit.

19th May,2008.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Movie Review: Eastern Promises

When I first saw Eastern Promises I simply liked the movie. Liked it enough to want to watch the movie again and clear out all the doubts and little tidbits of the movie that i might have missed.

Directed by David Cronenberg (A History of Violence), the movie is set in London and is dominated by the Russian mafia that exists there

The movie has strong performances from Viggo Mortensen (L) and Naomi Watts (21 Grams). Armin Mueller-Stahl who plays Semyon the head of the Russian mafia family also puts in a superlative performance.

The story is about the diary of a young Russian girl that is found on her person which is found by a Anna (Naomi Watts) in the emergency room where the girl delivers a child and then subsequently dies. As the gruesome details are revealed the plot develops as Anna follows up on the diary which incidentally is in Russian and his translated by her uncle.

Concurrent to this Nikolai's (Viggo Mortensen) rise through the Russian mafia is also shown although this rise has its own sinister purpose.

The plot has a twist at the end of the movie which puts in context the entire happenings of the movie.

David Cronenberg has a done an awesome job in directing this movie. Incidentally despite this being a mafia film, NO guns have been shown in the entire movie. The only weapons which are used are knives which features prominently in a 3 minute long fight sequence.

This movie also highlights the use of tattoos in the Russian mafia and their significance.

This movie is a classic and i loved every bit of it.

Eastern Promises at Rotten Tomatoes

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Thought: Are we really free?

Social stigma, social laws, socially correct behavior, rules for society, dress codes for functions, how we talk, how we walk, how we behave, everything has been set down by society. There now exists a certain social fabric that engulfs us and this is not necessarily a good thing.

It now exists in such a way that it confines us, maybe not physically but to a large extent mentally. It affects the thought process of society and the individual and restricts our thinking from going into certain socially forbidden areas of thought.

Society decides for us what is good or bad, not plain and simple reason or logic.

Think about it. What does our freedom count for? Are we really free?

We are literally bought and sold in the marketplace. Running after jobs, sitting for interviews, trying to prove our worth. We learn things that are thrown to us without thinking, without reflecting, without questioning and then regurgitating it when asked for. We cram ourselves with everything so as to be able to "SELL" ourselves better.

Our thought has been so mangled by societal pressures that we don’t look objectively at anything.

We judge men as members of a community and their standing in it and not as aesthetically delightful objects in their own right. Where one comes from, where one has done ones schooling from, family background etc plays the most dominant role in deciding ones ‘status’.

Even if someone is recognized for their true merit on the basis of their individuality alone and not for their standing in society (e.g someone who is rebellious yet a highly gifted writer) we prefer to observe them from a distance. This is somewhat akin to considering a tiger to be more beautiful than a sheep but preferring the tiger to be behind bars.

We have been conditioned by society to such an extent that we want order in everything so we set in place law and order, procedures, systems and the whole lot. For them order reflects stability and stability lends the illusion of safety.

Besides instilling the illusion of safety it also kills creativity and the need to explore the unknown depths of the human brain and discover the true potential of human creativity which incidentally is limitless. Disorder, chaos, randomness although seemingly useless have some reason, some logic, some rationality backing them.

Consider the case of a seemingly mad man totally ostracized by society, upon extensive treatment by a psychologist, the doctor discovered that he had such high powers of observation that in a passing glance at a rose when a normal man would just notice the flower or at most the petals of the rose this man would also observe the stem, the leaves and the thorns. However his brain was not able to cope with the plethora of information being generated within his head and wasn’t able to process it fast enough for him to continue behaving normally and hence his seeming madness.

He actually was a man with much superior powers than the average man but social order and social positioning put him way down in the pecking order.

Social development varies across countries, with societies of some countries seemingly more advanced than the societies of others. But here the question arises on what basis do you judge whether a society is more advanced. A simple and logical answer would be that a society which promotes free thought, freedom of expression, freedom to do newer and varied things to a larger extent is more advanced than the society which puts a lot of curbs and checks on them.

Finally society expects order and structure to everything and conventions that are established to be followed at every step and turn but there are always the few dissenting voices that rebel continuously and try to balance order and structure with disorder and chaos and originality.

Even articles for that matter are expected to have a structure and order and minimum digression and all the other features that are expected in a ‘standard’ article but as every yin has its yang so does writing. After all it is better not to tread the beaten path.

Also published in The Pundit.

14th Feb,2008