Friday, August 3, 2012

An essay on conservatim in societies

An essay on conservatism in societies (2647 words)
By Kalidas Laxman

Lord Bertrand Russell says in his ‘Sceptical Essays’ (1928) that “What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.”
This will to believe one can comprehend as propensity toward faith; it can be transient or steadfast, or even wavering! If this disambiguation looks simple its separate implications have profound meaning and relevance to the society.

Faith and ambiguity:
Society of humans itself is like a giant organic cell living, sensing the world around it, growing up and transcending into another organism as time passes and environment changes; parts of it may also die or be cast away, all this in an amoebic fashion; however, each form has its layered subliminal mind and functions with human characteristics important amongst which is faith. It has immune reaction as well and is important enough for healthy existence of the organism which one can sense only in abstract sense. And, just as diverse men may follow their own kind of faith, in splintered fashion, society does the same.

About faith:
It is not correct to identify faith with religion alone. Only rarely a man will be without any semblance of faith. Consider the following:
  • ‘A man was treading his path to explore a personal goal. He walks and walks, and walks. When he gets physically, mentally or intellectually tired, various trains of thoughts may lead him to decide enough is enough, there is nothing much left to know or do just then and turns back probably to return the next opportune time.’ This, in fact, is where faith has entered in his approach.’
  • Scientists, too, sometimes presume whatever has been established out by peers to be a comprehensive fact with not much room for improvement being left. However a beautiful mathematical concept called 'The Theory of Chaos' was formulated when a scientist refused to keep faith in the previous methodology when after meticulous checking the results did not agree with observations. In a nutshell, man keeps faith at a point defined by his intellectual level, resources and curiosity or societal pressure.
Faith in societies exists as in this another story, too.
  • ‘A flood was ravaging a village when a man with complete faith in higher echelons about creation of universe set himself on top of a tree confident that his creator will in the end save him. A few people in make shift rafts passed by calling him aboard. The man declined having no faith in these contraptions choosing to rely on the creator instead; in the end the tree collapsed drowning the man.
In the first two of the above stories faith has not blocked curiosity, questioning or further efforts and explorations, which are to seek wider knowledge. Newer information brings about modifications in perceptions about a concept, and groups or organizations alive to these change their perceptions and structure. Faith in these examples is a stepping stone, until better concepts arise, toward a practical goal or curiosity involving what and how of a problem.
However, in another kind of faith as in the third allegory an impermeable carpet covers and dumps pragmatic efforts to save marooned man’s own life. The push to further efforts is never made and inertia both of mind and body quickly sets in as in rigor mortis. Illusory ideas having steadfast belief in imagined authority is the crux of the matter behind this kind of faith

Blinkered and then bonsai-ed brains:
Consider that for thousands of years man continued accepting silly pseudo beliefs such as the Earth was resting on the head of a giant serpent or similar other ideas. Small pox and plague were treated as God’s wrath and hapless patients were treated like sinners and punished harshly. This was silly because the earlier supposition begs the obvious question how the snake itself was supported or lived and fed itself. And whatever happens to the movements of the Sun and Moon who were supposed to be going around in an Earth centric supposition. Very possibly questions were indeed asked and doused by peers like flames near an inflammable substance. These coterie passing under grandiose title of elders or peers were mostly leaders controlling religious clouts to nurse their own ambitions. And, as well, no body wondered how an innocent child a couple of years old could have chance to sin and get small pox.
In fact, the impermeable carpet and remaining covered under it attains superior appreciation since in that case the peers of the society are not challenged by the new and young members to usurp their power. Further explorations in material or abstract knowledge are discouraged like spread of fire that would burn the old beliefs.
As if in encouragement to their inability to innovate and disturb the settled world, they are not even required to explore but merely lend voice and substance to whatever has been done by aged peers of the society until then. These are the middle class groups in society as different from the rich and affluent or the lower classes. All forms of activity sub-groups in society in fields such as art, religion and culture thrive on such support. These are generally recognised as conservatives in the group whose only functions appear to be to oppose change where they or their peers are challenged or not benefitted; they are indeed the backbone/foundations of the society. The real explorers, in such circumstances, would branch out to break new grounds and always question the limits raising the bars continually. They may bring about a change in the group philosophy, plans and actions. However, they do not earn the confidence of their group. Constant change is unsettling for untalented men especially who are controlling the groups even emotionally as in families. They resist adopting new ideas especially in a later stage of their personal life. Forest animals or even domesticated animals display this succinctly. A new/stray dog on the road is a constant threat to dominant males in the area or even a pet dog cosily licking his owner. However, we are humans, live by knowledge and adaptation, not muscle power, or so we think. Either we adapt to new knowledge or give way to new leaders which may not be a sweet option for conservatives! It just appears that every society and often a large group is composed of these dissimilar sets, one controlling the new ideas and concepts and their adherents and the other savvy to changes in the perceptions making the two sides of a coin. The controlling faction bonsai the brain power or stunt the thought processes of members of their group to control and keep them inside the household. This is done with constant brainwashing by dousing curiosity and questioning instinct from early stages in life. This happens in many religious schools, too.

Three sided coin:
One may analogize. In the beginning of history of written messages and barter records on clay plates, only one side was utilized and this went on smoothly, unchallenged till the times changed. As times progressed further newer technologies were invented and metallic plates were found to be more suitable, longer lasting and easier to handle but which unfortunately had two sides. Thus the newer technology brought another side to societal behavior into reckoning, one controlling factor and another alive to new perceptions, one forward looking telling the value of its concepts as changes took place and the other trying to hold onto its roots with stamp of security from traditional knowledge resources handed down from generations downwards.
However, with further developmental changes of sleeker and more transportable coins, a still different perception came into play with two sided round coins. Here happens to be a third factor, the rim, which makes the coin  move very fast, unsettling the steady state inertia of earlier coins making it come to rest uncertainly wherever the kinetic and potential force takes it. This is what makes the society beware of movement or change. There is implicit comfort in continuation of the stamp of security of its existence rather than the changing values or worst the direction of the rim which does not guarantee the future. Such analogy relates to conservative groups and people who are controlled by them whereas rims are the mavericks that choose intellectual freedom not knowing for certainty whatever they were pursuing would turn out to be.
The following words are from the great mathematician and philosopher Lord Bertrand Russell from his book ‘Religion and Science’.
  • "Those to whom intellectual freedom is personally important may be a minority in the community, but among them are the men of most importance to the future. We have seen the importance of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin in the history of mankind, and it is not to be supposed that the future will produce no more such men. If they are prevented from doing their work and having their due effect, the human race will stagnate, and a new Dark Age will succeed, as the earlier Dark Age succeeded the brilliant period of antiquity. New truth is often uncomfortable, especially to the holders of power; nevertheless, amid the long record of cruelty and bigotry, it is the most important achievement of our intelligent but wayward species."
In spite of the great thinkers and visionaries as above in the past and recent genii such as Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Picasso and Ludwig Wittgenstein, conservatism still proceeds unhindered, at least in oriental societies. The western thought appears to be more evolved compared with Asian and African philosophies. The difference is big enough to wonder and seek answers to this question.

Modern scientific research:
However, above are just words as a hardboiled scientist would say, even though logical but are there any facts supported by modern science research to support an imagined concept as conservative approach against liberal or rational? Modern research has a word to describe brain, Homunculus; conceptually, brain represents entirely the physical, mental and intellectual functions of a human body, the Homo sapiens. So, is the major attitudinal difference such as in conservative and liberal/rational approach indicated in brain areas mapped up to now by brain researchers? The answer is startlingly, yes. Two areas in the Homunculus, Amygdala and Anterior cingulate cortex show these differences. In one experiment, conservatives on average had a larger right amygdala, a region of the brain that processes responses to fear and threat. Liberals, in contrast, had more grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, an error-detecting region that is thought to be involved in causing us to stop repeated patterns of behaviour and change course (10 April 2012/ by Chris Mooney/ New Scientist/ Magazine issue 2859)

East vs. West:
An Indian representing the Eastern Philosophy staunchly believes in Life after death (This is in fact conservatism where even his self is ‘conserved’ to enjoy fruits or be punished for sins even after death) and its incredulous products such as sins and virtues and God’s ‘Akashvani’ or the voice through the sky, (dictates or God judgments smartly manipulated by Hinduisms high priests) whereas the Westerners are of rationalist mould (Hindus prefer to scorn it off as materialism). It now appears Gandhi awakened Indian soul half way, it was not a job completed, may be Anna Hazare is doing his bit. Gandhi’s philosophy was not appropriate enough to give complete Independence to India since as Rabindranath Tagore says unless you have paid the full price you cannot gain freedom. Has the freedom that Tagore, again, referred to in his poem 'Where the mind is without fear' been achieved in any single sense? It seems India is still in deep sleep, yet to wake up. A calm analysis would provide the answer in a single phrase that the antonym for all those desires of Tagore is the stranglehold of conservative society on Indian psyche.
A brief look at the socio-political and religious history of the world’s societies indicates most of these were conservative in approach many grades above the present level before its watershed era, the World War II. In short, the whole world was conservative. The humans have warred since the time immemorial and with various implements, hand held, simply thrown or catapulted; whichever the chosen way, there was always that brief time available when it was possible to dodge, jump or out-manoeuvre the assailant. One always knew well in advance, sometimes days if not months, the approaching armies of cruellest of invaders all through the history. A big success was achieved by elements of surprize from unfrequented approach directions as by Hannibal’s crossing of Alps in 218 B.C. to attack Rome, or simply the astonishment at the speed of Hitler’s tanks that unanticipatedly ran through Europe in the earlier stages of WW II. However, didn’t all the multifarious artefacts of winning wars paled into insignificance with Hitler’s state of the art inventions in the same war? The deadly V2 rockets combined manifolds the maximum speed available at that time, untraceable approach and the total devastation in one single warhead. If the V2 rockets were not enough the twin N-warheads on Japan at the end of that war spelled the doom for the conservative notions nursed by the societies till then against their better judgments. The results combined all previous effects of destructions from war, lack of warning and preparedness, and most importantly, both the hopelessness and its twin helplessness of facing Death at Zero notices. The survivors, without meaning to, not just in Japan but all Europe and Americas, pulled together the knowledge and understanding of the Death they had understood and the meaning of life they could have had if not for many of society’s notions and rigid value systems; as they told the tales of horror, the ideas of day to day existence and sublime concepts of Life and Death were getting reformed. These nations have undergone kind of philosophical transition in their ideas regarding Life in the aftermath of new Death syndrome that the Indian subcontinent has never ever faced. The mass hypnosis created then related to the theme behind Steve Jobs speech which incidentally came decades later. His speech made Steve Jobs a wise man and a practical philosopher of the 21st century as important as his inventions, or probably more so.
Steve Jobs, Death and the death of conservative approaches:
Steve Jobs, co-founder of ‘Apple’ and under whose direction iPad and iPhone were invented has died recently on October 5, 2011. He had made marvellous products for his company but he will be remembered for his fight against cancer and how he turned around his philosophy of life and kept making mark in the highly competitive markets of smart phones. This is the speech he had delivered on June 12, 2005 after he was surgically operated and told that he had a small quantum of life left to live before cancer could claim him back:
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”