Sunday, May 09, 2010

''George Bush brings out the Muslim in me!", said Dalai Lama

Bollywood has a wisdom that one must understand. In its movies, there is always a battle between good and evil. In its own sociological way, Bollywood shows that goodness is not enough. It reminds us that in everyday sense, the good cop, the good teacher, the good officer and even the good father are not adequate enough. They get eliminated before the interval. One almost sighs with relief when such incompetent, naive old-world goodness makes an exit. But the problem begins there.

The flaw in Bollywood is that its resolutions are more and more incomplete. As it meets new situations, it tries to resolve them through excessive violence backed by a plethora of technology. The question is what an ordinary person should do when he confronts new situations. The general idea seems to be to resort to technocratic management or exponential violence. 

Let us add to the complexity by discussing terror. Terror frightens us, frightens our sense of ease and comfort, our middle class sense of security, our sense of law and order. We immediately become judges. We need to condemn, dismiss, execute. We become adherents to capital punishment. All our silly stereotypes surface and we easily become anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan, anti- whatever threatens us. None of us have the courage and imagination to say what the Dalai Lama once said: “George Bush brings out the Muslim in me”.

How many of us can bring up the Muslim or dalit in us when the occasion requires it. Our ethics are reduced to a demand for security. If we are liberal, we add a touch, just a touch of human rights. But terror is a virus, an epidemic that demands elimination. Terror dehumanises us and we dehumanise it in turn. Justice becomes a form of vigilantism and our shaken sense of morality turns us blood thirsty.

Law cannot be a substitute for ethics. A regulated society can produce its own forms of corruption. Law also generates concepts which are still coy about the nature of responsibility of science. At most, it can generate the idea of the precautionary principle which contends that ignorance is by itself no excuse. A person whose action creates a disaster is responsible for the consequences. But such a notion of responsibility while being forward-looking does not look far enough. Science through regulation can move as far as precaution or prevention. But what it needs now is what I call “Wild Ethics”, an ethics that moves beyond the current boundaries and definitions. One needs an ethic which is plural, playful and eventually exemplary.

Wild Ethics claims that the formal economy of ethics needs an informal economy of coping, satisficing, of jugaad, of improvisation.

We have to reinvent both the ethics of the past and the future. We need a different kind of story-telling which takes terror beyond security, science beyond hubris and memory beyond erasure and obsolescence. Can we posit a Dalai Lama for nanotechnology, a Mandela for poverty and examine how they think. Every citizen has to improvise. These are new puzzles of tomorrow which democracy must solve to survive.

Excerpts from an article on 'Wild Ethics' by Shiv Visvanathan in DNA 
To read the full article click here.
Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

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