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OP-ED: The trodden path

  • Published at 12:04 am July 27th, 2021
web-Lalmonirhat Mosque and Temple in Communal Harmony
Photo: BSS

Philosophies, institutions, and systems prescribe conduct and exercise control

Civil society is influenced, governed, and moulded by competing philosophies and institutions, whose sole intent it is to capture the imagination of the identified audience and indefinitely hold the attention of its members. 

The human mind, despite the soaring heights that it is capable of, is capricious and fickle. Therefore, with a view to guarding against the possible, if not probable, attrition in devotion, and simultaneously keeping the competition at bay, a superstructure of complex and plausible mythology needs to be constructed, at once awe-inspiring, easily comprehensible, and easy to follow, with a track record that reflects results, and yet possessed of a complexity sufficient to impress the acolyte to consider the system to be worth the investment of a lifetime.

Organized religion, two seemingly innocuous words which encapsulate one of the most crucial institutions of the human experience. It is an experience which binds a social group composed of like-minded beings who have agreed to adhere to the precepts of the chosen faith typically characterized by a belief in supernatural beings, the division between what is sacred and what is profane, a book of ritual acts, a moral code harking back to the supernatural, and the use of prayer as a mode of communication with said supernatural entity, which together render a holistic experience underpinned and suffused by characteristically “religious feelings.”

Yes, two innocuous words which provide no inkling of the oceans of blood spilt. 

As an outcome of the millennia of strife and hate characteristically demonstrated by human “civilization,” the world has today settled approximately and still not wholly comfortably to the reality of a limited number of religions that compete for the affection and loyalty of the billions that populate its crust. 

Today, the “faithful” ie, the nominal adherents to one or another of the “recognized” systems of faith, account for 83% of the global population, the great majority of these falling under 12 classical religions, namely, the Way of Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, the Way of Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. 

To Christianity, with the longest roll-call of loyalists at 2 billion who pay at least lip service to its tenets, also goes the unfortunate distinction of having wreaked unparalleled murder and mayhem in the march of its history, whether internecine by way of constant war with co-religionists of different churches or external against the non-believers in the form of disciples of “enemy” religions as well as other non-believing constituents of human society.

Four hundred years ago, the ships of a handful of European nations situated strategically on the North Atlantic seaboard set sail under the auspices of royal charter with no less a mission than to explore the uncharted globe and, of course, subjugate it for the resources it promised to yield. 

The conquistadors had met with success a century before, their mania for the yellow metal resulting in the annihilation of proud cultures by sword and pox along the length of the endless South American continent, and it was now the turn of the Protestant powers to seek out their El Dorado. 

And, crucially, they were armed not just with Holy Bible and cutlass, but with the notional power of the joint stock company, contract signed, sealed and delivered, in which the principals held shares, and against which vast amounts of money could be invested and borrowed in the hope that enduring legend, the tall tales of inebriated sailors in the doxy houses, and purloined log books of ill-fated captains peppered with calculations of latitude and longitude, would somehow intercept to unlock the door to vast fortunes. 

The onset of a system of trade based on the notional transfer of species and the extension of credit gave rise to a revolutionary institution created on the foundations of an iron-like trust. 

It is the money economy, and the ability to leverage the base amount, that proverbial bag of gold coins, up to an agreed number of multiples for the purpose of sale, purchase, and payment of a fee on the use of the coin, that has held the world in a stranglehold for the past three centuries.

The phenomenon of Bitcoin, the vanguard of crypto-currency, overtook us over a decade ago. Met with suspicion and hostility by the establishment, it has nevertheless refused to abate, instead providing the inspiration for the spawning of a host of crypto-currencies selecting their names from the various nooks and crannies of our collective heritage founded on the Greek language. 

If the money economy today is predominantly notional, crypto-currency has elevated the intangible nature of the creation and propagation of wealth to a new quantum level. 

I wonder if the few banknotes in my much-folded wallet stand to lose their monopoly on the mind to a way of life which, if the advertisements are to be believed, is facilitating ever-easier investment in this alternate mode of “legal tender.”

Philosophies, institutions, and systems prescribe conduct and exercise control. Accordingly, and by implication, they demand unquestioning obedience and monopoly. We have for the most part been raised and nurtured and sustained on an unceasing diet of conformity. 

Mother Earth is less than a speck in the infinite darkness which exists just beyond the outer limit of the blue sky that represents the universe that we inhabit. 

But by all accounts, in spite of the crushing human population, thoughtless use of natural resources that cannot be replenished, and a brutal assault on the highest art of nature that is the environment and its weather, it would appear that there is sufficient ability on the surface of the Earth to exercise a certain non-conformity. 

In this enormous world that we inhabit, there is room and flexibility for exploring the options. If 83% of people subscribe to an established religion, then it is possible that at least some of the remaining 17% believe in none, and are none the worse for it. 

Even with the brute force of imagination brought to bear by the majoritarian faiths, there must be space to tread the path of the non-conformist, that is to say that following good conscience and doing good deeds should be akin to bowing to the deities of generations. 

Similarly, if one selects to invest and hold property in the invisible firmament of the internet, how can it undermine the age-old covenants ruling the mechanics of traditional money? How can something so complex and easy and secure be anathema?

The world is more than enough, dear reader, to exercise at least a limited freedom beyond the confines of what one has been indoctrinated with since infancy. And, do remember, we only live once.

In your life, take those tentative steps to make the profane sacred.

Sumit Basu is a corporate lawyer based in India and is a freelance contributor.

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