Thursday, April 23, 2009

Slave or Free? Independence, Dependence & Interdependence

Musing on the self’s necessary embeddedness-in-its-context, Jon Erdman, over at his Theos Project blog, has a fascinating post woven around the quintessential jazz quartets/quintets of the early nineteen sixties, and the experience of fantastic music from the likes of John Coltrane and Miles Davis and their troupes (search out some very choice live concerts on YouTube). On stage, each of the performers is an artiste of rare excellence, yet they meld together so spontaneously and effortlessly in their virtuosity that it is a wonder to behold – and the resulting music is something much more than the sum of its parts – shear magic. So what is this? How does it work? Pure individualism is an important basic component, but isn’t there also the magic of real codependence?

The ‘West’ (perhaps especially America) has lauded the values of freedom and independence as supreme.Western culture now extols these as the purest and most fundamental of human ideals – at least in theory. Western culture gears up to provide each individual with the greatest possible degree of freedom and independence.Economically, what that boils down to is ‘free enterprise’, while politically, the only way to go is pure democracy. Individuals, then, who make up the society, cooperate only by choice, and never of necessity. Of course, we are often left with a lingering suspicion that these 'ideals' may be more of a marketing gimmick than really real...

In the East, while we have been bombarded with these Western values and cultural norms, yet we are still very much ensconced in a completely different milieu. Our culture always covertly calls the shots. Family and societal needs always take precedence over individual likes, desires, goals, and even thought.

Certainly, some sort of a challenge has been thrown down on the part of freedom and independence by the ubiquitous Western oriented media, but how far has it gotten and where do we now stand? Are we Easterners now setting out to become ruggedly independent individuals? Perhaps, in some peoples mind’s, being freedom loving, democratically oriented, and independent, is theoretically possible. Perhaps, there is even an individualistic façade, a persona, trying to creep into our collective consciousness. But, in all key instances, when we dig a little deeper, we do find that it is merely a pretence, if not even a posturing, and one that is evident only on the surface.

Out in the world, our youth may appear to be momentarily confused about the possibilities of individuality and selfhood, but on arrival at home from high school or college, the dream quietly fades away. Culture and family are all that surrounds one, effortlessly sucking you in, and you are once again comfortably enveloped in that familiar territory of duty and belonging. Oneness of mind is not at all a matter of choice, it is the unquestioned necessity for survival and the ground of every one’s very identity.

Whatever be the future of our culture wars, in one small way democracy does threaten to drive a tiny wedge into our so far impregnable melding pot. Exercising one’s vote is a uniquely private event. However much discussion on politics, or the nation’s needs, may precede, the casting of that one vote is sacrosanct; it will not be intruded upon. Few are the opportunities to be a real individual in Eastern societies, but here in India, the vote is the one unique thing that DEMANDS your independence and underscores your constitutionally guaranteed freedom.

Don’t throw it away by failing to exercise your franchise.

In this coming election, and whenever again the opportunity arises - PLEASE VOTE!!!

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