are we?

are we inherently mean and selfish?

I don’t believe we are. Its an age old argument reflected in the views of Hobbes and Rousseau.

it goes something like this…

Left to our own devices:

A – humans will be in conflict, a sort of dog-eat-dog approach to life and fight for themselves or me and mine, OR;

B -they will care, show compassion and work cooperatively.

It’s simplified but bear with me … Which do you think is most accurate?

I’m reading humankind – a hopeful history, he challenges the theories that suggest we are individualistic when pushed into a corner and argues that we’re more likely to work together and help each other.

Sound Utopian?

He debunks the dominant stories, the research, established theories and especially what we hear through the media, reinforced through word of mouth that we default to ‘I’. His view is that we default to ‘we.’ ie we care rather than fight.

We follow what we’re told and learned to accept, rather than think for ourselves.

Here’s one example:

William Golding wrote a fictitious story : “Lord of the Flies’ about young boys shipwrecked on a deserted island and how they behaved. What happened? As you might expect, they fought for themselves ganging up against each other. The result was mayhem leading to death.

This has profound implications.

By contrast, Bregman discovered a true story of shipwrecked boys. The result, was the opposite, as they co-operated and worked together to be able to survive.

Which story had you heard?

Most of my day to day experiences in life demonstrate people think about me and mine rather than showing care for another but it doesn’t have to be that way. Manjula (OK, I’m biased) was an exceptional example who throughout her life was faced with tricky uncaring people being selfish and antagonistic but she never let it stop her caring for and loving others. She was inherently kind.

I think much of our problems in society and the damage we do to each other and the planet is because of this mistaken belief and because our systems reinforce particular ways. These allow the powerful to dominate and keep their unfair share. So this way of thinking benefits some people more than others and that’s why it continues. It’s like ‘Lord of the Flies’ and this is maybe why we’re in the mess we’re in.

I believe it was Malcom X that raised the question: What’s the difference between Illness and Wellness?

It’s I and We.

Cool eh?

It’s actually our choice

when we meet

When we dogs meet each other for the first time, with a sniff in the air (or if daring, up the bum) a wave of the tail a look in the eye we quickly decide: is the newcomer above, below or equal to me?

We signal by the tail. If they are lower in status the tail tucks in between the legs and they physically cower.

People often, psychologically and socially do the same.

After an initial look, a few questions, key words they evaluate the other.

Are they on the same level? If so, they’ll behave adult to adult,

Or are they so different in terms of age, caste, colour, race or religion? If they perceive one above the other they’ll behave like parent and child. If they’re uncertain there maybe a tussle to work out their relative positions.

People do this, often and everywhere.

It may help them feel superior or inferior uncomfortable or comfortable, accepted, rejected. It helps define who we think we are and how we relate to others. It’s common and often involves games to clarify, communicate and impose. I’ve adapted this from transactional analysis as featured in the book: “Games People Play’.

Yes, some dogs can read, but don’t tell anyone.

All societies do it, to varying degrees but ultimately in my view can often reinforce status, encourage elitism and highlight difference. It leads to unacceptable behaviours, social distance and it’s not very nice.

from Lucie’s soap box

Social distancing

Social and physical distancing, our new normal, in this time of virus has different cultural implications here in India. For more, check this article

Manjula has helped illuminate, for me, something of the prejudice arising in society related to religion, caste, class, race, gender and colour. Aspects of this will feature in our story.

The virus and society’s response highlights those inequalities. This isn’t solely about two distinct groupings of the untouchables and the non- untouchables (savarnas) It’s far more complex and relates to a finely layered strata that’s not confined to Hindus and India.

The right wing shift experienced in most of our societies, does by its very nature exaggerate these differences for political advantage. The social, economic, political distancing is therefore a tool which we’re now reinforcing.

So here’s the next giant leap. This prejudice, elitism, separation of the haves and have-nots, call it what you will, is nothing new, fact is it’s obvious and everywhere and been here for aeons. It’s fundamental to all our societies but it doesn’t have to be.

The factor that connects all these seemingly dispirate disconnects is the way we organise ourselves, our hierarchy, dog eat dog mentality. It might have served us in the past (that’s debatable) but it (yes including brutal free market ways of organising focussing on growth regardless of consequences) is NOT fit for purpose.

It doesn’t serve our needs.

By ‘our’ I mean everyone and not just the self appointed master class or the people in the ‘developed’ countries and not just humans. Another interesting article in two parts here and here covers this.

It’s no accident that the poor in the UK have been demonised in recent decades to support and reinforce a range of political policies including ‘austerity.’

We’re in a sorry state, in so many ways which are clearly interrelated and need to realise it and act. We have opportunities now.

.

Says he, sitting on a balcony in south India who can’t even activate himself to do yoga.

Our separateness politically, economically, socially, spiritually is not sustainable. Rant over…..

And I’ve just found a New Yorker article helps illustrate aspects of what I’ve tried to cover.

Another article here helps illustrate how extreme this was traditionally in India and how a new ‘other’ forms

Coconut palms

The two lovely palms in our drive whose tops form a backdrop for our rooftop garden have been removed by the owner of our house. I’ve managed to hold off the inevitable for a year or two. I’ve used every argument you might imagine, to no avail.

THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED FOR THEM TO GO.

So is this…. Idiocy? Stupidity? No it’s probably not those things.

You might see this as a gross over-reaction on my part and maybe it is. It does in my view reflect something that diminishes all our societies. There are at least two key issues. The first is about the ‘trees’ themselves.

DSC02692

Looking around our area, where beautiful trees are regularly chopped (I’m the one that will go out and challenge, when I see it happening, credibility gone there then) where people dump rubbish (another key question for our guests will be covered on the blog) on the road verges, its a mess, one eyesore after another. You’d think it’s lack of awareness of environmental issues or appreciating what is beautiful. It is those things and it’s depressing.

Its also impractical. Trees are useful they provide amenity. They help freshen our air, create oxygen and now we’ve realised, a week after the carnage we’ve experienced here it provides well needed shade to reduce the temperature and make life bearable in the heat of the summer.

Yes the giving has gone.

Despicable

Who makes monsters?

We do, partly, through acceptance, encouragement and reinforcement

It’s also actually how we make nice people.

It’s the process of

Clarifying and confirming what is and isn’t acceptable that helps creates and forms patterns of behaviour that is our culture(S). Evidence of this might be reflected in the whole organisation or society, community or just one of its sub sets.

So what’s brought this on?

Men in India who rape and/or murder because they can.

It’s an expression of power over others, reflects a degraded system, where there are few societal or personal restraints with limited accountability and recourse.

I wouldn’t want to colour a whole nation and it’s culture from individual incidents. After all I love this place and it’s people because it’s so open, friendly, easy-going, accepting contradiction, paradox and incredible diversity BUT there are limits.

This must however be seen, and highlighted as completely unacceptable. If we don’t, we’re also monsters.

We should hang our heads in shame.

Those in power whether politicians, police, whoever they, have a heavy responsibility to ensure their words, actions, inactions do not encourage or condone or create the monsters in our midst. Unfortunately the increase in these actions is also a consequence of political movements.

Here’s a link to the story

Maid in India 1

Quotes taken from ‘Maid in India’ by Tripti Lahiri :

 

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an image from a postcard that we publish

 

“We eat first, they later, often out of food portioned out for them; we live in the front, they in the back; we sit on chairs and they on the floor; we drink from glasses and ceramic plates and they from ones made of steel set aside for them; we call them by their names, and they address us by titles: sir/ma’am, sahib/memsahib”

 

Think that’s in the past?

Well, think again.

“In today’s India its not unusual to see, often in largely empty restaurants, a couple seated with their child at a table for four, while the help is despatched to sit not one but two tables away….. or a nanny dandling a child on her lap at a nightclub while her employers and their friends drink cocktails as it creeps towards midnight, her hours of sleep dwindling since she is no doubt expected to be up and ready for another day at sunrise…. or for example children playing in a neighbourhood park, seeing a plump, light-skinned boy on a swing crook his finger at the petite darker woman standing nearby and utter a single word: Push”

Womens’ life experience is an incredible indicator of how a particular society works, from top to bottom.

In India the situation of women and particualrly those who are most socially and economically excluded, in this case, the ones that serve others, shines a spotlight on the social mores, the rules by which we operate, the structures and belief systems that helps maintain the status quo.

It also shows something else.

That is, how these women in often extraordinarily challenging circumstances not only manage but can thrive, can flourish and through that, show their astonishing abilities. In a sense, the influence they subtly exert and how they deal with the changes facing them can also demonstrate to us, on a macro level, how to deal with some of the challenges and opportunities facing contemporary India.

Let’s take a look.