Friday, September 30, 2011

The failure of institutional humanism

Isocrates, one of the ten Greek attic orators is famous for his these lines, taken from his book, “Panegyricus”, "Our city of Athens has so far surpassed other men in its wisdom and its power of expression that its pupils have become the teachers of the world. It has caused the name of Hellene to be regarded as no longer a mark of racial origin but of intelligence, so that men are called Hellenes because they have shared our common education rather than that they share in our common ethnic origin.” It is thought that it is the first of its kind in which “Our” is not defined based on ethnicity or common origin but based on intelligence and wisdom. Intelligence and wisdom is something that is not bound to races and it is why we see a tendency towards “humanism” in works of all those individuals which are considered wise by their intellectual measures. Humanism was mostly in the works of wise men or groups of activists who had an awakened consciousness until in the 1948 after bitter experiences of WWII, the nation states, institutionalized it in what we know as “Declaration of Human Rights”, composed of 30 articles.
The Human Rights Declaration was something beyond intelligence and wisdom agreed all upon to include human race. That was a leap forward in the human history but the biggest question it faces by historical experiences of the decay processes in the institutions, will Human Rights remain safe of decay process? (The signs of decay are already appearing)….
Someone with a mere knowledge of Renaissance knows that it was a rebellion of reason against the institutionalized religion of Europe, “The Church” and the “Pope”. The decline of the institutionalized religion to institutionalized democracy or Government of People, made Philosophers like Nietzsche to declare in several of his works that, “God is dead”,
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”—Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125…….
By God is dead, Nietzsche wasn’t meant that “God” as a belief has died but God as source of legitimacy for institutional religion as rulers of Europe has died. People were looking to reasoning and Science rather to religious institutions for the enlightenment. Nietzsche was a man of reason and I think, not any reasonable person can be against Personal God as we know that relationship of one with his God is beyond the reach of reason, into unconscious mind. Weren’t it the case, Richard Dawkins wouldn’t write the book “God Delusion” after more than one and a quarter century after “God is dead” declaration of Nietzsche. The men of reason are against ruling on people by the name of God as it suppresses the basic freedoms of men and it is what basically Human Rights mean that nothing either it is God, Race, Ethnicity, Culture or Country can be the source of legitimization for suppressing the basic rights.
Now coming to Human Rights, we see the same authorities who have signed on the Human Rights Declaration are either using it as a tool to play their politics in order to gain more power or totally ignoring it under name of national interests. Isn’t it what was going on to religion in the Middle Ages? Wasn’t religion used for gaining more power instead of spreading of “love for all”, its core message? If such a powerful institution like Church that had millions of devotees in all nations of Europe couldn’t survive to misuse, how will Human Rights Declaration survive that have no other devotee except a minority of people with awakened consciousness. Of course as God still lives in hearts of people who seeks Him, the belief in Human Rights will live with awakened people but I am sure, if Nietzsche was living in our time he would write,
“Humanism is dead. Humanism remains dead. And we have killed it. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become Humans simply to appear worthy of it?”……..

Monday, September 26, 2011

Examined Life

We are living in the age of Science. Do in the age of Science, we need Philosophy? That is a question that needs a serious consideration. Why I am asking this question? Let me give you a little background. When I came back to US after spending summer with my family, one of my old neighbors told me that my landlord had a very difficult summer. He went through several medical examinations. The results were fine but still he was thinking that there is something wrong with his health and he was thinking about death. He was searching internet and was reading about different diseases and these all somewhat were adding to his concerns. My neighbor thinks that because the landlord has recently retired and he has not developed interests early in his life so he has a lot of time to focus on himself (has plenty of time to worry), especially about his physical health. So the real problem is not his health but lack of interests or things that keep him busy. He has spent most of his life working and didn’t some spare time to develop interest and now that he is retired his mind is mostly blank so ultimately worries fill them.
My this neighbor himself has a unique life style. I can’t categorize it purely an ascetic life style, yet you can call it some sort of ascetic life style. He is really learned man and a deep person but he chose to live with himself and spent most of his time doing what he likes (that are mostly not serious endeavors). I really had difficulty in understanding him, why he is spending his life this way, until he he told me, what has changed his life and why he chose to live this way. He told me that when he was young, he had a coworker who was really ambitious and resilient (he would be a high scorer on Grit-Scale)and was working in very challenging environment. He was living for his dreams. But because of overworking and working in challenging environments, his health failed and he died without any of his dreams become true. The untimely death of his hardworking coworker shocked my neighbor and it made him to rethink his own life and afterwards to decide a life in which he could do all he wanted to do so he would not regret if his health fail or some unpredictable incident happens to him.
Hearing all these, I was thinking, what would his response if he had experienced what I have experienced and right now, Hazara community is facing in Quetta? For Muslims the biggest celebration is the Eid Ul-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan (the month of fasting). This is a happy occasion for all and especially for children as they wear their new dresses and shoes and go from to home to home to collect Eidi (Gift that are mostly in the form of cash) and people visit individually and in form of groups elders, friends and individuals they respect most like teachers and notable persons. In our family, the tradition is to visit the first day Eid to family members who are either poor, sick or had someone lost to not let them feel down when all are happy. I along with my brothers was visiting one of our family members that news came of car suicide attack on prayer gathering of our community. Just imagine that children who were going to collect Eidi, Women who were going to visit their family members and men who had just finished prayers to begin their happy day and instead of happy Eid, they got killed. Of course, they had great ambitions in their lives, they had dreams and of course they were hard working (Hazaras and hardworking is synonymous in Quetta). It was not my first time to witness the brutal killings of innocent children. In 2004, in similar kind of suicide attack, I had seen the children with emptied skulls, emptied gut and with missing body parts. Of course, one can’t forget all these scenes. These sorts of killings happen on regular basis and without of distinction of age, professions, beliefs and gender. The only thing that makes one a legitimate target is being a member of Hazara community. If you are a member of Hazara community then you don’t know when and where you will be killed?
If you are a Philosopher and a member of Hazara community, it would be meaningless for you to think of what would you be doing when you get retired? Or what would mean your life if you get died untimely? These are the questions that deal with meaning of life. Our problem is existential. Our whole existence is on threat and in existential scenario the search for meaning is meaningless as meaning comes when you have the luxury of choices to choose from. If you have the choice of what kind of life you want to live then you would think that which one is more meaningful?
Among our contemporary Philosophers, John Rawls of Harvard University is famous for his “Theory of Justice”. He creates thought processes to test the Philosophical hypotheses and draw conclusions. He has spent most of time chair-thinking. If he was witnessing in first hand, what we are experiencing, he would had very different conclusions on “Justice Theory”.
The concept of “Examined life” came from Socrates. He was going to streets of Athens and cross-questioning people’s beliefs on certain topics to make them realize of shallowness of their understanding on their most dear values. Aristotle famously said when was condemned to drink hemlock, “The unexamined life doesn’t worth of living”. The Socrates had a choice between living and dying and he chose to die for his beliefs. Certainly, he would have very different Philosophy and approach to life, if he was a member of Hazara community and was living in Quetta instead of Athens. The reason that I am saying this with certainty is that he would have very different Philosophy is that, then “examined life” was not a matter of choice or value but an existential one.
Even the existential Philosophers like Sartre and Albert Camus would have a very different Philosophy. I accept that Nazis who occupied the homeland of Sartre was showing no mercy but still there were a whole world against Nazis and were fighting their evil deeds so still Sartre could hope for humanity and it is why his most famous lecture and work is, “Existentialism is humanism”. Sartre could write and deliver such lectures because he was witnessing the alienation of Nazis and the unity of world even between impossible ones, Communist Soviet, Capitalist US and Imperialist Britain. If Sartre was a member of Hazara community and was living in Quetta instead of Paris and he was witnessing the nonstop massacres of Hazaras and no response from world, he would never write, “Existentialism is humanism” and Simon de Beauvoir would never write her most popular work, “Second Sex” to voice for women because she would have witnessed that terrorists do not distinguish their victims based on gender or age group.
If you are a Hazara, still you can think as deep as Socrates, Sartre and John Rawls and can come up with Philosophies of values parallel to those of great Philosophers and then you would see the murder of those values by deep silence of most learned people of world and then of course, you would say, Socrates was utterly wrong (It is wrong in the sense that mind passes through metamorphosis and this metamorphosis is reversible…I am going to write another article on this issue and if you like, you can check back). It is not the examined life that worth living, it is the rights of living and respecting for others’ lives that make a life worth of living.
And about the question that I have asked in the beginning, whether in age of Science we need Philosophy or not? After reading this article, without any doubt you know my answer. Of course, we need Philosophy. Science has provided us with new technologies that are frequently changing and have made people so busy that they don’t have time to think of their lives and lives of people living around them. Of course, what happens to people living in far away from you doesn’t make any difference to your life and also it is irrational that you care about them. That is right but Philosophy tells people that they have responsibility to others beyond their own lives. Humanity doesn’t live within the border of a nation state or it doesn’t end in one continent. Yes, things would change if one considers himself not a human but rather just the citizen of a country. In that case no one would appeal you just as no one appeals from trees and animals.