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Need for sobering influence of cultural enlightenment

Nilratan Halder | November 25, 2018 00:00:00

At a time governance is exposing cracks and weaknesses to deal with plutocracy the world over, the enduring system of democracy deriving its strength from the majority's support seems to be in great danger. The concept of rule by the people, for the people and of the people may be right in theory only but, like socialism, it too remained a utopia and now it has simply become an anathema. Political convenience has stoked nationalism and the international order of mutual understanding, cooperation and concession under the aegis of the United Nations has now been stressed to the point where it is at risk of snapping. Myopic leadership is turning patriotism which derives its virtues from love for the land into rabid nationalism that considers the peoples beyond the border mere enemies.

This is happening because economic and commercial interests have been given the priority. During the cold war the lesson learnt from the two world wars was fresh in the minds of statesmen and stateswomen, particularly across the parts that suffered the most and the parties so directly involved. Another phase of collective forgetfulness looks set to overwhelm rational statesmanship. Like the Nazi theory of racial superiority, some select nations are vying for technological superiority and rule the roost. The aim is to overpower the rivals in terms of military power, commercial monopoly and technological edge.

This is putting extra pressure on resources and in order to ease the pressure off the contenders are pursuing more and more conservative policies at the cost of liberalism and concessions some deserve. So the world is at a crossroads now. It is really frightening to note that enlightened leadership is in short supply. Parochial politics both on international and national fronts are reluctant to leave space for others across the geographic boundary and political divide. The competition no longer remains confined to fierce and ugly confrontations; it erodes into intrigue, abuse of power and state organs and even underhand international deals. It is no fluke that parties and their top confidential electioneering teams are alleged to have collaborated with enemy camps abroad in order to clinch election victory. That something is fishy there is evident from the move to stop investigation into the alleged foreign interference. This was unimaginable in a country claiming to have carried the baton of democracy even a few years before. Politics indeed gets disgraced if the long tradition and credentials of nations priding themselves of democratic institutions are taken into account.

No argument that political culture is on the decline. Unless the rot can be stemmed, human civilisation may head for a catastrophic end. What is missing from politics is the space for opposing views and opinions. Sophistication, wit and humour once made political rivalry across the aisle colourful but no more. Multidimensional societies are turning autocratic and close ones. No doubt, nations are becoming more educated in terms of number and percentage but are they also becoming enlightened -to speak culturally? In fact, it is the capitalist society's obsession with acquisition of wealth sans cultural enlightenment that has been responsible for the rot in politics. Leaving no space for opinions of the opposition apparently stems from intolerance but deep down it is cultural poverty and lack of any sustained basis for raising the bar of culture for the general mass. Buying a painting by Van Gogh or Matisse for a fabulous sum of money at Sotheby's or Christie's is no compensation for the lack of progress of the cultural standard of an entire nation-or for that matter of nations the world over.

Cultures do away with dogmas. People become civilised on the strength of the soul-soothing expression of words, songs, dance, paintings, statues and other forms of art. Actually in the diversity of culture lies the quintessence of unity. What is happening now is not a clash of civilisation but war game over petty interests and naivety. Misdirected education and market economy are producing poisonous fruits. This is why one per cent of the world's population has to its disposal 99 per cent of wealth.

Even a people not known for a high percentage of literacy and scientific and technological knowledge can be more insightful than their so-called more advanced counterparts. Their preoccupation with philosophy, art, mathematics, fine arts may have contributed to develop a higher culture. Civilisation has time and again met reversal because mentally and intellectually better endowed peoples have lost to savages unleashing brutal powers. The new trend of painting media as an enemy of the people is an aggression no less ruthless than the attacks by the savages. Such intolerance of critical analysis of government performance bodes ill of the future of any forms of dispensation. Democracy is so because it allowed the opposition and the neutral observers to bring the administration's policies and actions under the scanner. Now that space is shrinking with the people in power growing more and more intolerant.

Power is not permanent but integrity and values are because the last two endure the test of time. Society that earns integrity and values develops the best of culture. Actually, it is more a process of evolution than can be taught. A people's preference for cultural richness may have some influence in the make-up of its mental map. But when it is relegated to the back burner in preference for material progress far removed from its axis, the rot begins. Its leaders behave erratically and the aberrations manifest in myriad insane ways at different points of history. It is because of this a Nadir Shah or an Adolf Hitler appears on the scene to leave a huge trail of death and destruction. Some powerful and crazy men thus ordered the burning of libraries of Alexandria in Egypt and Granada in Spain. Their audacity and insanity got the better of cultural consciousness running through history.

In today's world, one such crisis is confronting the human kind. On the one hand, they are getting dissociated from the cultural streams of heritage, courtesy of electronic gadgets like computer and smartphone. An information explosion has taken place at the cost of inward contemplation that helps develop a deep insight. Like flocks of unthinking animals, crowds are in a mad rush for material gains and physical comfort. Without cultural reawakening, a balanced development of mind is impossible. Only such a mind can act as a sentinel against the sweeping decline experienced in the socio-political arena. The United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) could have played a crucial role in advancing a paradigm shift in what is called nations' development. The parameters of development as assessed by various organisations and institutions warrant redefining with special emphasis on healthy cultural pursuit. Its sobering influence is missing and the world is plunging in to its death throes -socially and politically.


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