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My endeavor is to delve into certain issues to give you some perspective, help you understand the world better, attempt to understand why we do what we do, and maybe in all of this, make the world teeny-weeny better! 

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The Death of Our Secular Ideal


Amidst the raging pandemic and the complete havoc that it has wreaked upon us, what’s striking to note is that it is not the collapse of the infrastructure of our nation which is the cause of all trouble but the collapse of our secular values that has become unbearable. What’s evident now is not that our infrastructure wasn’t well-equipped to handle an epidemic of such proportions, but what is evident is that the inherent nastiness and un-secularity in human nature could not have gotten nastier than it is now. Even as the suffering around all of us peaks, humaneness has hit rock bottom.


On one side of this dark humanitarian crisis, while some people helplessly strive to alleviate the all-pervasive suffering, you will find plenty of assholes (a euphemism for them!) who wish to capitalize on this situation by hoarding critical medical stock to make a quick buck. They try to hide behind the veneer of business to squeeze profit or behind the garb of capitalism to take advantage of the situation but at the cost of what? Human lives! But even capitalism was a very open-minded ideology about ethical free markets and progressive economic growth till it got corrupted into a philosophy of greed that is unperturbed by the awful consequences it is having on society at large. Just recently I came across a piece of the shocking news of a very respectable (or so I thought!) and a popular figure in the F&B industry linked to the oxygen-shortage racket, suspected of hoarding some 400+ oxygen cylinders at his various properties, thereby intensifying an already existing glut of oxygen in the healthcare system. Then I also hear horror stories of covid deaths of people who were administered an anti-viral drug which they had scrambled to arrange for themselves and paid a fortune for it, only to find out later that they were sold a fake. With the gravity of issues at hand, it has become difficult to even comprehend how low a level we humans can stoop down to? These elements among us, and mind you who are large in number, give secularity a bad name, give society a bad name, give a nation a bad name, and give our secular nation a bad name, and never have they become so prominent as they are particularly in times of today’s crisis.


What have we come down to?

 

You would have noticed that whenever any system has collapsed it has always been offset by a simultaneous rise of social entrepreneurship - that comes out of our deep secular commitment to compassion. Secular ethics not only not have anything to do with any religion or any law but rather relies on a deep empathy towards suffering. Secularity demands that people do not inflict harm on others not because any constitution stops them to but because the harmful act inflicts suffering on fellow beings, and we must do everything to eliminate or alleviate that suffering. Being secular is about adhering to Kant’s Formula of Humanity - that you must treat humanity always as an end in itself and never as a means to an end. An everyday innocuous example of this would be, say, my daughter wants to eat a McDonald’s burger, so I pick my car, drive to the nearest McDonalds' takeaway, pack a burger and bring it for her. She sees it and is thrilled. In this, her happiness is my end goal. It is the ultimate ‘why’ I do everything else like getting into the car, paying for the burger, etc. that form the ‘means’ to achieve that ‘end’ (my daughter’s happiness). Means are things we do conditionally and ends are things that we do for their own sake.


You hear about someone who has contracted covid and is looking for a hospital bed and out of a deep sense of compassion, you scramble through your contacts to help that person arrange for a bed. Your scrambling through your contacts is a means to achieving the end i.e. to alleviate the suffering of the other. You are being compassionate and being secular.


You hear of someone in critical care looking for an injection you scramble through your network and help that person arrange for that drug. Your scrambling through your social media feed to send leads is a means to achieving the end i.e. to alleviate the suffering of the other. You are being compassionate and being secular.


A bureaucrat through careful planning and through the judicious use of the state’s funds sets up oxygen plants in his district as his means to achieving an end i.e. preparing his district to fight the battle of the covid second wave. That bureaucrat is being compassionate and being secular apart from being heroic.


A simple act of compassion is a means to an end i.e. another’s happiness and that is being secular in every sense of the word. But treating human lives as a means to some personal end i.e. to make quick money in times of this crisis, is the basis of all the wrong and un-secular behavior that is putting our society on a path of destruction. Seeing human lives as a means - is a means to a collapse not only in societal values but eventually our collapse as a race.



Whereas on one side you have the above un-ethicality of humans, on the other side of this dark humanitarian crisis, there is another breed of people (politicians and people) who shirk away from taking responsibility for our current predicament and yet proudly have the audacity to call themselves secular. Along with compassion one other chief commitment of secular people is that they value responsibility. But power and politics are selfish. Democracy that is considered an epitome of secularism is the only system that ideally admits that politics is a selfish game it only corrupts and attracts only the corrupt. The only real threat to this system is when a group (of people or politicians) decides that its own ideology is above everything else even above its electorate. They refuse to acknowledge any other interests or any values outside of their own. They refuse to accept responsibility. They get into the passing-the-buck games. They simply are oblivious to appeal to any higher virtues or principles. This breed hides behind the garb of rajneeti (or politics) or even invincibility (nothing will happen) irrespective of the situation at large. Here too, Kant’s Formula of Humanity gets tossed out of the window i.e. humanity is treated as a means to achieve a personal end (or party’s) – power and electoral seats.

 

So humanity eventually is caught in between these two sides - the unconscionable and the selfish. It is like getting caught between a rock and a hard place, heading towards a downward spiral for both humanity and society. It isn’t the collapse of a system that is worrisome - as our system is anti-fragile i.e. inherently capable of becoming better and gaining at the time of a crisis with the rise of heroes and social entrepreneurs, but it is the collapse of these secular values of compassion and responsibility in times of adversity that we need to be more worried about. We are not living in a crisis of wealth or poverty but a crisis of character, a crisis of virtue. Secular people take pride in the advancements of modern culture like fighting epidemics, feeding the hungry, and striving for peace – which we have achieved through compassion. For exactly the same reason we mortals must take full responsibility for our failings as a race from unconscionable acts or crimes to ecological degradation, from what we have done to who we have become.


However, the maturity of our modern culture is actually deteriorating and we need to take cognizance of that.






Footnotes:

A reference is drawn from Immanuel Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

2 comments

2 commenti


Neeta Hotkar
Neeta Hotkar
15 mag 2021

You have written and portrayed the situation so well. Indeed it's a testing time for us and how we handle this, totally depends on us. In some cases people are going out of the way to help and reach out and in some cases people are encashing this situation and just making money. We can pray and help in our own way that all of this subsides soon. Very well written Mayur.

Mi piace

Sayeed Mohammad
Sayeed Mohammad
09 mag 2021

Nice and timely write up, it takes some guts to call a spade a spade.

Mi piace

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