Questions of Freedom and People’s Emancipation — Part 4, by Kobad Ghandy

Kobad Ghandy after his arrest

Kobad Ghandy after his arrest

[Kobad Ghandy, a member of the Politburo and Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), was captured by Indian Intelligence Bureau on  September 17, 2009.  Initially kept in illegal detention and tortured, he remains a political prisoner in Tihar Jail, where he continues his revolutionary studies and writings, organizes Maoist classes, and joins the struggles of other prisoners against the draconian conditions they face.  The following is the fourth of a 5 or 6 part series on freedom–its promise and the problems in its pathway.  The first article (covering Part I – The Context) and the second one (covering Part II – Search for Freedom through History) can be seen at https://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/questions-of-freedom-and-peoples-emancipation-by-kobad-ghandy/  The third installment, on Socialism and Existentialism, can be seen at https://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/questions-of-freedom-and-peoples-emancipation-part-3-by-kobad-ghandy/  — Frontlines ed.]
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Mainstream, VOL L No 47, November 10, 2012

PART IV — No Freedom without Values

When a man feels superiority over others, this sort of inward elation is called pride. A proud man will not tolerate any other to be on equal terms with himself. In private and public he expects that all should assume a respectful attitude towards him and acknowledge his superiority, treat him as a higher being… So long as man feels proud he will not like for others, what he likes for himself. His self-esteem will deprive him of humility, which is the essence of righteousness. He will neither be able to discard enmity and envy, resentment and wrath, slander and scorn, nor will he be able to cultivate truth and sincerity, and calmly listen to advice. In short, there is no evil which a proud man will not inevitably do in order to preserve his elation and self-esteem. Vices are like a chain of rings linked together which entangle the heart. —Al Ghazzali

So said the famous Sufi philosopher over one thousand years back.

One may have the best of ideologies, but without the inculcation of good values the ideology will remain hollow and hypocritical. One may seek an equitable economic transfor-mation, but if one does not acquire a commen-surate value system, the changes will remain illusory. One may create beautiful theories of freedom, but if one does not have decent values, it may be anarchy or extreme individualism, but certainly not freedom. One may evolve the most democratic of organisational structures, but if the individuals within it (particularly the leadership) do not have a set of proper values, any organisation, whatever the form, is bound to get distorted and become autocratic. One cannot expect nice sweet fruit from a mango tree by nurturing it on poisonous water. With filthy water we cannot expect to clean the vessel, however much we keep scrubbing it with glossy detergents.

If the question of a proper value system is so fundamental to a future just order, how would one define the terms good/virtuous and bad/evil? Would these concepts change with changes in the system, culture, etc.; or would they remain constant through the ages? We have already seen in the earlier two articles that for over three millennia, prophets, philosophers, enlightened intellectuals and revolutionaries have continuously sought good over evil. Whether it was the West or the East, whether it was BC or AD, the values that they propounded were much the same. Why, even the Communists speak of those very same values which they present as ‘proletarian values’ (good) and ‘bourgeois values’ (bad).

So call it by any name, the values of good and evil have been similar through the ages. Then what would these universal permanent values be? Here, I will present a broad general categorisation.

The values of goodness would, say, comprise: honesty/truthfulness, straightforwardness, simplicity, modesty, selflessness, being principled/responsible/accountable, being fair/just etc.

The values of bad/evil would be: dishonesty/perfidy/treachery, devious/cunning/manipulative/mean, arrogance/pride/ego, selfishness, greed, being opportunist/irresponsible/unprin-cipled, jealousy/prejudice, tyranny, being unfair/unjust etc.

While these would generally comprise values of good and bad, the religious may include others like piousness and love/compassion/kindness in the virtuous category and, say, lust/sex in the evil category.

To be pious or not is a personal choice. Though genuinely pious people would normally be good, as, in their frame of thinking, they seek to acquire god’s positive attributes; in reality we find it is mostly the opposite. So, there is no direct relationship between piousness and the values of goodness. Besides, there are many excellent beings who may not be religious at all.

And, as far as love/compassion/kindness go, while these are, no doubt, extremely positive qualities, and to be generally inculcated; they may not be universally applicable, as it is difficult to love a monster/rakshas!!

As far as sex is concerned, this, together with hunger are our basic instinctive needs, common to all living creatures, and so come under a different category. No doubt, excess of anything is bad, whether it is lust or gluttony. But, many a religion virtually equate sex with sin, inclucate guilt complexes, and advocate unnatural abstinence—like Catholics, Buddhists and Hindus (Brahmacharya). As both these instinctive needs form an important part of the human psyche, being one of the major sources of pleasure, they are important to be dealt with, but not as part of the general human value system.

From now on, whenever I mention good/virtuous and bad/evil it will basically entail the values mentioned above. But, to make up the entire essence of man (what Marx calls his species-life), I will not only deal with his values, instinctive needs, but also emotions and the role of the senses. I will look at these in their inter-connections, for it is only thus that we will be able to construct man in his entirety, in order to truly realise freedom and happiness for the majority.

But, to be able to effectively do this, first we shall have to briefly understand the working of the mind, where all these values, emotions, desires and instinctive urges lie embedded. It is after understanding the mind that I will turn to separately deal with our values, instincts and emotions within our consciousness. Finally, I shall then try to posit these in their relationship to freedom, alienation and humanism—not in a static form, but in their dynamic and dialectical relationship which can open the gate towards change for the better.

1. Functioning of the Mind

Man’s main distinction from animals is the development of the mind. It is the most highly complex form of matter and energy. Though a lot of knowledge about its functioning has been gained in the past three to four decades, we still probably know very little about it. Yet we do know the mind is the centre of oneself—our entire autonomous body functions are controlled by it; our senses are activated through it; our emotional responses are lodged in it; and our thinking and reasoning ability are due to the functioning of our mind.

The mind basically has two aspects. The first is its structural form linked to the nervous system. The second is its division into the conscious and the sub-conscious.

Let us then briefly look at both aspects.

(a) Structural Aspect

Specific parts of the brain conduct specific activities. So, for example, the hind brain is responsible for the automatic activities like respiration, heart beat, BP, digestion etc. as also many motor activities. The mid-brain regulates activities like sleep, arousal and attention. The forebrain is the most important part that regulates all the higher and complex activities of human beings—thinking, reasoning, memory etc.

The brain is linked to various parts of the body through the nervous system, through which impulses are carried. The neuron is the smallest unit in the nervous system. It is the neuron which converts stimulation from the different sense organs into electrical impulses. The brain functions through nerve impulses. A nerve impulse is an electrical event. Whenever some stimulation takes place it disturbs the electrical balance, and this disturbance runs throughout the membrane. The impulse is trans-mitted to another neuron via the axon. In this way a chain reaction occurs till it reaches the concerned part of the brain where the meaning of this impulse is deciphered and the brain sends directives for activity to the concerned part of the body through the nervous system.

Psychologists give more attention to the forebrain, which controls and regulates almost all our activities. The limbic system plays an important role in memory and our emotions. Till recently it was believed that thinking, recognition etc. came from the highly developed frontal cortex of the brain (that is, thalamus, hypothalamus etc.); while emotions emanated from the limbic system, which in humans is not much different from other animals. But latest studies (like those of Davidson and Begley) show that emotions, at least partly, are located in the brain’s seat of reason—the forebrain.

It was found that there are a large number of neurous running between this region of the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala in the limbic region. The amygdala is involved in, among other things, negative emotions and distress, snapping to attention and activity when we feel anxious, afraid, or threatened. The left pre-frontal cortex inhibits the amygdala and, through this mechanism, helps to facilitate rapid recovery from adversity. People with greater activation of the left side of the pre-frontal cortex recovered much more quickly even from the strongest feelings of disgust, anger and fear. In other words, the left pre-frontal sends inhibitory signals to the amygdala instructing it to quieten down. Activity in the left pre-frontal cortex actually shortens the period of amygdala activation, allowing the brain to bounce back from an upsetting experience.

In addition, earlier it was thought that the brain had a fixed form, but now it is known to have a property called neuroplasticity—the ability to change its structure and function significantly. For example, a pianist will find that part of the brain developing that controls the finger movements. Also, in a similar way, our brain can change in response to messages generated internally—in other words, merely by our thoughts and intentions. So, one need not be a pianist to develop that part of the brain, repeated thought of the movement of the fingers can bring about similar change. In a similar way, through mental activities of various types a more positive outlook can develop which allows the pre-frontal cortex to be more resilient and restore negative feelings (like fear, anger etc.) that develop. It will be important to remember this fact when we later deal with our emotions—particularly the fear psychosis.

In addition to this, recent studies by scientists like Bruce Lipton, utilising the latest in quantum theory and epigenitics (science of heritable changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence), have shown that environmental factors are primary in a man’s make-up over genes. Lipton says scientific studies show that genes can be turned on and off by environmental signals, including thoughts, feelings and emotions from outside the cell.

For example, he explains how this works:

“Each of our cells is a living entity and the main thing that influences them is our blood. If I open my eyes in the morning and my beautiful partner is in front of me, my perception causes a release of oxytocin, dopamine growth hormones—all of which encourage the growth and health of my cells. But, if I see a sabre-tooth tiger, I am going to release stress hormones—cortisol, histamine and norephinephrine. These chemicals change the cells to a protection mode. I don’t even have to see these things. If I am worried or afraid, my blood will fill with the same harmful chemicals. People need to realise that their thoughts are more primary than their genes, because the environment, which is influenced by our thoughts, controls our genes.”

This further indicates how one can bring about changes in our values, emotions etc. which are existing in our brain. This could be in a positive direction or negative depending on the type of environmental and thought impact.

(b) The Sub-conscious

The second aspect of the mind is its division into the sub-conscious and the conscious. It was Freud who long back showed that many of our desires, urges, feelings, that are suppressed because of the social environment, bury themselves in the sub-conscious. These often find expression in dreams. This suppression leads to schizophrenia, neurosis and other forms of distorted behaviour. In his understanding, it was primarily the suppression of sexual feelings that was the cause of this. But, that was during the Victorian era; later Jung and others widened the scope beyond sex.

Though this was an important discovery, most of the 20th century psychology in the West sought to play down the aspect of the sub-conscious. In fact, modern psychology began to be defined as the “science of behaviour”. Watson, the father of the school of “behaviourism”, rejected the mind as the subject of psychology, and insisted that psychology be restricted to the study of behaviour—that is, merely the observable activities of people and animals.

It was only recently that scientists like Bruce Lipton and others brought back onto the agenda the sub-conscious in their scientific research involving the latest in epigenitics and quantum theories. They have shown that the main functioning of the brain is through energy waves and not physical (mass). This factor becomes hugely important as it scientifically shows how we can change our mental make-up through varies forms of concentration, meditation and other mind activities—both at the conscious as well as the sub-conscious level.

Regarding the sub-conscious, Lipton, using computer vocabulory, says: “The sub-conscious is a million times more powerful than the conscious. But the sub-conscious is only ‘habitual’, it will only play the programmes with which it has to be loaded. Ninetyfive per cent of our daily activities are controlled by the sub-conscious mind. The less powerful conscious mind is unique, for it is creative, it can observe the body’s operations and manually control the mechanism, over-riding the read-only sub-conscious programmes… There are two funda-mental classes of programmes. In the sub-conscious data-base—those derived from evolution (instincts), and those learned through life experi-ences. The sub-conscious mind is not a seat of reasoning or creative conscience, it is strictly a stimulus response device. When an environmental signal is perceived, the sub-conscious reflectively activates a previously stored behavioural response—no thinking required. The sub-conscious is a programmable auto-pilot that can navigate the vehicle without the observation or awareness of the pilot—the conscious mind.”

We will now study the questions of our values, instinctive drives and emotions in their interactions not only with our conscious mind, but also with the sub-conscious. For, at a conscious (rational) level I may intellectually understand that selflishness, greed, ego etc. are bad; I may even try and counter these qualities at the conscious level; but if they continue to remain embedded deep down in my sub-conscious, in different circumstances they will keep popping up. Finally, I may give up the struggle and allow these negative values to completely envelop my conscious mind and practical activities. This can be compared to a cancerous growth. If we merely treat the menifestations the cancer will keep spreading till it destroys the body. It is only by extermi-nating the roots of this growth (whether through chemotherapy or surgery or both) that the cancer can be destroyed.

Now let us look at our values, instinctive drives and emotions in relation to both our conscious and sub-conscious mind.

2. Values and Consciousness

We have already seen that throughout history values of badness have dominated, while those of goodness have been mostly suppressed, remaining as an oasis in a desert of evil. The values of evil are conducive to an oppressive/exploitative system/organisation, on which it thrives. The values of goodness are conducive to non-oppressive/non-exploitative system/organisation. Each feed on the other. Widespread values of badness facilitate greater oppression/exploitation, whether in society or an organisation or an individual. But, if badness is restricted, the oppressors will not find a fertile soil to take root and spread their weeds. The opposite will also be true—a just social order requires wides-pread goodness in society to take proper root and bloom.

Now let us turn to our values and conscious-ness in present-day society. From our very childhood we are being subtley indoctrinated. When a child is born, he/she is innocent. It is said that till about the age of six most children are unable to discern, and tend to absorb things uncritically from the environment. Whatever the child senses, feels or learns has a deep impact on the sub-conscious. The child’s surroundings are comprised of the immediate family, relatives, teachers and friends, who, themselves inculcated with the prevalent values of society, naturally impact the child with these values. But today, this is not the only means of indoctrination—TV, internet, films etc. greatly impact children from a very young age. Specifically cartoons, internet games and many advertisements are being consciously filled with negative values to directly effect the sub-conscious of the child. In addition, the TV/internet culture drprives children of social interaction and deepens further values of individualism, selfishness and lack of concern for others. All this acts to build the consciousness of a person with those values conducive to the present oppressive system from a very young age.

One central factor sought to be created is greed, where acquiring money, wealth, godgets etc. by any means becomes the main aim in life. What basically should be a means of existence, becomes an obsessive craze. Similar to a drug addict, the more money/goods/property I have, the more I crave for. And the more I have,
the better is my status within society. This consumerist mania is promoted day-and-night by every means possible—even sports. The paranoia afflicts not only the rich and middle classes, but also the slum dweller.

In fact today it is the wealth one possesses which has become the main criteria for one’s acceptability (in India also caste). I may be the biggest fool, but if I have wealth, hundreds will fawn over me. I may be the worst criminal, but if I have wealth I am acceptable and can even occupy a prestigious position in the top echelons of the elite and power structures. We see this throughout the world today.

In India there is the added factor of caste. The upper castes have a de facto genetic reservation into the club of the elites, while the lower castes, particularly Dalits, find gaining respectability an uphill task. This division is clear even within Tihar. The big-time dons are mostly Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Jats, while the petty criminals are mostly lower castes and Muslims. Nehru and Gandhi are portrayed worldwide as big-time intellectuals, but Ambedkar, with his wide spectrum of writings in 22 volumes, is never presented as an intellectual but merely as a Dalit messiah and writer of the Indian Constitution. When I am born into a particular caste the casteist environment has a deep impact from childhood itself.

So, the me-first/greed culture breeds all the worst values, which deeply impact the consci-ousness of society at large, with a particularly strong impact on the middle classes. In this neo-liberal age, the intensity of the advocacy of such culture has been magnified a hundred-fold, even compared to the pre-TV period. Its impact, not only on the conscious mind, but also the sub-conscious can well be imagined.

But, our conscious mind is not a mere mirror-image of society. It has the ability to reason and assess the good from the bad. We also read about those who stood up for the good and justice, even at the cost of their lives. In addition, the enormous unhappiness, hardships and alienation most suffer in the present way of life, makes one search for alternatives. So, with conscious effort it is possible to re-write the negative programmes in our sub-conscious.

People are finding the cut-throat rat-race-more and more intolerable. Except for the super-rich (the 0.1 per cent) and wielders of power, the rest are getting more and more frustrated and disgusted. The innate goodness in man seeks to assert itself, transforming our consciousness from being a stagnant, muck-filled pond, into a flowing river of clean, pure water.

3. Instincts and Consciousness

Together with inculcating the worst values, the present system and their media seek to distort our very instinctive needs of hunger and sex. These too are disoriented from a very young age.

If we first look at the question of hunger, we find that the media is busy promoting on a huge scale the most unhealthy of foods/snacks and cold drinks/liquor. Even young children get addicted to these. Such food/drinks, together with a lethargic life-style, has resulted in a growing section of the middle class suffering from a strange disease of obesity (over-weight). In a country like India, it is ironical that amongst the middle classes we have large numbers of obese people, while the bulk of the people suffer from malnutrition. This has resulted in a big leap in what is called ‘life-style’ diseases in the urban areas, like diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, spinal problems etc. destroying lives at an early age. To enjoy tasty food and drinks is one thing; but to create/develop an obsession for unhealthy snacks/drinks is quite another. This craze for food/drinks not only destroys the health, it disorients the mind.

What is mentioned above for food/drinks is taking place on a far greater scale in the sphere of sex. A sex mania is being whipped up on a scale never seen before. TV, magazines and newspapers are full of it; in films, it is now de facto the central theme; the most viewed sites on the internet are said to be pornography, and now even novels have an extensive dose of it, and, unbelievably, the latest best-selling novel is a soft-porn trilogy.

What is a natural urge, together with being a major source of pleasure, has been turned into such a level of obsession that today it occupies large parts of the consciousness of not only the youth but the bulk of the middle classes. This serves two purposes: First, it distracts the youth from meaningful thought and activities into flights of fantasy, instant pleasures, perpetually chasing phantoms. Sex has become an increa-singly important release from the frustrations in our lives, living in a purposeless vacuum. Second, it spawns vast business empires giving the super-rich billions of dollars in profits—like in advertising, TV, films, sports and music, fashion and modelling, tourism, spas and hotels etc.

In the West even the once progressive women’s liberation movement of the 1960s/1970s against patriarchal oppression (of which women’s sexuality was only one aspect) has been turned into a movement for the commodification of women, where beauty and sex have become a marketable commodity. And in this marketplace there is no room for such mundane things as love, affection, concern etc. Relations, here too, are turned more impersonal where money, fame and instant pleasure are the sole purpose. And to gain a good market-value girls go to any extent from having artifical body parts to starving themselves (anorexia) to remain slim.

In India the promotion of this ‘Western’ (read sex) culture is having a disastrous impact on our youth, where it has been super-imposed on the existing deeply feudal ethos. The media virtually equates sex with “being modern”; while, in real life, except for a section of the urban elite, intermingling of the genders is considered taboo. This results in all sorts of degenerate, criminal and perverted behaviour (like eve teasing, rape, sexual abuse of minors etc.) and unmanageable sexual liaisons (resulting in suicides, depressions, honour killings, murders etc.) Much of the youth are caught between the devil and the deep sea—a pretense to be sati-savitris and a desire for the ‘modern’ world of pleasure. They cannot understand the possibility of a real healthy, mutally enhancing and mature relationship between the sexes. With the media onslaught, on the one hand, and the inability to realise those relations in real life, on the other, the Indian youth’s mind is even more clogged than his/her Western counterpart, with sexual fantasies and the imagination running wild.

Sex and love should be a normal part of our human relations to fulfil both instinctive and emotional needs. The less the restrictions on it, the less it will clog our minds, the more we can focus on meaningful thoughts and actions. From an obsession it should become a normal natural relationship between mutually consenting couples.

No doubt, both food and sex are an important part of our psyche as they are a major source of pleasure. One need neither to take a missionary approach—sex only for procreation and food only to satiate hunger—nor go to the other extreme to make it the central aspect of our consciousness. Both have to be dealt with a certain degree of maturity, not frivolously; becoming a victim of our passions.

4. Emotions and Fear Psychosis

Marx said (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts—EPM): “Man as an objective sentient being is a suffering being, and since he feels his sufferings, a passionate being.”

No doubt man interacts with the outside world through his five senses (as a sentient being). True also that the objective world is reflected in his consciousness through these senses. But, these senses in themselves do not result in emotions. Emotions are a product of the conscious (and sub-conscious) mind, which receives sensa-tions through the senses. Sadness/happiness, fear, anger, love/hatred etc. evolve in the process of our interaction with our environment, and are activated (as we have seen) in a particular part of our brain. One could say that our senses are merely a highway between the object and our consciousness.

Take some examples: say, a child was bitten by a dog. Till today, fear may be triggered in his mind on seeing a dog, as probably this inci-dent had a deep impact on his sub-conscious which his conscious mind was unable to over-come. Say, again, someone suddenly loses a most beloved person. Here too sadness can be overwhelming and impact the entire psychic make-up of the brain.

So we see that the overall emotional make-up comes from thousands of such experiences right from our childhood days. These construct the entire emotional pattern of a person at a given time.

At the emotional plane, what we basically seek is happiness, but many of our other emotions—like fear, sadness, anger, hatred—prevent us from achieving this. Here I will primarily deal with the emotion of ‘fear’ as it is more general in character, while sadness, hatred, anger etc. are conditioned individual responses.

So, for example, one person may feel sad if he does not make pots of money; another may feel sad on seeing a starving child. One person may feel hatred if another person contradicts him; another may feel hatred for a bully who he sees beating a weak person. One person may feel anger if someone does not flatter him; another may feel anger on seeing someone behave dishonestly/unfairly. So, most of these emotional responses are strongly connected with our value-system—if the latter changes so will the response.

No doubt this also applies to the fear psychosis, but that is more prevalent and deep-rooted and manifests in hundreds of forms. The more the fear complexes, the more our insecu-rities, the more is our vulnerability, the less is our sense of freedom.

There is fear of the powers that be, fear of god, fear of starvation, fear of death, fear of ostracism, and even fear of oneself. These, and hundreds of other forms of petty (or major) fears haunt man, eat into the vitals of his freedom, and also abilities.

Particularly, the fear of ostracism compels people to either actively or passively support all the evils around us. It is this fear of isolation and ostracism that makes people repress the awareness of that which is taboo, since such awareness would mean being different, separate, and hence to be ostracised. For this reason the individual must blind himself from seeing that which his circle claims does not exist, or accept as truth that which the majority says is true, even if this own eyes could convince him that it is false. Do we not witness this regularly in our offices, circles, parties, organisations, com-munities etc.? Are we too not silent spectators?

As Erich Fromm says, “The herd is so vitally important for the individual that their views, beliefs, feelings constitute reality for him, more so than what his senses and his reason tells him… What man considers true, real, sane are the clichés accepted by his society, and much that does not fit in with these clichés is excluded from awareness… For the majority of people their identity is precisely rooted in their conformity with the social clichés… Hence the fear of ostracism implies the fear of the loss of identity, and the very combination of both fears has a most powerful effect.” In fact how many are willing to ‘swim against the tide’ even when they know the tide carries with it filth and muck!!

But, very often the pangs of conscience prick us. Take a spiritual being; the fear of god (or hell) often pushes man to oppose the bad within and around ourselves. In many a religion, though the religious themselves promote the values of goodness, what is said is that only the fear of god can keep people on the virtuous track. But, if I seek to adopt some values not because of a deep understanding of their intrinsic worth, but merely because of a fear of going to hell, can such values be deeprooted? It cannot be, as fear may only help suppress the bad within me; while only a sincere understanding of its negative features will help me eradicate it. Fear and suppression bring with them feelings of guilt, numerous complexes, the need for pretenses etc. that distort a person’s character, creating a million insecurities. Regular confessions before a priest may help temporarily relieve some of the resulting tensions/guilt, but do not help cure the disease.

Exactly the same would apply if god is replaced by any other authority—be it a Communist Party or leaders. The best example was the Cultural Revolution in China which sought to inculcate the values of selflessness etc. But the method adopted was through fear, imposition, punishments etc. So, whatever apparent change that took place was superficial and not internalised, and, when the opportunity presented itself, it was all reversed.

Superficial change, at best, remains at the conscious level; deep (real) change takes place at its sub-conscious roots. One can never change the sub-conscious through fear, imposition etc.

If one has to truly imbibe the values of good-ness, one has to, first and foremost, throw aside all feelings of fear—particularly the fear of ostra-cism and authority. One must then realise the intrinsic goodness in these values in themselves and seek to make them a part of our sub-cons-cious mind. Though this primarily requires looking inwards within oneself, it cannot be done in isolation. Any changes within must, of necessity, reflect in a change in our outward behaviour discarding fear of ostracism/authority. It requires both: inward-looking and the outward courage to be principled and to stand up for what one believes to be just and right.

So, as long as fear reigns at the emotional level, it brings with it numerous insecurities, which sap our strength to fight the negative within us and also the ability to stand up for what is right. Various systems seek to keep people in a state of emotional instability, so that they are easily malleable to their nefarious designs.

5. Alienation and Consciousness

Alienation results in man being distanced from his self. In other words, my sub-conscious self is in conflict with my conscious thinking and being. ‘I’ am not ‘me’; ‘I’ am what others make of ‘me’; what ‘I’ want others to see as ‘me’. I thereby live in an artificial world, as an actor perpetually playing a role in the theatre of life. The artificiality itself becomes natural (habitual), so much so, that to actually be natural would feel artificial. It would feel like standing naked in a crowd of clothed people. My sense of security comes in my being clothed in the garments of artificiality, paranoic that others may take a peek at my naked (that is, natural) self. In this way our real self becomes a prisoner to pretenses, hypocrisies, ego etc. And when two such artificial beings interact, one can imagine the level of superficiality in the relationship.

A (relatively) natural being like Anuradha is a rarity even in communist and progressive circles. On the contrary, very often the artificiality is even larger in the activists’ world than in the normal world. Communists/progressives are supposed to have more of the values characte-rised as ‘good’, but at the sub-conscious level they have not been able to give up the value systems acquired through society. So, the conflict in the sphere of values is even sharper. Also, at the instinctive level, because of the need for a show of puritanism, one suppresses (or hides) one’s urge for good food and sexual feelings. For all these reasons, at the emotional level such persons are the most insecure (unless, of course, they are leaders) as they are filled with guilt feelings, complexes, and always in a state of dissatisfaction. They are not able to come to terms with themselves. Anuradha’s naturalness was reflected in her child-like spontaneous emotional responses—whether anger, happiness, sadness (she would cry easily) etc. The lack of complexities and pretenses enabled her to develop an exceedingly sharp and focussed mind, as it was not clogged with large amounts of baggage. If our conscious mind is full of maintaining pretenses, sustaining an ego, scheming and manipulating, indulging in one-upmanship, dominating others etc. etc., what space is left in the mind for creative effort? This is partly the reason that one finds nowadays less creativity amongst organisational people; and less practi-cality amongst intellec-tuals and academics.

Now let us turn to the question of alienation in the three spheres of our consciousness—values, instincts and emotions.

First, let us look at the sphere of values. As long as my conscious mind accepts/rationalises the rot within society and in myself, I have no major conflict between my sub-conscious and conscious mind. The problem (which often is major) only arises when I am unable to fulfil my greed, selfishness, ego etc. And, at times, if pangs of guilt flash across the conscious mind, I subdue these through thousands of self-justifications, rationalisations, even though most may be in the realm of the absurd.

But with most people who have varied levels of sensitivity, the conflict between one’s sub-conscious self and one’s conscious being eats into one’s vitals, creating guilt, neurosis, depression etc. The sub-conscious will have elements of the innate good in man, but will be more filled with the impact of the environment. The important aspect here is to use our conscious mind to build on the elements of good, while reducing the negative impact of the environment.

Let us now turn to the second aspect, instincts, particularly sex. Sex was important enough to be the major aspect of Freud’s psychological theory of the sub-conscious. Though now recognised as one-sided, and more relevant to the Victorian era of suppressed sexual urges, with India’s feudal ethos, sex will still have significant impact on our thinking.

As already mentioned, the relations between the sexes should be based only on affection, liking and mutual respect and concern. But our values and emotional insecurities make this impossible.

Our selfishness, ego, prejudices etc. and, of course, patriarchal tendencies, play a major role in vitiating relations between the sexes. Over and above this our emotional insecurities prevent maturity in such relations, resulting in all sorts of jealousies, doubts, pretenses etc. Together with these the alienation in society is reflected here too, with invisible walls sprouting up in the closest of relationships. Until a lot of this baggage is shed, not only between the two individuals involved, but also in our circles, such ideal relations are not possible.

Finally, if we turn to our positive emotional feelings of loving, liking, happiness etc., most remain unfulfilled, at least, not to the extent one would desire. Man is a social being and such feelings are absolutely essential to his very existence. Lack of these will push a person to insanity. But today, the society has created a desert of such feelings, and man has to seek nourishment from the thorny cacti or else scramble in search for an oasis. Very often he ends up facing mirages, to which he rushes, only to find burning, scorched sand.

The walls of alienation are reaching such extreme levels, driven by a maddening rat-race for the middle classes and a fearsome dog-eat-dog scramble for survival for the rest, that there is little time for evolving human relations. The time spent, must give a return; so, even human relations are increasingly thrown to the anarchy of the market—virtually with a price-tag. Man is, de facto, being turned into an automaton, like some robotic machine, with a heart of steel. What Marx called a “crippled monstrosity” is even more true today, than when he wrote Das Capital, Vol. I.

So, we see that the walls of alienation, that deprive us of our freedom, seriously affect man at the level of his values, instincts as also emotions.

6. Free, To Be Human

This apt title of a book by Felix Green brings out the importance of humanity in the question of freedom.

This entails freedom from our alienated being reflected in the spheres of our values, instincts and emotions. Whether it is my values, or my sexual feelings, or my emotions, if these remain suppressed within us in the sub-conscious, and in continuous conflict with our conscious being, I will be forced into a sort of schizophrenic existence, alienated from my very self.

No doubt, as already mentioned, such feelings and sensitivity come into play only once I am free from the pangs of hunger, starvation and disease. A perpetually hungry/diseased person develops just the survival instinct and all other faculties will lie dormant. Yet, once the existing system is transformed and most acquire the basic necessities of life, such people too will find these faculties develop with the inherent contradictions they create. Unless the practi-tioners of change factor in this aspect from the very start, real change will remain illusory.

This fact was recognised over two millennia back when Christ said: “Man does not live by bread alone.” Acquiring the basic necessities of life is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for socialism. The manner of socio-economic transformation should be in such a way that it frees man from his alienated self and facilitates the transformation of his values, emotions and instincts.

So, to gain genuine freedom and happiness, besides acquiring the basic necessities of life, one has to gradually turn our sub-conscious from being a breeding ground of evil into a haven of good, restore our emotional balance and harmonise our instinctive urges. It is only then that we begin to bring out the humanity within us and start to move from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. And if we thus bring about greater balance between our conscious and sub-conscious minds we can gradually overcome our alienation and thereby realise our true natural self. And it is in this process that we will be able to understand, as Marx said (EPM), “how far man’s natural behaviour has become human, and how far his human essence becomes a natural essence for him; how far his human nature has become nature for him”.

Though society at large has to be changed, the starting point has to be with the individual. Society, class etc., seen divorced from the individual, become abstractions. Besides, how can I ask others to change if I myself am not set on that path of change? Every person who seeks change must be responsible and accountable, first and foremost to himself/herself, then only will he/she impact society in a positive direction.

This process of change can and should begin here and how within the circles, committees, organisations etc. we interact with. But, in order to be sustaining, two basic changes need to be brought about in society: First, an end to alienation created by the very production process itself. Second, society be re-organised in such a way where man lives in greater harmony with nature, not at its expense.

But more on this in the next and last articles in this series.

(To be continued)

One thought on “Questions of Freedom and People’s Emancipation — Part 4, by Kobad Ghandy

  1. Kobad Gandy attacks the Cultural Revolution for using “fear, imposition, punishments” in broad strokes without the necessary discussion of what actually happened and why.

    It is true that intellectuals were targeted too broadly by different factions of the Red Guards, but this was in opposition to the 16 Points of the Central Cultural Revolution Group led by Mao stating that the class struggle should focus on overthrowing the bourgeoisie in the party. This is in large part why Mao gave the revolutionary students a new mission learning from and working with the peasants in the countryside ini 1967.

    There was also large scale factional fighting during the CR that required the intervention of the PLA at times, but there was also the inspiring example of the unarmed Beijing workers who put an end to the armed clashes of student groups on the campus of Beijing University. The barefoot doctors, the three-in-one combinations in the factories, the communal irrigation projects and other socialist new things did not employ “fear” or “punishments.”

    This methodology also leads to a subjective idealist and superficial explanation for why socialism in China was “reversed when the opportunity presented itself.” The intense class struggle between Mao and his closest allies on the Politburo (the so-called “gang of four”) and Party leaders such as Deng Xiaoping who were intent on destroying socialism and restoring capitalism drops out of the Gandy’s view entirely.

    I welcome more discussion and debate on the Cultural Revolution, and what today’s Maoist movements can learn from it, especially after they seize power and confront many new questions that will inevitably arise while building a revolutionary socialist society. For a detailed discussion of the CR, see “An Evaluation of The Cultural Revolution
    in China and its Lessons for the Future,” at http://www.mlmrsg.com

    Chang-Wang

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