Ajai R. Singh MD

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A peep into man's histority (Contd. IV)



Questions from this brief overview of History pertinent for the present times are:

1.       What is the value of the permanency of a system, any system?

2.       When such a system is decadent or oppressive, what need be the
measures adopted to change it?

3.       Is the threat of anarchy inherent in any change?

4.       How, if at all, can rebellion be avoided or prevented? To what extent
is it justified? When does it anarchise and when can that possibility be
subverted? How can it be assimilated?

5.       Can the lessons of History be changed, or the cycle must need be

Now, you would agree all these are bright questions to which justice would be done by a volume each. And many serious thinkers must feel anything less than that incomplete if not exactly frivolous. We must indeed respect this view. But just as a volume is no guarantee of comprehensivity, an article is no excuse for trivialization; it only masks an avoidable pretentiousness. For we are to concentrate, although briefly and in the most generalized manner, on aspects of such questioning as are directly pertinent to the present socio­political atmosphere, and summarizeable for a wider audience that lacks



either the inclination, or the ability, to digest volumes on each. We need not berate this group; they must be taken along, and excited in their own en­quiries. It may, further, help them to turn attention to the more compre­hensive writers in this answer-seeking. We may, therefore, be pardoned what may appear to some the cryptic nature of some of the comments that follow.


Answering the first question. There need be no permanency about any one system, though a system needs to be permanently present. Often difficulties arise because we mix these two concepts. Let us elaborate upon this a little. Threat to any one system is considered a threat to 'system' as a concept. There is thus a tendency to rally around the existing one, for better or for worse. Since this can warp judgement the only thing that can be said in its favour is that this is legitimate in only two conditions (i) when there genuinely appears no viable alternative; (ii) when one genuinely believes in the ultimate worth of the prevailing system itself, i.e., one feels it can be repaired and remedied. Both these conditions imply that we honestly believe alternative systems are either not viable or do not have such potential; or, are not worth supporting, even given their greatest potential over a period of time. It also means the present system, though messy, is capable of change that can make the best possible of the situation, for now and the future. This utility oriented goal directedness is essentially a matter of approach. When one sees a mansion in need of repairs, we have three alternatives open to us. (Or, rather four, for one may decide not to do anything about it at all.) The first is carry out minor repairs and patchwork that are measures more of our deception and denial rather than genuine concern. The second is undertake essential repairs that prevent further damage and at the same time make the mansion serviceable. Herein come expediency, adhocism and short-term planning. The third is pulling down the structure and rebuilding it, brick by brick. This last is the most attractive on any serious evaluation, though that does not necessarily make it practicable. Most revolutionaries and idealists are fired with some such zeal, which is precisely what dissatisfies them when any of the other types of activities are carried out. But often they can not only not prevent it, they have no viable alternative to offer. For they themselves have to account for two conditions: it is fine to decide that we break down a structure and rebuild it, but where do we stay in the meanwhile? And second, what is the guarantee that the second structure will be better than the first? Now, it is of course possible to say to the first question that temporarily difficulties cannot but be accepted, and to the second that it is only a reflection of one's stagnation and indolence. But these answers are only partially true. We must make provision for the basic social psyche of the group for which a system is planned. If this psyche is predominantly stability-propelled, any threat to its basic structure will be considered a threat to its very existence, a destabilization which will be strongly resisted regardless of its rationale and its justification.


The second alternative is not without its own attraction, if it can be embel­lished with something more than adhocism. Here we not only carry out essen-


tial repairs without threatening to demolish the building. We even carry out partial demolitions and rebuilding, even extending new wings, all the while cognizant of the anxieties of the stability-propelled. The foundation here is not the first entity to be repaired: it is the last, as the beneficial effects of re­structuring sink into the minds. At that stage it could be decided whether it needs the extensive repairs that one was so convinced about earlier. One may then be pleasantly surprised to find the inmates may accept it, even propose it themselves and help carry it out. But if one feels that the foundation itself is defective and needs no repairs, but has to be freshly laid, one may find one's honest convictions challenged at every step, besides turning out to be unfoun­ded in the ultimate analysis. Often both the foundation and the basic skeleton do not need change; in any case they cannot be changed. What can be modi­fied are their reinforcers, their appendages, their muscle tone, their resilience and their dynamism to adjust to changed circumstances. And one may be surprised to find that most basic structures everywhere do not lack the ability as badly as they are made out to. Their inner strength and resilience is often marred or cannot become manifest because of the weaknesses of their functional appendages. Even in the remote possibility that the foundation needs fresh laying, even that may become an acceptable proposition if we go about in the manner described above. Granted there will be some repetition of effort. Granted there will be waste of labour. But the important factor is to arouse people to co-operate. To achieve this some duplication cannot but be tolerated. But to avoid duplication, co-operation cannot be sacrificed. Our action and justification will have to be guided by and circumscribed in this domain. The conservative can then be pardoned his occasionally sticky appea­ring rationale for supporting the status quo.


Of course, there is a weakness in this argument. This is regarding our earlier use of the words 'genuinely' and 'honestly', and the possibility that the basic defect cannot be repaired, it must be broken down and reconstructed. Both involve value-judgements which can be as scrupulously followed as unscrupulously flaunted; or exploitatively used by the parties concerned.


And the problem does not end here. Others have their role to play as well, which makes us come to the second question.

No doubt, a decadent or oppressive system needs to undergo a change. The question, however, is how, and whether it is possible at all, working with the means and the material at our disposal. One view would try working from within, cautiously persistent, bringing about change in the system that grows with time, to which both reformer and reformed have time to adjust. The other seeks radical overthrow with replacement by a new order. Both systems have built in advantages and disadvantages. Whilst caution may stifle the speed of change and ultimately curb its vigour, radicalism may speed up confusion and recklessness, which can amount to throwing the baby out with the bath-water. And yet, if one may avoid the frills and fringes of the issue and concentrate on their basics, both appear to seek almost similar goals by diverse methods.


This makes no method more suitable than the other, except for the user's expertise and that of his honest believers; and the strength and limitation of the domain they wish to influence. This of course is applicable only to those earnestly convinced of their capacities and their ultimate goals.


In this, just as their differences of means are important in their differences, similarities of goals are important in their similarities. It is only when such a broad framework is kept in mind that a solution can be worked out that avoids needless heroics or steam. Such a synthesis is only a working arrangement, true, and will appear to break down at times. But the artificial and trumpeted schizms that are measures less of concepts and more of personalities will both be highlighted and avoided. The sides, further, will have an opportunity to complement each other both in their strengths and their weaknesses. The high place that malice, back-biting and bitching have in human affairs and ideologies are more a measure of pique and requittal and our aggressive dogmatism, which will be forced to undergo some measure of sublimation.


Coming to the third question. Any change of course has the inherent threat to anarchize. This is precisely the reason change is resisted by the conservative when it appears thrust upon him, or too fast to adjust to. But it is incorrect to believe he is unamenable to change; what is rather more correct is he is concerned with order. That is also the reason why any drastic change holds eternal attraction for the radical or the romanticist. He may wish, albeit unconsciously, for a 'controlled' anarchy to prevail so that the present order crumbles and hopefully gives place to the new. But the anarchical nature of such change, we know, asserts itself so strongly that every revolution has its price to pay in terms of disorder, strife, chaos and suffering to the masses, besides leading in its own right to the rise of totalitarianism and its breed of sycophants, loyalists and turn-coats. And yet a time comes when even such an anarchy may be welcome when it gets pitted against despotism. All ramifi­cations of this delicate issue are impossible to tackle here. Suffice to say that despots breed anarchy is as true an aphorism as anarchy breeds despots. Man's greatest thrust can be how to break this vicious cycle that History and its perpetuation by man have inflicted on each other.

Regarding the question whether rebellion can be avoided or prevented, the issues must centre around both the propriety of the rebellion and its stren­gth. Rebellion that is ill-directed and that can only be chaotic alone need be totally rejected. No rebellion is wholly so. Hence every prevention or suppres­sion must involve at least two concepts. These are, one, the ideas of favoura-bility and, two, the strength of the ruler against whom the rebellion is directed. There is every need to accept that rebellion will be viewed with disfavour by most rulers, whether strong or weak. Whilst their strength can succeed in putting it down ruthlessly and swiftly, their weakness is equally likely to cause ruthlessness, and a prolonged one at that. The lessons of this should be obvious to those involved in the present political drama in India.




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