The final frontier : Identity

May be this is the one last push before the fort is breached, the one last stance before the inevitable decimation, the one final effort of humanity to reassert and retain its individual component flavor before it collapses one big pile of homogenized self, where the only distinguishing factor remains at the gender level than at one of those tens of different offerings currently in vogue - race, region, religion, country, culture, caste, language, dialect and such. For it certainly seems so, considering the current turbulent and volatile geo political social scenario prevalent all across the globe where every little community worth its identity is launching its own pocket sized warfare of its own to preserve its way of life and have its voice heard over the din of other more vociferous groups engaged in the same activity. Science fiction, which is usually considered the bell weather of societal change, has conveniently skipped over this painful step of these individual groups elbowing each other for a little space of their own, and jumped directly to the near future where all the cultures and cliques and cabals are coalesced into one single entity as to represent the entire humanity as a whole, so that in the off chance when aliens visit upon the earth, there would only be one voice speaking for the entire mankind and one front representing its stand. Perhaps this has been the vision of science for the future that there would cease to exist the multitude of hues and colors that humans choose to be associated with, and for better or worse, a monochrome selection would finally emerge as its default (and only) color palette. And it might still happen too, but the process of getting there is throwing up such a violent reaction, with each digging in their heels too deep in their positions and stances that it becomes impossible to visualize a scenario when all these diverse ideas can come to a common ground and allow themselves to be influenced and affected by the other, leave alone all these ideas fusing into one single collective thought.

Propagation of information has always been the harbinger of change. Guttenberg's invention of the printing press served as the first catalyst whence ideas started to travel across the breadth of the globe inviting unforeseen upheavals in the status quo. The second significant 'intifadah' (uprising) on the information highway is the invention of internet. Where once it took some significant time for a revolutionary idea to travel the length of the global road, internet reduced it to a billionth of a second for the speed of propagation to match the speed of thought. So what Guttenberg's press did for Christianity,  with the spread of the printed Bible across all continents inviting debates, conversation, critiques and criticisms forcing a reformation and a re-imagination of the faith, the internet is currently serving that function by applying it to culture, this time around. And with the winds of change come the reflex action of resistance. From the cauldron of the raging Middle East to the nationalistic movements sweeping across the traditional societies, from the ever contentious race wars raging in the modern worlds to the calls of casteist pride in their age old counterparts, it is quite apparent that the free flow of information has dredged up some new thoughts and along with them some new found fears that the old world order is about to lose its role and relevancy, unless the calls to change is countered with equally combative campaign to discredit the very purpose of the oncoming change in the first place.

No where is this line of thinking more pronounced than in the casteist campaigns currently holding the progress of the nation at ransom. The dichotomy in the arguments put forth by both the traditionalists and the reformists in this context is quite baffling. The traditionalists chest thump about the rich cultural lineage and heritage of the nation, extolling the virtue of thought that appears advanced, liberated and enlightened even back in the times that presaged much of the progress made by the modern man, which they claim now serves as the cultural beacon and moral compass of the nation. Yet this is the same culture (or thought or pratice) that made job assignments a family legacy, and worse, categorizing a section of those essential jobs as menial  while exalting some others ethereal, and the only criterion for the job allotment is not merit or talent, but arbitrary birth. The question isn't as much as allotment of labor as it is about the dignity of labor. And so the caste system which created a great sense of resentment, discontentment and disenchantment among the bottom half of the labor force against the system became responsible for the fault lines that crept into its ethos permanently dividing a nation entirely on the grounds of who is born where. When the oppressed class started clamoring for a reformation of a system by advocating for essentially throwing out the old order and scripting a new tale, the pendulum didn't just stop at the equitable center, it went further and farther to the other side, taking a position diametrically opposite to the one that it railed against, refusing to come to the bargain table for any compromise, claiming that historical injustices can only be undone by administering the antidote for the same amount of time as they have suffered at the hands of the system, meaning, a little over couple of thousands of years. And there in lies the rub. It is the turn of the oppressed to wear the caste tag as a badge of honor, asserting their identity and refusing to move in the direction of creating a casteless society once and for all. So one side doesn't climb down from its high horse and the other side doesn't step back from its avenging stance.

The solution, however, doesn't lie in the middle ground or any ground. In fact, it exists in a wholly different realm, money. Money, castigated as the root of all evil, this time, is going to root out all evil, at least the caste one. Money is the greatest leveler of all. It can hide caste, it can mask identity, it can even camouflage color. Eventually economy is going to create the even playground that social reformers long dreamed about. But how it gets there, through socialism or capitalism, through market economy or regulated practices (reservations, subsidies and helping hands) is still to be decided. And society is going to go through each of those iterations in a trial and error fashion before settling on the final solution. And what makes this a sure thing? The answer lies in nature, physics precisely. Two pressure systems of varying intensities cannot coexist side by side forever, unless the high pressure gradually yeilds to the low pressure before ending up with an equilibrium. This is an inevitable as it is imminent.

The next in line is nationalism. Isn't it ironic that the majority of the nations that are currently struggling to deal with the tidal waves of migration were themselves unwanted guests (turned rulers/colonizers) of those same countries just a few decades ago - France, Britain, Netherlands, Spain, Italy and others? And now when the shoe is on the other foot with people from those same colonized lands turning up at the shores and the boundaries of their erstwhile masters, it might not feel right, fit right, but it definitely seems just. With this forced marriage of completely different cultures and value systems comes the automatic hue and cry to save, protect and preserve the original flavor of motherland without letting it contaminated with the incoming exoticism. These voices become even shriller when the economy is caught in a downward spiral (the other half of the cyclical nature of development and doom, prosperity and penury), when all the fingers are pointed towards these new arrivals, who are accused of overwhelming the system by taking in a lot more than filling it back up. One glance at the political scenario in all these nations above reveals the rise of the right wing parties whose agenda consists of the lone item of restoration of lost glory and status of the motherland often at the expense of the latest entrants into the society. Man, if anything, has been migratory by nature, for food, security and betterment. Movement has always been at the center of progress and prosperity of flourished societies. So, the question becomes when two strong and different identities are forced to share the same space, which one gives and which one takes? The answer surprisingly is, none. Eventually both of them would lose their strong individual flavors and fuse to form a wholly different face that retains traces of the individual components but loses any resemblance to either. One needn't look far for examples of such amorphous fusions (obviously achieved over a long period over strifes, consternations, troubles, blowups and missteps, but nevertheless the ends justify the means) than the present day Indian and American societies, the former forged over a few thousands of years absorbing disparate cultures in its fold and the latter formed over a few hundreds of years treading similar path. And now it is the turn of Europe to chart that course of homogenization.

Lastly, the other great front where the battle lines are currently drawn pertain to one of religion. And this is by far the hardest of all, because, unlike caste and nationalism, which to some degree operate on some principle, flawed or otherwise, religion is all about belief and thus the hardest to dissuade from or persuade about. Ask any Hindu what he thinks of his religion and pat comes the reply Vedas, Upanishads and the distillation of human thought in the most precise form, Gita. Ask an oppressed person on the other hand what he thinks about the same, and the answer could not be more contradictory - restrictive, discriminating and divisive. And both of them are equally right. Same goes with Christianity with universal love and compassion on one hand, and bigoted stances on slavery, homophobia and even the role of women on the other side. The religion currently in the cross hairs all across the globe, Islam, has its share of contradictions and controversial ideas to even out the purity, piety and practice of the faith. Which leads to the conclusion every belief system is as enlightening and it is plain stupid, every religion has its share of good that it contributes to the world as it has the pollutants and effluents mucking up the thought process. Every belief system goes through the process of genesis, consolidation, propagation, corruption, implosion and rejuvenation and no religion is an exception to this. And it is the time of Islam now, being the youngest of all faiths, to publicly takes these painful steps towards ultimate reconciliation. The current militant brand of Islam that is earning the faith a bad reputation is more a product of political and economic tussles that is pulling apart the religion from every which direction and less to do with the (mis)interpretations of the actual word of the Holy Text. And there is always that question of the literal truth vs spirit behind the idea, when it comes to following religious texts that have been written thousands of years ago meant for vastly different social conditions.

The antidote to extremism or ignorance isn't isolation or persecution. It is education. Just as money for caste, migration for nationalism, education offers the correct counter weight to religious dogma forcing the faith to confront with its insecurities and instabilities and therefore be richer by the critique and conversation (just like how a mathematical theorem is enriched by its corollaries, converses and exceptions). Surprisingly, among caste, nationalism and religion, the solution to the last prickly issue is also the easiest and most effective from an implementation standpoint. It doesn't need change of minds and hearts of the already battle-hardened, it doesn't call for any proselytization or even a total abandoning of one's own faith. All it requires is opening of more and more schools to expose the little minds to the pluralistic, scientific and multi-threaded nature of the world (and the universe) from a very young age. That's it, nothing more. And within a generation's time, the seeds of rationality would bring about the reformation/transformation of the faith from within, without the use of any weapons and without ostracizing one major chunk of the world population.

Identity should only be a front for individuality, and never a collective measure, for it is only natural that in a group that is identified only by a tag and not by its content, individuality would forever be lost in the sea of sameness restricting the answer to the question 'what are you' to a caste, region or a religion, instead of many diverse, artisitic, brilliant, scientific, human choices possible.

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