There are few of us, it turns out, who can say no to an order from a higher authority. There are fewer and fewer of us, it transpires, who are Social Animals. What do you mean by a Social Animal, man, you might ask, and by Social Animal would you mean an obedient wife or someone like that, to which I’d retort: Nope, pal, that’s patriarchy. A Social Animal is someone who, politicized to the core, connects with the materialist (natural) world at large being ethically and environmentally aware, who’s vocally against the injustices of just about any kind, who’s self-made yet not selfish or hollow, who’s selfish yet not at the cost of someone else, who’s individualist yet collectivist, who thinks locally and globally at once, but with that said, and if that makes me sound like a moralist, a Social Animal is someone who needn’t be nice all the time to his or her spouse or friends or parents and be observant of every single moral code out there that’s laid out by the so-called authority while being the aforesaid and, of course, even less or even more.
If I still sound like a moralist, consider this: I was almost a nihilist a decade ago. So what made you a Social Animal, man, you might ask. Perhaps lots of reading, observing and some living, but I have no definite answer to this. And, wait, pal, what; no, I’m not a Social Animal yet, far from it. I’m very much a (post)modern person, still, stuck in (post)modernity, caught in the webs of the so-called supreme deities, webs of traditional histories and narratives of the so-called victors, still unfastening the meshes and chains woven by the wicked victors with the aid of devilish sky deities, an unfastening that might take lifetimes. (Caveat: The use of illeism found herein might be indicative not only of the old selves shed but also the acquired new selves.) From being a shattered, bitter, overworking and often quitting, Dexter-addicted, overspending, tsundoku who skimmed the news of Tamil Genocide by Sri Lanka as if they were some Page 3 news items and blamed everything on LTTE because that’s what the mainstream media did, to a guy who has to get himself unemployed for months together and have so much free time on his hands in order to catch up with the events of last decade, to a guy that now asks: is it true that the leaders whom we’ve elected work for the big corporates which in turn work for the World Bank; tell me, pal, that’s not so, this was also the same guy who renounced Christianity post 9/11 because some of his pals were found justifying the Iraq War, before being shattered and overcome by bitterness. It’s not like he was some nominal Christian but a born-again Christian transformed inside out by it, for better or for worse, yet he would ditch Christianity over a strong disagreement as if it were some trash. But when it came down to the genocide of his own kith and kin, his ethnicity in the vicinity, he wouldn’t be enraged about it but would rather choose to be skeptical about the whole thing. How could a pithy dose of mainstream media and (post)modernity do something like that to a (shattered) individual; doesn’t that seem implausible, pal, and if it does seem plausible, then something hard to grasp and comprehend? I had no pals; I mean, I had no knowledgeable pals. In 2001, I had a close Muslim pal who made me aware as to the geopolitics involving the Middle East but in 2009 I had close to no pals, leave alone a knowledgeable pal, who could guide me as to the geopolitics involving the Indian Ocean; also I was tucked away in a city far from home, and had a pal been present, perhaps I wasn’t in the shape, so weighed down by navel-gazing narcissism and preconceived notions as I was, to listen to that pal. And I was thinking I was an odd (post)modern out but it turns out there are millions of Tamils living today who believe that the genocide of Tamils of Eelam was primarily or entirely LTTE’s fault, or worse still they do not see it as a genocide at all, for reasons ranging from simple to complex, thanks to a mainstream media that’s hell-bent on planting ideas in one’s head and a (post)modernity that provides one with too many options to choose from. Thus that’s how and why, stuck as we are in our ideological wells and frameworks, seeing the world through our ideological spectacles, we pick and choose news items and opinions, living in a post-truth world, a world built upon lies and half-truths.
There’s this thing called the Indian Dream, too, which came to us along with globalization, fed to us along with every single bite of food with nary an afterthought which nonetheless left one with a deep, bitter aftertaste. This insistence on the dream of progress wasn’t just confined to one’s family and relatives but pervasive as well amongst the whole community including, and most specifically, your pals. Nolan went from being an indie filmmaker to becoming a blockbuster maker, and if your life didn’t progress in a similar fashion, you were considered a failure. The voices whispered and/or screamed, in both dreams and daydreams, make money, money, money and more money into the ears of potential moneymaking machines, and, pal, did he despise it. It turned out I wasn’t cut out to be upwardly mobile. As a schoolboy, though, I wanted to become a soldier. Back then, to me, there was so much bravery and glitter in it. That was how very subtly we were being nurtured in schools: nation first, freedom second (or was it last, I forget). Indoctrinating the kids at that tender an age to nationalism, yes, every single nation does that perhaps, but just to think about it. There’s no denying there was so much intoxication in the glory of being a soldier or a cop and serving the nation. I could’ve been a cop at least, I could’ve been the law-machine, ordered to silence the voice, that shot the innocent teenager Snowlin in her mouth for, what, demanding justice. That’s exactly how I feel. I could’ve been an Arjuna, a war-machine, who took orders from and was indoctrinated by a Krishna, the corporate founder-god, the man in a safe fortress with the power to maneuver people in high places. I almost wrote a poem in which the literary I is the sniper trained in Israel who’s hands-on with his assault rifle, steadfast and trigger-happy, being eventually chased, following the Thoothukudi Massacre, by an angry but innocent mob. Soldiers are machines, I later on used to think, that took orders and mindlessly executed genocides. Soldiers and cops, I’ve now come to think, are (post)modern humans who are hands-on with weapons, who lack the temerity to say no to any orders, who are either self-made but trapped in the systematic webs of personal and/or professional commitments or simply hollow (leaving aside the creeps, that is, the sadists that permeate the forces, which is another story). They’re self-made and/or hollow (brimful with information (armed with facts and data) yet lacking the perspicacity for knowledge and truth). We’re not machines, we’re (post)modern persons who are hands-on with machines and we’re self-made and/or hollow, either trapped in our ideological wells or unwilling to step out of those self-chosen wells. We’re either persons who cannot grasp what’s the fuss about women’s rights or we’re persons who cannot discern Anthropocene. Did you notice, I mean, did you notice I totally forgot to mention the rights of LGBTQ peoples. Did you notice I also forgot to mention the rights of Dalit communities? That’s how pathetic I am as a (post)modern individual. And also did you notice I did not mention the Yemen Genocide or the dire situations in Palestine and Kashmir. I’m not even going to mention the deportation of immigrants at this point. That’s how insensitive I am as a (post)modern human. Having been at first a casual and then a voracious reader (while being a film and music buff as well) from a young age, and not just as a passive observer but an active yet passive participant now in the arts as a writer as well, I wonder whether arts have made us better people.
Arts can give us sensibilities, sure, but I’m afraid it does not make us sensible people. Tools that can make us sensible, I think, lie in disciplines that lie outside of art, in interdisciplinary knowledge and experience (and by all that I do not necessarily mean diving headfirst merely into humanities or something). So wallowing only in arts, I’ve come to observe, could leave us hollow individuals. Modernism vis-à-vis modernity makes us individuals (with a self-made and/or hollow self), postmodernism vis-à-vis post-modernity shatters individuals (making self-made and/or hollow contradicting multi-selves), and for all their nuances and sensibilities, both haven’t made us any more sensible. We still keep asking where’s truth and justice which is found wanting in almost every walk of life. We’ve forgotten we’re to be Social Animals, more than merely modernly or post-modernly human, with a solid foundation in ethics and we as well lack harsh self-critique. Incorporating the acquired interdisciplinary knowledge and experiences into arts, I hope (and I’m hoping here as a layperson I believe), might just make it more materialist (rational), keep its idealist (spiritual) side in check (while its spiritual side being crucial for the act of creation) and keep it from becoming purely spiritual, yet another sham like religion, a religion that would say to its member, kiddo, things and events are too complex to grasp, but hang on, I’ve got icons, schools of thoughts, theories and keys for you to reckon, see, and now’s worship time!, which it’s perhaps already become. With that said, the world can go on even without art, after all, there are other fields (independent as well as mainstream or one can experiment and create a field that isn’t there yet with what’s out there, self-critiqued and scrutinized, a field that is both personal and impersonal. What else can possibly be there for us to do if and when arts and disciplines chain us and weigh us down, with their trickster labyrinthine idealist (or plainly materialist) traditions, instead of liberating us?) that can help us reflect and perceive in new ways and provide us with tools to become sensible, but the world cannot afford to go on without truth and justice, not for long. A ‘simple’ person, say, a farmer, who can touch the earth and feel the pulsations and the lack thereof of nature as a Social Animal is more sensible, I’m afraid, than a ‘complex’ person who can write one thousand pages and yet cannot grasp or discern the cries of the oppressed. There’s a dream that I don’t want to have and in it I’ve written one thousand and one pages yet it turns out I can neither discern the cries of the people nor feel the pulse of nature. And it transpires that would actually be an unbearable nightmare.
Ahimaz Rajessh has been published with formercactus, Dream Pop Press, Big Echo: Critical SF, MoonPark Review, Jellyfish Review, unFold, The Cabinet of Heed, Speculative 66, Liminality, The Airgonaut, Occulum, Surreal Poetics and Jersey Devil Press besides many other zines. He lives in a hIndian-occupied Tamil Nadu.