Thursday, August 30, 2007

You Are Free... You're Not...

Years ago, when I had fancied myself to be a right-winger and slightly authoritarian, I took an online test that assessed my political inclination. I was a little surprised at the results. I was a right-winger, but so much to the center that it did not matter; and I was a libertarian!

I am all for law and order and discipline. People need a physically, mentally and spiritually safe place to live. But it is wrong for anybody to assume that to make other people feel good, one has to keep bending over backwards and accede to every wish of the other party. This is true in all cases, whether it is the case of travelers in a train shutting up because a co-traveler takes unkindly to their conversation, or the case of Vande Mataram not being sung in schools because a certain group of people is not comfortable with it. A compromise has to be worked out, but it is a crime against oneself if he/she genuinely believes that others matter more than oneself.

I am a huge fan of Ayn Rand and her philosophy. I believe that one exists and needs to exist for oneself only. Even if we avow that we are doing something to please somebody, finally it is our own gratification that will result out of it. Indeed, the line "आत्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति" from the BrihadAraNyakopaniShat can be construed to mean that. And to take it further, if an action brings unhappiness to oneself, it is wrong. Oh, yes, you will be called 'selfish' if you ascribe to this philosophy, but in the end you will end up being much better, and of much value to the society.

I know I am treading controversial ground here. For eons, we have been taught to be accommodating. But how right is it to ask people to give up their comforts for others' sake? Consider this scenario. Suppose I am a pianist, and a writer lives next-door. The writer complained everytime I started playing the piano? Should I give in each and every time and let him write? In some situations it is easy to draw a solid line and say that it is trespassing on the liberty of the other person if that line is crossed. Al Qaeda's recent statement that it is their legitimate right to attack Delhi and Moscow, belongs to this category. In umpteen other situations, very fine lines divide liberty from lawlessness and discipline from oppression.

During the French Revolution, the oppressed lower classes of the society revolted against the aristocracy, and put many of their oppressors to death by guillotine. The royal family, aristocrats and supporters of the aristocrats alike were killed. But the revolters became bloodthirsty after that and started killing for flimsy reasons (the whole revolution is superbly described by Charles Dickens in 'A Tale of Two Cities'). What started out as a fight for liberty became lawlessness and chaos. And I think that the reason for this was the failure to see liberty as it was, as a right as well as a responsibility.

As with all things, liberty also comes with certain costs and some responsibilities. As one becomes more and more independent, far less people tend to guide him. He is on his own, and must rely on his own experience to wade through the ocean of life. And of course, he should be responsible enough to not topple others' boats while enjoying his swim. And it will be better for others, if he takes up the additional responsibility of helping others sail, if not swim like him...

Really, are we free?

1 comment:

Iznogoud said...

What would I have done if I were that neighbor objecting to piano practice? I think I would complain once or twice, and then a showdown and if the piano continued to be a nuisance, I would hire the loudest sound system and play hardest rock music to drown the piano sound. After all, I do have the freedom, don't I and I of course is no goud!