Illustration by MC
It has always been clear to me since childhood, or at any rate from the time I entered the age of intellectual clarity, that I do not fully comprehend human dynamics. In recent years my incomprehension of human affairs has become even more acute. If there was any doubt in my mind that I just don’t get existence, it was removed while and after reading Pankaj Mishra’s nearly 5000-word essay in The Guardian headlined ‘After the Paris attacks: It’s time for a new Enlightenment.’
As is his wont, Mishra brings his natural scholarship to bear while making a case for a new Enlightenment even as Europe struggles to square the consequences of its first Enlightenment with its new modern demographic realities. It is an impressive piece of writing that invokes names that most people who are directly affected by these frictions and those who go out and kill would never have heard of. Names such as Joseph Roth or Jacques Derrida or Michel Houellebecq or Jürgen Habermas or André Glucksmann who by their very mention lend any essay gravitas laden with a peculiar kind of abstruseness that only thrives in rarefied academia.
My problem is not that I do not comprehend what is being said in essays like this for what it is. My problem is that human existence operates at far grimier, cruder and more elemental levels than scholarship such as Mishra’s might suggest. I think it is futile to try and explain behaviors stemming from such baser impulses by cloaking them inside such intellectual and scholarly fineries.
Somewhere along the essay Mishra writes, “It seems imperative that these diverse societies redefine their principles in ways that explicitly acknowledge different visions, religious and metaphysical, of the world.” That is a valid argument in so much as it presumes that the kind of primal conflict we have been witnessing lately can been significantly mitigated through accommodation of contradictory visions of our world and beyond.
I think conflict of this nature between competing visions of our world and beyond is intrinsically irresolvable and peculiarly prone to violence. This is not a pessimistic view but one that treats things as they are rather than the way they should be in accordance with one’s personal preference. It is not as if I have lost hope for humanity. It is just that I never had any other than what comes in dribbles.
As always, Mishra’s is a cogent and finely contextualized piece. However, I am looking at it from the standpoint of eventual futility about human existence. It is way less deserving of the kind of sanctity and sacredness that many among us run to accord it. It is what it is and no more.
That I managed to say my piece, such as it is, in less than 500 words speaks to my obvious intellectual inadequacies. By the way it is 484 words, including Mishra’s 27-word quote.