of discrimination (part 2 - potential solutions)
As seen last week, the idea of discrimination pervades our sense of community deeply. Some members are valued more than others by virtue of a myriad of factors like race, gender, class, caste to mention a few. Dealing with discrimination needs to be at two levels, at the level of the community or the nation at large and at the level of interpersonal relationships. In my opinion, the interpersonal level of dealing with discrimination should enhance the fight at the community level as well. As far as interpersonal discrimination goes my belief (not rooted in any scientific study, rather a simple observation) is that we have devalued the life of an individual which is why we are unable to offer him or her the same level of respect as we would an equal (the term here implies one viewed as an equal). We evaluate people on external factors and make a call as to whether this person deserves our respect or not. We feel the need to reciprocate the actions of another whether it be good or bad and in the event our evaluation of an individual is beneath us we feel the resources we may spend on them is wasteful leading us to discriminate against them. (I make a general statement here not pointing out particulars since this topic is sensitive and volatile even).
Another case could be that we have enjoyed the fruits of discrimination for too long such that we feel entitled to them at the cost of another, not willing to voluntarily give up our space to favor someone else. A despicable though equally possible case can also include the willful abuse of power just to “show them their place”. This need to be tackled at the level of an individual in his or her mind every time he or she makes a decision to discriminate against another. Though this is deep seated in the mind of a human I believe a willing attitude with empathy and love is all it takes to deal with the issue at hand. Is this hard? Absolutely, and the lazy and easy way out is to continue said discrimination but the path of a higher moral dictates we change our thinking to accommodate the needs of another.
The first question I believe we should ask when we discriminate is why. Identifying when we discriminate is easy, do it every time you feel you deserve it or see if your attitude is pandering to your ego at any point. Coming back, the pertinent question is why should I not discriminate against another. It stands to reason that the moral argument goes something like, if the places of the perpetrator and victim were to be exchanged how would it be, the idea of treating others as you would want to be treated comes up. One might argue that sometimes treating others well is often repaid in evil as they say no good deed goes unpunished. However, I submit that my treatment of another shouldn’t be based upon the need for reciprocity rather it should be because I view them with the same dignity as my own self. The moment we fall into the trap of reciprocity we fail to act as higher order beings devolving to a contest of strength over wits.
It is imperative that we understand consequential thinking in this regard. The benefits I enjoy as virtue of my race, gender, class or caste is like a wheel, it moves up and down and no one can say with certainty that they would enjoy the benefits forever. I believe the world is tuned to a self-correcting mode whereby your actions against another can very well determine someone else’s action against you. It sounds a lot like the reciprocity theme I discarded earlier, my point here being don’t do something expecting its outcome, do it for the sake of the greater moral good or as Emmanuel Kant puts it, duty for duty’s sake, the consequences of your actions will find you whether you will or not.
The economic and socio-political argument I place is condensed in a simple maxim; cooperation is better than conquest. I believe the idea shouldn’t involve everyone fighting over the same piece of cake, rather it should be focusing on increasing the size of the cake so everyone can have a share. Again we run into issues with respect to how should I distribute, should it be equally? or should there be a system of affirmative action to decide who gets how much. In a utopia, the idea of this might fly with subsequent enforcement which will again divide mankind upon some criteria leading to the same cycle of discrimination based on new parameters. A satisfactory answer to this hasn’t been found by anyone so far. I humbly submit I haven’t found one either.
Yet I believe our endeavor shouldn’t be trying to correct an inherently unequal system rather it should be focused on our perception of a fellow individual so that our actions can reflect some semblance of equity and justice. I firmly believe that corrections are required at an individual level to realign our behavior which will help the spirit of cultural pluralism and cooperation. An institutional correction in the form of laws forbidding discrimination is necessary but what is more urgently required is a change in the mindset of people so that the impact of the law is corrective and purposeful. There are many constitutional experts who can quote various parts of the Indian constitution to promote equality and fraternity which is also included in the preamble. I leave the lawmakers and civil servants to deal with the legal aspect of things. My appeal is to the individual, someone with the slight bit of rationality and humility to see the bigger picture. Someone capable of seeing the evil of discrimination and doing their small part to change it in their sphere of influence. It’s often not great and valiant actions alone that rewrite history but simple acts of kindness, empathy and love which can shake empires and change civilizations.
In conclusion, discrimination exists and we cannot simply wish it away, man may have been created equal but is everywhere in chains as Jacques Rousseau argues, chains forged by others but bound nonetheless. We can hardly change that, despite years of promoting anti discriminatory laws and taking other social measures to promote equality and justice. The power to change lies with an individual, in his way of thinking, which can translate to action and eventually enforce better application of anti-discrimination both at the individual and community/national level. It simply boils down to be cognizant of our words and actions, think before you do. We need to encourage and inculcate the idea of consequential thinking, “if I keep doing this, what effects might it have”. In a society consumed by speed, a short memory and judgement we forget each one is fighting a hard battle and as Plato exhorts we forget to be kind. We don’t love selflessly but narcissistically defeating the purpose of love. We cheapen the life of another because it’s convenient to forget another in the midst of my own battles. We are given to the idea of the strong oppressing the weak because we are used to it and it hardly matters, a seared conscience is quieter than a prickly one. For evil to exist, all that is required is that good men (and women) do nothing as Edmund Burke points out. I may not have made excellent points based on logic and reason rather I appeal to the humane side in you, the emotional inner man. It seems cloying to appeal to the emotional side but if that’s what is required to overcome the prejudice behind discrimination so be it. I appeal once again to my dear readers, think and act in love and kindness to one another. People will forget what you did for them what you spoke about them but they’ll always remember how you treated them. Let us pledge to do our best in our sphere of influence and fight this pervading evil, one person at a time.