Groundviews

Standing up to the Age of Emotions

Featured image of Paris attack memorial courtesy Washington Post

Norway
July 23, 2011

A 32-year-old Norwegian suspect has been arrested after at least 87 people were killed in two attacks in Norway
courtesy Reuters

Colombo, Sri Lanka
January 1996

Central Bank Bombing
courtesy onlanka.com

Puthukkudiyiruppu, Sri Lanka
2009
An elderly Sri Lankan Tamil civilian sits among the rubble of a village
courtesy deccanchronicle

Colombo, Sri Lanka
1987
The Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, ducks a rifle butt attack by a Sri Lankan naval rating during a guard of honour, after he signed a controversial peace pact with the Colombo government
courtesy Newindianexpress

Love must be learned,

And learned again and again;

There is no end to it.

Hate needs no instruction,

But wants only to be provoked

Katherine Anne Porter

We have left the Age of Reason behind. This is the Age of Emotions. Precisely at what point we made the crossover can be left to historians. Yet the moment the Al Qaeda manned jets crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York and drew the First World irrevocably into a protracted state of global warfare is as good as any. Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking work – Emotional Intelligence had only been published 6 years before 9/11 in 1995. Having celebrated the heights and achievements of human reason we are now revisiting our own emotions – and we don’t seem to like what we see.

The logic and infrastructure of the Age of Reason – like law and order, impersonal justice and other strong arm methods will continue to be employed by our “old school political leaders” but they will become less and less relevant as this Age gathers momentum. Unable to meet our emotions directly we are running away – and the most convenient hiding places are afforded by high tech weapons, warfare and policing. All these are “State” responses.

Criminal trials, for example, are only concerned about “who did what?” “when and where” but not WHY? Influenced as we are by the Cartesian worldview of fixed entities and the individualized blaming culture of Anglo Saxon Criminal Justice we see hatred as a personal quality that must be found and corrected within the psyche of the individual human being. If there is a crime – there must be a criminal, and we find solace in a form of justice that can reach out and punish that individual criminal.

Human rights became the new religion of a world desperate for legitimacy after two horrific world wars. Its advocates have been increasingly challenged by the intransigence of Governments in the Third World which failed to measure up to their idealism. As a result they too have taken the easy way out; copped out in a way, by resorting to the threat of a prosecution at the International Criminal Court.

But is there, as these advocates try to make out, a problem with the world? Is this world malfunctioning? Or is the problem more directly with the way we are seeing the world?

This is a challenge which has been taken up by modern human consciousness studies that seek to map – not merely the rational domain but the increasingly significant emotional and spiritual domains of the human being. They have indicated with great clarity that the world, in addition to its 101 problems is also suffering from the syndrome of partial blindness. Let’s take an illustration.

In our encounter with the Portugese we experienced the onslaught of hatred and terrorism. The Dutch lured us with greed, bribery and corruption. The British put in place structures of delusion that would institutionalize both hatred and greed. The criminal process for example was the perfect embodiment of institutionalized hatred.

The point to be underscored is this. Having collectively endured nearly five centuries of emotional upheavals we are now beginning to see all three poisons – greed, hatred and delusion as the product and result of human interactions. Where we would earlier state – Dutch = Greed we would now state Dutch + Sinhala Adigars = Greed, bribery and corruption. In this way we can see the result, not merely as a behavioural defect of A or B but as the product of a flawed relationship. We are now beginning to see that such relations can acquire a life of their own. It is the interaction that produces a result, for good or ill – not the actor or actors alone. Generations have died since the Dutch came and left, but we still see the same interaction between foreign capital and local corruption.

In this post Einstein universe that is inter-connected and inter-dependent we have begun to understand that there are no permanent entities – but only temporary phenomena that acquire their identity in relation to other phenomena.

The dominant relational patterns keep recurring so long as we don’t undermine the energies of greed, hatred and delusion within.

We cannot deal with our legacy of hatred by pointing fingers at the Government or the LTTE or the International Community. These are just transient phenomena without a solid existence in reality.

The film “Crash” has demonstrated the futility of this labeling game by turning its main characters from bad guys to good guys and vice versa as the story progresses, shattering our normal thinking patterns and assumptions.

So what must be done? We need to find the most effective antidotes to the poisons of greed, hatred and delusion. We cannot run away from these three things and find shelter in a make believe world built out of our own concepts, generalizations and institutions. Neither the International Criminal Court nor the Free and Independent Nation State can provide any refuge from the three poisons. Afflicted by these three poisons we are all taking different sides and positions based on our likes and dislikes ignoring the fact that there are common enemies of mankind lurking within the shadows ready to pounce at the first opportunity. Identifying and isolating this common collective enemy is vital to our progress as human beings. Pitched battles over war crimes are being fought by those with narrow agendas like narrow nationalism, narrow religion, narrow human rights and narrow justice. They are all equally unable to make sense of and include the views of ‘others’. Although the military battles between the Government and LTTE are over their name calling and hateful emotions keep the war alive.

One extreme form of justice – justice for the victoris sought to be ‘countered’ by another extreme form – justice for the victim. Neither by itself can satisfy the larger demands of truth and peace. Nor can we reject either of them as they are both deeply felt emotions. What is false is the belief that they are incompatible demands; and that they cannot co-exist; that we as Sri Lankans cannot integrate the moral imperatives of both within a national framework of justice and reconciliation.

We have to examine our own history. And if we are to be at peace with ourselves we must do this of our own free will. Deeply felt emotions of any one of us cannot be neglected and orphaned. The basic rule of the Age of Emotions is this: unless we respect emotions, unless we stop cultivating negative and destructive emotions – emotions will not respect us. In fact they will destroy us.