Sanaa Elbehairy and Amar Shamel

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Gathering the Remains of Dusts

In a slow response to the pull of silence
the dusts of sound have settled down
to the abandoned life spread across the floor–
preserved in layers the creases of pains
painted in fragile smiles for the show,
spirals of despair deyed spry for the show.

Slowly the dusts of life have settled
on the photographs of dead people
and people memory has let go of,
those blurry visitors in grainy dreams
you have once or twice in a lifetime
gathered from a long forgotten past,
part of the mistakes you made in learning life.

But a bearded storm keeps coming with a broom
dragging along his cart of dusts and photographs
when the sun is low to the snow free of all dust.
After or before the dark? You never know.

Freedom: Introduction

Why I am interested in the talk on freedom
Freedom has consistently been a nagging topic the whole of my life. Most of what I have been doing which I value most have been either in the liminal realm where the line between the ethical and the unethical, and the legal and the illegal is unresolvably blurred or right beyond standard acceptability.

What is freedom to one is often not freedom to another. Worse, many acts of freedom by some are objectionable or harmful to others. We often fear the freedom of others because the freedom of others often poses a threat to us in many ways. Individuals and groups enter into relationships (be it interpersonal social relationships, individual-individual legal agreements, or community-community or international relations) not only because of love but also because of the mutual fear of their freedom so that they check on each other. It is the prevalent ethical norms and legal codes that decide on such matters, which means that it is mostly the majority that sets the standard, while majority and truth are different categories and may or may not overlap. Every prevalent set of norms and codes is a paradigm and history is replete with evidences of paradigm shifts. It is the powerful and the persistent that set the norms of every new paradigm and maintain them until a new set of stronger forces for a newer paradigm supplants it.

Biologically and psychologically humans sense and hence know what is pleasurable and life-enhancing and thus good to them, or painful, life-threatening and thus bad. However, when human individuals or groups use pleasure/pain against each other for their own individual or group satisfaction (such as the infliction of extreme pain to elicit forced consent or cooperation), judgment of actions based solely on pain/pleasure principle becomes too crudely inadequate.

So, what is it that prevails? Truth? Or might? Or the fittest? We need to look closer into these.

Every new force that supplants an older paradigm originates in a previously unseen, apparently insignificant or minority  space, and they persistently push through all the way up from the bottom to the top where the supplantation takes place. It matters how we look at new forces and new practices and manners propelled by new forces.

What kicked up the freedom dust these days

Recently the whole nation exhibited mixed feelings–most were confused–when some sloganeered on a supposedly controversial note at a students’ cultural program in the JNU, kicking up the controversial dust of sedition and freedom of speech.

The other day, in response to a picture a friend shared on a WhatsApp group with members from a diverse range of religious, cultural and political backgrounds, I posted a few lines which literary theorists may define as absurdist (though I am not an absurdist, nor an existentialist beyond a short extent). I wrote:

God was a squirrel. Some mad dog chased it, ran after it up the tree, squeezed its head to reddish jelly and ate it.

Who the hell knows about god more than the crazy god-eater dog? ABVP? BJP? Confused comrades?

God is useful to a dog.
The flesh is good meat.
The blood is dog-toilet cleaner.
God’s skin is dog-winter fur that can be mothballed in summer.
Part of the skin can go as toilet paper.
ISIS and their other-religion counterparts are dealer in such commodities. Business firms.
We doing theories written by or born of them.

Praise who the fucking god there is/was, eaten or alive.

That elicited sharply opposing responses from some members. Some said people can say what they feel like saying–freedom of speech–though they might not necessarily share my view. One said freedom should be practiced with some principle. I don’t know if he erroneously jumped to the conclusion that I am a practitioner of freedom without any principle. (It’s all principles that we disagree about. Nothing else.) The rest remained silent. The group being not a space for discussions of such kind, I avoided talking about the point–I just said some things just to show that I have a point to make if anybody argued.

The discussion ended there. That was not a discussion in the true sense of the term because the point made in whatever followed what I quoted above was about whether it is right or wrong to say such things, not about the merit of the matter.

It all happened while the JNU nationalist/anti-national issue was still burning, and we were yet to get back to our studies.

The next night a friend in the group raised the question of freedom again in a private conversation–over tea and then dinner, and then a short walk. I have always been wary of discussion starters when people may not have the patience or time to go into the matter to a meaningful extent, because moral/ethical or legal basics are never the topics of easy, short and casual chitchats. With all my high regard for the friend, I believe (while I may well be wrong in this belief) that he has a short attention span for many issues I like and I have tried talking with him about, and I suspected his interest in a talk about freedom, though I know this issue is troubling him, would not last long into that night, probably for that night. Despite that I took up the topic when he asked,

What do you think about freedom of speech? Should people have complete freedom?

I do nearly never have a YES/NO answer to anything, if I believe the questioner is confused about it and they want to know what I believe. My not having a simple YES/NO or a short answer is at least a sizeable honor I give them. I do not give my time to anybody randomly by way of talking. I talk with people who I know have at least some stretch of interest in similar fields, irrespective of their belief or opinion. Yes, I know only a few people in the world–I don’t know the rest of the world. My reply covered both ends of the argument, as I usually do, rendering it self-contradictory sounding:

People should have complete freedom, but they should chain themselves in.

He said I was confused. I was not. I am not. Not that I have an all-satisfactory answer to this issue. There are a lot in that statement.

Why I will write about freedom
The discussion that night was not fruitful. So, I will not reproduce it here. However, this and what happened on the WhatsApp group chat have made me feel like writing about this on a serious note. This post is an introduction to what will come in the next series of posts.

Freedom matters to me a lot, personally. Entrenched beliefs make society possible–they enable the disparate elements of society to operate cohesively. The set of entrenched beliefs functions as the system and when anybody, for whatever reason, falls off the system, they become an anomaly. Is being an anomaly necessarily bad? How do you determine something is good or bad? What are your moral standards? What do you derive your morality from? All cultures in the world have their own sets of entrenched beliefs, and what is right and honorable in one culture may wrong or immoral, or immaterial or even meaningless in another. The laws of one country are different from those of any other. This seems to suggest that anomalies should have a rightful place in the moral and legal world, with much hairsplitting negotiation for some.

A society every single one of whose members abides by the rule one hundred percent would know no growth. For a society to grow, legally and ethically, there should be elements in it that challenge and push the established ethical and legal boundaries. The ideas of freedom, equality and democracy were born of such boundary pushing. There can be freedom yet to be there which we cannot even think of or we find objectionable at the moment. The moral and legal practices we regard as wholesome today would have been downright objectionable if some individuals practiced them one hundred years ago. For a society to undergo change, for the better or worse, (a society cannot remain stagnant), there should necessarily be some anarchist elements in it.