Leo Tolstoy in his novel Anna Karenina writes, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It took me years to realise that this statement is partially right and that our society has become the epicentre of despair and sadness.
First, people aren’t sad in their peculiar way. Each human being isn’t that individualised in his/her essence as portrayed by Tolstoy. Our sorrows, just like our happiness, are connected with others around us. From a bird’s-eye view, all people fall into certain categories of misery. This very fact negates Tolstoy’s view. However, the way we experience those sorrows, or perceive that sadness, differs from person to person. No two people perceive it alike. Our good old Russian novelist is right in that regard.
Next thing to ask is why is there so much despair in our society? Being a student of social sciences, it is my firm belief that, as Ghalib has beautifully put it this restlessness isn’t without reason (be-khudi besabab nahin Ghalib). There must be some causes which have resulted in such general attitude and on such a huge scale.
Economic reason: We live in a capitalist society which is divided into classes. The masses, the lower-class live in poverty and misery, and there is an upper-class formed by bourgeoisie or rich minority. It is then not hard to reckon that when masses have scarce resources (read: money) they can’t simply meet their basic needs. And when these aren’t fulfilled, its natural repercussion is despair.
Cultural reason: We live in a patriarchal society, where man is the master of everything. However, as we are in transitionary phase from being a feudal society to a capitalist one, and as the urban areas are growing; more women are being a part of the workforce. This is fast changing the relationship between men and women.
Man is losing his rule over woman and he can’t easily digest it. However, this change hasn’t quite revolutionised the situation, woman doesn’t seem to have accepted this so-called freedom, she herself is in awe over this new form of her relationship with man. The result is an ‘inexplicable’ despair.
Secondly, there is a clash between religiosity and Westernisation. Particularly, the youth is hanging between being religious and being an aspirant for Western values. Religious obligations are a necessity, Western culture an aspiration. And on top of that, today’s youth don’t seem to be leaving either or accepting fully the other.
Technological reason: There is an abundance of unnecessary and unwanted material available on social sites, which we may not like. Avoiding them becomes inevitable sometimes as you scroll down your mobile or computer screens. You have an influx of magnanimous amount of opinions of people whose lives you are hardly interested in. It isn’t difficult to imagine the effect on mood and mind.
On the other hand, apps like WhatsApp have made it really easy to stay connected round the clock. Although there is nothing wrong with that, but in doing that we are creating a virtual reality, an imaginative world.
Psychological reason: Ever-growing consumerism, commercialisation and the ultra-individualisation of people, have made people unsatisfied. Moreover, advancement in the fields of psychoanalysis and psychology has also had a negative effect on the intellectual and educated class. Although due to their knowledge and easy access to literature they know much about human psychology, which objectively is a good quality, it doubles the despair because they understands their own misery. Their situation is analogous to a mute person’s nightmare. He can’t articulate it but only cries having understood the dream.
Hence, the solution lies in changing the socioeconomic and socio-political structure of society.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2017.
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