Me Too

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This post was written in early 2018, just after the Oscars, before India viralized her own MeToo movement. This post is also not about sexual harassment, victimization or witch hunts. It is not about the powerful and the disempowered. It is about truth and falsity that we own at the same time. It has sat in my drafts folder these many months since I was not sure it made sense to take readers on a roller coaster ride that brings you back where you started and charge ten bucks for it. I am publishing it now in the hope that it will be lost in the hysteria of the present moment, never to be read and never to be reflected upon. Faith like flowing water, not a raging fire.

Now, on to the post from when You and I were somebody else.

The entertainment industry, especially Hollywood, has never been free of controversy, but neither have they ever failed to stand up for what they believed was right. The recent exposure of widespread abuse of authority by men across the world, across industries, especially the entertainment industry saw women come together in solidarity like never before. It opened up the discussion for gender disparity and misogyny in almost all areas of life. Frances McDormand summed it up in her simple and direct acceptance speech, made all the more visually powerful as she asked every woman nominated to stand up, and across the auditorium, it was just a handful. She stated her demand in two words - inclusion rider.

An Inclusion Rider seems like a perfect solution, that too to a lot of problems. Many of these problems have been my problems, as I am sure at least some if not many have been yours. It is not a nowadays problem, but one that needs a solution as enduring, as hijackproof and as timeproof as the problem itself. The paradigm has to shift from our being able to survive and rejoice together in spite of our differences to being able to survive and rejoice because of our differences. Not an easy task when you take, lets say an extroverted Amish and a Jihadi cyberwarrior.

The inclusion rider and the me too movement were preceded by the March on Washington which then became the women's march all over the nation

In my upbringing, I was encouraged to question but taught to respect status quo. My Brahmo father and Hindu mother never tried to coerce or corrupt my militant atheism. It was their way of teaching me to be accepting of differences. But indirectly, it also taught me submission and self denial. This has been true of the last many generations, and there has, historically, been nothing really worrying about it till recently. That too would not have been anything more than a blip on the radar had it not been for the technology that allowed the world to be united, that promised a cyber democracy that would rid us of all ills. For the longest time, I looked down upon "self will run riot" as a problem rather than a solution - within me and without. Gangsta rap might have a place in the scheme of things, but I could not be bothered to figure it out - that was about the farthest I allowed myself to be selfish. 

My coming out was in my mid teens. Repeated attempts at getting a grip on a life hijacked by opiate use had finally thrown my into the waiting arms of twelve step self help groups, and while they used the term "a power greater than ourselves" to refer to a divine power, they followed it up with "God as we understood him." It is the most successful approach to recovery, and millions have reclaimed their lives by assiduously living this simplified form of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. For me at that time, unable to come to terms with or find a way out of my brokenness, anything that offered hope was a viable option. I was ready to bend my atheism every way needed to fit the concept of a wish-granting, prayer-listening, sometimes-punishing power greater than myself in order to get my life back. It seemed to me a very minor trade-off in the face of the helplessness that addicts and alcoholics know only too well.  

As I found firmer ground and as time passed, I was confronted by the dissonance I had bought into, and while I benefited (and continue to benefit) greatly from my communion with the fellowship of recovering people, I was at odds with myself. I learned slowly to steer clear of both theists and atheists, believers and skeptics, loyalists and conspiracy theorists, and retain value from the experience of others in the light of my own understanding. I was 18 or 19 when I was faced with the agony of the admission that I had no clue about the god of my understanding with or without a capital G.

I have never actively sought out the fellowship of agnostics or dwelt deeply on the matter, though reading the existentialists, as well as Russell and Krishnamurthy did influence me a lot. What I did experience, however, was a sense of embarrassment, isolation, and doubt that verged on traumatic, toxic shame. As a young adult led to believe that he was dealing with family of origin issues in addition to his impaired inner reward mechanism, this was the straw that one had to be grateful for - the one that needed to be clutched at while it broke your back. The subsequent years that I spent training in the field of psychotherapy only worsened my dilemmas. The years of the rise of the Hindu right and the prospects of a Hindu nation are best left unmentioned.

When Harvey Weinstein burst on the scene late 2017, I was reminded of my inner conflicts with regard to sexual politics just as strongly as my feelings of shame about my agnosticism. As the MeToo hashtag trended, it resonated uniquely with me. I remembered the millions of times that I would see the devout submit in prayer publicly, and I would say, Me Too, just in case. I was certain that if there was a power greater than my self, it had to have a sense of humor. The history of human civilization could not have turned out the way it has if it/she/he didn't.

This post is not about standing up against sexual harassment. Sexual power politics has ruled mankind (personkind in these politically ridiculous times) for centuries, and just like the Mandal commission and the backward classes, mainstream feminism and even the LGBT rights movement has achieved little in the dismantling of this sodomic edifice. This post is about how individuality is trampled upon by society if it fails to see the seed of conformity in nonconformism. You are allowed to be different as long as you acknowledge your deviance. This is done in subtle ways and it is "what predators do, and it must stop."

India is a fascinating country, and perhaps the best petri dish to test the ultimate efficacy of a MeToo kind of movement. Feudal since Adam, patriarchal since Eve, and groomed in hypocrisy by its colonial masters, Indian society embraces harassment and intolerance with what can be best called Hindu detachment. The very tag of eastern mysticism is an endorsement of this hypocrisy as it labels all thought outside the normative as not based on reason, not scientific, not true philosophy, but a mystic one. The rig veda, the foundation of agnostic and stoic thought in the eastern traditions, has historically been described by scholars (I typed western before scholars and then deleted it) as insights derived through vision and yogic communion, not reason.

Just like the fellowship of recovering people, the fellowship of trauma survivors, and the fellowship of sexual harassment victims, there is a fellowship of atheists and agnostics. None of these fellowships are taken lightly, twelve step groups report success rates several times that of all approaches put together and this is validated by the WHO, it is close to 40 years since PTSD entered DSM-III, the #MeToo hashtag has trended almost in every nation of our world, and Kierkegaard and Dawkins would still be able to agree on a few things. Why has this not-to-be-taken-lightly force, one that has had global leadership and mass support not been able to make a difference?

Only the rabidest of optimists will claim that the coming years will see an end of discrimination. The social system itself is built on a balance between cooperators and dissidents, with a clear code of conduct as far as tolerance of each other is concerned. This status quo is linked to survival - of our self image, of our many identities and roles, of social stability, of industry, trade, commerce and fiscal systems. This status quo has survived the Industrial revolution, the French revolution, the crash of 1929, the depression of the 30s, the 2008 bust, and the Occupy movement. It has survived the reformation, the holocaust, the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the Arab Spring and Barrack Obama.  It has survived Simone De Beauvoir, post-structuralist definitions of sexuality and gender perspectives, and the social media fourth wave. The reason that all of these have translated to little change in ground realities is the same reason that India has a dalit President. The subaltern is acknowledged only to deny and dismiss its relevance - that of the need for change at the core, change of our belief system, our philosophical DNA. Bladerunner is a thing.

I was introduced to microtonal polychromatic music by the work of Glass and Stockhausen, but was persuaded to understand it by a friend's son about 10 years back. If you are not familiar with the concept, let me just say that it challenges musical convention that has stood the test of time for five centuries. I have not only been open to it as a genre and possibly the next step in the evolution of music, but have been frankly appreciative of the work being done in the area. I have actually experienced body-mind resonance that goes beyond the conventional seven and twelve paradigms that underlie almost all accepted scientific-philosophical constructs as I allowed microtonal polychromaticism into my belief system. It is the most unsettling of experiences, one that leaves you on the perpetual verge of a nervous breakdown. This perpetual verge is the same that is experienced by rape survivors, abuse victims, relapse-prone recovering people, and stock market speculators. This perpetual verge is what keeps the system intact, the razor edge intact. All edges dull with time, whether it be the horrors of patriarchy, the insecurity of the abused, or the familiarity of the heptatonic.

What then is a possible solution that allows this pain to subside, that allows humanity to experience healing and justice, that allows us to bequeath a safe and fair world to our children? I've been crossing midlife since I was in my teens and have battled a few demons, within and without. The one lesson I have learned is that the first steps are almost always the most difficult to take.

For discrimination to end, we have to first know where we are as a people, as individuals. Buddhism and Gestalt are examples of how we can acknowledge the multiplicity within our sense of a single cohesive self. By doing this, we will be able to see what we need to police or discipline or starve within our selves. We act out what we believe, and we learn from what we see. If each of us can make that effort to abstain from subscribing to the ideas that have brought us where we are today - discrimination, intolerance, harassment, guns, drugs, over-consumption, depression - we will have made a beginning.

We do not need a government policy or a Zuckerberg-Gates coalition to fund it. We have all that we need. Acknowledging this will help us take that first step, to change our lives, not preaching, not looking down upon, not staying away from, but by actively and purposefully living in accordance with what is right.

A system that survives on the complicity between the sincere and the vain cannot be changed overnight. Anarchy is a possibility, but a terrible one. SHTF and Doomsday are realities, but ones best kept at bay. We are people, people.I already see young people (teens and young adults) making choices that I would not have had the courage to make at their age - to choose to be colors not on the conventional palettes, to be at odds with what is acceptable.

Not all of it is safe or praiseworthy. A lot of it is dehumanizing at best, but the fact that there is a movement seriously and determinedly searching for alternatives is undeniable. And it is not the NGO-peacenik-antiestablishmentarianism kind of an idealism. It is a very pissed off generation on the horizon, as they realize the shitcan they have been left holding. As greater numbers choose to get off the grid, the coming generation will have viable lifestyles and worldviews to shape their own lives and beliefs on. Most of us will not be around to see what is at the end of the rainbow, but if we do not do our bit, there might not be an end of the rainbow.
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