Myths, beliefs & history

  • We all like to believe that what we believe is right. Most of us also imagine that our beliefs are founded on reason, even as that reasoning flows from inherited as well as nurtured values. But are all those values based on evidence? Or is a part of our values system structured on myth?
  • Philosophers deal with such issues better than the rest of us can given constraints of time, space, and varying levels of comprehension. But, in today’s global state of confusing uncertainty over what is true and what is fake, it may be important for each one of us to try to understand how values-based reasoning shapes our minds to arrive at social, economic and political positions that lead us to agree or disagree with one another. Values matter. But which value we support or oppose might depend on our ability to subject all values to questioning.
  • Extremists at the far ends of the political spectrum don’t or are unable to do that. Doubt is not a value they cherish. For instance, those who believe that an entity called the ‘white race’ is both superior to and endangered by coloured races are highly unlikely to ask whether the myth of race based on skin shade has ever been a proven fact. Or, take extreme nationalists worldwide. Not for them to examine the all-too-recent history of the nation-state or the personification of ‘nation’ as motherland and fatherland for geographically delineated clusters of people.
  • If you are a hard-core believer, doubt is your enemy. That’s an axiom shared by racists, cultural crusaders, extreme nationalists and religious fanatics of every kind. It’s why few believers dare to go outside their chosen bubble of reading or imbibing information from books and the regular or social media. Fantasy sustains their beliefs, even when they read fantasy.
  • Words can reinforce belief through fear and rage. And words glorifying myths mark educational patterns in places where racists, bigots, fundamentalists and other fanatics dominate. That may be one reason why authoritarians always target a country’s educational software, like history and science textbooks, as they rise to power. Words of history as grandiloquent mythology and the delegitimisation of scientific inquiry are weapons aimed at minds.
  • The nation-state of India at its creation as a constitutional democratic republic in 1950 was a unique experiment in history. The framers of the Constitution through much debate settled on an idea of a canopy nation in which hundreds of millions of people coming from enormously different ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds would live together under one flag fluttering in a breeze of tolerance and diversity. No such nation of this size and diversity, to say nothing of extreme poverty and illiteracy, had been attempted before within a democratic framework.
  • The idea took root and on the whole succeeded beyond expectation. But not without challenge. Today the challengers are in power. They swear by a historically unsustainable concept of a ‘Hindu’ nation existing for millennia. The believers don’t ask whether any inhabitant of the land in that ancient millennium, or at any time until at best two or three hundred years ago, would answer to a singularly defined ‘Hindu’ religion. Instead, their intellectuals create myths they call history.

(Some of the sentences of the above articles may be directly used in the answers of Ethics Paper)


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