Friday, September 21, 2007

The collective awakening.

First, there is a prevalent belief or idea that permeates the whole society. It lasts for years, decades or centuries. Then, something happens. Somewhere, some anonymous person questions this belief. The first spark is lit. The contrarian view catches on slowly. Spreads steadily. When a critical mass is reached, a social awakening happens. Collective consciousness emerges. Change takes place.

I am not talking about scientific ideas that changed when new evidence was found. I am talking about social customs, beliefs and taboos.

Take slavery. It was practiced universally, for several centuries. The Greeks, the Romans, later the other European powers in the Middle Ages and well into the nineteenth century, all indulged in slave trade. Slavery was regarded as normal, necessary and was something that was taken for granted. Somewhere around the year 1800, some people sensed it was wrong; they started making some noise about abolishing this practice. It was a ‘grass roots’ movement. Public opinion in Britain was slowly built. Perceptions gradually changed. Political pressure was mounted. Anti-slavery sentiment was firmly embedded in the national consciousness. An Act was passed in 1807, abolishing slavery in the UK. It took another 50 years and a Civil war to get the same thing done in the USA.

Judging by the values of today, it is incomprehensible how the reprehensible practice was accepted without question for so many centuries even by deep thinkers and philosophers..

The issue of women exercising their franchise is even more bizarre. In the UK, women were not allowed to vote, though there was no law against it. This anomaly was corrected in 1832 and they were explicitly prevented from doing so, through the Reform Act of 1832. The campaign for women’s suffrage started around 1850, developed into a full-blown demand that was finally granted grudgingly in 1918 for women over 30 years and in 1928 for women over 21, on par with men. New Zealand was the first country to grant women the right to vote. This happened in 1893. Incredibly, it took another 50 years ( 1944) for France to grant their women the right to vote. This from a country which had the ideals of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” as early as the 17th century. Unbelievable, that 50% of the population was not allowed to vote and the practice was accepted as par for the course. Incidentally, some countries such as Saudi Arabia still do not allow their women to vote. (Not that they have too many elections. I read this about some local elections that took place in 2005)

There are many issues now that are slowly gathering momentum and picking up traction. For example, when did the consciousness or awareness of global warming happen? Has the tipping point been crossed?

Is there something that is embedded deeply now in our collective consciousness as normal, right-thing-to-do, which will, through a process of enlightenment in the future, convince us was a terrible mistake and will make us let out a collective gasp, wondering why we did not even realize that it was wrong all along?

7 comments:

Sundar Narayanan said...

very good observation!

politics and politicians have been a bad thing for this world.

maybe a collective consensus will emerge on this fact!?

:)

Raj said...

sundar, good point. maybe the realisation will happen that we don't need politicians. Womder why we put up with the breeed so long?

Sankar said...

It is popular and easy to criticise the politician.However, we must realise that they are a reflection of our own selves. Hold on, I am not a politician but I assume that if they don't exist, we also don't. However, I am digressing.Raj, great article (or should I say blog).

Raj said...

sankar, true. Maybe we will all collectively realise some day that it is wrong to criticise politicians/

dipali said...

Very thought provoking. I guess we are all so conditioned to accept what prevails in whichever society we are born into. Radical thinkers also emerge from the same society, and yet manage to question it. How, I wonder.

Raj said...

dipali, yes, they can look outside in, and see things differently,

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that while slavery existed almost everywhere in the world, it did not in India. Our people always think ahead of the times.