Hedonism, Expedition to the Moon, Protagoras, and the Horns of Dilemma
By Rana Sarkar
Arun Kr. Chackraborty of Uttarpara was a renowned playwriter of his own time. One of his plays that became immensely popular was Damstrong Mullofoskas Chondravijaan (দামস্ট্রং মুল্যফস্কাস চন্দ্রাভিযান). One might think: what does this bizarre sort of name denote? It means that by the lunar expedition, mankind would not excel any steps further. Instead, the soaring price of everyday commodities to meet up the expenses of the expedition, should be checked. Otherwise, the mankind will suffer the most. In a nutshell, the progress of mankind cannot be made in exchange for the sufferings of the same mankind. It was a protest piece written after Neil Armstrong became the first human to land on the moon.
We have witnessed that a new kind of white-collar crime is biting its stings into our economy and making it impossible for the citizens to keep faith in government and banks. Unscrupulous businessmen have started looting the banks and its reserve through fraudulent activities. As a result, either those banks cease to operate or get merged with other banks and lose their identity. The common people, as a result, lose their lifetime savings. Is the government not responsible for bringing justice to them? So far, the central government has failed to extradite any of those criminals. They have only been able to seize a small amount of their immovable and movable properties which forms a minuscule percentage of the loot. There is a sloka of Charvaka: “যাবৎ জীবেৎ সুখং জীবেৎ, ঋণং কৃত্বা ঘৃতং পিবেৎ|” It means that one cannot remain ever happy and eat good food by taking a loan from others and not returning it. That is, living your own life by others’ expenses, is immoral. And the people who are supporting them are also criminals in the eyes of law. This kind of malpractice not only encourages new generations to commit the same activities but discourages many other needy and genuine persons from getting loans. Moreover, the losses incurred by the bank weakens our economy.
One may not consider the soaring price of the everyday commodity without thinking about the lunar expedition, the failure of that project, and its expenses. The government siphons off the money from ordinary people in the name of tax to subscribe to the lunar project and simultaneously throttles them by the price rise. In economics, we know about two kinds of inflation: Cost-push and demand-pull. But this is another type of inflation that is ‘Government-made’. According to Keynes and his model, the government expenditure will generate an income vis-à-vis generate savings and that savings again could be pushed into the market, thus increasing the purchasing power of common people and job opportunities. In Three Comrades, Erich Maria Remarque explained how Germans turned around after their devastating defeat in the Second World War. They did not only produce more goods but also created more job opportunities to boost the financial condition of common people.
Instead of creating new projects in the PPP model or through new co-operatives, the Indian government has started selling profit-making govt. organizations or private limited firms. Is this the Greek tragedy of Oedipus that has been executed in India? Oedipus accidentally fulfilled a prophecy that he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother, thereby bringing disaster to his city and family. What is executed in India at present is a similar tragic plan that threatens the democracy and financial stability of India. And most of the citizens have become mute spectators. This is not the time to wait for Godot.
Those who knew Zen realized that it is an intellectual quicksand – anarchy, darkness, meaninglessness, chaos. It is tantalizing and infuriating, too. Zen koans are a central part of Zen study. The monk Mumon (No gate) compiled 48 koans in the 13th century. One of koans goes like this:
If the buffalo runs, he will fall into the trench;
If he returns, he will be butchered.
The little tail
Is a very strange thing.
This poem of Mumons reminds me of the Greek Philosopher, Protagoras, and the horn of the dilemma. The main subject of his philosophical studies was not nature but human beings. He wrote an essay titled “The Art of Debate”. He was himself a master of debate, traveling around Greece and organizing debates that drew large audiences. In the words of ancient Greek author Diogenes, “He was the father of the whole tribe of eristic disputants now so much in evidence.”
Protagoras was the first to use the ‘Socratic mode of discussion’, by asking basic questions and demonstrating the errors in answers. This was also done later by Aristotle in his ‘Topics’. Protagoras’ essay “Disquisitio de Protagorae irta et Philosophia” was dedicated to a well-known sophism concerning the debate between Protagoras and his pupil Euathlus. It was written that there was a financial contract signed by them to teach a certain subject. Half of the fees had to be given before the commencement of teaching and the rest will be given after completion when his pupil, Euathlus, will win a case in court. Protagoras completed the course in due time. But Euathlus had neither joined the court nor given the money. So, Protagoras initiated a case against his pupil and decided to sue Euathlus for the amount owed. Protagoras argued that if he won the case, he would be paid his money. If Euathlus won the case, Protagoras would still be paid according to the original contract since Euathlus would have won his first case. Euathlus, however, claimed that if he won, then by the court’s decision he would not have to pay Protagoras. If, on the other hand, Protagoras won, then Euathlus would still not have won a case and would therefore not be obliged to pay. The question is then, which of the two men is in the right? It is famous as the ‘paradox of the court’.
In India, citizens may or may not dissent in the face of rising prices but they are the ones who suffer nevertheless. It, therefore, becomes important for the citizens to at least hold the government accountable, to protect their right to speech and dissent. Again, let me come to Damstrong Mullofoskas Chondravijaan to tell people about the power of literature and arts; about the power of poem, drama, song, dance, story, novel, cinema, etc. to enrich the conscience and express our thoughts through creative medium.
Getmanova, Alexandra. Logic. Progress Publishers, 1989.
Hofstadter, Douglas R. GEB. Basic Books, 1999.
Rana Sarkar is a poet and translator based in West Bengal, India.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.