2021. The Year of Humanity’s Burn Out.

One of the defining experiences of the pandemic has been the constant anxiety grating at our conscience, not letting us recharge completely – the burnout. The overwhelmed medical fraternity experienced it. So did the migrant workers orphaned from the mai-baap sarkaar. The anxious and overworked security guard felt it. So did the digital worker straining his will along the extended hours of zoom calls. The overworked workers felt it who were saddled with extra workload of all the others who had been fired (sometimes opportunistically to improve short-term margins). So did the unemployed who were truly ‘full time’ occupied with the efforts, concerns, fears and preparations of getting a job/ making a living. Kids felt it who couldn’t go out to play nor could afford quality digital education. So did the women who lost their jobs, were saddled with double the household responsibilities than normal and had to run their uniquely dysfunctional homes even as the regular support systems evaporated.

2021 is truly the year of burn out.

A role to play

We must make sense of our lives. Without the anchor of ‘meaning’, we suffer an existential seasickness as we float uncertainly in the ocean of possibilities. The pandemic tsunami tore at the foundations of our indentity. Who are we if we are not working/ pubbing/ travelling/ minting money…?
Without someone else to tell me/ buy from me/ look at me/ yell at me, do I even matter?
stock market is up, billionaires are in space, acquaintances have been promoted… I MUST be doing something terribly wrong!?

Routines and habits

For many of us, as we retreated into our shells, we lost our rhythm. We realise that the rhythm is not set by us. It is set by the sun, by the weather, by the people around us, by our roles, by our surrounding. As we retreat from them all, we lose our rhythm. Day segues in night. Minutes into hours into weeks. The weight of all the things not-done weighs heavily on our conscience and makes it even harder to return to that rhythm of the previous principled life. Without rhythm, there’s no recuperation, no action, no meaningful progress. There’s just stasis, a hibernation without rest.

The blurred boundary

Public and private; as video calls seeped into our homes and soaked up all its grimy details.
Night and day; as we retreated from the natural world.
Digital and real; as we doomscrolled and revenge-shopped and daydreamed with an existential urgency.
Appropriate and inappropriate; as social mores had to be invented for a new reality of video calls.
Reality and unreality; as we lost our bearings about our place in the world, about our thesis of the world, about trust in our leaders.

Things we mistake/ conflate with freedom

Capitalism taught us HOW to desire, how to socialise, how to express one’s freedom.
Outdoors, SUVs, Drinking without abandon, Eating-out, parties, travelling obsessively, Drinking unhealthy colas, eating shitty burgers, Buying new clothes…. Are we free if we are not doing these things?
People tried to answer that question by buying things, experiences online. Only to discover that buying is a cheap, unsatisfying substitute to what those things actually were only a means to. We misunderstood symbols for the real things. We discovered that there are two kinds of people – one for whom the symbols are enough and that they live in that metaverse. And the other who realised the distinction.

The uncertainty

Cascading uncertainties. Climate change. inequality. fast pace of change with technology and pandemic fuelled new orientation of markets.
There is no certainty in the meta-narratives with these big changes happening around us.
There is no certainty in the micro-narratives of our own little bubbles. the changes are very visibly altering our lives.
The uncertainty, that until now lurked at the edge of our conscience, has taken a solid and heavy presence in our psyche. It is here to stay.

Fight for your tomorrow

A generation working against its own interest

It’s been 7 years since I entered the world of advertising. It’s been longer than that with the attempt to understand world and power – by reading Chomsky, Ambedkar, Amartya Sen and so on. As you can imagine (if you have read these people that is), there was a certain heaviness of heart with which I worked in my early years in advertising. How to reconcile with the utopia of a non-consumerist worldview where humanity is undivided and equal, with the reality of consumerist culture that not only perpetuates but glorifies inequality? Working in advertising meant perpetuating this reality, against  the utopia that I must work for. I am working against my interest!

And I see around and see so many people doing the same. They can’t articulate it, but they know it deep down. That unease, that momentary recklessness.. We all feel that discomfort but we can’t name it. Here’s you name for it – its the pain of severing ties with the world that nurtures you – your family, your community, your ecology. It’s the pain of severance for an imposed injunction to enjoy. We are working against our future to make our present a little more comfortable.

How did the ‘powers that be’ convinced us to live and work against our own interest?

We rationalise it in the interest of certainty of today’s livelihood. We rationalise it in the face of apparent overwhelming global consensus – ‘YOLO’, spend your way to happiness; “only today matters, for tomorrow may never come”. This philosophy  is convenient for the global capitalist power. Since this philosophy has no conception for tomorrow.

It is the commercialized version of ‘American dream’. It is ‘Id’s dream, imposed on the ‘superego’. It is an empty dream of excess. It is a childish dream of narcissistic joys, now! It has no conception of a realistic tomorrow – of where we are going and where we should be going. That is what the capitalist ‘system‘ (not particular people, but particular interests of power webs) wants us to believe. “Fuck the planet, fuck your family, fuck your community, fuck everyone else. enjoy NOW. for those empty pursuits fund our ego massages.”

The globalised world  creates a sense of an opportunity, an opportunity to escape from the mess one creates. Global mobility is your passport to the dream of remorseless enjoyment… of an eternal escape to ‘better places’ with impunity. Hence the profusion of travel pics on facebook. It creates a distance between one’s acts and its effect. Oops! I did it again. and i hope it will be taken care of by the time I come back. Or not. We have nostalgia in its place anyways. which is even better. it is like reality, but better.

How did I get here?

By not fighting against the flow. You just go with the flow – school, college, MBA, corporate ladder, increments, cars, loans etc. and if you have no clear conception of an alternative, you just go with the flow. The media and education system doesn’t exactly prepare us to ask the right questions, to work together in formulating and working towards a utopia. You just do what is seemingly working for others.

So what now?

Like every good plan, mine looks ahead with a sound (i hope) appreciation of reality of today; a realistic vision of utopia you want to work towards while earning honestly in service of the future. This blog and this one is an attempt to articulate that utopia, to plant / support that meme of the utopia we need. I plan to do more in ways of content and engagements in service of a tomorrow built with cognizance of reality seen from a compassionate perspective.

The second part is about survival today. I hope to do that by honestly helping businesses grow through my skills in strategic choice making, in the present tense. There is a time to fight the system and a time to work with the system. Earn within the system to fight the system, essentially.

Rebels without a cause

Saw ‘Tanu weds Manu returns’ yesterday.
Excellent movie after a long time. 🙂 (apart from one dimensional Manu and the Haryanvi family as prop.)

I – Restless = humans
It made me think about the trend of lead characters in bollywood movies – men/ women. (Raj in countless SRK films or Kangana in most of her films). They are all spontaneous, restless, rebels (often without a cause). They are also someone who people graciously put up with for the sake of movie’s plot.
This is in contrast to lead characters from earlier days. (80s – macho, 70s – angry against system, 60s – stoic silent, graceful). The grace is gone from modern world and modern cinema.

With rise of corporate careers and desk-bound audiences, the lead characters are increasingly ‘bubbly’ (females leads), ‘spunky’ (male lead) and are infantile and narcissistic. The more inconsequential and replaceable lives become (of white collar audience), the more spunky and bubbly the characters become in films.

The office goer audience has no real purpose, have no real challenges and benefit a lot from status-quo. That reflects in the content they consume – self help books, identity anxiety soaps, mindless comedies as blockbusters (to avoid critical analysis of their own lives), support to the powerful bhai (“We can be irresponsible and successful too.”) and so on.
These office going drones face tremendous existential angst as a result of their digital and desk bound existence.
And when such drones are ripe for pairing, they desire life through their mates. They want life partners who ‘do things’, who ‘are fun’, who ‘travel’, who are ‘foodies’ and so on.

The reason a drone (Manu) chooses a rebel without a cause (Tanu) in the movie, is to ensure that he is marrying a human being. It doesn’t matter that she has some serious psychological issues. Her incongruence to societal expectations prove that at least she is a human being, not a drone like him.

People get married in search of life.

II Rebel without a cause
It is essential that there be no cause. A cause will make things too real too quick. The audience of white collar drones ‘can’t handle the truth.’
All lead characters try to show the middle finger to their immediate environment, but they are always lacking in ambition.
Indians are so scared to identify the elephants in the room that there can be no revolutionary cinema in India. Existential angst is profitable and it doesn’t point fingers. The angst is impotent. Speaking of which…

III – Threat to Masculinity 
The film subverts masculinity in a way not seen in hindi movies before.  All male characters in the film are impotent. All they can do is – ‘manage’. (Manu is a loser who never acts or reacts. His sardar friend is literally impotent. Jimmy Shergill has no agency of his own – he flexes his muscles, but all he does is to obey Kangana. The advocate who falls for Kangana, tries to make a scene but is ineffectual.)
When the traditional actors in the theatre of society (patriarchy) stops answering to new realities, new actors (anarchy) will rise to shape the new society.
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Originally published at Rebels without a cause.