Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Rhetoric of Condescension

I always thought formal occasions were something of a gimmick, a spectacle, a satire on our social sensibilities. They bring out dilemmas on what to say, how to conduct oneself and what to wear, the basic objective being, to make you reflect on what is acceptable and what is not.

We never really grow up.
We only learn how to act in public.

This dictum might simplify the dilemmas arising from the questions - what to say and how to conduct oneself. You concern yourself with polite and courteous behaviour, expressing joy in seeing people you didn't care about, feigning interest in their activities that didn't matter to you twopence, and above all, assuring yourself to the point of eliminating all self-doubt that you've had a bloody good time.

What to wear is a much more complex dilemma. Do you conform to the social norms of respectable occasions, made more momentous by being attired a certain way? Or do you follow some, break some and arrive at a customised attire, that reflects, more closely, your personality?

More than what you say and what you wear, what is said and sometimes left unsaid, are observations more interesting.  We might all be seekers of knowledge, but there is something about those who especially address students at formal occasions, that I find deeply troublesome. Because they see the past better than it was and the present worse than it is, it becomes easy for them, or rather comes to them very naturally, to criticise today and all that it stands for and has come to represent. They, of the yesteryears, come from an era where such things as goodness, morality, decency, discipline, excellence, ethics and other such superhuman traits were commonplace. For us, of the damned Kalyug, these characteristics are dead skeletons albeit of a glorified past, revered of course, but meaningless and incomprehensible. We are hopeless, we are doomed. And, they know it. Yet, they take it upon themselves to restore us, knowing undoubtedly that it is a pointless pursuit. They try to reason with us, appeal to our diminishing sense of fraternity, of service and goodness and remind us of our duties. While they lecture us, we must repent and restore ourselves. Or else. 

Often these rhetorics are scripted in flowery language, loaded words put together in a haphazard fashion, the sense and sensibility, in serious doubt. The delivery of such speeches, gives to the speaker, the sad illusion of having conveyed a profound point, which the others are incapable of ever conceiving and therefore, of having made a lasting impression on the minds of the scores of muted, awed listeners, the spectators.

But aren't we doomed already? What is it about a formal occasion that makes possible such meaningless message-making? 

Why, if the present, the younger generation is so doomed, is it burdened with the magnanimous task of changing the world, of taking it forward to a more stable state?

What makes it possible for elders to lecture the young to be more humane, when they may be even less so?

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