The individual in our world remains blessed with what modernity has offered him. The gift of free thought, free information and free choice has empowered us to shape our lives. But the question looms large – what kind of life is the individual shaping for themselves in the current world?
The production of material goods and services is ever increasing in the modern world. This is largely due to the evolution of industrial production, thanks to research and development by individuals and governments. Our existence has become tied to these goods and services which are supposedly produced to make our lives easy. Yes, we should acknowledge that the services of modern society have made our lives easier – but not better. This aspiration for the ‘good life’ has come at a cost.
The quest for pleasure in our world remains tied to money and how we can use that to replenish our unlimited needs and wants, created by corporate machines and perpetuated by the colourful posters and advertisements that we may see on the streets, in newspapers or sometimes on our televisions. With each new product supposedly promising to deliver an additional function to satisfy our need for a better life, our hunger for acquiring the capacity to purchase the same, markedly increases. This co-relation is pervasive as even the richest 1% are enslaved to the desire for acquiring more and more.
The 1%, much like the 99%, is negatively intertwined in the modern economy. The degree of entanglement may vary but it makes both groups less humane, leaving them with little empathy and desire to help one another.
The contemporary economy is driving people apart from one another. It is undeniable that this mode of social production has resulted in unequal regional development. The urban-rural divide domestically and the centre-periphery divide internationally is a reality. This truth has been the reason why loved ones have to be separated either because they cannot afford to sustain themselves together in the developed regions or because their workplaces are situated in different regions.
Daughters and sons are sent away by their parents for higher education to the ‘top’ universities that are miles away. Sometimes, students themselves aspire to move out of their villages and towns to travel either to a different city in their country or abroad with the understanding that these ‘top’ universities will ensure employability and a secure future, free of financial insecurities.
Even the job they choose to engage in is mostly in these developed urban centres, either due to high pay or unavailability of jobs back home. The excessive pressure imposed in the workplace, combined with the need for individual spaces of recreation, ends up resulting in disruption of these (long distance) social relations.
Even if we have been embraced by the age of Facebook, WhatsApp and video calls, people who are away from their loved ones understand how virtual interaction cannot replace the intimacy and care offered by physical interaction. Some don’t even have the avenue for virtual interaction.
If we take a look at India, the poor agrarian condition has pushed a lot of farmers to move to the urban centres to find alternative sources of livelihood. Some become rickshaw-pullers, some join factories as unskilled labourers. This stratum of the population neither has the capital nor the technical know-how to make such virtual interaction with their family and loved ones back home. The only relation that gets established in such a scenario is that of money, where one periodically sends a portion of their income so that their family can sustain themselves. One cannot assume affection becomes completely absent in this case. However, the relationship becomes more of an obligation when a person finds it hard enough to sustain themselves in the city.
The city life also adds aspirations to their hearts and minds which are difficult for them to fulfil. These contradictions make them question whether they did the right thing by leaving behind their family. Some may even think that they may have led better lives without having to sustain and support a wife, a daughter, or a son back home.
The dispersal of the family is not only seen because of distance. Statistics are a proof of how the rates of divorces are higher in developed societies. Even children in these societies rarely get to interact with their parents due to the increasing time demanded by labour that they are involved in. Today, even the developing economies of the world, who have embraced neoliberalism much like the western countries, are facing a shrinkage in young people who are part of the working population, as both men and women are busy having a ‘stable’ economic life. We can see how China, because of this reason, recently lifted its ‘one-child’ policy.
The rising individualism has not kept the social relationships of the 1% unaffected. From whatever biographical details we have of our bourgeoisie, the classic examples would be of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and the Ambani brothers. The rift between the Ambani brothers, the dispute between Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg and the deteriorating relationship between Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan (Jobs’ partner) in the early days are classic examples of how individualism can be destructive to healthy relationships.
The failure of 20th Century socialism is that it never could inculcate the humane values which come with seizing the means of production. Had the Bolsheviks of Russia been successful in doing the same, then the people would have successfully embraced the global fight against capitalism and its evils. But with the fall of USSR in 1991, one will now only remember the 1917 revolution as a mere reaction for respite from the evils of the Tsarist regime.
Professor Prabhat Patnaik of JNU has said that unlike the Bolshevik revolution, he hopes future revolutions leave behind a more enduring legacy. The socialist movement in the 21st century should move beyond the trio of socio-politico-economy and dwell into the dimension of the individual. The non-control of the means of production is not the only shackle for the working class. Capitalism has enslaved the human soul and the same is addicted to its core principle – individualism. The interesting fact is that the both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat unite at this point as both have to face this common problem.
Nothing can be better than a non-violent course to socialism where both the oppressor and the oppressed do not fight and have realised that there is a better life both can lead in an alternative society. Perhaps, if this course is taken, the next time we move towards socialism, the movement won’t be tainted by ‘Stalinism’ and would allow a peaceful dialogue between the classes.