As the mercury rises, so will our tempers and irritability. It will most likely find an outlet in the social media. As we furiously type, post, like, tweet and retweet, unmindful of the fact that we add to the public discourse, we decide the path our society will tread. The advent of the internet has enhanced the scope for people to share their thoughts with the world instantly and our generation has an opportunity to deepen democracy and dialogue.
However, many of us use social media to vent our frustrations about the ‘system’ and the poor state of politics in the country and the world, not realizing that we are very much a part of the ‘system’ we despise. Most of us rue that our political leaders are a bane on our society forgetting that the leaders haven’t descended from the heavens and are elected from amongst us. At a macro level, they are representative of the political meekness we are inoculated from a very young age.
Much of our enculturation, from schooling to popular media, discourages talking about politics as it is deemed too sensitive and controversial. And yet we expect better leaders to lead our country and society. We project our collective failures onto the politico-administrative system, lambasting them for corruption. What we fail to recognize is that corruption goes beyond the mere bribes we witness in our daily lives. Corruption is the result of imbalances in power and the subversion of our democratic goals.
As educated people, we seldom indulge in meaningful dialogue and mull over how we can get our governments to perform better. Rather than disdaining politics as the fount of all vice, we must introspect about what our contribution has been. By partaking in rational public debate, we enhance the quality of political discourse. After all demagogues need an audience, to whose baser instincts they can pander to. They feed off our prejudices and ignorance.
Since we have been dumbed down intellectually, by popular culture, and even by our education system, social media has become a potent weapon in the hands of hate mongers. Everyday our phones are bombarded by forwards claiming to enlighten us with ‘real history’ that is not in our text books or about some incident that the media ‘refuses’ to report on. Our curriculum at schools and colleges is largely designed to ensure a seat in an ‘A’ listed professional college, and seldom endeavours to inculcate critical thinking & an inquisitive mind. As a result, we have an entire generation consuming spurious history lessons from forwarded messages. One may recall that this year, on February 14th an Education Officer in the Solapur Zilla Parishad, had issued a circular to schools at the Block level ordering them to pay tributes to Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru as they were martyred on that day—the officer clearly was a victim of the misinformation being spread online!
As easy as it is to spread misinformation, it is equally easy to verify facts from reliable sources. Sadly, few of us bother to read and ascertain the veracity of any such messages we encounter online. We however are quick to forward them and form opinions based on such misinformation being spread by mischievous cretins. People who attempt to think rationally and debate are often disparagingly called ‘intellectuals’, as though it were a swear word! Those conscious of history will recall with horror that anti-intellectualism is a symptom of a radicalized society that silences dissent and debate.
We should consciously resist such posts and call them out, if we want to do our bit to improve dialogue in society. Public discourse, of which we are all a part, is the breeding ground for good (or bad) politics. Rather than falling prey to propaganda, if we all question our leaders, we will be strengthening our country and raising the quality of debate. We need to talk about issues at all levels—global, national and local. We must ponder over pragmatic solutions to these issues rather than brush them off as insipid political banter. We must debate about the protesting farmers from Tamil Nadu, the promise of Special Category Status for Andhra Pradesh, the objective and achievements of demonetization…issues galore at all levels!
Whatever our stand on such issues, we must debate them rationally and objectively, rather than trolling & abusing each other online. When we obfuscate debate, the political leaders get away easily and discard responsibility. We must be mindful of our fundamental duties as an Indian citizen, one of which is “to develop scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. That is the bedrock of a progressive, strong and enlightened society.