The Muse

The sheer variety of symbols and artefacts in use across the ages and geographies does not necessarily point to a multitude of assumptions and values from which they spring. The study of mythology and folklore then, is a reverse approach to anthropology. This blog is dedicated to my favourite symbols, tales and artefacts - both ancient and contemporary.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Karma with Karan

More in the dialogue form...

KPJ: What do you mean by duty? Who decides duty?

my humble opinion: No such thing as duty...

Survival requires us to do a lot of things, all of which affect us, our friends and family, our foes and our environment.There's simply one compulsion to do these things - either do them or die. Die now, or die later, or ...

Social functioning in humans, like in wolves and dolphins and other primates, is defined by a learnt code of conduct (COC). The COC simply lists those activities necessary for survival, and calls them duties. For example, in a baboon clan, the elders always feed first, so it is the duty of the younger members to wait/assist.
But that's not all. Individual clans also might have extra clauses in their COC, to serve as differentiator between clans.

Extrapolate this to humans. The original COC's were inevitably religious, but with the rise of religious pluralism and such circumstances, they became secular, and unique to a region or community. In course of time the 'differentiator clauses' turned into proper duties.

'Respect your parents, and care for them in their old age' is one such example (in my humble opinion). This clause has no evolutionary merit, as such, but is still considered a duty in the Orient (that includes us). Idea is, anyone who loves their parents will do this anyway, but there isn't any point compelling someone who doesn't. In the US, for example, old folks don't expect their children to take care of them, and usually bequeath their properties to the institution which does. The children don't expect otherwise. In India, in spite of this being deemed a duty and all, we observe the worst of both worlds.

KPJ: Emotions make us weak, cloud our judgement, force us to waste our time and energy - how do we escape them?

me: You don't.

There are two systems that coordinate everything we say or do, voluntary or otherwise. And they always, repeat, always work together. One's the endocrine system, other's the nervous. Both are headquartered in our brains, but in different regions. Emotions, largely governed by the former, are the tools of this decision making system. Not reasoning.

Emotions don't cloud your judgement or weaken you; they are the results of ages of evolution, and hold considerable survival value - or had held in the past. The reason they seem redundant sometimes, is that we have changed our environment much much faster than our brains had time to evolve to modify or discard them. Which is why most human COC's advocate control of certain emotion as a duty.

But it requires wisdom to distinguish between which 'duties', so to speak, have social/survival value, and which are not. So you shouldn't blindly stifle your emotions or do what is supposedly required of you.

KPJ: What stops us from doing what we want, especially at the expense of the others?

me: The transactional analysis theory is the simplest way of explaining it.

This theory talks about the human mind being divided into three overlapping sections - the parent, the adult and the child. It works like this: when we are children (or encounter a new experience, such as learning to drive a car), and any event happens, it is simultaneously recorded in two areas - one records the child's own emotions, reasoning, and reactions and the other records the emotions, reasoning, and reactions of the elders/dominating authorities involved in the event. The former record is the child, and the latter is the parent.
The child and the parent areas are also governors of certain traits, such as inquisitiveness/creativity and a dominating/nurturing tendency respectively.

When making a decision, inputs from both records are compared and the person's own discretion is used by the processor area, which is the adult. But this is the ideal case.

Sometimes, one of the records dominates, or is completely estranged from the decision-making process. For example, a typical religious fanatic does exactly as programmed in the parent, without taking inputs from the child or processing it in the adult. Such a person is technically said to be parent contaminated, and child estranged.

Needless to say, you'd have figured out that it is the parent that stops you from doing a lot of things. But the influence of this area can and should be overcome in the face of circumstances.
At any rate, it is my belief that even if the parent stops you from doing really dangerous stuff or makes you do stuff you really like to, it is wise to come up with logical adult-like reasons for doing/not doing those things.

Extra Info: Existentialism in a nutshell: Existentialists believe in the power of personal choices in determining destiny - this is all I gather.

...Like I always say, a story or two is worth tomes of theory. So I suggest you watch The Beautiful Mind, and if so inclined, read more about TA in 'I'm Ok, You're Ok'.

About KPJ
Karan Pankaj Jani is currently pursuing his BS in Astrophysics from the University of Pensylvania. He's known to be a friend in need, and for his propensity to ask beautiful questions. Watch out for his comments.

1 comment:

Amit said...

Very interesting post, though parts of it went way over my head :P

Be careful when you say caring for old parents has no evolutionary advantage - scientists are known to come up with bizzare evolutionary logic for all kinds of behaviour haha.

Also I'm reminded of Swami Vivekananda's words when he said that the greatest weakness is sometimes disguised as a duty