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Extreme choices and behaviors || IIT Kharagpur (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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Questioner (Q): I have observed a trend in the recent past that the number of people who are resorting to extremities—be it political, religious, or other social extremities—have increased in number. If we put things in a larger context, I think that this problem is going to emerge and haunt our culture specifically in the coming days.

I also see that extremity as a behavior is penetrating things which were not extreme to begin with, and this has been more of a reactive kind of mechanism. I am talking about the people who, for example, associate themselves with Sanatana Dharma , or people who associate themselves with other religious ideologies that are not extreme. They have resorted to extremities as a reaction because they see no other way out or for some other reason they cite.

So, do we, as a society, want to see ourselves develop in that fashion? How exactly should we have a vision of the future? Where exactly are we heading? And should we be heading that way?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, every extreme denotes a thirst. Be it the extreme food consumption of somebody recuperating from a recent break-up, the extreme possessiveness of a protective husband, the extreme competitiveness of a job seeker, or the extreme anger of a jilted lover—all these extremes denote a thirst. Do you see this?

If today you are seeing so many extremes in all ways in the society, they are indicative of a central, common problem. And there is not just religious extremism, even global temperatures are rushing towards an extreme, even sea levels are rushing towards an extreme, are they not? And I am inviting you to see that all these are interrelated.

The global forest cover currently stands at an extreme—what kind of an extreme? It is lower than it ever was in history. Global flesh consumption, both in absolute and per capita terms, today stands at an extreme. Humanity was never killing so many animals per minute ever throughout the history; the average person was never consuming so much flesh ever in history. The quantum of weaponized fissile material with the world today stands at an extreme, does it not? Computer processing speed today stands at an extreme, does it not?

Would you want to see how these extremes are linked? We said all extremes come from a certain thirst, rather a central thirst. Religious extremism is gross, it is very visible: it is right there on the roads, it carries banners and flags, so it is obvious. There are slogans and there are riots as well, so it is obvious. But think of this age of extremes as one composite unit. All of this is arising from a deep despondency in the human mind that is unparalleled in history.

Have you ever had such a large proportion of humanity in a state of neurosis? Such a huge mass of people suffering from all kinds of mental disorders—was it ever the case? The average anxiety levels in the population today are at an unthinkable extreme, and the world today is more prosperous than it ever was. The per capita average global income is an extreme today. Mankind has more knowledge than it ever had. Do you see what is happening?

One common thing among all these extremes is that they are all external. Be it the processing speed part, be it the consumption part, be it the knowledge part, they are all outside of the human being. In the external world, man is rushing to deeper and deeper extremes. Probably, the reason is that the void in our center today is deeper than ever, and this internal hollow, this extreme hollowness is causing us to rush to extreme measures in the external world.

Where is this internal hollowness coming from? This internal hollowness is coming from a combination of mainly two things: a state of technology that can produce more and more for consumption, and a state of philosophy that is liberal enough to deny liberation. So, there is the factory yielding more and more goods, and there is the philosophy telling you that consumption of these goods is the purpose of your life.

But the purpose of your life is something else, and that purpose sits as a deep, unaddressed, extreme hollow in our chests. Technology, economy, and philosophy have combined to bring humanity to probably its lowest state in terms of its consciousness in its entire history. And that is why you see all kinds of extremism everywhere in the world. Because of the misdoings of organized religions, the last two to three hundred years have been of the decline of religion, ever since the enlightenment period in Europe. There was a lot in religion that obviously deserved to be rejected, but the core of religion, which is the spiritual urge to be liberated, should have been preserved as the most precious diamond mankind can ever have. Instead, we chose to throw the baby out with the bath water.

So, liberation has been junked along with religion, and consumption has been foisted upon us—mandatory consumption. That is the reason why you see people running to all these extremes. It is scary, because we need meaning, we need purpose in life. And when we don’t find meaning and purpose in life, we do stupid things, like religious extremism, like extremism in merrymaking. People want to go to Mars to get some pleasure—an extreme step!

Q: Another example of these external extremities in the so-called liberal societies is the recent surge in the fluidity of sexual orientation and gender identity. Saying that sexuality is fluid is one thing, but this has extended to the point where people are saying that even gender is fluid. I mean, the day is not far away when they would start claiming that even age is fluid. I would like to know your opinion on this topic.

AP: Is it not obvious? You want something in life. When you don’t get it at several places, you try at this place as well. And if you start seeing some little success in playing with your sexuality, then you just squat there and start insisting that this may be the thing that will take you all the distance.

The little kid wants the real thing but it cannot get that, so it starts sucking its thumb or its big toe. It starts playing with its own body, but its own body is not what it wants. That which it really wants, we have assigned it to the dustbin in the name of progress, in the name of liberalism, in the name of science, atheism, in the name of several modern and post-modern ideologies. The real thing is there, and if you are restrained from having the real thing, you will do a lot of strange things. That is what we find humanity doing today—strange and self-destructive.

We are closer to self-imploding today than we ever were. Think of this extreme; think of the doomsday clock; think of the Kyoto protocols; think of the climate summits in Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro and Paris, think of what kind of extreme failures they have been; think of why mankind is so suicidal today, and you will know what we are missing.

We are missing the real thing we are born for.

* Q: In its present state, the society is moving towards its destruction. Is there any future for us left that does not lead to our destruction?

AP: You see, you have to do things if you want to avert what clearly awaits us. You need to have thousands of such discussions happening every minute at a million places across the globe. We have started a little initiative called Ghar-Ghar Upanishad (Upanishads in every house). It is just too small; it needs to be amplified a million times. This is what needs to happen.

We clearly know what can save us; we know that. It is just that we need to work on it, we need to feed resources into it, we need to build an opinion and understanding around it. We need to have more and more people enroll by way of understanding. There needs to be a lot of information dissemination, a lot of publicity, a lot of propaganda.

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