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The real reason we exploit each other || Acharya Prashant, with O.P. Jindal University (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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Questioner (Q): Thank you Acharya Prashant Ji for taking our questions. My question pertains again to public policy. We are all unique in our own ways and we have unique aspirations and needs so it's difficult to generalize and categorize us as a whole population into a few buckets of major characteristics. So, public policy is a process of mutual collaboration between leaders and public; both sides are important. Both sides inform each other and direct each other in overall development. Considering this, how can each one of us, every one of us be inspired to develop our inner dimension and contribute to a better society, well-being in the economy and therefore, better public policy for our country? Thank you.

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, we are not unique. The uniqueness, the differentiators are all mostly superficial. As you dig a little deeper what you find is something very, very common and the commonalities that you find are not very pretty. What guides us in this lifetime is just the will to somehow eat, live, sleep, procreate that's the mother instinct.

Vedanta in Shrimad Bhagavad Gita calls it as the 6 tendencies; 6 enemies that rule us. You have anger, you have fear, you have greed, you have lust, you have envy, and you have ignorance, so how exactly are we unique? One person is ignorant the other too is ignorant; one is misled about his basic identity just as the other one is. It's just that in one’s drunken state one decides, or there is no decision involved actually, one tumbles towards the left and the other one is rolling to the right. Now, would you say that these two opposite directions denote uniqueness? No, they both have something much in common which is that both are drunk and heavily drunk. That's the condition of mankind, we all are in a pail of ignorance. So, what ought to be the role of public policy here?

Obviously, the first imperative is awakening. And we are not announcing a certain ideal here, we are not talking of the contents of the moral science class or syllabus of the human values course, we are talking of the most important thing in front of the individual as well as the planet today. The first imperative, we are saying, is awakening. Awakening to who we really are!

If you do not realize that much of what we call as ‘our self’ and therefore, much of what we call as our ‘desires’, are not our own at all. There is no hope.

We are at a very peculiar point in the history of mankind. We are extremely close to devastation rather, total annihilation. We need to be shaken up. In fact, we need to be hit, before we are bulldozed by the inevitable role of time and the principle of results of action— karmphal . So, that's the kind of public policy environment we need today. At every point the individual needs to be reminded, all the stuff that pushes a deeper into a stupor needs to be checked, regulated, taxed. All the cultural elements and traditional values or social values or whatever, that further reinforce our deluded identities must be stopped in their tracks before they do any further damage. That ought to be the role of public policy.

You see, just as the general public, we are living in a haze; of internal haze and so are the policymakers. Because the policymakers come from the public and hence the policy itself is very, very deluded because it does not know what to achieve. You can have very sharp minds who do the numbers, you can a very diligent and efficient people who carry out the execution, but you require a sage, a knower, a saint to set the vision. Is the vision there? Do we, first of all, realize what ought to be the very purpose of public policy? Because when you say policy, there is something that you want to achieve and if there is something that you want to achieve, you must, first of all, know where you stand?

‘I must know where I am before I decide where to go!’ Do we know who we are? Where we stand and what our condition is like? Do we really know that? No, the answer is a clear ‘No’. Neither the man on the street nor the man in the parliament, nobody really knows.

Those who knew are very few and far between, and they have been further marginalized by the kind of lack religion has drawn in these times. We have a saying, as age goes ‘throw away the baby with the bathwater’ so, along with organized religion, we have discarded the most life-giving thing that we can have—core spirituality. It’s core spirituality that should sit at the top and the bottom of all public policy. Public policy can just be about better infrastructure of social amenities of this and that. I will have a great car, of what use it is if I do not know where to go.

Q: If it's okay, can I ask a follow-up question?

AP: Of course, of course, most welcome!

Q: So, the ‘Nudge Theory’ says that there can be certain indicators, that can be implemented in public policy that can direct the behaviour of the general public; of everyone. So, can we have a nudge that directs us inwards as you just said and that can act as a policy tool? So, this question comes from me and professor Patra.

AP: Unfortunately, we are all just too thick-skinned to be moved by mere nudges. The nudges are all there and they are there in everyday life itself.

You see, how we attempt to do one thing and end up doing something totally different. How we misread people and situations, how we get into something hoping for one kind of result and the result we obtain is just something else, does that not happen? That happens in professional domains, that also happens in our personal domains.

So, those things are happening all the time, but we are very stubborn people and the reason lies in our bodies. Bodily, we all are, I like to say, just emerging from the jungle. Our fundamental instincts are still very animalistic. Gentle nudges, subtle hints, polite pointers just do not work, they just don't work! When we step out of our houses, how many trees do we see? Now, to a sensitive mind, this itself would be a very strong indicator, not merely a strong indicator, but that person might actually be shaken up; remember the story about the Shakyamuni Buddha.

He was going to the youth festival, and all that he saw was a sick man and old man and a dead man. All these are everyday sites, yet he was so sensitive that even these normal sights were enough to make him conclusively realize that there is something very, very wrong with the way we are living, and so he took an entirely different path.

Now, do we take different paths? We get stuck in traffic jams every morning. A person who intends to know what life is all about would have a complete revelation every morning! And the revelation is even half complete, you do not require too many mornings like that. We return and then we switch on the TV and you know the kind of crap that's thrown at us from there. Is that not sufficient to tell us our reality—who we are and where we come from and therefore, what we are headed towards?

We have a very unfortunate tendency or rather, not even tendency, a capacity to get adapted. Whatever be the condition, ‘the psyche’ with the ego at its centre adapts to that, and once you adapt, you start calling the situations inside and outside as normal.

You start thinking that this constant tension and unease within is normal, and you start thinking that all the atrocities that you are witnessing outside of yourself, they too are normal. None of it is normal. All this is more than sufficient to communicate to us. It's all very loudly screaming at us that we are very much in the middle of a disaster yet, we behave as if everything is normal. We attend weddings, we celebrate anniversaries, we participate in riots, we live as if all hunky-dory! So, I am not a student of public policy so please excuse me if I do not really appreciate what that theory is about, but going by the very little description you gave, this is what I got and this is how I can respond. I do not know if I know that theory but I think I reasonably well know the inner condition of mankind.

Q: That was a very intriguing answer, thank you so much.

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