Some ideas come to fruition a long time after the ideator has perished. Grander the plan and higher the ideal, the more time it needs to come to fruition. The individual who envisions the plan never for once is dejected in the apparent futility or fruitlessness of the effort. It is this ability to arrive at and hold a conviction intact and toil towards it that marks greatness.
Increasingly I encounter not just a lack of will to work towards such goals (I am as guilty as the next person) but also an incapability to charter such idealism within our own imagination.
With a hugely ambitious leap of faith let me allude to Plato’s Theory of Forms. The physical world is but a representation of an ideal Form. The Form is the purest and most accurate of the Idea.
It is not an arcane concept. Ask anyone how they would like their biriyani, and their answer would put your doubts to rest. Comparisons are drawn to that Ideal, that Form. Redolent saffron induced cloud like steaming rice, tender mutton pieces, the perfect blend of spices. Why, the Idea will also include the Form of the raitha. So you see, idealism is intuitive.
Then where do we falter?
Maybe it is in knowledge. Everyone wants to be righteous but nobody wants to put in the effort to grapple with the knowledge that can be used to strain towards that elusive goal of virtue. Knowledge is virtue. It truly is.
Abraham Lincoln had an Idea, a Vision that he worked towards tirelessly. The Union.
The perennially contemplative frown on Lincoln’s face seems to suggest his awareness of the crushing weight of every decision he had to make.
Of Swampy Plantations and Antebellum Architectures
Charleston in South Carolina was just a couple of hours drive from home. This was when I was staying in North Carolina. Till then all that I knew of America was what I had seen in movies, books and photos.
I am still naive enough to let such vignettes shape my worldview.
After my visits to Charleston (I kept returning when I started realizing Charleston’s historical importance, buried stories and proximity) I always fell to thinking about human nature.
An antebellum house in the Drayton Hall Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina.
It is one of those places where human enterprise, greed, submission and hope mixed to give rise to a nation that still endures the audacious and precarious dream of The Union.
The plantations of the wealthy southern owners (of both land and slaves) were opulent while the living conditions of the negro slaves hellish. The White people’s sprawling manicured gardens contrasted grotesquely with the swampy rice fields which was a malarial cesspool where the Negroes toiled for subsistence. As I stood broiling in the heavy humid tropical air, listening to the buzz of mosquitoes and watching an adultish alligator glide across the green swamp with a lazy swish of its tail, both activities i.e strolling the gardens and dying in the swamps, called to question everyone’s sanity.
Abraham Lincoln’s life and death revolved around reconciling the wants and needs of these two races of men (and women). It also revolved around the good Ideal of the abolitionists and not so good self preserving nature of the secessionists, not necessarily split cleanly between the races.
Alligators, malarial mosquitoes notwithstanding, the marshy lands and humid climates made the south the ideal place for slave powered cotton agriculture.
Modern Day Moralists
Even when waging wars on the Confederate army, Lincoln was always jostling for the permanency of the results. None of the solutions were perfect. In fact, human live were lost in the hundreds of thousands. Surely no idea was worth the slaughtering of so many men.
Or was it?
These were the questions that the long limbed politician pondered over every night.
Looking down on men, Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC
To effect these changes of moralistic ideals legal amendments were put in place. The legal structure adapted to a higher mind.
Just yesterday I saw in my face book feed a post deriding the reservation system in India. The reservation system in India is in many ways a parallel initiative to the corrective affirmative actions in the USA to correct for centuries and millenia of subjugation and unequal opportunities to sections of the population. The post seemed to suggest a corruption of the Indian reservation system (incidentally put in place only ~60 years ago) and how today those who were supposed to be protected are exploiting the system. The “victim” while arguing his case was here in the USA, working in a white collar job after a world class education system has bestowed upon him more than necessary skills and poise. Despite the hurt in his voice on having to struggle and pass on many opportunities in a foreign land, where he is for all practical purposes an indentured servant, it did strike me as short sighted, that he could not sympathize towards those who were far worse off than him in his own country, India. People who had no access to education, equality or dignity. It was not race, but privilege combined with institutional casteism that acts as all too effective blinders to even the most well meaning of us.
The immediacy of the situation put a brutal stop to his empathy. What was apparent was the absence of a Form for equality. All that remained was personal pain.
The stinging bite of a recent economic backhanded slap had driven away the memories and guilt of far worse conditions that shaped many lives which reservations sought to rectify.
“Oh I want that too, but lets not be too foolish” he ended uninspiringly after I pressed him a little.
One day I might laugh at my own folly, but for today, let me live to help others. One day I might rethink my maxim of “if I can make it through then I can help others”, but for that day to come, books about leaders like Lincoln need to cease to exist beyond the reaches of my grubby hands.
Let not the beauty of the eye mask the brutality of war.
An early morning reflection of a war memorial.