“If I advocate cautious optimism it is not because I do not have faith in the future but because I do not want to encourage blind faith.”
—Aung San Suu Kyi
To most people, Diwali is a time of celebration, a time of families coming together to revel in the good tidings that only the festival of lights can bring. Historically, and the symbol still holds true today, Diwali signifies the triumph of good over evil. It is a time when children are regaled with stories of gods and goddesses besting demons in epic battles. It is a time when the devout adults light an incense to ward off evil influences, and in hope of attracting only the goodness that the world has to offer. For a long time, I was of the same opinion. I too believed that during the magical week of Diwali, all evil is expelled from the earth, leaving behind only positivity. However, as I grow older, I grow more cynical. I don’t believe that we have been letting the good defeat the evil. In fact, I believe we have been giving evil an unwanted boost every now and then. We have been increasingly favouring our primal instincts over our rational selves. I am disappointed that we are not upholding the ideals of Diwali.
It is not that I do not have faith in the future; I do not want to encourage blind faith.
Here’s why my faith is shaken
Some examples from our recent past stand out as testament to my cautious optimism.
When the evil of short term gains triumphed over the good of long-term health benefits of millions. Every year, thousands of farmers in Haryana burn the stubble on their fields to make way for sowing wheat for the winter season. This stubble burning causes massive amounts of smoke to accumulate over Delhi and NCR leading to serious health implications for its 40 million people.
When the evil of selfish gains from exploiting human sentiments triumphed over the good of logical reasoning. With the Statue of Unity in Vadodara, the upcoming Shivaji Smarak in Mumbai, and the proposed Ram Statue in Ayodhya, Indian politicians are explicitly stoking nationalist feelings in the country for appeasement of the right wing factions. It is sad to note how the money used for these statues could have otherwise been productively used.
When the evil of greed triumphed over the good of honour. With prominent businessman after prominent businessman defaulting on their loans from PSU banks, the public financial morale has taken a severe beating. It is estimated that about 30 offenders owe Rs. 40,000 crore to various institutions in India.
When the evil of personal gains triumphed over the good of empathy and common sense. In a world that is already on the brink of catastrophic climate change, the US pulling out the Paris accord was a big blow to climate change activists around the world. We are already down to the last few options left before irreversible damage is done to the planet
I do not want to encourage blind faith; I do have faith in the future.
Here’s why I am holding out hope
Thankfully, for even the harshest cynic, there is conclusive evidence of progress that humans have made towards winning over evil. Some of these indicators are well known, yet buried under the heap of pessimism.
- Throughout the world, deaths due to homicide and war are on the decline. We have never been in a more peaceful era.
- With each passing decade, a reducing proportion of the world population is living in extreme poverty.
- More people have access to primary education and primary healthcare services than ever before.
- Closer home, the LGBTQ community in India can finally breathe a huge sigh of relief.
- And so much more positive news in the world is actively kept out of circulation in mainstream media.
While cynicism and critical questioning are essential elements of a strong society and a robust democracy, they are simply a means to an end. The end is an egalitarian society where no child is left uneducated, no illness not cared for, no woman living in fear of any form of harm, no faction of society warring with other factions over limited resources.
That utopia will truly be the successful culmination of many millennia of struggle to get human society right. While we still have a long way to go, my optimism stirs every now and then when I see strangers smiling at each other or sharing a drink over a football game. I feel the same surge of optimism when I hold my family close to me every Diwali and see happy faces in every corner of every street.
I do have faith in the future.
Aditya Mani is a writing analyst at Qrius.