Myth and Reality – The Pitfalls of Idealism

Published on March 7, 2011   ·   No Comments

By N. Suranimala

Being a teacher of medical students, I preach to them that drugs used in infections should rather kill the offending microbe than merely suppress them. That is the Reality – which is that dangerous bugs have to be eliminated not merely suppressed; the Reality is that this is a messy, ill-begotten world which means that I should reckon with Reality rather than wallow in Myth and Idealism. On the other hand, Goodness which might advise us to let the creatures just be, because killing is not a good thing, exists only as a Myth in the minds of idealists and the gullible. This Myth preaches that killing of living beings – and that includes microbes – is bad for the soul. But then the question arises, what is Goodness? Leave that quandary alone for dilettantes to battle upon, and reckon with the Reality that we face.

In a similar vein, Kautilya was right when he wrote (in Arthrashastra): “A person should not be too honest. Do not be very upright in your dealings for you would see by going to the forest that straight trees are cut down while crooked trees are left standing”. When Mahatma Gandhi was shot, that wise old man Bernard Shaw said it shows that it is dangerous to be too good. So I will cease writing letters-to-the Editor about errant politicians and our counterfeit society that is sodden with fraud, because nothing can be done about them, which is the uncomfortable Reality. I would rather accept this Reality imbibing the sound advice: “Make me know what I can change, Make me realize that which I cannot change and bless me with the wisdom to understand the difference between the two”.

James Thurber was right when he wrote: “For some curious reason Man has always assumed that his is the highest form of life in the universe. There is, of course, nothing at all with which to sustain this view. Man is simply the highest form of life on his own planet. His superiority rests on a thin and chancy basis; he had the trick of articulate speech and out of this, slowly and laboriously he developed the capacity of abstract reasoning. Abstract reasoning in itself, has not benefited Man so much as instinct has benefited the lower animals. On the contrary it has moved in the opposite direction.”

The Reality, then, is that when arrogant and misbegotten Man has destroyed himself, the industrious, socially cohesive, programmed, intelligent insects, who probably have no delusions about their greatness, will take over this earth and my best wishes to them. Jesuit Father Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere is a mythical and naïve, distant dream, but on the other hand who knows where the Reality of Charles Darwin’s Evolution will take us. Or the cosmological cycle’s second Big Bang will blow our celestial mud-balls and us to bits and things might start all over again, hopefully in improved form. But before that happens, when I am at the Gates of Heaven, I will tell St Peter, as Monsieur Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin) told his confessor-priest before he was guillotined for having murdered all his wives: “Father, I am at peace with God but my conflict was with Men”.

But, yet, there may be just one instance of when Myth almost becomes Reality. It is from the book by Charles Allen, The Buddha and the Sahibs (the Orientalists who resuscitated India’s great cultural past):-

“Among those who greeted it as a revelation was Arthur Schopenhauer, who saw it as the vindication of his own views. ‘You will arrive at Nirvana’ he wrote shortly after his first reading of Burnouf ’s work (Introduction a l’histoire du Buddhism Indien) ‘where you will no longer find these four things: birth, old age, sickness and death…..Never has myth come closer to the truth, nor will it’.

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