Tuesday, July 5, 2016

‘Shastrarths’ in the era of social media sites- The Hindu 28-6-16

‘Shastrarths’ in the era of social media sites


Digression is the bane, and logic the first casualty, in any heated discussion on a social media site. I say the first casualty because the social-site friendship is the next, if the discussion is not stopped early enough. It was only Facebook and Twitter some time back, but WhatsApp has been fast to catch up. While tiny tweets have launched major wars of words, many a WhatsApp group has been broken and numerous Facebook friends ‘un-friended’ since the beginning of the social-site era. The debaters, a laDon Quixote, tilt at windmills and can go off at a tangent any moment. It’s so amusing to an objective eye sometimes, when both the antagonists had actually been saying the same thing but, since they were not caring to read the comments of the others in the heat of the moment, they had been feeling all along that they were on opposite grounds!

      It is remarkable that the original point of discussion is always lost in the heat of the labyrinthine arguments. The averments flow in umpteen directions and are mostly unrelated to the point of discussion. However, every ‘comment’ on that incendiary ‘post’ has the potential to open another front in the war. It’s a free-for-all. It’s like a dance during a baraat procession — one can jump in whenever one feels like, take a completely independent cue, suddenly feel that since one has been a cynosure enough and beaten the rest, quietly exit.

     Aren’t Tolstoy’s words about Sergey Ivanovich, in Anna Karenina, so apt here? “He disliked contradiction, and still more, arguments that were continually skipping from one thing to another, introducing new and disconnected points, so that there was no knowing to which to reply.”
I feel sometimes that these social sites are similar to those places in the real world where people meet each other for a short while and engage in small talk — a railway compartment, a tea shop or a betel stall, for instance. These are places where people cross each other regularly and thus get acquainted. They are not exactly close to each other; they are not exactly friends. They just know each other to the extent that they get into polite conversations and exchange of views while being there together. Things are all right till it is only an exchange of pleasantries and routine conversation; but they aren’t when somebody introduces a controversial subject. People are so bound with their views that all veneer of bonhomie gets shed at the drop of a different opinion. Mere acquaintances till that moment, the people in the gathering immediately acquire a for-or-against character. All become a part of either of the two rival viewpoints. If the discussion continues, invectives are sure to follow and, of course, fisticuffs may not be far behind.

     Our country has had an ancient tradition of discourses, the ‘Shastrarths’. Profound truths and wisdom were churned out of them. The Socratian debates and the Marxian dialectics were quite similar — bringing out truths from questioning; questioning even one’s own opinions. But it can only be when we follow the famous words: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Ironically, however, the words themselves had been an issue of an argument once — whether they were Voltaire’s or his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s!