Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Exoteric-Esoteric Dichotomy

By Hinan Ali

Rothbard, one of my most cherished personalities said something quite intriguing: "Every religious cult has two sets of differing and distinctive creeds: the exoteric and the esoteric. The exoteric creed is the official, public doctrine, the creed which attracts the acolyte in the first place and brings him into the movement as a rank-and-file member. The quite different creed is the unknown, hidden agenda, a creed which is known only to its full extent by the top leadership, the 'high priests' of the cult."
The sad thing I have to remind myself is that this is not true just of religions, but of societies, ideologies, customs, traditions, habits, and the very simplest of the approaches of ordinary human beings. I have always felt the need to discern the esoteric nature of things. It gives me ineffable joy whenever I succeed. Why is it that people in our own society keep blabbering about the girl who eloped, about their neighbor's child who flunked tests, about an old woman whose son abandoned her? I ask myself - 'Do the actually feel that sense of regret they keep showing off?' Do they want to share others' suffering? Or do they do this just to palliate that deep remorse they might feel if they kept their mouths shut? Ponder over it a little more, get closer to the roots. Don't most of these seemingly caring people derive pleasure out of it? One man's suffering is another man's happiness - I have always believed this to be true.
Yes, as long as we confuse sacrifice with greatness and egoism with vanity, we'll continue to believe in the exoteric nature of things as they are presented to us by people who do not scruple to lie about them. Teenagers get admitted to a college in the name of a noble pursuit of knowledge, but in the end all they have is that sacrosanct piece of paper - their degrees. Most of what they learnt there has already been forgotten. But who cares? They're successful graduates, worthy of respect! The problem is not just here. Even our great policy makers, leaders, and think-tanks don't feel the need to analyze and discard the fallacies that have become a new orthodoxy. They ignore elementary truths for personal gains. There are men regarded today as brilliant economists who promulgate increased taxation for attaining national prosperity. Doesn't anyone care to ask them how a government is capable of creating wealth by spending without destroying it by imposing taxes to pay for that spending? Yet people believe in the success of social-welfare schemes, they rejoice whenever the government announces setting up of a new public school in their locality. How can we be so dewy-eyed not to observe and question such a dichotomy?
I turned to objectivism some years backs and found this philosophy largely consistent. Expectedly, an objectivist is supposed to be unconcerned about unearned things - unearned benefits, unearned pride, unearned praise, and so on. Yet a friend of mine keeps on telling me that he has read 'The Fountainhead' five times. There again you can notice the esoteric agenda behind the exoteric veil. More than the philosophical ideals Rand taught him, he is much more concerned about whether people notice how many times he has read her books or not!
I don't think it is so hard to notice this dichotomy. All it takes is some use of the grey cells stacked up inside our heads. Take any example. India celebrated its 62nd "Independence Day" this month. People of this nation pretended as if they enjoy basic freedoms and wished one another mass-delusional greetings of Independence Day. I don't know what to make of the terms like "India got independence", "We are free", etc. I think the right question to be asked is - "Are we free?" Next - 'Raksha Bandhan', that time of the year when brothers vow to protect their sisters against evil. To me such festivals are an attempt by the patriarchal society to make us believe that women are weaker than men. Why not instead have a festival celebrating freedom and fairness in society? In a free society why would sisters need protection?
The exoteric-esoteric dichotomy is well marked in our Kashmiri society as well. A love marriage is considered no less than a sin here. Some time back the Grand Mufti of this valley issued a 'fatwa' against an all-girl teenage rock band. One may think - 'What's new with this?' After all giving fatwas is so commonplace these days. However it takes more than a cursory effort to analyze these things. Why was a fatwa issued only for those three little girls? Why not for the countless singers and male-bands before? To grab headlines and make him feel a little more important? Secondary to mention that he was caught enjoying a musical evening in a houseboat some months later

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