Now coming to the point of the last post. We are now in the 21st C where all around us art, literature, popular culture, and general conversation is hinting to outright telling us that we are figments of our own imagination. But what I notice is that all around me people talk as if they have no awareness of this. It’s as if we’re still in the 18th C where the human being is construed as an individual wilfully making choices striving towards absolute freedom.*

I get that we have to all pretend that are all choosing our own destiny, because otherwise it would all fall to pieces, wouldn’t it? But, you know, if someone turns to you and giggles, “You know the emperor really has no clothes, no?” and you look gobsmacked and downright offended, then it’s a little scary. And annoying, if all along you gave off the impression that you were one of the Enlightened Ones.

For example, many people are a little put off to completely aghast and roused to liberation crusades when they see a woman in a burkha. They cannot wrap their heads around it. If you’ve grown up seeing it all the time, it’s one thing. Then, you’re probably only vaguely unsettled. Otherwise, it’s like the cow just jumped over the moon.

I get it, a burkha symbolises all the inequalities and suppressions of women in that community in a very powerful way because the costume itself is the meaning.  It may be true (and I am really not 100 per cent sure) that in the range of choices available to human beings, women, in communities where the burkha is predominant, have fewer choices.  So we must oppose it. By it, I mean the dress. Because it is just one more expression of a vile mindset. Like a reverse swastika (we are supposed to be vehemently opposing reverse swastikas right?).

So conversation with women who wear a burkha often go like this:

Liberator: Why do you wear this dress? It’s so restrictive.

Burkha-clad woman: My religion tells me too and I think it’s fine.

L: But you know that religion is all baloney right?*

BCW: But what about the ‘I think it’s fine part’?

L: How can you think it’s fine? That’s not possible

BCW: I don’t want all the men to be looking at me.

L: What do you mean? That is nonsense. Showing yourself to everyone is very liberating**

BCW: Men will get impure thought if they see me.

L: Nonsense. Men are responsible for their own thoughts.*** You just go about as you please.

BCW: But this is how I please.

L: It cannot be. You have been brainwashed.****

BCW: And you have been brainwashed.*****

Stalemate. They both walk off in a huff. Best case scenario: They never cross paths again, studiously avoiding each other. Worst case scenario: They kill each other trying to liberate each other from their respective beliefs about clothing.

Even more disconcerting conversation between L and BCW2

L: Why do you wear this dress? It’s so restrictive.

BCW2: I choose to.

L: That is not possible.

BCW2: It is. My parents or family didn’t want me to. I want to dress like this.

L: Huh. What a traitor to the cause of women.

BCW2: Whatevs. This saves me a lot of time not choosing what to wear.*

L: If you don’t want to choose what to wear something is wrong with you.

BCW2: So be it.

Even even more disconcerting conversation between L and a more extreme L (EL), also know as L with specific politics (often Marxist). L is wearing a dress, heels, has some make-up on and no visible body hair (except eyebrows and head, of course, because not having eye brows is illegal. Yes, you cannot choose not to have eyebrows).

EL: Why do you wear this dress? It’s so restrictive.

L: What are you talking about?

EL: Isn’t it hard to sit in that skirt? Don’t you know women fought for the right to wear pants? That material – don’t you know cotton farming kills? And those heels – footbinding of the 21st c. And you waxed your arms! Satisfying a man’s paedophilic impulses are you?

L: What? No! I am aware of all of this but I choose to dress like this because I want to.

EL: Haha. No, you’ve been brainwashed.

L is left sputtering in indignation while EL walks of smugly.

Similar conversation between L and Conservative (Indian, American, whatever. They’re all the same)

C: Why do you wear this dress? It’s so restrictive.

L: What are you talking about?

C: You know you look like a shameless hussy! Imitator of the West!

L: That is your opinion. I choose to dress like this because I want to.

EL: Haha. No, you’ve been brainwashed (by Western Influences)

L is left sputtering in indignation while EL walks of smugly.

Similar conversation between L and Man. Man is dressed in t-shirt and jeans.

L: Why do you wear this? It’s so restrictive.

Man: What?

L: Don’t you feel traumatised? Never being able to wear a skirt?

Man: No!*

L: You have been brainwashed.

And so on endlessly. Noone is apparently aware that they’re all saying the same things. Conveniently we are also only aware of brainwashing, social conditioning etc. as it occurs in other people. We ourselves are untainted and above it all. Moreover, it is only brainwashing, evil influence of culture etc. if it is something we don’t agree with. Just like terrorism, the goalposts widen or conflate at will.

There are, of course, some nuances.

  1. The range and scale of choices available do differ.
  2. The range of ability to access those choices also differ.
  3. The generally accepted presumption (in societies that have accepted the tenets of Western humanism; we assume that everyone has and then are shocked to discover this is not so or that it is only a tenet and not The Truth of Things As They Should Be) is that the more choices and the more the ability to access those choices the happier a person will be.
  4. But is this so? Could it be possible that some people are actually happy with less choices and less freedoms? This is a scary thought (kind of like sado-masochism is a scary thought) because it challenges everything we have been told since childhood (brainwashing maybe), but it should only be so if they start telling us to adopt their way of life. (We do not realise how often it is that the reverse happens though. i.e. us telling them)
  5. Also, when you find yourself saying the same thing as the person you vehemently oppose, try to figure out how you landed in that position and if you still want to be there.

For me, a key thing is awareness (and I am aware that I departing from the extreme position taken by post-structuralists here). If one has considered different points of view as they become available and reject them in favour of that point of view and if one is not gravely harming anyone else directly in choosing that point of view, then one should be free to carry on no matter how regressive or absurd that point of view.

*Hmm it could be that many places, including India, are in the 18th C phase still because many of the things people say and do were medieval practices in Europe. But then, shouldn’t we dress accordingly, just so that it would be easy to know which people are mentally in which century. Oh, maybe we do. Anyway.

*Quite ignoring that Everything is all baloney

** Though many of us know that is not entirely true. It can be quite a pain to sit in skirt, for example.

*** This is quite possible true (with a small t).

**** Possibly true

***** Also true. We did not by accident to dress in only minor deviations from the way those around us dress, sometimes at great personal pain (think waxing, high heels etc.)

*There are of course endless possible responses. I chose one that I might have given when I briefly considered opting for the veil but eschewed it in favour of getting dressed in different clothes every day because I feared what other people would say.

*But sometimes, yes.