Can you point out that one incident when you felt that you had grown out of your childhood; when your image of the world suddenly transformed; when it all gets disillusioned, and you come to face with the less exciting reality? I might have one such moment, quite late in my adult life during my first job after college, when I suddenly realized that sophisticated adults needn’t be rational. A realization now I understand to be the difference between literacy and education based on ethics.
Growing up, I had been innocent enough, presumably like every other child, to assume that grown ups were called so, because they grow out of the logical fallacies and naive gullibility that are defining attributes of childhood. I was telling myself — adults have answers to all the questions, and soon you will too — a fantasy, but a common one I suppose.
The first time I encountered the idea of evolution, which must have been in grade 5 or 6, it was an epiphany. It immediately made sense to me, and I was convinced that it had to be that way. Not that I was not curious, but it perfectly made sense to me. As I reached high-school, to accommodate the religiousness that was part of me, I came up with an account that the avatars of Vishnu — beginning with him incarnating as a fish, then a tortoise, a boar, then a half-man and half-lion, and then into humans — to me was a subtle way of hinting at the evolution by natural selection. Soon after, when my scientific querying would not be satisfied with this accommodation, and found the notion of ‘God in a form’ and religions to be unnecessary, I thought it was the natural trajectory of people growing up. Also, I was not critical of people, other than myself; I assumed grown ups had undergone this metamorphosis. Or maybe, I was all too engrossed in the changes of my own world view.
Coming to the point of disillusionment — it was during my first job and it happened with the second manager I was working under; I had/and still continue to have immense admiration towards him. He was very disciplined, knowledgeable and encouraging. He was vocal in saying that I was whiling away myself at that job. This soon would become an important tipping factor when I was later contemplating to change the course of my life towards academia. So, it was this person; I deeply respect even today.
During one of our several conversations, the topic of evolution by natural selection came up, and I was talking to him as a matter-of-fact-ly about it. It took me a while, before I could realize that maybe he was not on the same page. The flash point of sorts, was when he sought out a clarification from me — Do you really think people came from monkeys? Then why are the monkeys still around then? I believe God made us — which totally changed the world for me, at least, symbolically. This was also the time, when the agnostic in me was devouring Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Christopher Hitchens, and to have this wake up call was massive. I think after this point, I have grown to be cynical and many a times condescending (of which I am not proud) of, the apparently sophisticated people, who are literate and also possess higher education.
This change of mindset has been crucial in moulding me. It was when I started looking at the notion and process of education within the socio-political context, and as a tool that is used by the establishment to advance their agendas, and also as the attribute that distinguishes societies. It was also when I came to the recognise the struggle of humanity in pursuing knowledge. The triumph of Gutenberg in making the first press and the role of neutral internet. The trial of Galileo and the poisoning of Socrates would never be, merely sad and unfortunate, anecdotes, but acts of violence on all of humanity by the darkness of ignorance. In the same spirit of Julian Assange, when he says “the burning of the Alexandria library was a crime against all of humanity, not just a crime against the people of Alexandria.”