Four bloggers were put in jail and thousands of people agitated causing mass violence all due to one simple cause: the sentiment of some people got violated through the non-violent act of mere writings. Retaliation of a mental violation through physical aggression and punishment is unjust and disproportionate, but some people think that it is totally justified. In this writing, we explore how Farhad Mazhar and in general the post-modernist relativists may find this to be an opportunity to advance their own goal. It shows that an alliance between fundamental religious groups and the post-modern relativists is not all that bizarre. But before that, we first start with understanding the strict difference between a physical violation and a mental violation, and how putting the sentimental world before the physical world breeds injustice.
An attack is chiefly of two kinds: an attack on a person’s body/life and an attack on a person’s property. For example, an attack on a person’s body can be someone hitting you in the face and possibly leaving some marks of the aggression, such as bruises, cuts or broken bones. An attack on a person’s property can be someone intruding into your house without your permission or snatching away your food. Attacks on a person’s life and property are distinct from other kinds. They evidently result in measurable losses, and as they are strictly causal, the person who initiates the attack can easily be blamed for the ensuing losses.
Something else is also often recognized as an ‘attack’, which might be called an ‘attack’ on sentiments, for example, an ‘attack’ on a person’s religious sentiments or an ‘attack’ on a collective’s national pride. Sometimes an attack on sentiments is taken more seriously than an attack on a person’s life and property. I find them to be categorically different and the first two kinds strictly more important than the latter. Let me describe why.
Immeasurability of sentiments
I am not denying that pain exists and the fact that people can ‘feel’ hurt even in the absence of a physical violence. Pain and pleasure are among the few things that a person readily knows to have without requiring any kind of evidence. That is the beauty of pain and pleasure, and that is also the weakest thing about them. Sentimental feelings are personal, subjective and secret. It is very easy to identify whether a person got hurt physically or whether someone’s property has been aggressed. Different people can easily and objectively identify what stands for a physical assault. Physical assaults are that obvious. But the same cannot be said about people’s feelings.
I can claim any time at my will that I have been hurt by your writing or saying. How would you know whether that is a truth or not? Possibly what you have said or written is ‘offensive’ according to some definition of offensiveness, but it is not necessary that I had to feel hurt by that. Some people will and others won’t. Therefore, it is extremely easy for anyone to claim just falsely that he has been hurt by reading someone else’s article. It is not easy for other people to verify that he indeed got hurt.
Causal indeterminacy of sentiments
Even if technology enables us to detect a mental pain more easily, for example, by identifying it with a certain type of firing patterns in the neural system, establishing a causal relationship between writing an article and getting hurt would still remain difficult. It might be possible that the person is overly-sensitive, and hence he gets hurt easily by trivial things. In that case, we would not deny that his feelings are hurt, but it would not help us identify who to blame for this. May be the person should sensitize things less. Or may be the act of reading, which he did at will, should be blamed for being hurt. It is equally difficult to determine whether the person who wrote the article or said the words had an intention to hurt others. Now compare this with a physical assault. When an aggression on the life or the property of a person occurs, we are hardly left wondering who to blame. The connection between an act of physical aggression and a loss of life or property is strictly causal and straightforward.
Sure, it is possible that a person indeed writes or says something with an intention to hurt others. And it would not be impossible either to find a case where we can easily tell whether the other person got hurt, perhaps using advanced (future) technology or just by watching the changes in his behavior. It would not be unreasonable, in that case, to recognize this act as an attack on the person’s sentiment. However, this act would still remain categorically different from an attack on a person’s life and property. To understand why, we have to understand first why we care about the attack on life and property so much and so naturally. It is because a physical attack always results into a causal and measurable loss. You cannot cure a broken bone easily. If someone snatches your food away, you cannot eat it or sell it to someone else. You have to use extra labor to earn it back. These losses are causal and easily measurable by many.
Compared to an attack on a person’s life and property, the consequence of an ‘attack’ on a person’s sentiment is extremely uncertain. It is true that many people who claimed to have been mentally traumatized have also lost their productivity later in their lives. However, we have also observed the opposite case where people who face similar incidences were also able to avoid the trauma and move on with their lives. Mental states are intricate, and they do not always respond to the same event the same way. These differences between physical attacks and sentimental attacks are important.
It might be possible to establish statistical correlations between an offensive verbal act and a traumatic consequence, but if we try to compare a verbal act with a physical attack, it would be like comparing apples and oranges. The relation between a physical attack and the ensuing loss is evidently causal, whereas the evidential relation between a verbal offence and a traumatic consequence is at best a statistical one. And we know that a statistical correlation does not imply a causal relation. Therefore, a mental loss after a verbal offense is not consistently measurable and not comparable at all to the loss ensuing from a physical attack.
Religious and social values
Punishing or retaliating a sentimental ‘attack’ through physical violence is, hence, a disproportionate solution. A gravely disproportionate one. Then why do we observe exactly that in many human societies? Don’t those societies value the life and property of people? I think they do. Every society has naturally evolved some form of sense about the injustice and inevitable trouble of physical violence. And many of them also have their internal inconsistencies and contradictions that sustain such violence instead of minimizing it. Apparently, religious and social values are to be blamed for bringing these inconsistencies and contradictions to the golden rule of physical non-aggression. However, it is not entirely metaphysical either. If we delve deep into these sustained violences, we would eventually find that they are partly due to materialist considerations, too. A non-physical ‘attack’ on a religious sentiment or a deeply-rooted social value typically results in a turmoil in the society that hosts such sentiments. An influential part of the society may turn physically violent due to this act. These unrests are unwanted. An attack on sentiments is incriminated often as a way to avoid these unwanted consequences. It clearly shows that incriminating an attack on sentiments is also partly due to materialist considerations.
Many of us would readily say, let us change the superfluous values that let its host society turn violent so easily. That would not be an illogical conclusion at all. However, there are also other considerations that need attention. Societies that are themselves based on such violence-promoting values cannot just consider this solution so easily. It is rather easier for them to incriminate the person whose verbal ‘attacks’ have instigated the unrest in the first place. If no one can attack the sensitivity of people, then no one will be instigated, and there will be no unrest either. Unfortunately, it is not causally as straightforward as it sounds. The social or religious value that allows people to be violent so easily may also allow them to use any incidence as a pretense to initiate a physical violence on a non-aggressor. We have already got the idea in the above that from the saying or writing of one person to feeling ‘attacked’ in another’s sentiment to a material loss due to the claimed sentimental ‘attack’ there lie innumerous uncertainties. These uncertainties can be exploited endlessly by the promoter of such violence-hosting values. These uncertainties easily allow them to be violent on non-aggressors and manipulate to their advantage. The society suffers more due to this unjust and disproportionate use of sentimental values.
Religious and social sentimental values are not the only hosts that promote the importance of a sentimental ‘attack’ over that of a physical violence. There are also other separate movements that attempt to reduce the importance of physical violence by balancing it with sentimental values. They do not themselves subscribe to any particular religious or social values, but often use or promote these values to achieve their goal of undermining the importance of the life and physical property in western societies. These movements can often be recognized within the confines of moral relativism, cultural Marxism, anti-realism, post-structuralism, critical theory, etc.
The apple and the orange that we established to be incomparable to each other in the above often becomes equal and indistinguishable to these movements. In the root of relativism, there is this message that – as the life and the world is without any objective goal and meaning, nothing can be objectively more special than the other. Hence, the superiority of the material world (i.e., our body and physical properties) that we put over the mental world (i.e., our feelings and sentiments) is not tenable in an absolute sense. It is merely a relative view. We claim so just because that’s how we feel or think about it. If someone else chooses to think the opposite way, that would be equally important, too. In no way one’s claim can be strictly superior to the other’s. And when the cultural Marxism mixes with this stance, then it starts to seem that the view of the weaker in the power hierarchy should be preferred or supported over that of the mightier. This gives an opportunity to balance the power inequality between these different views.
These movements, in general, bring the importance of the sentimental values forward and put it side-by-side with the material concerns. Branding the ‘attack’ on sentimental values as important undermines the importance of the attack on a person’s property and life. More so, when the ‘attack’ on the sentiment is deemed punishable physically. This can, hence, be seen as an important goal of these movements, that is, promoting the ‘attack’ on the sentiment in order to undermine the aggression against a person’s body and property, and thus undermine individualism and property rights.
In order to fulfill their goal, these movements often associate themselves with violent religious and social values. Communist thinkers often considered the aggression on the body and the property of the non-aggressor as a means to achieve their goal of devaluing the prominence of individualism and property rights. Believing in the violent elimination of a non-aggressor, who is otherwise a self-interested property owner, as ‘a part of the system’ is common among them. We have examples of that throughout the history.
Farhad Mazhar has emerged and firmly established himself as a thinker of such kind. No, he is not a new communist; he has consistently been a communist thinker and a critic of individualism and property rights for a long time. However, he has proved himself to be different than the contemporary socialists. I am not discussing here which of them is being more faithful to communism than the other. Just as most ideologies and religions, communism does not have a single canonical form. I would rather point out that, what has been seen by many as a betrayal to the communist ideology – making allies with Jamaat-e-Islam, Hizbut Tahrir and, more recently, Hefazat-e-Islam, is actually quite consistent within a major line of thought in communist thinking. It is simple. Promote the sentimental values in order to debase the material world. Farhad Mazhar has been a critic of science, referring it to be a ‘deformation of knowledge’, has continually glorified violent movements over non-aggression, and has never faltered to devalue individualism and property rights. I am not saying there is only one way of achieving that goal, but few have been this much consistent in terms of these goals. Farhad Mazhar making allies with Hefazat-e-Islam should, hence, be of no surprise.
Where are we heading to?
However, none of these ploys are going to work. The civilization is progressing. Poverty is reducing despite the increase in world population. People on average are living longer. And all these are due to our rigorous efforts toward the material world, not due to any materially-disinterested ideology or sentimental values. The productive participants of our societies are improving our civilization through specialization (call it skills, techniques, science and technology) and exchange (call it voluntary co-operation and market) in a natural and sustainable way. Unfortunately, the decrepit religious and social values remain in conflict with that. The adaptation or the demise of the latter is therefore inevitable, often through exacerbated conflicts. Obviously, the most desirable is that the old copes with the change as smoothly as possible. However, if either of the two groups relies more on a violent solution instead, the society will breed reactionaries in great numbers, and the productive and non-aggressive elements of the society will slowly diminish. Only Farhad Mazhar wins here, all else lose.
We have to make those with religious and other sentimental values realize that their goal does not really align with that of Farhad Mazhar and alike. They are being manipulated by the relativists, but the religious and social values themselves are not relativist at all. Their value system is complex. It is not strictly against the material world, but rather most religions go at length establishing the hazard of violating the life and property of individuals. This materialist component has naturally evolved to become a part of religious value systems. This component is also essential for the sustainable growth of any society. Therefore, they need to realize that an alliance with the relativists is fatal for them. They need to adjust and adapt their views and values to that of the progressing world. The lure of violent revolutions deprives them from the needed change.
If the progress of our civilization and its destruction cannot coexist with each other, then it is inevitable that only one of them will win over the other. I have a little doubt in the unstoppable advancement of our civilization. However, I do not believe that a lethal conflict between the materialist view and the non-materialist view is inevitable. Preservation of values and sentiments is desirable. But it should not be done at the expense of the material loss of a non-aggressor. When someone feels hurt by visiting someone else’s ‘home’ page and reading a particular article or initiates violence as a result, the responsibility lies solely to the reader and the violence initiator.
As the world progresses due to the advancement of science, technology and economy, man will become more aware about this strict difference between the material and the mental world, and about the responsibility of their own acts. It would matter a little whether this awareness is a relative or an absolute one.