” Success ke piche mat bhago…excellence…excellence ka picha karo…success jhak maarke tumhare pass ayegi..” – Amir Khan, 3 Idiots.
At a time when catastrophic events are happening around us, be it the jaw-dropping victory of Donald Trump or the ongoing chaos in India after the demonetization episode, why did I stumble upon this ‘success-excellence’ thought now? With the refugee crisis on the rise, climate change becoming more venomous day by day and common people finding it tough to get employed in a largely stagnant world economy, there are ample reasons to worry about. The indifference of the wealthy adds up to the misery of the majority. As Hobbes, of the famous comic strip Calvin and Hobbes would put it, ” You know, there are times when it’s a source of personal pride to not be human.” Miserable time to live in when ‘excellence’, along with narcissistic indifference rules the world.
The reason why this maddening quest for excellence is a doomed concept is because one wants to find it only in the existing scheme of things. The system of the popular thought process that we find ourselves in. It forces you to make sense of only those things that are the bare essentials of any course, programme, event etc depending on your age and occupation. A sense of satisfaction engulfs our lives when we conquer these bare essentials. I want to make a proposition that moves away from excellence. I want to make a plea to become an ‘informed ignorant’. Let me explain.
Unlike excellence where you feel that you are on course of achieving success, ignorance is more concerned with the process, the means towards and end. It is not a teleological goal wherein one knows that ‘success’ will be conquered once we reach the finishing line. Ignorance has no end. Ignorance acknowledges the fact that you cannot be a repertoire of all knowledge of the world. It opens up our horizons for knowing the unknown, feeling the tenderness of a new thought and thereby respecting a new world which excellence can never even think of. Excellence is like the traditional approach of any humanities subject that encloses your mind with only your subject of specialization. Ignorance is multi-disciplinary. It allows borders to be transgressed, makes the mental divides porous and opens up a whole can of worms which you find it difficult to handle. The suddenness of a plethora of knowledge which ensues then has the power of humbling you.
Gradually, it makes one become more and more in awe of what all we don’t know in life. We all have a fair idea of what we don’t know but to know the depth, scope and the layered aspects of our ignorance is where happiness lies. As reading books makes me feel sometimes that you only get to know what you don’t know by making a genuine effort to experience that enigma of ignorance. To use Kant’s terminology, it’s a purposeful phenomenological foray into an unknown noumena. At the end, you are still on the losing side. Success eludes you by a large margin. But one thing you do know is that your eclectic understanding of ignorance makes your life more enriching.
Interestingly, the idea of how capitalism keeps on increasing the desire of humans does not work for knowing your ignorance. As the excellence-success-money-job linearity hogs the limelight, a conformist relational attitude emerges within the society. The element of maintaining a ‘status’ becomes the only worthy part of the success. Social media fits into this framework perfectly. Where one has suddenly been bestowed to express its mind in public, a caricatured excellence based on phoney success attributes becomes the natural, instinctive response. The ‘know-it-all’ mindset has to be maintained to be relevant in the competition. Ignorance at the same time is not even a pale shadow of this tried and tested formula. How much exactly do I not know is rendered superfluous in a world that defines you in terms of your achievements and not by how much you know your own ignorance.
In such tumultuous times, maybe the time is right to get hold of those things that were pushed aside to the periphery. Ignorance needs to be mainstreamed. It should be made to sound cool and suave. The present time demands a shift from ‘yes of course I know’ to ‘no, I don’t know. I want to read up more on that’. I don’t think it’s strictly speaking a pure ideological case of the left and the right. In fact, what we are witnessing today is the dumbing down of the populace to crass banality. For a healthy competition of ideas between the two, the hubristic stand of both the sides needs to be shaken up as whataboutery is a classic example of strengthening the status quo. The entire discourse turns into one big diamond polishing industry that sustains its hedonistic drive of maintaining your status by being a part of a particular clique. This group is as dogmatic as any religion. As we are oblivious of so many of our religious tenets, so are we of the principles which we purportedly stand by in our lives. We need ignorance to jettison what excellence stands for as of now in the popular parlance.
Excellence nahi, ignorance ke piche bhaagna sikho!
Suraj Kumar Thube is currently pursuing his MA in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He is interested in Indian politics and Indian political thought. He spends most of his time reading books, playing football and listening to Hindustani classical music.