by Navid Zaidi
We often wonder about certain propositions concerning the nature of humans and the world. For example, one psychological implication may be the central fact of pain as a dominating element in our lives. Human beings, regarded as an individuality, are helpless against the forces of pain. Our individual consciousness constantly faces the possibility of pain. Freedom from pain may mean freedom from individuality. So, starting from the fact of pain, this proposition may place before us the ideal of self-annihilation. If pain is the ultimate fact, sense of personality may be a delusion. According to this proposition, then, we may emancipate ourselves from pain by stopping those activities which intensify our sense of personality. Salvation, then, may lie in inaction, renunciation of self and unworldliness.
Similarly, another proposition may be based on sin. The world is regarded as evil and the taint of sin is regarded as hereditary to humanity who, as an individuality, is incapable of dealing with it.
Again, yet another proposition looks upon nature as a scene of struggle between good and evil, and recognizes that humanity has the capability to choose any course of action she likes.
Now, is there an answer to the above views of the world and humanity? Is there a central ideal which determines the structure of the entire system?
The world is a reality and consequently we recognize as reality all that is in it. Evil is not essential to the world; the world can be reformed; the elements of evil can be gradually eliminated. The seemingly destructive forces of nature can become sources of life if properly studied by humanity who is endowed with the power to understand and to utilize them for her own good.
This view is neither optimistic nor pessimistic; it is melioristic—the belief that the world can be made better and that its betterment can be aided by human effort.
Although we recognize the facts of pain, evil and struggle in nature, yet the principal fact that stands in the way of humanity’s progress is neither pain, nor sin, nor struggle. It is fear to which humanity is a victim due to its ignorance of the nature of its environment. The highest stage of humanity’s progress is reached when it becomes absolutely free from fear.
This view of the world also indicates the spiritual nature of humankind. Says Dr Allama Iqbal:
Man must be regarded as a unit of force, an energy, a will, a germ of infinite power, the gradual unfoldment of which must be the object of all human activity. The essential nature of man, then, consists in will, not intellect or understanding.
Humanity is essentially good and peaceful, a view explained and defended by Rousseau, the great father of modern political thought. The opposite view, the doctrine of wickedness of humanity, leads to the worst religious and political consequences. Since, if humanity is elementally wicked and evil, it must not be permitted to have its own way, its entire life must be controlled by external authority. This means priesthood in religion and autocracy in politics.
The ethical ideal of humanity is to free itself from fear, and thus to give itself a sense of its personality, to make it conscious of itself as a source of power. This idea of humankind as an individuality of infinite power determines the worth of all human action. That which intensifies the sense of individuality in humans is good, that which weakens it is bad. Says Dr Allama Iqbal:
Man is a free responsible being; he is the maker of his own destiny; his salvation is his own business.