In its quest for delusive `happiness’, humankind has inexorably pursued accumulation of material benefits, neglecting holistic well-being. Obsession with material wealth has drawn us away from the world of harmony , love and togetherness, propelling us instead to the illusory world of possession. This has led to misuse of institutions of kinship, marriage and family , in order to feed greed for property .
Greek philosopher Plato advocated a system with regard to family and property. The Platonian concept was a priori assumption that property, family and private affiliation hinder the individual’s obligation to the community.Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his immortal treatise `The Social Contract’ states, “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.“ Appreciated more for its rhetorical value, Rousseau’s philosophy mooted the idea of the return of man to the primeval state of nature (savage) where he can be essentially happy without institutions of modern society. Both these concepts may not be workable in modern societies. However, they laid the foundation for the debate on self-interest of man vis-à-vis the interests of society.
Human societies today are facing grave challenges, what with crimes of a heinous nature being reported every day. More often such crimes are for property. The rising inequality due to the dichotomy between rich and poor has caused a great deal of social unrest everywhere. The amassing of power and property in the name of political institutions and families has furthered the divide in society. Claiming to be a civilised society, we continue to remain mute witness to barbaric crimes, prompting us to intro spect: Was Rousseau’s theory correct?
Was he cautioning us?
In his `Discourses on Inequality’ Rousseau traces the origins of inequality and postulates that the formation of civil society was a ruse perpetuated by the mighty over the weak, for sustaining their power and wealth. Rousseau begins the Discourse by saying, “The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said `This is mine’, and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.“ History abounds with stories of political and social in stitutions founded on the above premise crumbling, as the weak and deprived are revolting everywhere, leading to disorder.
The idea of impermanence and the fleeting nature of life appear to have no deterrent effect. We seem to be oblivious to the fact that nature could subsume everything even vast tracts of land rendering human achievements irrelevant; the sian Tsunami and Gujarat earth recent Asian Tsunami and Gujarat earthquake are grim reminders.
The avarice for property begins with the individual, enlarging its domain to the family system; from here it encircles a closed society , benefitting only a group and then enters public domain through political play sowing the seeds for corruption. Property or the desire for its possession generates greed at every strata of society .
A democratic society cannot proscribe property. It can regulate it. Time and again the maleficent effect of greed for property has been pointed out by sages and saints and modern day philosophers.M K Gandhi advocated the doctrine of `trusteeship of property’, hoping the rich would acknowledge the surplus property and use it for benefit of society. The idea is to drive home the concept of the need to create larger social good, thereby promoting selflessness and non-possession.In this land of Gandhi and Buddha, it looks like we need to remind ourselves of the need to practise selflessness and non-possession towards establishing an egalitarian, loving society. This will help us in achieving higher, spiritual goals.