Arguments with Myself: Pandora's Gift
For example, I believe that given an opportunity, anyone can almost do anything. I do believe attitudes can change, and everyone has something in them. In a way, that's my Hindu belief: Everyone has a bit of God in them. I shall also think that this comes from the way I grew up, with my self-made entrepreneur grandfather, who obviously believed that everyone can make it in life if they try.
In a way, the middle class lives on optimism, in the faith that it is possible to be happy. However trivial way this happiness is defined, a mortgaged house, a secure job, a devoted spouse, or a big enough car, as long as one belongs to middle class, being optimistic about their chances in life is an inalienable responsibility. And vice versa, optimism, I shall claim, belongs to middle class alone: You don't HOPE once you are rich.
And, therefore, making a middle class start with preaching such hope. Consider this business of teaching employability skills to disaffected 16 to 19 year old kids that is such a big business in Britain. The whole act is primarily about dispensing optimism. This is about hand-holding the kids who knew no love or praise in their entire life and try to give them some, in the hope that they will abandon anger and embrace optimism and thus keep the society going.
And, in a way, the job of a democratically elected government is primarily to keep the hope going, so that it remains business as usual.
If you don't agree and still think of the government's role in grandiose terms, consider this: The stated aims of most governments in the world can be reduced to one word: Finding jobs for its people. One might cringe at this, and wonder why the government does not talk about enterprise, wealth or well-being, just jobs, which sound menial and defeatist in a sense. But, the point is optimism - as long as there are jobs, people are happy and optimistic and ready to give their lives for a mortgage - and everything can go on as usual.
I have used the words Hope and Optimism interchangeably, because, in this context, they are more or less the same thing. Defying the English dictionary, I shall claim the opposite of both the words would be Anger, not hopelessness or pessimism. The governments dispense hope wanting to keep people off the streets, to keep them away from anger which can burn everything down.
However, as we know, Hope was God's curse to humanity, so that they can keep enduring the pain and disease and death that he packed in a box and sent to Pandora. The point of optimism should indeed be not to see the point, but to always believe that no matter what happened before, it will be different this time around. This is why we must keep praying, even when we know the situation is hopeless, and dream, when the reality appears bleak all around. Whatever was God's intent though, one has to now accept the disease, disorder and pain as given, and hence, hope should serve rather than torture us. And, the middle classes, the great bearer of human hope and optimism, should allow us to defy God's intent, at least for the moment.
Also, the biggest enemy of hope is not despair, but privilege. I am not in the business of changing the dictionary, but the idea of middle class hope is based on the concept of fair play. That there is a fair chance is absolutely central to hope. Privileges, which segregate people and take away the fairness, take away hope. And therefore, middle classes always fight against privileges (as they did in Egypt last week) and try to create institutions against privileges, like democracy and what is rather meaninglessly called the Rule of Law.
Finally, at this time, when the rhetoric of hopelessness dominate public conversations, the middle classes are desperately waiting, wringing to change the topic, we must search deep and hard for a clue how may things change. Robert Nisbett said the future resides in the present as the present resides in the past; the bleakness of now can indeed be countered by the hope that we have been here before and life always moved on. We can talk about something called the human spirit, and it sounds morally superior than the God's will, particularly that of the devious Zeus who didn't like the Promethean ambition of man. We can turn Pandora's story on its head: It is not her foolishness, but her curiosity, which made mankind what it is today.