Essentials of Existence

By Twish Mukherjee. Twish, 21, lives in Kolkata, India. He writes and paints and has made a couple of short films. You can read his entry here. Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

“Only the educated are free.” Epictetus

Epictetus could have afforded to believe so. Education freed him from a slave’s life to that of a multiple-disciple-d-philosopher. How much the knowledge or possession of information does free us, is a question I’ve often pondered over, in my most analytical moods.

There are phases, yes; phases when you wish you didn’t know the truth, times when you wish you were entitled to ignorant illusions that offer solace, above anything else. At the same time, there are these times when you pride yourself on knowing something more and better than someone around you. The existence of opposites in an utterly harmonic discord isn’t new to mankind. Look at what education does. The more you know, the more you realise that you ought to know. The less you know, the less troubled you are. Let’s not talk about emotions now, and look at statistical skeletons only, for the time being.

Freedom comes at a price. A simple numerical amount in paper currency is all it takes to buy you the right to own all that your erratic human heart yearns for. Mind you, again, I’m not talking about abstract possessions like family and the love of a loved one. Not yet, that is. Today, there’s a grey sky outside, and there’s a mildly cold, damp breeze, that threatens to upgrade into a storm-of-sorts. If I erase all commitments and compulsions from my now-nerd-like nerves, the first thing that I want to do, is light a good fat cigar and go to the rooftop and watch the clouds swim and collide with each other. What stops me from doing it? My wallet is empty. I’ve got to accumulate all my indigenous training and execute its worth, so that, before the next monsoon-like-weather-day, I am empowered with the ability to buy a cigar. This sort of freedom is definitely dependent on education.

Education itself has broad and ambiguous meanings and implications. The internationally screamed about system of schooling, namely the primary-secondary-higher-and-then-college-process is neither absolute nor sufficient. I’ve met people who have all of it in their brains, like some information-packed-integrated circuit planted inside; but when it comes to application, they stop short. Various reasons might exist for the same. Imagine a crayon-coloured room with some thirty individuals and a single instructor. The individual-instructor-interaction is not only obnoxiously impeded, but also inadequate sometimes. We all know that. Competitiveness is not universally conducive for development. Why else would there be a need for private tutors in most third-world-developing countries? Talking about the Western way of schooling, irrespective of how much I seem to believe it’s better than my own Indian structure, the countries would not be absorbing ‘talent’ from the Middle and Far East if their own people were ‘smart’ enough. ‘Smart’, within quotes of course, because it’s not a parameter that the dictionary would define as the volume of information inside a bony skull.

It is also true that a child, in his formative years doesn’t know what he would want; although, I would like to debate the credibility of that universally-declared truth as well. Debates apart, some form of formal education is necessary to enable the brain to decipher the various other vocations available. Like I keep telling my seven-year-old friend who wishes to stop going to school in order to devote more time to playing games on the computer, he needs to sharpen his English reading skills, so that he doesn’t need my help for reading the game controls and other relevant details. So does a sportsman need to be well-conversant in some language that would enable him to fill up stupid forms that he would need to fill up, if he would want his sportsmanship to come of any use, the exhibition of athletic abilities this case.

Further illustration on professional prerequisites would be futile. Once the basic minimum has been met, the academic disciplines should provide freedom themselves, for the individual’s inherent intrinsic endowments. The point I emphasise on is that, the entire process of education itself must not be such that it drains a person of all that he is born with. If education should offer freedom for the individual’s fundamental faculties, its own elaborate designs must be controlled. Whether the human race is capable of measuring that is doubtful though!

Lastly, there is the freedom from the assortment of internal emotions that Epictetus himself had underscored. Does education free you from pain? How many times has a human being succeeded in overcoming grief, just by telling himself that it’s temporary? We all know that grief is temporary. So is intense joy. Does the knowledge of the facts that certain emotions, good or bad, creative or destructive, are ephemeral and immaterial, inhibit their occurrence in their intense-most incidences? Two thousand and eleven years after the birth of Christ, man is yet to find the answer. Maybe the androids would, if we install all the pituitary hormones in them.

Education is essential, yes. We need to know that what we do not know is not meant to be known.

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