The Jakarta Post
Words were never so worthless; they were never so abundant either.
Words said by the greats of human civilisation. Words of scripture, of literature and films, of news; they surround us everywhere, at all times. They are dead though.
Gone are the days when they would weave wisdom. In our age, they belong to the realm of information only. They are the total sum of letters and nothing else.
What lies between them is no more discernible. They are statistics, and facts, and news, and verses, and mere details. 'Whither wisdom? Whither knowledge?' we hear a great hue and cry.
But then humans are more informed today than ever. Aren't they?
That is probably the greatest contradiction the postmodern world has brought with it. Is more and more information making us more knowledgeable and wise? It is quite the contrary, sadly.
Overabundance of 'information' has cluttered our minds. The outcome is mere noise sans any meaning.
Curated Facebook timelines, Twitter feeds, 24/7 news channels, the daily papers ... so enormous is the magnitude of information that public discourse solely revolves around what is happening, leaving a little space for the discussion as to why it is happening.
We are speaking, posting, and arguing ceaselessly about military operations, terrorism incidents, televised revolutions, and political statements only to forget them once the next information tidbit flies our way and becomes the talk of the town.
What barely gets any attention is how these events are shaping our lives and the society as a whole.
The words are the same, but they have ceased to mean anything. A case-in-point is the term 'revolution', which stands stripped of its historical meanings in our times. A revolution without ideology is a mere revolt that ultimately strengthens the status quo instead of challenging its very existence.
But then, ideology comes with perspective, which is the ultimate victim of the postmodern age. We hear right-wing politicians singing Habib Jalib on our TV screens; the same right-wing mindset Jalib had been criticising throughout his life.
Che Guevara, a quintessential icon of the left, has come to be a new fashion statement of the middle classes that largely subscribe to right-wing political ideals. Revolutionaries of the past stand canonised and the words uttered by them have assumed the character of Psalms being recited in congregations just for the heck of it.
A quotation or a saying thrown around without perspective is tantamount to a mere building-brick that can be used to construct anything, no matter how irrelevant that construction is to the quote's original context.
Anyone can find a sentence or two from Voltaire's work in support of clergy. Something can be cherry-picked from Faiz's work in favour of Fascism. Rumi is always handy in expressing affectionate feelings between opposite genders.
Words shorn of context mean nothing or could be made to mean anything at all, and the social media seems to be championing this disease in contemporary social life.
Not having an opinion is considered an anomaly. This is why we are flooded with ill-informed opinions these days, and why societies are so much more polarised around the world.
We leap on to our devices to voice our 'takes' and 'views' and 'opinions' on just about anything we want because isn't that freedom of expression, our most sacred of values? We express without knowing and compensate for what we don't know by manipulating what little we do, even as information, ironically, is just a click away.
We take to social media and post about some novelist who has just been awarded a Nobel Prize in literature, by quoting from her works available on the internet. The whole exercise creates an illusion of knowledge that is not there in the first place ' a mirage of wisdom that is not real.
We can discuss books in length without reading them, write critique of movies without watching them, and have an opinion about political theories without having the slightest idea about them. We call this the 'Age of Information' and consider ourselves free.
Truth is, words are dead. We perform a requiem for them everyday.
Enough wayward words have been uttered. Enough fanciful facts have been established. Enough dramatic details have been penned down. We need the stories that enable us to weave those pesky words together and make sense of the world we live in.
We need the tales. (***)
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