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The Museum of Vestigial Desire


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We take an idolatry position towards public personalities known for their academic, artistic or literary work. This is not easily explainable as the concepts of “brilliance in work” and a being of “good character” have very little to do with each other.

Being known for “brilliance in work” means to be in sync with a set of general sensibilities which might involve a set of social or political and aesthetic beliefs which are currently in vogue. It does not imply having arrived at a particular stage in personal growth or having grown or evolved along a particular trajectory.

The logic of “brilliant work” as well as the idea of a person with “good character” keeps changing with every change in our “collective sense of morality” which is effected by media, global movements and activism. Both these ideas hide entire bodies of work and personalities which don’t fit the narrow confines of the above framed “collective sense of morality.”

Personalities known for their “brilliance in work” are not always of a “good character.” And all those of “good character” are not known for their “brilliance in work.”

All those who are “brilliant in work” are not of “good character”. Some of whom are of “good character” are “brilliant in work” - but this brilliance might be of a different order than the characteristics that become well-known. And this becomes a deeper problem. Sometimes the ability and the characteristics of an aesthete’s work might not work well with the mechanisms of publicity at all. And this can lead us towards the mistaken belief that all those who have a brilliant work practise are well-known. This belief can make us perceive our choices for mentorship/guidance/collaboration to be narrower than they actually are.

Associations are of two kinds - we form associations between people and values in our mind and we also personally associate ourselves with people and values in our real and digital lives. The rationales and mental processes that we perform when we form associations of either of these kinds are the same. The logic guiding the formation of these associations has a lot to do with the way we navigate our professional lives. What we want to do next? How do we want to project our clout in whichever space we operate? What is our ambition and desire?

If the associations that we form has more to do with our ambition than an investigation into the personalities and values of the available association-candidates, then we will only be in a position to complain when wwe discover that the latter and the former don’t necessarily go together. And complain we should. Most of us are in a space of compromise but the mechanisms available to us to articulate this are each flawed in their own ways. At this point, these articulations might take the form of complaints only but this form is in constantly changing. It might take some other form some day.

The tag of a “good person” needs to be earned. There needs to be enough specific evidence of a person’s actions before they identify with being a “good person.”

In a country like India, there are numerous allowances made for well-known personalities because associating with then feels good. In this scenario, there is no “level playing field” to speak of. These well-known personalities are distinguished/have a distinction for reasons which are sometimes not even known/possible to review by the people making these allowances.
They distinguished/have a distinction for having done some work in a geography/culture which is remote/distant.

A distinction can be seen as a reward for some specific cultural contribution. But when the location of the contribution and the location where a distinction is rewarded are different, something is wrong. The quality of someone’s true human nature is measured on the basis of how they behave in the absence of any distinction.

#metoo: the public narrative of people misusing their positions of power to sexually abuse or harass people dependent on them is partly a result of the phenomenon described above. We are pointing out specific problems in the way we develop idolatry behaviour and then get disappointed when our idols don’t behave the way we would like them to.

This text does not offer any retrospective advice to those who have outed perpetrators with the #metoo tag. But instead, it just attempts to make suggestions for how we can learn from recent events and effect some corrective changes in our public life.

tags: metoo publicculture fameandpower

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