<%-- Page Title--%> Perspective <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 149 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 9, 2004

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Azfar Aziz

Of all character flaws, ego emits the foulest odour that immediately offends and overpowers others' sensory and extra-sensory perceptions. That's one of the lesser reasons why ascetics, mystics and sages of almost all faiths and schools considered it a cardinal vice, if not the primary one.

In contrast, the fact that René Descartes, the so-called father of modern philosophy, had to base the method of his philosophic enquiries on the 'famous' premise -- 'Cogito, ergo sum,' (I think, therefore, I am) -- has always amused me. And that amusement turns into amazement when US journalist Ambrose Bierce proposes to 'improve' the dictum, 'Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum' ( I think that I think, therefore, I think that I am), claiming it to be as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made. But, luckily, most of the world is still unaware of the claim, as, otherwise, the percentage of schizophrenics would surely witness a boost.

To a man of common sense, constructing such syllogistic formulae merely to 'prove' that one exists would seem childish and a revealing example of the speculative quagmires in which ego-centrists tend to fall, wallow and, finally, drown.

Ordinary people, whom the pundits derogate as common, vulgar, ignorant etc for not obsessively groping like them for absolutes or static points in the ever-changing flux called reality, are actually more intelligent and natural than the eccentric 'truth-hunters'. In most cases, their 'love for truth' is just disguised 'self love' and symptoms of paranoia. It also explains why the greatest world religions were founded by non-pundit ordinary but wise and meditative men; especially those who cultivated humility, selflessness and socially accepted moral virtues. They and their true disciples considered themselves as nothing more than flitting shadows, geometric points, the tiniest ripples in the ocean of life, forever tending to zero, continuously decimated by the omnipresent, all-encompassing mortality. Some Buddhist, Zen and Natha schools even teach one's self as emptiness and one's ego as a delusion that causes most of the sufferings and woes in life.

Even if we put aside such nihilistic thinking, the common sense of an adult, derived from experiences, clearly shows that ego makes one blind and deaf in social interactions. It insulates people's perception and sensitivity. The higher the egotism the more insensitive a person is and, as a result, more detached from reality. In its extreme form, egotism produces megalomaniacs, imbeciles who as George Eliot wrote become 'like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow.'

Of all professions, media professionals tend to get their egos progressively inflated as they proceed in their careers and, in some cases, success. And perhaps, after the film and music studios, the odour of ego pervades the newsrooms more than any other factory of mass communications. Tom Stoppard, a Czech-born British playwright, produced a brilliant sketch of the situation, describing a foreign correspondent thus: "He's someone who flies around from hotel to hotel and thinks the most interesting thing about any story is the fact that he has arrived to cover it."

Among the newspersons we find too many who consider themselves as the cream of the elite, in terms of learning, knowledge and intelligence. But, perhaps, what they take as knowledge is nothing more than a huge mass of unrelated information. And their levels of intelligence really don't differ much in quality from those of a craftsman having adequate skills acquired through experience and training. Moreover, due to the so-called information super highway, the quantity and speed of information-flow have reached such a stage where it would not be unjust or incorrect to term it as 'information pollution.' In fact, a major bulk of the information that a newsroom deals with every day is either garbage or useless, sometimes even harmful to its recipients.

To be frank, during the best phase of my not-so-long life, when I experienced the most peace and serenity, a newspaper was of no more use to my psychological and physical well-being than, for example, a roll of toilet paper. I had the same feelings about electronic news broadcasts. Most of those appeared to be too superficial or unnecessary for a soul involved at every moment in the wonders and mysteries of life and the cosmos.

But, since I have opted for joining this egotistic bunch, I recommend the following observation by US actor and comedian Robin Williams to my peers as a nice antidote to egoistic tensions: "You're best when you're not in charge. [Because,] The ego locks the Muse." Newspersons do serve the Muse and Muse favours those most that are humble and not too self-conscious.

Azfar Aziz is a senior sub editor at The Daily Star



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