Negative capability : paradigm shift from the individual to society-Jay Basu



Can It Pave the Path to Social Peace & Cohesion

[Part I]

It may seem too oversimplified and sweeping

a statement to say that the move of Negative Capability from the individual’s psyche to its social, political and industrial ramifications –

if at all possible – can radically upturn the old-world ethos of the master class (political- industrial-corporate leaders): it’s to rule and reign the working classes for the ultimate betterment of its own vested class interest. And this upturn, if possible, will go a long way towards streamlining the paradoxical tasks of pulling up and realigning the age-old, traditional binaries to a peaceful, compatible and abiding coexistence of the ruling-ruled classes. The bond between the two classes will hopefully be cemented by the gentle grains of Negative Capability as a collective consciousness.Class enmity and deprivation of one class by the other will then go down the pages of human history as relics and fossils of a tainted past.

How enticing and how fantastic is the idea! And, the present author is aware that to some even reading this treatise may seem just a squander of their precious time.

Notwithstanding this very likely calumny from the reader response I feel like writing this piece out as long as the tempo and gusto of this idea keep warm and blowing on the wings of an idler’s happy make-believe.

All too apparently this seems to be a queer and preposterous proposition that can hardly ever translate into reality, and perhaps it’s as absurd and idealistic as the Marxist prophecy of the withering off of the State.

We will, nevertheless, consider the scope and plausibility of Negative Capability to eventually spill the individual psyche to embrace the collective or the corporate socio-economic and political ethos and ecosystem, built on the binaries of relationship between capital and labour. Capital and labour are to be mutually subservient, yet they are relationally and in practice antagonistic from the perspective of each. This must be an unnatural and forced contradiction leading to labour unrest and capital diversions or losses, and even at its best to gross imbalances between input and output.

Incidentally, in India, the Tata Group of Industry steers well ahead of and beyond this bleak scenario chiefly because of its typically large and copious measure of what may be called “management empathy”, – which is what integrates capital and labour ideally and holistically in the Tata culture and ecosystem.

This is an example of how an industrial leader

can buttress his empathetic emotion and vision to the causes of industrial climate, including production and employee welfare.

The consummation of capital and labour in terms of their supreme integration, as well as cross-cutting equitable distribution of output benefits veers close to the Marxist vision of equality that envisages: “Each according to his or her needs” in a society where the state machinery withers away absolutely.

This was Karl Marx’s lopsided vision stretched to a dizzy zenith unreachable for any human society. After the fizzling out of Gorbachev’s regime and reforms in terms of “Glasnost” and “Perestroika”, and the resultant rush towards Revisionism, and in the wake of the onset and emergence of “mixed economy “, the Marxist vision of a classless society petered out completely beyond any point of its possible materialisation ever in the hierarchy of man’s

socio-economic and political systems. After Gorbachev’s failure, human history witnesses

not any promised evolution from socialism to

communism but the tragic squander of the socialist power-structure, and its ultimate reversion to a higher and advanced form of capitalism – the burgeoning forces of mixed

economy. The anti-climax in the Marxist as well as Fabian trajectory – from socialism to the ultimate communism – enacted itself out and out, and conclusively in the changing winds of modern and postmodern phases of human history.

Well, let us turn over the basic thesis of the paradigm shift of negative capability from

the individual’s aesthetic or spiritual or numinous experience to the broad societal structure of ethos, and undertake its close perusal to assess the translatability or the feasibility of this proposition into the present socio-economic and political ramifications taking place in our civilisation.

Let us begin with looking at the very breathing essence of Negative Capability, which appears to be a particular intrinsic disposition of the human mind: the natural and spontaneous capability of the human mind to react to the “other” in a free play of empathy or in-feeling. For example, when some one on a delightfully overfed stomach meets with a hungry beggar and at a glance at the beggar outlives his own pleasure of a fully satisfied stomach, and begins to have the pain of the beggar’s hunger in the entrails, s/he has at once passed into the condition of Negative Capability or empathy.

Of course, this is an example of physical empathy. A soccer game watcher may automotively kick an invisible football on the gallery stand, seeing it being tossed and dribbled down fruitlessly by his favourite centre-forward in the penalty-box. You may get an impulse of nausea by simply watching somebody vomit. These are but cases of physical empathy all of us are prone to. This apart, empathy can be emotional and psychic, and presumably on the dimension of fine excesses it can be aesthetic as well as spiritual. It is the most important facet of the present treatise to explore whether Negative

Capability can coextend to the societal culture in order to streamline the crosscurrents in the socio-economic base towards a better and benign superstructure of human relationships.

Concept of Negative Capability

John Keats’s notion of Negative Capability as he introduced the phrase, in 1817, in one of his letters to his brothers, Charles and Thomas, appears an apt and succinct assimilation of the “aesthetic empathy”.

《 … to be contd》

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