The Labyrinth Of Suffering – OpEd


Life is meaningless – we are born without any specific meaning. The content of our existence is provided by the norms and structures of society. These institutional and ideological codes objectify us – chiseling the stone of our pre-social formlessness as per the requirements of the ruling order. Notions that underpin the dominant dynamics pervade our consciousness in very normal, imperceptible ways, ultimately compressing and abridging any form of independent thinking. Encrustations of expectations and behavioral images keep piling upon us, transmitted from the powerful gaze of society. Attitudes that are roughly and vaguely opposed to hegemonic narratives arise in the course of daily routines which, under a social system dedicated to oppression and dehumanization, are filled with the biological and psychological realities of pain and distress. 

When the details of suffering become too heavy – weighing us down with feelings of unbearability – the deeply engrained legitimation of an unjust society collides and conflicts with a sense of anxious confusion and hopeless doubt. The intolerability of everyday brutalities does not lead to open resistance; utterances against hardships never go beyond the hazy mosaics of shapeless sensibilities, drowned in the powerlessness of the isolated individual. While each victim of systemic injustice is fully or partially conscious of the crushing omnipresence of suffering, the precise ability to grasp it as a historically determinate architecture of power remains underdeveloped. Wretched cruelties exhaustively enter the tiny recesses of experience, soaking it with the overwhelming emotions of agony. 

As the spaces of our mind get inundated with pain, the soil of comprehension is eroded – we consistently forget the human capability to intensively feel suffering. In the aftermath of this emotional flood, wrecked ships of paralysis become the signposts of our inner landscape – life tilts towards inaction in the face of harsh conditions. Existence becomes a labyrinth of suffering – one which the individual finds unable to navigate. The external world becomes a random, knotty tangle of savage stories; the day of confrontation with these grim circumstances never comes. 

Take, for example, the manual scavengers of India. Every year, more manual scavengers die because of their working conditions than the military workforce. Yet, these thoroughly degrading practices never generate a general outcry of full-fledged resistance. Even though the manual scavenger is fully aware that wading through a stinking sewer with a plastic bag on head is not how life should be lived, he/she will maintain a bleak silence, struck by the onerous immediacy of toxic matter. Words keep trudging through the maze of congealed miseries, never thinking of the possibility that the gates of hell can be breached. 

When contact with the violence of existence remains endlessly stuck at the level of passive submergence, amorphous emotions harden into pessimism, seeing nothing but the charred blackness of death. In “A Confession”, Leo Tolstoy writes: “I had as it were lived, lived, and walked, walked, till I had come to a precipice and saw clearly that there was nothing ahead of me but destruction. It was impossible to stop, impossible to go back, and impossible to close my eyes or avoid seeing that there was nothing ahead but suffering and real death – complete annihilation.” With the continuous thickening of suffering, humans turn into immobile stones of helplessness, flowing in rivers of desolation. 

Each human is aware of the existence of other sufferers, but no substantial communication takes place between them. One simply moves in the streams, directed by the currents of suffering, drenched in it, aware that others too experience it, that it just exists with all its density and forcefulness. For the sufferer, the presence of other sufferers is experienced only as the presence of a repository of anguish, of a decaying cobweb of thoughts which does not have a thinking body to reside in. In other words, the suffering human – in the eyes of a fellow sufferer – becomes an emotional object, a thing which can only be observed but not talked to. In this environment of despair and loneliness, the labyrinth of suffering appears unsurpassable. Legs grow tired of aimlessly wandering through the same paths. 

The darkness of death – which was earlier hanging precariously in the sky – comes down on the muddy earth of life. Aliveness fuses with the stench of corpse. You are breathing but live your death every day. You meet other humans but they seem like caskets of suffering. The labyrinth becomes the womb of death; the sufferer becomes the captive of existence, utterly fractured by the viscosity of reality. What is the way out? Can anyone escape from the labyrinth? The answer has to be in the negative. No single individual can flee from the labyrinth. In isolation from others, none of us has the power to destroy a form of oppression which is sustained by the inertia of people. Thus, we can’t escape from the labyrinth; we can only collectively explode it

Yanis Iqbal

Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at [email protected]. He has published more than 250 articles on social, political, economic, and cultural issues. He is the author of the book "Education in the Age of Neoliberal Dystopia".

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