In defense of random

by Aftab Nasir

Suffering originates from the sense of possessing as possession stimulates the fear of loss. The way to achieve knowledge is by being truthful to oneself and feel for others. We insulate, thereby fictionize, our egos with good looking rugs of words that may or may not symbolize the things around me. I am living in my own bubble. Modernity created these bubbles so that the capitalist system could flourish. These bubbles made me self-centered, rendered me disconnected from others that inevitably resulted in alienation. The cure is what Deikman (1982) calls the observing self.

How to make things graspable?

The observing self is conscious, aware, active and in control. It doesn’t need material things. Deikman links psychotherapy with mystical sciences. He agrees that the observing self is experiencable but not observable; an ungrasped reality that gives meaning to life, the silent backdrop against which the opera of perceptions take forms. What lies at the heart of this observing self? What feeds it? We are all asleep to the mundane ordinariness of life. We are caught in our reason and emotion, the two poles in between which the pendulum of consciousness swings.  The observing self is not rational or emotional; yet one cannot deduce it is thus irrational. It is supra-rational as it transcends the boundaries of rationality. It relates to the higher reality, it is the soul; the self-aware soul. It is the corresponding center in (wo)man that corresponds with reality. It is here that one can see a clear link between postcolonial mode of thinking and knowledge production. For one or the other reason, the dilemma one faces while producing knowledge is of essentialism, of classification, of categorization. It all falls back on the basic premise of rationality, the idea to make things “understandable”. What if the fabric that makes life is not only of one colour? What if it is a juxtaposition of randomness with order out of which we are so inclined to deduce only order?

Are we ready to consolidate knowledges produced in fragmented disciplines?

Laing’s (2010) argument for more engaging psychotherapy calls for the Sufistic definitions of human beings, i.e., that of inclusion, of wahdat-ul-wujood (oneness of Being).  All manifested are part of one manifesting manifested. Laing aruges for existential lens to be applied to psychic problems. The individuality mantra is all engulfing, manifesting itself in the dreams in the form of insecurities, called ontological insecurities. Engulfment originates from uncertain sense of good and bad, not limited to but including moral connotations. The absence of unifying code manifests itself in disintegrated psychic structure. Freedom is a movement from point A to B, as freedom entails exhilaration from something arresting and binding. The trajectory the modern definition of freedom projects ends in space, a void. The ending point is not identified in this theory. It is a simple rebellion towards anything binding. The result of such movement is more emptiness, more glorified, well decorated void. The question remains: Are we ready to consolidate knowledges produced in fragmented disciplines to come up with a model that is all encompassing, inclusive and comprehensive. Before it or beyond it, what is left is an illusion.

Language as a filter

Why does one need illusions? Why do these illusions work so effectively? To live the truth, the real and the exact demands courage and warrants understanding. The illusion gives birth to delusion, a belief that goes unchecked, far from reality. But then who delimits what real is, where lies the thin line? Ordinariness wears masks of being special so that it could survive the wrath of being what it is, hence the phenomenon called illusion.

What is unsaid matters more than what is said. Relative is the new absolute, language but a filter to sustain the house of cards of that is called intention – therefore language corrupts.  It is not only created to simplify the communication but to dress up the otherwise naked realities. Some that can be tolerated, others that cannot be accepted, hence repressed as the word does the magic of killing the snake without breaking the stick. Fear makes such filters work more appropriately.  Fear of being alone keeps one connected, and the fear of losing one’s ability to relate renders oneself unable to communicate and create the stuff life is made up of, i.e., human relatedness in socially appropriate ways. Fear gives birth to appropriateness. It transforms personal and psychological into social. Fear restricts agency in its action and scope, but on the other hand, it also promises stability, provided that by the very nature of non-activity it may not get transformed into stagnation and succumb into being a yardstick, a safe point of ordinariness. In such condition the only messiah is illusion, that one is under hierarchical structures. This for me gives birth to structures, one that can be dependable, predictable and manageable.

Days go by like tipping drops of rain. You know they fall but where exactly you don’t know. Life is thus structured; everything is measured, neatly and succinctly. Order brings silence and that becomes the goal that has been achieved very well. Does this cause substantial damage to the inner working of human emotions? The answer is no. The social has raised the psychological with such precision and care that it takes this as natural and is adamant to propagate this as rational to the rest of the world. The lens I am wearing is determining the scene I witness.

Meaningfulness and happiness can go together or can stray apart is an important area of investigation. Here language plays a key in rendering “meaning” to life. To communicate is to construe meaning. The fixity that a word offers actually makes the ever fleeting moments of life discernable, stable and comprehensible. Meaning stays as the core and cog around which the wheel of life keeps rotating. The very belief that all that relates to humans can only be explained within the physically visible limits of human experience is working underneath and there seems to be a problem to argue otherwise. This blind faith in negating the spiritual, the metaphysical is detrimental towards the better and wider understanding of life offered by various traditions and civilizations of human history. No doubt that purpose, with all its survival, cultural and rational choice dimensions, accompanied by value, efficacy and self-worth plays an important part is shaping meaningfulness. But this explanation still remains on the surface.

Imagining unity in diversity

The very idea that meaning links past, present and future in itself symbolizes the existence of unity in diversity. This unity, the urge to find it, is not directed from without but from within; in the faculty of human consciousness but the manifestation of which nevertheless resides outside of that consciousness. By joining past, present and future actually means to find unity in diversity. The very existence of shades, of diversity, is dependent on the existence of poles. A shade is only possible if the mixing opposite colours pre-exists, out of which the relativity of shade can be born. What is unity and diversity in essence? Where exists that point, if at all that claims to unify these binaries? Does there exist anything beyond the principle of unity or is it an end in itself? To mean is to speak and to speak is to symbolize. I find these questions at the heart of postcolonial thought project. For me, the sole reason to know is not to arrange, to understand, but to be vulnerable to the messiness, to get swayed by the chaos of all that I cannot make sense of. I propose to throw the shackles of rationality away and get arrested by the unknown and walk the untraded pathways. It is not about re-visiting; it is about forgetting what we know of our earlier visits and let the sight teach us new ways of looking around.

Aftab Nasir is lecturer at Forman Christian College Lahore, Pakistan. His research interests are post-colonial epistemologies, sociolinguistics, psychoanalysis, political sociology and development studies. Aftab is co-founder of the Convivial Thinking collective and can be contacted at aftab[at]


Deikman, A. J. (1982). The observing self: Mysticism and psychotherapy. Beacon Press.

Laing, R. (2010). The divided self: An existential study in sanity and madness. Penguin UK.

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