Saturday, January 24, 2009

The 'common' existence

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel annoyed at being referred to as 'common'? And being lumped together in one category with most of the world's - certainly the country's - population, as if we were all one homogeneous, amorphous mass, robots, all, cast in one mould by an indifferent, bored Creator? Or are most people so used to this 'common' label that we don't really care to dwell on the connotations - the signifieds, if you will - of this simple word, an exercise that would, in all likelihood, cause us to ask belligerently in our best Eliza Dolittle manner - ''Ere! Oo are you callin' common, then'?

A few second on gave me 22 results, of which only a few suited my needs:

1. of mediocre or inferior quality; mean; low: a rough-textured suit of the most common fabric.
2. coarse; vulgar: common manners.
3. lacking rank, station, distinction, etc.; unexceptional; ordinary: a common soldier; common people; the common man; a common thief.

Note the juxtaposition of words here - inferior quality, mean, low; unexceptional, ordinary; and the gradual degeneration of the common people into the common man and then the common thief. Consider, then, the obviously non-ordinary, very exceptional people who us 'common' types are pitted against, the same people who speak patronisingly of the 'common man' (where, pray, are the 'common women'?), citizens, fans, without knowing the first thing about who - or what - they're talking about: in our country, it's the politicians and celebrities, who all, with very few exceptions, hail from the over-hyped, over-rated and, to my 'common' mind, the very mediocre world of showbiz. Although, considering that politicians are all uncommonly self-serving, uncommonly corrupt, uncommonly ignorant and uncommonly stupid; and showbiz celebrities are uncommonly lacking in talent, uncommonly parasitical, uncommonly self-indulgent, uncommonly ignorant and stupid, that distinction does make some sense; however, it's precisely for this reason that my 'common' self rebels against this unflattering label.

Isn't it absurd that most of us who are better educated, decidedly more intelligent, and worthy and useful members of society than the preening members of the category supposedly signifying 'station and distinction' should agree to this demeaning label thrust upon us by the latter group? The term 'commoners' might make sense in a country like Britain, where it's used to separate the royalty from the rest of the people, but in democratic countries - however farcical that democracy might be - this label has no meaning. We should rebel. And ask for this term to be brought under the 'politically incorrect' category - perhaps, from now on, we should agree to be called, say, 'financially challenged' (because, as we all know, one of the biggest, and possibly the most important, factors separating the 'common' from the 'uncommon' is money - it's money, and the power and resources and luxuries it brings in its wake that gives the 'uncommon' ones their 'distinction'), or the 'Thinking, Educated, Socially Aware Section'.

A digression - the discipline of sociology eschews the term 'common', and its various definitions - the very first seminar that was held at the beginning of our MA course at the D'School was on 'Sociology vs Common Sense' - it was believed that we wouldn't be on our way to being good sociologists till we purged everything commonsensical, commonly believed and accepted from out systems. After all, every student of sociology knows just how difficult it is to categorise any group of people, more so in a country like India - there are castes and sub-castes - varna and jati - communities demarcated and split again and again on the basis of region, religion, sub-sects, languages, dialects, cultural specificities; but let's leave that discussion for later.

In the meantime, if any of you agree with me, do come up with more names for our own sub-group!