On St. Patrick’s Day, and On the Need for Other Such Social Outlets

I believe that society needs collective outlets for releasing the frustrations that are inherent to communal life.

Allow me to explain: the gradual building up of social tension is an inherent fact of communal life. Living together always generates tensions and frustrations that build up over time to dangerous proportions. These pressures and tensions must find an outlet for release. And because the forces and circumstances that give rise to these tensions are themselves a function of life in the community, the outlets also have to be communal occasions.

Historically, these outlets have come in different shapes and forms: but all have certain common features to them that fulfill the function of expiating and cleansing and releasing the pressures and tensions that are built up. This means that all of them have elements of pomp and show and spectacle and bonding.

Few things in the world unite people and hold their collective fascination as do spectacles that appeal to their deepest held hidden desires. This is why historically bacchanalistic orgies and violence have performed the function of expiating spectacles for society. Take the Greeks: they had their annual occasions for bacchanalia – for paying homage to the diety of the senses, to the dionysian. They had the first orgies and the first instances of collective drinking and wastefulness and drunkenness. It cleansed them. It was an important social ritual.

Then the Romans, decidedly different from Greeks, had their shows of violence and blood and gore: the Gladiators. It held captive the imaginations of the masses and provide periodical release to the tensions that would have otherwise blown out of proportion. The gladiators were an important social ritual, but also an important administrative tool.

Modern societies have generally neglected the need for such social occasions. Modern society has veered off course towards the Apollonian and away from the Dionysian. It has tried to deny in itself the existence of a strong dionysian streak that demands satisfaction and fulfillment. This is partly the reason for the many ills of modern social life. It is also the reason for a large number of wars, civil or international.

Despite the Judeo-Christian-Islamic negation of the Dionysian, the Dionysian has always found a way to creep up and subvert certain religious and moralistic rituals to manifest itself. The Witch-burnings, the public lashings and stonings, the public executions implemented by the Taliban – all of these had elements of spectacle and show in them, and performed the same task as did the gladiators of yesteryear. Furthermore, in societies where a general atmosphere of moralist pretension prevails, tensions often build to such dangerous proportions as to boil over and cause social conflict. Look again at the example of Afghanistan – a strongly moralist society where pretension prevails, while in reality, all people have their respective weakenesses be it for alcohol, women, men, or assorted other sources of fun and wastedness. But there is no single day to let out all of the tensions and fulfil and satisfy all of these desires in a collective spirit – so you have civil wars, often bloody affairs where the parties involved go to unseemly length to satisfy their deepest urges. Of course I am not denying that this is partly because of the gradual dehumanizing of the other that is also inherent in such societies as do get involved in civil wars, but there is still a strong case for suppression of deep urges and the lack of social rituals that satisfy the bacchanalistic desires of people leading into social violence. Say, if Nowrouz was to become such an occasion – an excuse for a public week-long holiday from the high-minded moralism of society, things would improve drastically, even dramatically.

Other modern societies have already realized the important function of such outlets – look at the Carnavals in Latin American countries, and especially Brazil. With so much unequality and social tension, have you ever wondered why Brazil does not make headlines for civil unrest? Ditto India and the many festivities, notably the colorful affair that is Holi. I am sure many high-minded moralists would frown at this useless and tasteless throwing of colors that makes for messy clothes and messy streets. But these people miss the bigger picture. Recently Pervez Musharraf, the Military ruler and president of Pakistan supported the return of the kite flying festival Basant, while a number of moralists disagreed with him on grounds that the festival causes a number of fatalities every year. Musharraf understands that the mass fatalities that the annual celebration of Basant prevents is far greater than the fatalities that it causes, and any ways, things can be done to prevent those fatalities and injuries. Then there is the Persian “Char-shanbay Suri” – where people dance around fires in an event reminiscent of the ancient Zoroastrian rites. In later years, Iranian youths have turned up in great numbers in streets dancing around fires and blaring music, and doubtless, smoking and drinking for good measure. If the Mullahs are clever, they ought to not only turn a blind eye on the day, but to expand it to a week of freedom from social strictures. The list goes on…

Well, just another such occasion in the US is the St. Patrick’s day, which was yesterday, which is the excuse for this post. For the first time in my life, I participated rather full-heartedly in the affair, cognizant of its expiatory and cathartic benefits. So happy belated St. Patty’s day. As a friend pointed out in the early wee hours of this morning, there is something endearing about celebrating the death of a person who tried to stop people from drinking. St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is regarded as having converted Ireland to Christianity. He died on March 17th. Happy birthday o’ Saint, and Happy St. Patrick’s day o World. I warn you – find your excuse to drink and celebrate and jubilate and get wasted and drunk, otherwise, you are liable to kill each other.

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~ by safrang on March 18, 2007.

One Response to “On St. Patrick’s Day, and On the Need for Other Such Social Outlets”

  1. Orgy… Ummmm…

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