Monday, June 15, 2020

Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times

Ordinary Life

"Ordinary life is life without condition. It assumes no science, no technology, no religion, no methods of organisation and communication of knowledge, it assumes nothing. It is not true, austere or moral life, for there is falsehood, extravaganza and immorality in ordinary life. But it has the criteria of truth, morality, justice, wisdom etc. in it." (

We cannot ever have words which are more apt to describe what is ordinary life. Ordinary life is not always true, good and beautiful, but it has the standards of truth, beauty and goodness.

There can be excellence and appreciation of excellence in ordinary life - excellence of knowledge, art, ethical behavior. Everything is not 'ordinary' in ordinary life.

Ordinary life has always existed. It was taken for granted. Everything else came and then passed away - political systems, religions, technologies, philosophies appeared and disappeared. But ordinary life was always there. One did not need to speak of it, it was taken for granted.

Threat to Ordinary Life

Now we are living in an age where 'ordinary life' has become the most extraordinary thing. This is because the conditions necessary for ordinary life are threatened.

Earth itself is under threat. The rivers, forests, land, mountains, seas - all are under threat. There is no ordinary life without the bounties that earth provides. And the knowledge that lives in ordinary life is threatened. There is no regard for such knowledge. All activities of life from birth to growing up, from disease to cure and healing, work and play, from food to entertainment etc. etc. are under threat. From what does this threat come we do not know for sure - technology, capital, political systems, science etc. They used to operate taking ordinary life for granted. Now they threaten ordinary life itself.

Life without Ordinary Life

One response to this situation that is taking shape now in the front rank of dominant classes is that ordinary life is beyond redemption. We have to prepare for a future without ordinary life. We have to build technologies, systems of knowledge and control, systems of finance, etc. etc. that will equip human beings to construct a form of life that will survive the destruction of ordinary life and this planet for the foreseeable future.

There is an understanding and a conviction associated with such attitudes that this can't be done for the whole of humanity. This new form of life will necessitate not only exclusion of large number of people, but even their destruction cannot be ruled out.  This is not a conspiracy. The belief is that this is the only realistic way out unless we want to go back to a pre-technological phase of life. There is an underlying sense of the hard decisions that have to be made, and sentiments that have to be curbed.

This can be seen in the policy circles in the form of 'converging technologies' agenda, in certain attitudes to loss or possible loss of life in adoption of certain courses of action by politicians, in proposals of intensive virtualisation of life, in utopian zeal of new-age capitalists like Elon Musk, in currents of thought called 'post-humanism'. Names do not matter. This is not going to be an overt political project. My sense is that this vision of our future has been explored again and again in science fiction both in dystopian and utopian manner.

All this of course is in the name of the next ultimate step for humanities' progress where the humanity is emancipated from its dependence on natural processes of earth and reproduction of living creatures.

No Life without Ordinary Life

The other response is that life without ordinary life is no life.

It is perhaps such recognition which is the source of affinity among certain kinds of ideas, organisations, and movements. For example, Lokavidya, Sacred Economy, Food Soveignty, Rights of Mother Earth. There will be others.

It seems to me that 'the political' today gets defined by ordinary life, and not by the knowledge question. The questions of knowledge and lokavidya remain important in this 'politics', but my sense is that they do not define the political. In fact, 'the political' itself will have to be redefined in this extraordinary situation, where ordinary life is under threat of destruction.

There is another thing about ordinary life. We cannot banish 'dukha' or suffering from ordinary life. It seems to me that the project of banishing all suffering from life has in some way resulted in this threat to ordinary life that we face today.

-Avinash Jha


  1. "(Ordinary life) has the criteria of truth, morality, justice, wisdom etc. in it."- found this very apt. Perhaps there is a need to look at the classical political space in order to save and celebrate the ordinary man.

  2. Thanks for writing this reflective piece Avinash. It was nice but disturbing in some very fundamental way. I am still mulling over some of the things you have said e.g. the end of ordinariness in the future...Will respond at greater length later if I can manage it:)