A Faustian Bargain

Photo from screen grab of ’Ending scene in Faust’ (1926)

We have struck a Faustian bargain.

Conrad Saldanha

Which our fantasies seduce us to realize, we have willingly foregone our humanity. We see this in all the facets of our lives.

In education we school a child into getting high percentages and being in the top percentile so that the equity of the school is raised, but in the process we forego the opportunity of focusing on the development of the child into a good human being.

In normal circumstances we seek careers which will bring us status and wealth and receive the applause of society but in the process become diminished human beings because what we do does not satisfy our soul.

Business conglomerates seek to become the biggest, largest, and fastest growing entities on the planet as if they are continuously in the race for entering the Guinness Book of records and in the process build such gargantuan structures which straddle the world but dwarf and alienate the human being. The employee does not experience any connect between what he is doing and the satisfaction of his inner being. The purpose of work stands compromised. We have forfeited the employee’s resonance with what she/he is doing for the accumulation of profits to achieve hegemony.

In the pursuit of complete control of life, we have reduced man to data and algorithmic processes severing his relationship with nature. He is now devoid of meaning or spirit.

As the world becomes more complex it is harder to understand and comprehend and therefore one tends to reduce it to simple polarities. In the process of doing this, we have sacrificed living life with all its paradoxes and complicatedness and reduced it to simplistic antipodes which has resulted in the growth of fundamentalism and dictatorships.

We have pursued the satisfaction of an ever increasing number of needs and wants at the expense of making us less human. Less is more. With fewer needs to satisfy we can experience more the essence of life rather than its camouflage.

The more powerful we become the more we tend to isolate ourselves. We feel the need to distance ourselves from the plebeians. We wall ourselves up in palatial homes. We seclude ourselves in bungalows with huge walls and barricades. We travel in air-conditioned cars which are preferably fitted with tinted glasses. Our offices are located on the top most floor or in the corner room. 

Everything is done to intimidate and make others feel small. We resort to living contrived lives and experience contrived emotions till the time when we do not even know how to feel true emotion. We become narcissists incapable of empathising. Like Slobodan Milosevic, the ex — President of Yugoslavia who committed crimes against humanity but when interviewed on television in December 2000 said “I can sleep peacefully and my conscience is completely clear”. 

In our pursuit of power we lose our sensitivity to the pain of others.

We create a concrete world based on our sense of aesthetics very often at the expense of nature. We need to destroy nature to build our habitats. But our architecture lacks soul. The edifice may be the tallest in the world but it leaves one dry and arid. Whereas the Amazon forest with all its dirt and messiness gives rise to such beauty and harmony that one is stupefied and forced to bow down in reverence. In the blind pursuit of our own image of beauty we forego the opportunity of working with nature to create harmony.

Nature embodies the presence of God. But if we have lost our souls in a Faustian bargain we do not see the presence of God in nature. The forest is seen in commercial terms. We have learnt to rationalise our actions and hide the truth. The truth is too painful to acknowledge or pursue. Our lies have become the truth. What a distorted world we have created, all because of a Faustian bargain!

At the heart of it all lies the quest for living a life that matters. And for that we need to become human again. Faust, the main character in Goethe’s poem of the same name, realizes in the end that one needs to deeply care; to be fully and authentically human. This is what makes a worthy life.