The Problem With Perception


I always remember what my lecturer said during a heated lecture on colonialism and identity: we think from the place we’re seated. And now I think he was correct. We view, interpret, and analyze the world from where we stand. This is often if I am not wrong, is perception. Our perception shapes us and creates the world, destiny, and even goals for us. It is what defines us, and explain the meaning of life, and even the idea of existence.

It makes me thinking–what defines what is right and what is wrong? How can I be right and your thinking wrong? Yet again it’s the problem with perception. Our reaction to a new perception is often determined by how conflicting it is to ours. For example, no race has the right to rule over another race and abuse them. Yet colonialism did happen. The perception then was that the so-called people had got the right to travel around the world and do what they needed to survive. Others who confronted this perception didn’t agree. The first problem with perception is conflict. The Latin word for conflict means fligere–to strike. So when we perceive we’re in fact striking and creating a possible struggle with another person. This struggle is ubiquitous.

Can the world become perfect? Is perfection an attainable state or idea? Some of us fear to die and hate mortality. I wonder why we’re so obsessed with living forever in the state of perfection. Isn’t perfection a result of perception? We perceive life after death. And that is why we have three levels of perception: a) universal b) communal c) individual.
Universal perceptions are the most debated and heated one. Few of them are: the final destruction of Earth is inevitable; human migration to Mars is possible and important; the future of human race as for how it will be and who will rule, and most importantly the idea or rulers and ruled. There’s no greatest agreement on these issues. An individual will conform to either one based on their seating. Yet it is agreed that any race has no rights whatsoever to rule another race. Or humans are to be ruled. Sadly, we already have a state system which we perceive as the only present solution for lawlessness, and barbarism. Without laws we are barbaric; with laws, our hands are chained. Yet it is true that there are crazy people around the world who wants to blow up a building and smile after seeing people die from it. This perception of fear is the second one that plagues humanity. Well, it is my perception, don’t forget it.

This perception of fear is the key part of state structures, laws, immigration laws, surveillance, wars and the list goes on. We fear other people who look different, think different, act different, and live differently. We fear people wherever we go or whether we never get outside of our group or community. This communal fear exists in every corner of the world, and in every race. No race can claim that it doesn’t fear another race. If one does, then they are something special. Because all of us have the perception that finds our relationship with others in the present world.

Individual perceptions can trap a person in the closet. I mean ‘shell’. The way words are used and defined in various cultures, and countries are astounding. One word can be normal in one nation, and yet illegal in another. Gay rights are legal in Nepal, and in its neighboring country India it is illegal now. The way people perceive, sometimes, force the legal system to define the perception based on its individuals and groups for the perception of state existence cannot exist without individuals perceiving it to be needed or not in the first place. If individuals perceive something is unimportant and rotten then they will do their best to get rid of it if they can. The state too fears its own citizens. Hence, the world system like globalization, and capitalism works based on the perceptions of people. This basic principle applies to almost all systems. However, perceptions should be validated as either right or wrong. Yet again it’s hard to decide on what is right and what is wrong although as humans we can agree on basic statements like: right to live, work, eat, sleep, travel, and live life. These basic statements have been made complex over the course of time due to the perceptions in the world at the moment. Because life has got complex, so is the world. Perception rules.

So in this vertically structured world, it is almost impossible to dismantle perceptions. Yet it is essential to get rid of perceptions that only makes our lives miserable, and also complicates life for future generations. And still, humans perceive the world to exist for few hundreds of years or so and act accordingly. This perception of mortality and short-life makes people act in an inhumane way. But what does it mean to be human?

I am always right, right?

Arun is the Founding Editor of Kathmandu Tribune.