The Great Debaters

I watched the movie – The Great Debaters (released in 2007), directed by and starring Denzel Washington. In my opinion, he is one of the best actors in the world at the moment. The movie is inspired by a true story that took place in the year 1935 when a small school in Marshall, Texas broke new ground in debating against the top white colleges of the time and won. Like most Denzel Washington movies, the movie was excellent. The actors and the depiction of the time – 1935, is supreme.

In the movie, the character Melvin Tolson narrates a story about the origin of the word “lynching”. He says, “Anybody know who Willie Lynch was? Anybody? Raise your hand. No one? He was a vicious slave owner in the West Indies. The slave-masters in the colony of Virginia were having trouble controlling their slaves, so they sent for Mr. Lynch to teach them his methods. The word “lynching” came from his last name. His methods were very simple, but they were diabolical. Keep the slave physically strong but psychologically weak and dependent on the slave master. Keep the body, take the mind.” While the truth behind this story is nowadays considered a hoax, the last part is what interests me the most. “Keep the body, take the mind”, he says.

I find that quite revealing of the methods employed every day, in multiple roles even in the present day society in India. Recently, a friend was describing the environment at his office that he had joined recently. He opined that everyone there was tuned to work in a machine like fashion. When asked why they don’t question the rationale behind the tasks they have been assigned, they answered, “we were told to just do as much as we are asked to do”. Essentially, the supervisors in the office were practicing what Willie Lynch did all those years back in the West Indies.

This is obviously not an isolated incident. I am reasonably certain that different flavors of the same theory are enacted in every walk of life across the spectrum of industries. We are taught, at a very young age, to listen to what the elders say. I should say that we are trained to be that way, not just taught. As we grow up, we learn that this is the way to work and get work done! So, what follows is instructions – precisely how X needs to be done, the steps needed to perform X in a particular way. Why? Because I said so! Don’t ask questions – please do as you are told! When this is taken to its extremity, what transpires is that the subordinate feels morally obligated to stay and do as told. We end up keeping the body, taking the mind with us.

Modern day money lending in rural India is another shining example. The farmer “borrows” the seeds from the money lender, pledging half his produce to him. If there is a drought, then he is indebted. The interest rates mean that once in the cycle of borrowing seeds/ money starts rolling, there is no stopping those wheels. Newton’s law of inertia of motion takes full effect. The money lenders keep the body of the farmer for their profits, they take the mind.

Residing in Bengaluru, I am a Techie by profession and a thinker and doer by birth. I muse about any topic under the sun and love to share my thoughts in print when I am not doing something with them. I love reading and at some point, thought that maybe others would like to read what I have to write, too!

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