The Mahabharata is the ultimate soap opera and raises fundamental dilemmas for humanity, but it is clearly a pragmatic revision of human behavior and ethics to suit the convenience of a power elite and of victors. It is at best a rationalization for selfish Darwinian behavior masquerading under the camouflage of DHARMA. If one really wishes to tout ethical behavior for the greatest utilitarian good, one has to go to the Ramayana for the duty constrained Dashratha, Rama, Lakshamana, Bharata, Sita and Vibhishana. Examples abound in Dashratha's fulfillment of his promise to Kaikeyi, Rama's acquiescence to the Vanvasa, Lakshman's desertion of Urmila on his wedding night and his vow on the Lakshmanrekha, his recognition of only Sita's foot ornaments, Bharata's ruling as a regent for Rama's sandals, Rama's insistence on Hanuman's trip to ensure that Bharata had not changed his mind and wanted to continue his rule (Rama's worry that Bharata may have changed his mind and he did not wish to return and upset the applecart is reminiscent of Tennyson's Lotus Eaters), Rama's unfair desertion of Sita, her forbearance at the injustice and Vibhishana's desertion of his brothers in the greater cause of justice and good.
Even Rama is unethical in the killing of Vali, and let it not be forgotten that these highly touted ethical actions involved unpardonable injustices to Sita, Urmila and even Surpankha. Similar abduction by other males in other epics did not lead to such disfiguring punishment. There is a hidden theme of control over female sexual behavior, which is evident in the more bizarre Mahabharata in the monthly allotment of Draupadi. It is Darwinism that explains this obsession that antedates both Rama and Ramaepithecus and extends until today to the Republican right. It is based on the worry of the male of being cuckolded, and thus leading to waste of his investment in rearing another's child.
The duplicity of Yuddhishtira in 'Narova Kunjerova', Krishna's tolerance for Bhima's breaking Duryodhana's thigh against the Queensberry rules, which even his brother Balarama was unwilling to overlook, the deception during the killing of Jayadratha and the lack of chivalry in dealing with Karna, stand out as sore thumbs, to propound the epic as Dharma. The Gita, though profound, becomes a convenient propaganda of victors, from a less than ethical and definitely partisan Krishna, reminding me of seeking refuge in the Bible by the current breed of evangelist Republicans, just as the earlier Christians justified slavery and colonialism. Even Shiva as a secret conniver of Ashwatthama's dastardly terrorism, stands indicted as an inept, impotent and collaborating god. One can defend him with the stupid argument of Dershowitz as a god training on the job like Yahweh. The least tarnished of all the characters in the Mahabharata is Karna, who comes out as the only person unwilling to sacrifice his principles for material gain, as in his Bhiksha to Indra to surrender his immortality and invincibility, and his refusal to change sides at the behest of Krishna and Kunti. Of course I am omitting minor characters like Vidur. Arjuna's dilemma leading up to the Gita is perfectly understandable from a Darwinian point of view, that it is genetically more beneficial to sacrifice one's personal needs, aggrandizement and even life, for more than four first cousins, leave alone a hundred, and sundry uncles, grandfather and others.
It is important in the modern world as in the past one, to view statements with severe skepticism and disbelief, when a group of believers tout that they have found the only path to truth, justice and morality. The laudable effort to provide rational justification and a tinge of virtue to possibly real or mythical characters is an idle intellectual pursuit, that I don't wish to denigrate because of human nature and its desire of historical and cultural relevance, but is of no consequence or importance to resolving the conundrums of present reality. Mahabharata is a lesson in the follies of human frailty with warnings of how to avoid falling into the morass, but the prescriptive Gita still is a subtle brainwashing of the masses to stifle their ambitions and desires to preserve the status quo.
Morality and virtue are artificial constructs however laudable, devised by the human psyche to justify convenient atrocities and domination, like the lies of history perpetuated by victors. The Nuremberg trials by bombers of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the current dastardly scumbag Saddam's trial by those who committed the atrocities of Vietnam and turn a blind eye to the injustices done to the Palestinians, merely confirm the farce foisted by the victors. The differential treatment of Milosevic and our shenanigans to shield ourselves from war crimes and the International Criminal Court while running Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are the epitome of absurd mockery of justice and ethics. So was the Mahabharata fictional or otherwise. The civility, polity and legal constraints were mainly promulgated to ensure safety and security by the haves, who had illegitimately garnered more then their fair share of worldly wealth.
In my cynical impeachment, I am not blind to some of their necessity and good, however unintended, nor scathingly less critical of the pretentious virtue of the left as exemplified by the old Soviet Union and the current China and North Korea. Their only redeeming virtue comes from the fact and necessity that humans as social animals with an insecure ego, need and crave for approval from spouse, family or society. Even this beneficial curse of evolution is not absolute and there may come a time where the innate and deep-rooted selfishness of living creatures may supersede their inadequacies, to turn them into self-destroying creatures, enamored with their own pleasures for an ephemeral existence.
This is already happening in developed countries. The insatiable and pleasurable sex- drive evolved to allow creatures to risk everything for the slim chance of propagating their genes. These range from being eaten by the mate as in some spiders, risking death and disability as in contests of male animals and commitment to a spouse and sometimes slaving for life, to give children a running start. The pill has liberated women where they can indulge in promiscuous sex without consequences and led men to indulge in the same without commitment or responsibility. The chauvinistically sexist but evolutionarily correct selfish attitude of the providing male makes him rebel against being cuckolded, at least after marriage in the so-called enlightened Western societies and often leads to internecine quarrels and discord even in communes without relatively permanent non-marital conjugal bonds. An interesting corollary of this newest evolutionary happenstance is that many affluent couples, particularly in developed countries do not see the need for emotional, financial and time commitment to raise children, who constrain their lifestyle in more ways than one. This is what a new generation of double income, no kids (DINKS) do. Darwin can still laugh that these ideologies are destined for the dust-heap of history, as their extreme selfishness is doomed to perish, for they will leave no survivors with similar ideology.
This is currently the biggest cause of worry for the West. There are not enough working progeny to finance the munificent benefits promised to aging retirees. The humanistic guarantees are a millstone round its neck. No good deed or intention goes unpunished and the curse of unintended consequences thwarts the plans of those not only with foresight, but also those without due foresight, unwilling to postpone gratification and plan for the future. The purpose of my thesis is not to take a moral or Darwinian stance and pontificate on their destructiveness leading to extinction, but to emphasize, that despite my admirable belief in Darwinism, it is not an undefeatable obstacle for determined individuals, for they can buck it, if they do not aspire to immortality, as all religious and spiritual snake oil, promises.
Finally on another amusing note of supreme irony, it is a matter of humorous amusement that the evolution of speech has given a Pyrrhic victory to Lamarck, who has proved partially right for the wrong reasons, that much beneficial heritage can be passed on without involving genes. I compliment him for the accolade of not completely futile turns in his grave! In similar fashion, it is imperative for the neo-apologists and nouveau interpreters of the Mahabharata, touting a new paradigm to stop being 'Kupmandukas', and wake up to the newest problems of evolution, globalization and neo-colonialism, without completely neglecting the old or being obsessively mired in it. This is not to belittle their efforts and one must acknowledge the innovative brilliance of a few like Pradip Bhattacharya and colleagues. It often resembles the novel interpretations of some critics who attribute meanings and significance to old works of art, literature and sometimes even history that one seriously doubts their creators intended. It is time to channel our resources, intellect and efforts to face, combat and be equipped to counter the presently prevalent realities, while still cherishing, reminiscing and glorifying the past without being obsessed with it in view of its present irrelevance.