The Myth of the Genie


We have all heard the story about the Genie who promised to kill the man he served, if he were not given anything else to accomplish.

Before that of course, arises the question, where and how did the man exactly find the lamp?

The believing existentialists (Søren Aabye Kierkegaard et al) would claim that it was strategically placed there by the Almighty lord who knew exactly why and we need not ponder over the issue. The non-believing existentialists (Jean-Paul Sartre et al) would claim that it was nothing but chance. Let us, for our present purposes, keep this ‘Existence of the Almighty’ debate aside for later, blame the issue of the lamp on chance and move ahead with our discussion.

So here is our man, armed literally, with the Genie who is willing and powerful enough to achieve anything, if there be anything to be achieved that is.

Consider for a moment, this man is you or me. We are all salivating at the prospect. We start thinking. Money and all the things money can buy? Love? Oh yes, the Genie, willing and powerful, can get us all this and more. We need to just imagine it and behold – it is there. This goes on for some time. That time, varying for different set of people, could range from moments to years depending on how foolish we are. And I would reserve comment on which one it is exactly that is the foolish category. Whatever the case, it would not be long before it all gets done. If there be the slightest doubt in your mind at this point in time that your list will exhaust before you knew, then I would suggest a test. Get yourself a notebook and start throwing the things one by one into your bucket. If you get beyond a few pages, let me know. I shall redo my list of things that I should not be running after. Any which way, you would run out of things before you run out of ink, sooner than you imagined.

And before the Genie kills you and then makes itself redundant too, Albert Camus says there will be but, only one philosophical problem remaining to be solved – the problem of suicide (read Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus).

And as Steve Jobs said, no one wants to die; not even people who want to go to heaven. (read the Stanford Address).

Then, what do we do!

Let me try and answer that by addressing the myth of the Genie. I hope you have always been credulous enough to know that the Genie can not really exist. It can only be believed to be existing. And none of us has ever encountered such a thing. At least, had I been the unlucky one, I would be having it write me this essay while I thought how to escape from the clutches of death at its hands. Hypotheses apart, the Genie does not really exist. It is only a metaphor. Don’t tell me you still haven’t got who really the Genie is!

So here you are in this world due to some quirk of fate or of science, ready to achieve anything, if only you are willing enough. You have set yourself a list, or worse, others have done it for you, all the while you were going through different Freudian fixations of yours – putting things into your mouth, being potty-trained, becoming aware of the existence of the other sex, recognizing your sexual drives, and of course defending yourself against them by going to school, college, university, et cetera. And so many other things, amongst them your urges against / for your mother / father depending on what sex you are and finding the underlying meanings of things, the opposites of which could be as true (read Sigmund Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis).

Let us get this one thing straight. What becomes of you totally depends on what you want to become; In other words, your death or life, or what you make of them, depends only on the Genie that is YOU.

And lest you get killed or kill yourself, (in the case of our metaphor, both things being one and the same) go find yourself a purpose. But remember, the purpose is good only if it lasts till death do you part. I know it is very paradoxical because purposes are set to be achieved. So is death at the hand of the Genie the only inevitable end?

Of course not. Why not ask the Genie in the first place, to find a purpose which will last, till one does.  The Genie, it knows, there is only one such purpose and that being, the search of the very purpose. That happens, and the Genie will start his search, the only answer to which is death (read Srimad Bhagavad Gita).

And we have to embark on a never ending quest of our own, just like the Buddha did. And it is the journeys that matters, not the end, says Umberto Eco (read Foucault’s Pendulum).

Fear not, the time will never be better. The journey must begin. And while we are at it, we must live life to the fullest, each moment at a time and we shall have saved ourselves. The myth of the Genie will be dispelled.

    • Abhaya Acharya
    • मार्च 10th, 2010

    Dear Sir,
    The message is delivered with clarity indeed, without being preachy and I accept that I am uninitiated to quite a few of the ideas which form the base of the text. But can’t help but notice that the behavioral prescriptions in the text are quite utopian.
    Utopianism does not appeal to me for the very simple reason that it can’t be realized. Socialism, even after its well founded criticism of the free market mechanism (I prefer this term to capitalism, for some reason unknown to me), does not find many takers simply because reformation does not end at pointing flaws. There is this additional onus on the critic to propose an alternative mechanism and this is where socialism fails as the alternative it prescribes is too idealistic. Concentration of power is inevitable, what we can strive towards is ensuring a good trickle down effect. Similarly, any model with its footing on utopian principles of human behavior is likely to appeal less.
    Additionally the characteristics of ‘The Ideal’ in Utopia are based on the conformists’ idea of ‘good’ which in itself invites many conflicts. To elucidate upon that I would like to bring up a prosaic yet (hopefully) effective example of the ‘Barbie doll’. Barbies are perfect examples of the ideal female beauty as conventionally perceived my men and as (deeply and foolishly) desired by women. A beautiful woman (appearance wise) should be fair-skinned, should have long blond hair and should be tall, slender and svelte. (Don’t believe me? How many times have black females won global beauty pageants? There are many more examples but I will leave it for another day). Every teenager has spent hours in front of the mirror looking at herself and her doll, in turns, and thereafter, critically assessing her physique. I am not digressing from the point, what I mean to say is that something consensually perceived to be ideal need not necessarily be right and the best. Social consensus can be wrong or deluded as well (as is the case with beauty). And generally these form the basis of Utopian ideas.
    These two points about utopianism is what I dislike. It does serves as a good reference for bettering self but its prescriptions should not be considered sacrosanct.
    And now I think I do agree with the point that the journey is the better part of it.
    I know I must have stepped into a mine-field saying all this to one like you. Please don’t laugh at mistakes on account of ignorance and do correct me wherever I have gone wrong. Please do bear in mind that I am a novice and don’t hold anything against me, I was just speaking my mind.

  1. goood!

    • puneet
    • अक्टूबर 4th, 2010

    dis story zz a beautiful ( or a genieful ) way to make people realise wat they want to make out of their lives !!!!!!

    • puneet
    • अक्टूबर 4th, 2010

    dis story zz a beautiful ( or a genieful ) way to make people realise wat they want to make out of their lives !!!!!

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