On the all pervasive shrillness and the “liberals”

sjw

A “postmodern” activist, often referred derogatorily as a Social Justice Warrior.

I have used “liberals” here in the American sense of the word that includes all left of the centre political stands including main stream, the identity politics thumping new left and far left. To my mind, the best political cartoon that describes this decade is that of a hysteric activist with a placard reading “Stop profanity against the oppressed! Down with the racist, classist, homophobic, misogynist pigs !”, shouting the same at others while holding a selfie stick. Irony is the most hard to get figure of speech from the repertoire of a skillful writer. Even intelligent people misses it out very often, and less said about wannabes, the better. Coming from somewhere in the political left spectrum, I started wondering about the members of my erstwhile clan since quite some time; not to mention the fact that we were in a clan or a tribe with its unique superstitions, Gods and rituals that we accused others of, was the beginning of the dawn. In my observation, other than learning from the tactics of the political left, right has not done much on its own. As movements go, right-wing in various cultural contexts have always been driven by insecurity, reaction to the change in status-quo, predictable aggression and violence. But what has fundamentally changed is the way and manner in which the political left, mostly from the academia and the media, have started developing the narrative of the world and the events.

Consider this image. A vocal social media persona who spares no effort in bashing what she describes as the patriarchal, anti-Dalit, Islamophobic nexus of main stream left, liberals, right and popular culture of this third world country. She doesn’t spare any one mind you, although sometimes it done is for right reasons like that proverbial dead clock. Now she proudly presents herself as a supporter of Hillary Clinton in that numero uno first world country. This irony will not be lost by any intelligent Dalit or Muslim woman on the street. Again, meet this grand pretender of a theoretician for the glorious just causes, who possess detective skills to deduce appropriation of the ideas and icons of oppressed people, though he is not one among them. Let us forget the fact that the most charitable way to look at his theories are as a bunch of adhoc arguments without coherence but with enough wow sounding words. If you did not know that logic in itself is a Eurocentric violence against the colonial subjects by the white hereto-normative hegemony, you are a privilege blind, lackey of the oppressors. Okay just pretend that those bombastic words are full of deep meanings with mystical connotations that nobody has really been able to explain them in a cogent manner, lest you be called ignorant or arrogant, often both. If you really thought that these two anecdotes or its various alternative forms are either insignificant exceptions or exaggerations, let me tell you that you are part of the political left’s delusion.

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In my opinion the worst failure of the left political spectrum in general is not lack of imagination, which although is definitely one from the list. It is getting caught in one’s own rhetoric. They have long forgot to ask relevant questions, not that they were very good with answers any time. Marxists were wrong about economics and political rights. It took almost a century for people at large to understand this. The perceptive economists and philosophers from the twentieth century itself never had a doubt about the same though. The failure of theory gave rise to various schools of (spurious) public intellectuals who went on with non-falsifiable discourses surrounding identities and culture. With extensive verbiage and appeal to emotions, they made a large section of people convinced about the plausibility of those proposals, without moving the larger social debate an inch forward. It is not that these people were necessarily fraud, but only incompetents who found a short cut to avoid a rigorous philosophic justification- a Machiavellian tactic of selective application of relativism. In fact, these discourse peddling has hurt the third world countries more than the industrialized first world, although that is a different topic of discussion. The cacophony of today’s media driven political agenda was essentially a ghost unleashed by the new left, and if you are honest, do not blame it on the right or centrists. The worst part of the whole process is that today the only argument of the new left and people influenced by its doctrine is that your opponent is a bad person!! There is no need to debate the whys and hows of political questions, for the discussion is surrounded on some cuss words.

The question that everyone who do not subscribe to right’s cultural dogmas should ask is whether this meanness has generated anything beneficial. Let me be bold enough to predict that it will not do any good, even in future. I do not believe in left’s politically correct speak that all people are equally kind, intelligent or ethical. No, but the division is not on the basis of gender, caste, religion, ethnicity or creed, but as individuals who are conscientious and those who are not. Very often people who are not conscientious flock together in groups where their interests meet or because they can be manipulated. To that extend all mobs which display aggression, disregard for other people’s rights, thoughtlessness and lack of intelligence have to be called out. There is no need to be apologetic about doing that. However manipulating the intellectual space to the extend of disallowing your critics by tagging them with your chosen cuss words is not going to help. I sincerely believe that even the least wise people are saner than the twitter throw ups.


Also published as facebook note here.

Why is victimhood the new cool?

Warning : This post does not present an argument that there are no victims and aggressors. Also, it does not intend to propose that people who portray themselves as victims, in whatever context, most often are not. The purpose is to explore the logic behind the growing popularity of victimhood narratives across the political spectrum. Other readings that raise such insinuations or arbitrary deconstructions suiting various political positions are either malevolent or uninformed.


Think about it, why does a media showman like Arnab Goswami known for aggression, machismo and complete disregard for journalistic ethics, describe his newly found media as a defensive venture against the oppressive liberal elite? Why does an introduction written by Arundhati Roy to Ambedkar’s Anihilation of Caste, attract extreme wrath from certain Dalit intellectuals and activists. This campaign which was objectively more visible in the social media circles,  was projected as a tirade against oppression by the so-called Savarna elite, way more than a grass root level resistance against caste motivated physical attacks?

We must ask ourselves a question. Has the world suddenly gone so bad and horrible, that narratives from all kind of political positions are centered around how bad they are treated? The left, and quite unsurprisingly so, maintains that the people from working class are the victims of the cruel machinations of the global financial capital and imperialist state policies dictated by an elite political class. The new left, or the more identitarian version that sprung from 1960’s (the self described social justice fighters), describes their politics as a resistance to the oppression by the hetero-patriarchal, white (or Brahminical in India) hegemony that is all pervasive. And now, the right has learned the trick and describes themselves as fighters against the oppression of the nexus of academic liberal left, biased liberal media and villains from outside their civilizations, hellbent on destroying their glorious traditions. The villains of the right changes religion as we cross national boundaries, even though the liberals of various hues and colours remain a constant. If all of them are to be believed, we are really screwed from all directions! Is that so?

the_better_angels_of_our_nature Has the world gone bad?

Steven Pinker argues in this 2011 book, The better angels of our nature, that extreme forms of violence have been decreasing with the passing of age. The book in itself got quite a bit of ire from various sources, from postmodern theorists to Nicholas Taleb. However, one argument that it raises is still worthy of consideration. Even if we cannot assert that extreme violence has not gone down (substantially), it can certainly be asserted that there is no upward trend. This may not sit well with the political propositions of the new left, which is only bad for them. Another important thinker, Yual Noah Harari  argues in his book Homo Deus that:

In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.”

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If we go by any available statistics it is unmistakable that with all the challenges, humanity as a whole is not worse off today than it were 25 years before. What is true for the world is true for India too, though there is a huge variation among the people who reaped the benefits of the political changes and technological advancement. If such is the case, why are political positions and justifications increasingly built up on victimhood premise?

Possible explanations

I want to consider three possibilities here:

  1. The success of left wing’s  victimhood narrative in establishing dominance in the high culture spheres  has made the right wing follow suit. It is just a catching up phenomena.
  2. The increasing awareness of own rights, isolation and growing ability to express due to social media, in that order is responsible.
  3. Though extreme violence might not be on increase, more subtle forms of dominations are on the rise because overt violence is not cool. Therefore, the new victimhood narratives are the result of growth in repressed violence combined with democratization of media.

Repressed violence

Let us take case 3 first. The  idea is explained through the block diagram below. Simply put, this proposition states that because of the process unleashed by technologically driven modernity, the left and the right are more mean to each other than ever before. There is heavy polarization in ideological lines with little space in between. The moral consciousness prevalent inside the society makes violent expression of the same distasteful if not highly infrequent, unless the tag of enemy is given. Hence all political positions are more passively aggressive against each other. A sense of victim hood comes from this ground reality. We are more vocal than ever, but so are others around. There is no currency for showcasing dominance through overt power displays. Hence there is a psychological phenomena at play, so that one’s inability to display dominance translates to a feeling of powerlessness. In real sense societies are becoming more egalitarian though people consider themselves oppressed, more than before.

flowchart_blog_1There is a large and expanding media space today. This means that there is enough opportunity to vent this passive aggression. People who are subjected to repressed or overt violence can easily connect with such a narrative than evaluating political propositions. It is a truism that emotions connect people to politics than logical propositions. This also explains why the traditional left and classical liberals, who relied more on analytical method, are failing. It is not because Marxist theories are objectively more wrong than that of Donald Trump’s ideas that the former has less appeal. Personally, I do not believe the fact that grand narratives are unable to explain the whole complex world today is any proof that multiple lesser grand narratives are better off than them at any level. But the failure of the grand narratives have given the inward looking, self centered and sympathy seeking narratives more edge. All the political entities are recognizing it.

The individualist drive

The proposition made in case 2, can be described as the individualist drive. The flowchart of the argument is given below.

flowchart_blog_2This argument is similar to the previous case, except for the fact that the emphasis is not on the group dynamics that has resulted from the technologically driven modernity. Here the focus is on people at an individual level. Whether part or sympathizer of any political ideology or not, individuals at large are becoming more self-centered every where. The growing appeal for the victimhood narratives is like a cry in the dark, against isolation. The growth of media in the information age has catalyzed and currently is accelerating the effect.

Ape the ‘masters’

It is undeniable fact that left, both mainstream and identity politics groups, have traditionally been the champions of formulating political propositions based on victimhood narratives. Although classical Marxists chartered the path by defining the need of revolution as to give historical justice to the oppressed classes, the real success story has been the social justice politics that emerged in the mid twentieth century. flowchart_blog_3Right wing groups had often played the victim card, very disingenuously and dangerously, but not as the primary political plank. The Nazi party’s ideology had very little to do with whether Germany was betrayed by Jews, Communists and other non-German ethnic groups. That part was just a mobilizing plank. It was supposed to serve only the initial phase. But right wing parties too have learned from the workings of the modern democratic politics. Today it is not cool to be a recognized totalitarian. Still, continued presence in the democratic spaces need a tool to remind people that they need you. A real or invented sense of victimhood really fits the bill.  The argument is that right and other segments of political spectrum are in effect aping the left who made remarkable changes in the social and cultural sphere during the last century. Even if left  have become electorally less relevant in many places, their contribution within society lives on. Right on the other hand has nothing to claim for itself. Their presence can only be guaranteed by capturing the imagination of the society; they need to be the shining knights in armor! And that means, they need to create a damsel in distress.

In my opinion, all the three processes are at work. It is difficult to put a number on their respective weights. As far as rightwing parties are concerned, the ape the masters theory is more relevant. Repressed violence and individualist drive perhaps explains the preference of people at large for victimhood stories and imaging to be part of it, often wrongly. Political left of various hues are following the course of the social trend, which was initially unleashed by them. People’s preferences does affect the right, but it is not in line with the cultural hegemony that they generally subscribe to. It is not because many people who might sympathize with the right feel victimized that they comes up with that narrative. The story of being victimized by the academic left, though mostly cooked up, does not follow from the trends in society. It is their way of turning the table in light of the left’s own arguments. An interesting case study at this level is the American presidential election 2017 when the populist alt-right turned the traditionally left backed victimhood narrative on its head.

I do believe that a lot of the narrative spins are created by processes over which individuals or political groups have very little control. Having said that, it is my opinion that the academic left should be held responsible for unleashing a victimhood fetish. The culture has percolated into the media too. Now, this is not to say that there are no reprehensible power structures or that certain identities and individuals are not treated sub human in ways. This is only to say that the outcomes of these discourses are often too simplistic and create a typical Hollywood style good guy vs bad guy story, and a horribly inaccurate one at that. Though two decades late, the right has understood this. While all these things happen, as individuals we are psychologically feeling more pressure and isolation even when as human beings we are doing better and powerful than ever. It is a complex tale, but one that must be analyzed carefully.

Why connect jots?

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“… thoughts and ideas are like a mysterious time series data. Once you figure out the periodicity and trend, a picture about you, if not anything else, emerges.”

This is my third blog. The first one, started in 2005, had survived for an year or so before I migrated to wordpress. The second one was very much alive until a couple of years ago, although the activity reduced significantly over time. The reason for a fresh start is many fold. I realize and recognize to have changed significantly over time as a person, and this is not just about the 12 years blogging period. Most important aspect of this change as per my self evaluation is the growth in the ability to not take myself too seriously. Sermons, exhortations and outrages are no longer appealing.  It is a phase when personally the genius of Douglas Adams outwits the socio-economic analysis of Karl Marx (or Hayek for that matter), the truth experiments of Gandhi, Ambedkar’s civil right discourse or the dialogues of professional philosophers around the world over time.

May be this too shall pass. Even then, I believe it is relevant to set the right tune and background for this phase. Hence, I am trying to connect the jots. These jots are scattered  thoughts which have occurred to me at different points of time and space. Of course, this attempt is based on a hypothesis that I subscribe to. It is my observation that thoughts and ideas are like a mysterious time series data. Once you figure out the periodicity and trend, a picture about you, if not anything else, emerges. Although there is no guarantee for an outcome, this is an attempt to connect jots in a quest for an emergent picture which might be an absurd one too.