Sunday, October 05, 2008

No easy way out

I watched two documentaries over the weekend on terror - Obsessed and TerrorStorm.

The former harps on the familiar "our very civilization, our future, is under attack!" psychosis that has helped the Americans unfalteringly gloat over their self-appointed role of the Savior while at the same time glossing over Hiroshima (A prototype test in a war already-won with yellow men as the mice), the "Soviets are here!" McCarthy lynching, 'Nam, Central America, Afghanistan and Iraq: as long as it happens elsewhere – preferably, places with lots of brown people – it is just collateral damage on the road to goodness.
The latter, Terrorstorm, is about the state perpetrating evil through arousing this very xenophobic-paranoia in the masses through effective use of the state propaganda machinery.

Not difficult to predict where my sympathies lay. (Tho' Obsessed's concern over the extremist stridency in the Arab media and the analogy of the raising of generations over generations on a diet of distorted lies (one of the prime time Egyptian drama had a sub-plot based on the blood libel accusation) and hate with Nazi Germany, is well argued).

Interestingly, both documentaries start with two very famous quotes.

Obsessed, with the famous Burke quote - 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.'

Terrorstorm: A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny. - Solzhenitsyn

Also, both draw parallels from the Nazi nightmare - one comparing the strident anti-semitism and world-dominating agenda with the radical Muslim world; the other, comparing Goebbels's dead-on-target propaganda juggernaut with the current state-led Western media machinery.


This is a lesson. A lesson on the dangers of analogies. A lesson on the danger of generalizations.

When Burke talked about good men, he talked about men - not states. States serve men but, as we know, like the Matrix, if let run free, become the biggest criminals. A vicious and faceless 'Big Brother' cycle that feeds on itself, and the men it was built for.
Solzhenitsyn (hope I got that correct) was talking about this exactly - an artificial state of war created by the state to serve its own end; in his case, Stalinist Russia.

The other danger, as I mentioned, is of analogies. The problem with history is that it's not a series of facts laid out in a single direction, like the obedient molecules of a magnetic strip. Instead they contradict themselves. Fathers of The nation turn out to be bad fathers, the redoubtable Ben Franklin – fatherly dignified and benign in portraits – an oversexed old dog in private life, the tragic lives of comedians and the paradox of India. We build definitions on facts and yet facts betray them.

The problem, of course, is that definitions, other than those of non-social sciences, are never set in stone. They overlap – just like the multiple realities of civilizations and people. History, written by the winners, is seldom accurate. There is no accuracy actually. Every actor was a perpetrator, every actor was a puppet; every argument was right, every argument was wrong. In science, a law is a law. A single contradiction, even millions of miles away on the surface of Pluto, is reason enough to reject it. Life is not like that. There are contradictions built on contradictions in everything that touches us: there is no single, steadfast approach to social and personal reality. Truth does not emerge in absolutes; it emerges in degrees.

To quote Rakesh: it’s a vector sum. Millions of vectors in every random direction, cancelling each other, and yet; in the end, a small arrow pointing – somewhere.

We as humans are uncomfortable with uncertainties. We fear them, give them names, make idols of them, and then bow before them. We try to constrain them within books and tell ourselves that all human knowledge, the billions of pages preceding the book and the trillions to succeed it are trash since they again blur the edges of truth set in the pages. We decide to kill anyone who challenges these dogmas (withthe help of technology borrowed from them and beyond our own scripts): fearing that their doubt will again cast us all in an age of uncertainties. Our stories have the clearly shaded white of heroes against the black of villains: the Kauravas against the Pandavas, the Lucifer against the God, the Satyug vs. the Kaliyug. We prefer the simplistic biographies of ‘A beautiful Mind’ (where the hero’s four marriages are reduced to a single one and his gay past completely ignored) to the complex characterizations in Oliver Stone’s ‘Door’s or ‘Alexander’.

Hence, the inherent irrationality in the reality of the world we have defined for ourselves.
We talk about our Indian identity as if it is a single identity. And then it percolates down to other identities – our Kashmir, our motherland, our Hindutva, our Muslim bretheren, aamchi Mumbai. When these identities clash, we decry the irrationality of the opponent and yet fail to see our own.

What is the Indian collective? Exactly, when do I transform from a UP-wallah in Mumbai, to a general category candidate pitted vs. the SC/STs, to a saffron flag waving zealot? Note: in all these identities, friends and foes shift. An upper caste collective at war with a lower caste collective over reservation today, becomes a collective against the Muslims after a train carnage in an obscure town; which, after taking the good Muslims in, becomes a broader collective against the bad Muslims; and ultimately, the most stupefying collective: the precedence of the Muslims brothers scattered over 58 majority nations and all other minority ones, from Somalians to Indonesians to American, over the Hindu and Christian cousins next door.

The answer is again the same. It is a series of circles overlapping one another, realities over realities over realities. The reality emerges from the plane I am on: the context.

The argument, that started with the amusing observation that the same genocide is being claimed by two rival theories, has lessons for us Indians.

Falling for grossly simplistic arguments - of appeasement, our Muslim brothers, POTA, fake encounters, how can they call the encounters fake when a police wallah died!, maaro salon ko! - is the easy way out. A one size that fits all contexts.

The tougher way is to weigh each context, each reality on its own merit, and not fall into the trap of analogies and generalizations. No single model; instead, a new model everytime based on the understanding of the shifting dunes of human realities.

The onus on us, the intellectual elite, the priviliged, the better educated, to be temperate and responsible with our judgements - given the abundance of facts that we can access, views we can take into account and the processing facility - is much more than our vote-hungry, barely-educated politicians.