Anger That Unites

The rise and rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in popular American imagination has had commentators scrambling all over the place. In the early stages, these were supposed to be transitory phenomena, Trump’s rise all the more so, but that prediction turned out to be dead wrong. But all along, there was supposed to very little that was common to their still inexplicable ascent. Of late, though, there has been growing consensus about the existence of a common, fundamental underlying commonality between their campaigns – that of the frustrated white male voter.

A frustrated voter in a democracy is hardly something new. But numerically, there has been enough evidence presented to confirm that the average white male voter is angrier than any other demographic. He also has other definitive characteristics. Often, he is poor or lower middle class. He is inadequately educated and has a decidedly narrow set of experiences and exposures. His religion, almost always Christianity, is losing prominence in his God-saved country. Being white and a man, he has rarely been subject to systematic social exploitation (although anger at economic exploitation is widely prevalent). However, in the end, all of these are tied together by just one attribute – anger. This could be, and has been, ascribed to a variety of understandable factors – a dismal economy, growing inequality, institutional flaws, growing cultural diversity and so on. There have been more radical explanations as well, pointing towards the denial of a privilege that this demographic has enjoyed for a long time. Of course, all these explanations may seem contrived to suit the situation at hand, but the fact remains that a nontrivial group of angry white males exists and they have defining characteristics that one can ascribe with reasonable certainty.

An interesting parallel to this phenomenon can be seen in India as well. The rise of the Hindu right is a well-documented event in modern Indian history. Commentators and historians point toward the patriotic passions fanned during the freedom struggle and the communal tensions carried on from the partition as primary factors aiding the Hindu right’s march to prominence. But most explanations fail to encapsulate how it has managed, of late, to capture the popular imagination, cutting across regions, cultures and even caste, to an extent. Half a century after Independence, the Hindu right manages to hold sway on the lives of tens (possibly hundreds) of millions of Hindus, to the point that a staunch Hindu nationalist (remarkably much less belligerent after capturing power than before) has formed a majority government.

Even though one must keep in mind that the Indian setting differs from the American setting in numerous ways, it is possible to argue that the Hindu right exerts this level of influence chiefly due to an underlying phenomenon that is very similar to the anger of the white male that drives the Trump and Sanders juggernauts – the resentment of the Hindu male. Their ire has been stoked over decades by a wily and opportunist group of extreme ideologues and perhaps, it is the secularists and reformists of those times that have unwittingly been the greatest contributors to the ammunition used by the Hindu right to ensnare this group. Affirmative policies of the Congress party that played to its minority vote bank, inadequate dialogue and interaction between the secular liberals in power and moderate Hindu ideologues, pervasive corruption, and the iniquitous economic growth post liberalization, have all led to widespread disillusionment. This has coincided with a national political vacuum, wherein no serious contender to challenge the Congress had emerged in the national arena.

It is in this setting that the BJP, and various other socially and politically Hindu groups, have swooped in to unite the bitter Hindu male. He has defining traits that are reminiscent of the angry white male. He is largely poor or middle class, with an education that miserably fails to present Indian society in all its complexity. He has seen deep religious traditions and customs eroded over time, including the ones abruptly snatched by gender and religious equality, without him having access to reasonable explanations (which, even if he does gain access to, he anyway cannot appreciate due to his education not being wholesome). Neo-liberalism plays to his dissatisfaction with the old socialist state that has caused such widespread corruption, stagnation and exploitation.

His outrage has been consciously directed incrementally in a multiplicity of directions – the smug educated city liberal that is polluting India’s culture with rationality and westernization, the cunning Muslim bent on destroying his sister’s life with love jihad, the invisible foreign actors, appearing in the form of NGOs, whose sole aim is to break India into a million fragments, the “mainstream media” that is playing to the tune of these villains, and so on. All of this aligns well with the narrative that the average Trump supporter, and a surprisingly large section of the Sanders base, has been subjected to on a daily basis over the years. Disdain for the rational, liberal elites, disgust at movements like feminism (“feminazi” being the preferred term) and Black Lives Matter and their attempts to divide and marginalize, Islamophobia, xenophobic (and hypocritical) discrimination against refugees, distrust of the press, and more, fit into a narrative that is strikingly similar to the one that the Hindu right has been presenting to gain widespread acceptance. In both cases, the public has lapped it up, partly due to its apparent completeness and partly due to the paralysis, corruption and moral perversion haunting those that could have launched an alternative account.

On Inequality

Inequality is an unavoidable consequence of human society. One section of society shall always be more advantaged than the other. This does not justify inequality, but rather, provides one with a starting point to arrive at the best method to combat it.

Inequality may reveal itself in a host of forms in multiple domains of human existence, but there is only one form which forms the bedrock of all of these. Before identifying it, one should ponder further on the foundation of human progress, which is inevitably tied to bridging the gap between the powerful and the powerless, since it is always upliftment of society as a whole that results in diminishing inequity.

The capacity to self-consciously reason and logically arrive at conclusions from widely accepted postulates, or rules, is the only characteristic evidently unique to humans. Invariably, it is this capacity that leads to all of human progress and equity. But at the same time, this capacity has to be exercised in a decidedly iniquitous atmosphere, which forces us to return to that one fundamental form of inequality – the unfair balance in scales appropriated to the advantaged and the disadvantaged in terms of rational speech and access to appropriate listeners.

Given that rational thought needs to be exercised for human progress and also that progress leads to greater equality (regardless of how disproportionate its rate of achievement is to the rate of progress), a fair opportunity to the exercise of the dialectical method is superlative and hence is the first inequality that must be resolved.

At this point, it is important to recognize that given a fair debating ground, it is theoretically possible to alleviate all disadvantages using just the power to logically convince those in power that only equality can assure a stable society. Further, only a rationally sound argument can ensure that this environment is propagated uninterrupted. To arrive at this conclusion, introspection on the decay of civilizations is key.

The downfall of civilizations is contingent upon one section of society revolting against the other. These revolts may be caused by various factors, but a society without discord cannot break down. One group of people must engage in targeted destructive action, for which the reason is always some form of iniquity. On the other hand, an equitable society has no internal tensions and as a consequence, safe from internal breakdown. Once it is understood that a breakdown in social order disaffects everyone, powerful or not, it is logically evident that a stable, equitable society is in everybody’s interest.

Now, we’ve proven that fair access to exercise of rational discourse is paramount, but it is eminently clear that this need not be ensured in any society. Further, we have not yet proven that only the exercise of rational discourse can maintain its own possibility.

First, the achievement of a fair opportunity to debate should be pondered upon, following which the necessity and sufficiency of this opportunity to sustain itself shall become clear. Whenever the possibility of rational discussion is denied, disruptive action must prevail. This is because humans have only two tools of winning over others of their species at their disposal – by reason or by force – and forceful acquisition automatically sets in when reasoning is impossible. This means that targeted revolt is the only method available to the disadvantaged in order to achieve a fair opportunity at rational discourse.

It is logical to ask, at this point, why the same method of force should not be sufficient to achieve a stable state of equality in all other cases of inequality. For one, the use of force rarely results in an absolute equilibrium. Power keeps changing hands, without respite for those temporarily powerless. This is applicable for equality achieved by means of reason as well, but as long as dialogue is allowed, the disadvantaged have the option of seeking redressal using dialogue. But as soon as the option of dialogue is lost, the use of force to regain it is inevitable. In this manner, a system where force is used only as an instrument to establish a stable means of redressal for all inequalities can be established, and safely claimed to be the best possible under a wide variety of circumstances.

Of course, as always, there are a few caveats. What if dialogue cannot be achieved, regardless of how much force is employed? Moreover, it was assumed earlier, when the fall of civilizations was analysed, that two unequal sections will exist throughout. In some cases, circumstances will take a different turn – the disadvantaged cannot achieve dialogue and both sections will employ force throughout, in which case the only outcome where the civilization still stands is when one of these is completely annihilated, since this would ensure the society consists of only one section which is composed of equals. Since murder must be abhorred irrespective of circumstances, this shall be the worst possible outcome and must be avoided at all costs.

Being Agnostic in a Religious Nation

This is an article I wrote for my school magazine in high school. It invariably suffered rejection for heresy, at the hands of the School Magazine Board, despite me being the Editor then.

To be agnostic in India is like being a Jew in Nazi Germany – you’re just not supposed to exist! People tear at you like wolves on a hunt if you even dare mention that your religious beliefs do not lie on either side of the river. Forgive me my exaggerated imageries, but my experiences implore me to present such a picture.

To all those who have been fortunate enough not to have heard about agnostics – it is a state of utter religious confusion. The mind of an agnostic honeymoons in no man’s land, unsure whether to give in to religious clamour, or to join the ‘blasphemous’ atheists. In India, a believer always finds refuge and so does an atheist, who finds political asylum in communism, but what about the man footed at both gates? There is no escape for him – he is always under pressure to join one or the other to gain acceptance among the ‘normal’ society. Yet, one wonders how society calls itself normal. Is it just because they can identify with a common cause?

As an agnostic, I always tend to play the devil’s advocate, proposing counter-arguments whenever I find someone who is staunchly on one side of the religious street. Due to the fact that I meet a (much) higher number of believers than not, I tend to weigh a little more heavily on the atheist side. But am I worse off than those who have already crossed over?

Is it true that a believer (or a non-believer) is much better off than an agnostic because he has chosen his side? To me, many of these people seem to have unthinkingly taken the plunge, like a Hindu boy, who cannot kill a cow (as the creature is deemed ‘holy’) but can butcher Muslims in riots, or murder his own sister for having married outside their caste. Does religion give him the right to scar humanity? Others take up the cause due to relentless brainwashing, like the Muslim who kneels before the almighty, but makes thousands of innocents kneel in front of the whole world, so that he can spread ‘jihad’, taught to him by loony fanatics. Does the almighty give him the right to instil fear without even understanding his own cause? Still more hypocritical is the Christian clergyman, who advocates celibacy, and yet practices paedophilia without any regret whatsoever. Also, he refuses to accept science or logic, and caused the darkest centuries in mankind’s history and still continues to torment the spirit of free enquiry. Where does God stand for all the victims of this religious sacriligion?

Or is it that an atheist stands on a higher pedestal? He, who openly denounces the presence of God but secretly prays to the heavens when he or his family is taken ill – does he stand on tougher moral ground? Or is it that he, who needs to take out the frustration of his own shortcomings on society, gets to preach non-religion? Is it not that the pretence of opposing religion actually gives him something to be noted for, and thus fulfil a need to be important?

These questions are just a small part of the colossal number of enquiries an agnostic carries with him. Religion always seems to have more demented and inhumane followers than the dedicated and civilized ones and so is the atheistic world full of pathetic and flawed personalities grappling with the very demons they wanted to exorcise. Then where does a sane man stand?

He stands on the invisible and agnostic third side – attending to the call of humanity. As believers and atheists slug it out, I believe that the real trials lie on the face of this earth, and it would be much wiser if we focused on being human, rather than holy. Religion can always be treated as a sub-topic to humanity – humans must be higher than the concept of God. As to the question of whether to be a believer, atheistic or maybe turn agnostic, I refuse to recommend a side. It’s your choice – you decide.