Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pick your lie

Culture or counter-culture. "Conservative" or "Liberal." "Left" or "Right."


This is the operative word of the last few millennia. Hordes of the unthinking masses embrace the labels and the veneer of the ideas that form their basis.

Of course, they're not propagated out of thin air. It takes an ideologue. Arundhati Roy is one.

I meant to write this post when she published her long article "Walking with the Comrades" in March 2010. Slate magazine wrote another article earlier this month, which has finally moved me to respond.

While I admit that she partly serves a purpose, calling attention to the failures of governments in that there always winners and losers. I emphasize that every government system will generate winners and losers because humans are inherently selfish. Every governing official, every elite, every middle-class landowner, every voting person, every non-voting person is looking out for themselves and, potentially, their kin. In a democracy there is a least the opportunity of turning over the government to allow other parties, groups of citizens, to take from the war chest. In a one-party authoritarian system there is no democratic turnover. Ms. Roy targets her own government of India; the government of the populous democracy on the planet.

She doesn't serve her purpose very well as her writing is biased and bereft of introspection and critical self-assessment.

Doing a find of the word "why" in the hope of finding one reference of "Why would they allow me into their midst" turns up nothing. Ms. Roy never pauses to question herself, her actions, her thoughts, or those of her hosts. She is a willing traveler, sheep to the slaughter. She gallantly takes up a cause that others have called "David and Goliath" and "Big Government v. little guys."

It sells books, it sells articles, and it sells dollar per word. Exploitation at its finest.

Ms. Roy can galavant around the forest seeking out the noble savages armed with AK-47s, knowing she will return to her "tasteful, spacious apartment... in one of New Delhi's most affluent neighborhoods... lined with books, and a large flat-screen TV... [complete with] domestic help." Excuse me?

Does the woman who discusses "the biggest landlord of all, the Forest Department" and recounts the deaths of "a few of the most notorious landlords" in "true People's War style," really have servants?

In the article Ms. Roy has the gall to say that she wanted to stay in the forest, "Let me stay here." I bet she didn't say, "let me stay, you take my apartment, my books my TV, my servants, and my mangoes."

What is happening in the forests of eastern and central India is much more complicated and nuanced then Arundhati would care to admit. Its not just tribal versus government. Its a fight of exploitation, who has the right to exploit these poor? A democratically-elected government? Or a gang of thugs proclaiming to be the saviors of the poor and underprivileged?

Of course, not everyone in the gang is out for exploitation. Not everyone in the government, or the corporations is corrupt. Not every tribal is poor, and not every Naxalite is bent on murder and destruction. But this is far to nuanced for Arundhati who would prefer to present the story and her argument in black and white - the better to rally support for the cause.

Unfortunately, all she seems to accomplish is alienate those who would support her - the swing class, the middle class with her hypocrisy and constant refrain of othering the culture.

In othering the mainstream, she has created her own other, her own counter-culture. And its just as bad as the class she seeks to demonize.

Post-Post Edit:

Study finds that the one-party state that is China is unequal in terms of wealth distribution between rural and poor (BBC). What would Arundhati say about that?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It was only a matter of time...

... before Pakistan, or Pakistan's ruling elite, betrayed its true colors.

The friends one keeps is generally a good indicator of the person. The same is doubly true of states and their ruling regimes. Its not a coincidence that autocrats like Hugo Chavez regularly praises the Castros in Cuba or Ahmadinejad in Iran. Democracies, for their part, run together as well, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for one.

Thus, the United States' backing of a country like Pakistan (to name but one) has always been of peculiar interest to me. A country always one step away from a return to military dictatorship. There are others to be sure, but none where the U.S. has an active conflict a neighboring country.

The "partnership" (if it can be called that), to my understanding, started during the Cold War as the world divided between the right-leaning countries and left-leaning countries (although supposedly between multi-party democracies and one-party autocracies, the truth is always so much more complicated). Pakistan had become a partner/client of the United States to good effect in the 1980s when it became a conduit for support for mujahid rebels fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. By then it seemed an unshakable bond, though one forged not by two democracies but by a democracy and a military.

For its part, India, though officially neutral (the Non-Aligned Movement), had typically been leaning towards the Soviet Union and dominated by a succession of elites associated with the earlier independence movement.

Then there's China, once an erstwhile supporter of the Soviet Union by the 1980s it had struck its own path. Its political system needs no introduction, a one-party state not emphasizing workers' communism but the righteousness of the Nation (who happen to be composed of workers among others).

Fast forward to the post-11 September 2001 world. China has been on a steady rise, much to India's (and the Southeast Asian nations) chagrin. India is beginning to rise too. China recognizing this and recognizing the importance of geography, most certainly wants to constrain India's growth. Partnership with Bangladesh. Partnership with Pakistan? Oh yes, as the Washington Post finds (Pakistan courts China as relations with U.S. grow strained).

The bin Laden raid earlier this year has become a rallying call for anti-Americanism in Pakistan. Ruling elites have opportunistically harnessed this sentiment and the infringement upon Pakistan's sovereignty to try and partner Pakistan with China. But why?

First, the U.S. routinely makes noise about the Pakistani's state's corruption, lack of political will in dealing with Islamist extremism, and lack of true democracy. China has no qualms about these items, invest in the Sudan, Burma, and other states of a less than savory nature. To be sure, the U.S. invests in Saudi Arabia but at least there's noise about it (at least an acknowledgment).

Second, the Pakistani government recognizes the warming ties between the U.S. and India. Not least of which is the U.S.-India Nuclear deal (Council on Foreign Relations). Not wanting to be left in the lurch, the Pakistani government is the first out of the bed and courting the one-party, non-democratic, Han nationalist economic behemoth that is China.

Despite the weariness of China's officialdom with Pakistan, I doubt it will last long. The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has clearly deteriorated, few in the U.S. would be sad to see Pakistan go. India will be happy to see the one-sided partnership end, especially if it believes the U.S. will continue to warm.

However, the long-term implications of a China-Pakistan partnership is significant for both India and the United States. The inevitable return of law and order to Pakistan, whether under a democracy, or more likely a Islamist-military autocracy, would pave the way for safe Chinese investment along the Karakoram highway and from there further access to the Indian Ocean. And from there, the natural resources that it and India, both desperately crave in the Middle East and East Africa.

By developing other "coaling stations," in the Alfred Thayer Mahan sense of the word, in Burma or Bangladesh and China gains the ability to surround the Subcontinent.