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?

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