[Reader-list] Politics of American Un-civilization

Diya Mehra diya at sarai.net
Mon Nov 8 20:27:02 IST 2004

Dear Sunil:

I thought I would put my two bits in, sitting here as I am in the American
heartland of Texas. I just wanted to point out that there is a 48%
minority here in America who are as deeply disturbed by the election
result, and the war on terror, as anybody else on the planet. There is a
danger here in  conflating the picture - indeed the conservative victory
has been plotted on just such a conflation.

It would be perhaps more productive to think about some similarities and
some differences. Like you mentioned, what has happened here is not very
different to the rise of the BJP in India - where an emotive/religious
issue was taken by a political party who rode it out to power. In this
case, the emotive langauge is a mix of the terrorist, the aborted fetus
and the homosexual, with a reaction to the 'high culture' of the coasts
thrown in. People in the town where I live are deeply concerned with what
they see as an alien culture invading their lives. The aliens could be
Mexican or Arab but they are also the yuppies who have come with the
dotcom boom. Mr Bush has used the fright of a complicated and often opaque
world very effectively. Media simplifications have only aided him.

On the other, now that the elections have been won, as the New York Times
reported yesterday, 'antiwar conservatives' are ready to rumble. There has
been a very strategic silence here on the parts of some conservatives -
those opposed to the war, to instrusive govt, and to large fiscal
deficits, to hold their peace until Mr. Bush was in office. Now there
complaints, which are not unlike Mr Kerry's, are to resurface. I can only
think of this as a good sign (!), it appears the greater diversity of
opinion the better.

The news is truely terrible. Perhaps some solidarity with opposing
opinions, given the care with which Mr Bush crafted a victory, is the need
of the hour.


>   Dear Avinash,
>                        We have not read your English rendering of the
> Lokavidya Samvad piece on Abu Gharib but we have
> read your reply to Vivek and Shudha and Shudha's
> long comment on the original piece. This is not an
> attempt at any comprehensive response but this is
> to focus on some connected issues apparently not
> covered in this debate so far.
>                        There is a concept of ' political significance'
> which acts as a major source of criteria for making
> a choice from the set of available options whether
> for development of a practical program or for
> making an abstract philosophical point, including
> the entire space in between. American strategy for
> rule over the world is a matter of great political
> significance , much more so than the terror of the
> Indian State in Manipur or Iranian State's blood
> thirstiness against any dissent. This is obviously
> not to underestimate the significance of the
> latter two but to emphasise that all these are not
> autonomous or parallel events but constitute  parts
> of a structured whole. One can argue that it is the
> war- mongering  America's (popularisation of the )
> strategy of terror which enables the Modis to do
> what they did in Gujrat. The justification that
> America is constructing and popularising for a
> tactics of terror  by the  'democratic ' states
> globally creates political spaces for smaller
> states to act in the same way. Indain state and the
> rise of BJP are a case in point. I am not
> suggesting that there are any linear causal
> relationships but I am surely suggesting  a logic
> in which cause and effect have an important place.
> The case of Iran is different. It will take us into
> a discussion of revolution and counter- revolution,
> state- repression and people's violent resistance ,
> aggresive violence and that in self-defense and so
> on . Refering to vivid pictures and descriptions
> may not exactly be the fair way to make a point  in
> a discussion. It only simulates the linguistic
> rhetoric.Violence by the Iranian State  and by
> Baathist regime in Iraq are no doubt condemnable,
> but when and with what purpose? It makes no sense
> to compare American violence the world over  for
> building a new Empire with any other kind of
> contemporary violence that I am aware of.
>                Further should I say that the concept of 'political
> significance' is not a political concept. It only tells us
> that human sensitivities are not amorphous, they are not
> completely unstructured. Even when we wish that they be not
> determined by any authority or criteria, political or
> otherwise, leave alone any supreme principle of governance,
> we could also not wish that they be 'thoughtless'. Human
> feelings are worthy of being called so when they are
> inseperable from a yearning   to act and this is the bed
> from where the idea of significance rises. We could call it
> social significance but it still remains far too amorphous.
> I am against politics, for  it necessarily involves a
> central authority. But names , words and their meanings
> belong to the public domain. I can not have 'my' idiom and
> I cannot have 'my' language. So the use of  'political
> significance'.
>                  I do not think personally that the strategy of terror is
> any new American strategy. American state embodies terror
> in its purest form. American society is a political
> society, much more so than any other.If the students on
> Berkeley Campus called America a police state in 1968 ,
> they were underlininig a reality which the distant had
> seen as a propensity. Terror as propensity to terror as
> reality is a transition under  'compulsions' of times,
> the strategy remains a terror strategy.May be that the
> Chinese state is also building a purely political society
> in China and may be this will lead too to  a long term
> strategy of terror on their part. I know people who feel
> very strongly about it. However it is surely not
> necessary to talk about it today in the same breath while
> discussing the present day strategy of terror of the
> American stat
>                  The challenge , I think , lies in imagining a way of
> life-a society which is not governed by the modern
> Euro-American values , beliefs and epistemic imperatives
> and which is not imaginary, utopian. How do we construct
> the path to such an imagination? Discussions on lokavidya
> and from a lokavidya standpoint are  a starting point
> that we are pursuing.Our political backgrounds do
> interfere and I think heavily both for good and for bad
> but has neutrality ever been a virtue ?
>       Sunil Sahasrabudhey
> _________________________________________
> reader-list: an open discussion list on media and the city.
> Critiques & Collaborations
> To subscribe: send an email to reader-list-request at sarai.net with
> subscribe in the subject header.
> List archive: <https://mail.sarai.net/pipermail/reader-list/>

Diya Mehra
Sarai: The New Media Initiative
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
29 Rajpur Road, New Delhi 54
(011) 23960040, www.sarai.net

More information about the reader-list mailing list