Archive for March 2010
Being an avid watcher of videos of lectures and debates online, especially relating to world affairs, I have over a few years identified three major intellectual approaches to conceptualizing global problems.
1) The new atheists – Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris – Christopher Hitchens is the most radical of the three and Dawkins the most moderate, but all of them seem to see religion as the primary cause of all of the world’s current problems. According to them, religion promotes an attitude of irrationality and religious scriptures sanction violence and wars and atrocities, which lead otherwise moral and reasonable men to become oppressors. The worlds problems are not economic or political but are caused by religious texts which are deeply embedded in human consciousness and which deem certain sections of humanity as inferior (women etc) and sanction violence and war to establish the superiority of ones religion as opposed to others. Were it not sanctioned by religion, normal humans would never act in ways they do.
Although there is an attempt to evenly distribute religious criticism across all religions, I have detected, especially in the case of Hitchens and Harris, an especial hatred of Islam. Criticism of other religious seems more to be an attempt to establish intellectual consistency, while the real undercurrent is “islam is the cause of all of the worlds current problems”. For them, the current so called clash of civilizations is due to a jealousy Muslims feel of the western world’s prosperity, while their own religion is the cause of their lack of prosperity and social backwardness. If their religious texts did not sanction violence against “infidels” and promise virgins to martyrs, nobody would go around blowing themselves up.
The solution is a vehement public and mainstream criticism of religion, which it has traditionally escaped, and to weaken its hold on human society.
2) Anti Empire/Anti Corporations Noam Chomsky/Howard Zinn/Edward Said – The second view is that of Noam Chomsky. He sees the imperial designs of US and other powerful western nations as the cause of the problems in the world. The west controls a major proportion of the worlds financial and military power, and all of its policies are designed to retain and expand this power. Because of being powerful, it is able to control media and perceptions, but its oppression is widespread and larger in scale to anything attributed to “terrorists”. The current backlash of the Islamic world is due not to a clash of civilizations or religion, but because of Western policies in the middle east relating to the Palestine/Israel conflict, its constant interference in middle eastern politics, and its support because of vested strategic interests of oppressive dictators who block widespread prosperity in their countries and keep them in a state of medieval chaos. In addition to that, Western powers, especially the US, have ruthlessly wielded their power to expand and retain control over the last 2 centuries in Latin america, Cuba, Philippines, Vietnam etc etc. Global institutions like the WTO, World Bank, IMF have been designed such that power remains in the hands of the powerful.
These govt policies are in turn controlled by mega global corporations, which control govts due to the way the govt and election systems are designed. The end of these mega corporations is that riches and power remain with the wealthy, and they have easy access to global markets and resources easily and cheaply. These corporations use the media and public relations to control the perceptions of the populace inside the country and globally. The populace is kept under an impression of freedom and free operation of democratic principles, while in fact the spectrum of the debate is kept very narrow, and real issues never enter public debate. Public attention is also deflected and distracted by keeping it occupied with “fashionable consumption”, and frivolous pursuits such as being consumed by popular art.
The remedy for this group is popular struggle. For common people to organize and raise issue and force their governments to bow to their demands. Although recent times have seen major setbacks in terms of world peace, humanity as a whole is seen on the path of progress, as people have better tools to organize and protest, and they build upon popular struggles of the past.
3) The Fall of the Empire – Chris Hedges : Although there is great overlap between Hedges and the Chomsky click, in terms of their view of US’ foreign policy and the rise of corporate influence and “corporate culture”, Hedges view is a lot more apocalyptic and dismal. Aptly describes in his book “The Empire of Illusion: End of literacy and the triumph of spectacle” (what an apt title) he describes what he sees as the fall of the American Empire which is well underway. He compares it to the fall of the Roman empire, where the society has escaped from problems of reality to a world of illusion created by the corporate culture. Corporations have succeeded in propogating “celebrity culture” where the populace is so consumed in its voyeuristic obsession with the media and the lives of the famous, that it fails to notice the signs of society crumbling all around. He sees the frenzied coverage of Michael Jackson’s death, the emergence of reality TV and the popularity of pro wrestling as classical examples of this syndrome. He sees society as increasingly fragmented, and the disappearance of community. For him, society is becoming less literate as people read lesser and lesser, and a myriad of influences and fleeting images lead them to be attention starved. He even sees internet as a negative force where only brute mob views hold predominance and nuanced discourse is buried without a trace.
For him, community, a return to traditional values and even religion (he vehemently opposes the new atheists who he thinks popularize a new kind of intolerance) offers a faint remedy to the ills of the contemporary world. But at the same time, the ball is too underway for there being the possibility of doing much.
You know a guitarist who can play with his feet? Ye to kuch bhi nahi hai! I know a guitarist who can play beautiful solos without even touching the guitar.
Marriages are like tattoos. Be careful before you get one because you might be stuck with it for the rest of your life.
Smile, it doesn’t cost………..nor does jumping off the roof.