This post is the second in a series that discusses democracy and the idea of a shared country from the ground up. The previous post asked why, when the basis of civilization was a need to co-exist with some guaranteed security, the masses chose to believe in paranoia. I attempt to present some views here.
The masses at large are preoccupied with what they come in direct contact with. Few have the inclination or interest to examine what doesn’t *appear* to be broken. When thoughts delegitimizing the rights of fellow citizens proliferate, there is little realization that this is something that goes fundamentally against the secure social structure they take for granted as a country.
Nationalism prefers to disenfranchise minorities and appropriate the country in the name of the majority. Secularism believes that regardless of identity, citizens must be equal under law, AND vulnerable minorities MUST be protected – because it is human nature for the majority to choose bullying as an easy way out instead of sharing.
This is not something that is limited to India. The internet and the speed of disseminating information as well as doing it in ways that allow deniability have resulted in a surge of nationalism worldwide that those believing in equality struggle to counter. There are several reasons for this. In a world where established thought respected equality, and growing globalization subtly created an attitude of opportunism being the right of those with access, a subtle erosion of morals toward “might being right” went unnoticed. Furthermore, I don’t think enough “thinkers” anticipated that the unthinking masses would simply choose faulty thinking that they could superficially understand over the words of established thinkers and philosophers over the ages. The last straw was the methods.
Whichever country sees a rise of nationalism sees a barrage of incorrect and inflammatory information finding purchase among the masses. This information is not an accident, it is engineered to make people who believe it think that the minority is the threat to the majority. It further provides explanations and conspiracy theories to excuse the crimes perpetrated against the minority and invents or magnifies any wrongs by the minority. And thus, defense indeed becomes the first act in this war. Absurd as it seems, the majority is actually led to believe that the minority is out to make them extinct.
When such thought spreads, you find countries unable to prosecute crimes against the minority because of fear of backlash by a majority that believes them to be justified, resulting in a collapse of law and order. This impunity, of course is exactly what nationalist leaders want, because their entire agenda is impossible to implement in lawful ways in a democratic country.
Fake news is being recognized as a threat to rule of law worldwide now.
But this is the result. How is it that xenophobia spreads to such a degree? Why is it that fake news spreads more rapidly than real news? Well, apart from the obvious reason that fact checking takes time and effort (there are now attempts to make fact checking more easy in an effort to combat fake news) and apart from the obvious reason that fake news is crafted to sound believable – at least to those already primed with a steady barrage of it – there is the fact, that those spreading fake news are operating out of a sense of carrying out a mission for a cause.
I once observed that the approximate time difference between a Modi supporter coming up with an explanation that other supporters like for something indefensible (at this time you will have multiple excuses being made) and it being used popularly as the explanation by the vast majority of supporters is 2 hours for a simple argument, 4-5 hours for something more complex and about half a day if the propaganda involves images.
Compare this with secular intellectuals almost never having the same rebuttal for something, a far fewer number of them, each using their own words, and it is easy to see how one kind of answer has the capacity to rapidly dominate a debate, while the other fails.
This is largely because while nationalists are engaging in a propaganda war for their identity, secular intellectuals are engaging in what they imagine is a debate, where they are presenting their own view.
So the observable difference in spread of nationalist and secular views is also a difference that can be directly measured as one between active promotion of views and expressing an opinion.
To dig in still deeper. If you take a single message that needs to be put out among people to support or defend something, if released among nationalists, it will be forwarded without question and accepted as the correct explanation of events. There is a lot of schadenfreude among secularists when someone like @bhak_sala (a pro-Modi Twitter handle) gets trolled by other bhakts (unquestioning Modi supporters) when he outright dislikes the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. What they miss in their “LOL”-fest is how rare such an incident is. While a party like Congress accepts criticism for the most part (not that they have much choice these days) or supporters in a party like AAP form entire sub-movements in revolt against the actions of their leader, or while socialists and communists literally have so many differences as to almost hold independent views only, a voice of dissent in the BJP is so rare that it is a one off episode and literally involving one person in this instance. It stands out because in spite of BJP being able to generate the largest organized propaganda – and some of it absurdly illogical or inhuman – dissent is almost next to non-existent. This is a hive mind at work. These people aren’t there to think for themselves, they are there to win a country for their team.
If a similar message were released among secular intellectuals, unless it is exceptionally well crafted so as to have agreement among those with the various flavors of secular thought, chances are that it will be read by several, further promoted by a few, and commented on with critiques or refinements by most. The slightest disagreement with the arugment or dislike for the author would mean the message goes no further with that person. In effect, there is no “team” spreading secular thought. And it is difficult for such a team to exist as well, because it is difficult for independent thinkers to come up with identical thoughts. And this is still the spread of a message among those already in agreement with secular thought. The impact and credibility of this is further diluted among the masses if concepts people aren’t familiar with it are used. Relatively speaking, “jobs are few, get rid of reservations and we’ll have more” is easy to understand when compared with “2-3% caste-class elites already have over 50% jobs and much more in private sectors” – particularly if the 2-3% elites have never had any reason to question why the whole country should run as per their preferences.
So, it is absurd when bewildered secular intellectuals today ask how the country could deteriorate to this degree. Well, your thoughts were not accessible to the masses, the thoughts that were not just accessible, but actively promoted among the masses were simple to understand and made prejudice sound the need of the hour, and you never bothered to organize to elevate the thinking of the masses beyond presenting your refined thoughts.
It is no coincidence that when thoughts of hate proliferate, there is absolutely no concerted campaign going on explaining the basics of democracy. What is a democracy, what are our rights? What is a government? What does the accountability of a government to people mean? and so on.
It isn’t difficult to put these things in simple words anyone can understand. In fact, you could probably plagiarize a textbook non-voter kids study (quickly, before it changes) and voters have left far behind to recirculate the basics. There are ways to explain life affirming concepts through various mediums in ways anyone could understand. But it is a matter of doing it. It is not enough to call nationalism, fascism a primitive thought that cannot result in a stable country – the need of the hour is to explain why that is so. In simple words people understand. No government is going to pay for this education. Personal liberty means that we cannot have forced conscription of liberals to educate the masses either. So who will do it? And is it important enough for you to take it up voluntarily?