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Senior journalist and rationalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead at home today. Her killers knocked on her door and when she opened it, they gunned her down. Yet another vocal critic of fundamentalist Hindutva is shot down by masked gunmen as they go about their routine. Yet another season of shock, protest and promises of an investigation, as practiced trolls smoothly swing into action to "manage" yet another atrocity.

Many fear that this may also be yet another round of leg dragging investigations. Another round of the state looking in your face as dissent is slaughtered. Fear of one thing cannot go on for long.

A threat is always made from a position of weakness. A threat is a desperate gamble to intimidate. A voice silenced in cowardly anonymity is a confession of there being no honorable answers to the questions they raise. It is a confession that there is no one who is willing to be the face of the action, because not even in their eyes is the action justifiable to those they are scamming into blindly believing in them.

I have faced fear many times in my life. I have seen others face fear. And if there is one thing I have seen for sure, it is that a confrontation with fear cannot be sustained. It resolves into cowering inaction or a reckless head on challenge. And sometimes it coalesces into sustained action to defeat the cause of the fear. Today, the voices of dissent fear that their country is in the hands of those who would prefer them dead. Which is how fascists succeed and get away with their murderous ways. Over the last few years, I have seen many voices "play it safe" every dissenting entity with a licence and funds to investigate is looking over its shoulder and hoping to not get the attention of a government they have no faith will play fair.

I have seen journalists who spoke without fear learn to measure their words and "balance" them with something that would please the government, like an offering to vengeful gods. Ones who never feared to lash out at whichever government was in power areasking themselves whether they can afford to play David to a Goliath who can stalk every aspect of their existence. There are those that lash out at the opposition for failing to do an undefinable "something" - anything, I suppose that would let them be true to themselves without fear.

No one can live on the edge of tension forever. One way or the other, it resolves. And the less space remains to cower safely, the more people come out fighting. Those having excessive faith in their impunity should think about this. They cannot kill everyone who calls them unacceptable for what they do to the citizens of the country and the whole. They cannot expect the guarantors of their impunity to attack the jobs of every person who refuses to toe lines and not stand discredited. They cannot investigate every organization that decides to no longer toe subtly conveyed lines.

A tyrant who cracks a whip once inspires fear. A tyrant serial chasing those thumbing their nose at it is a cartoon character. Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and now Lankesh. Fear gets old. Fury gets old. What is left is a determination. How many are they going to chase after with guns?

Beware, fascists, a reign of fear is only as good as the first confrontation with it. You are forcing more and more citizens to face off with it. One who looks into fear and acts anyway, ceases to be controlled by it.

Today, there are more and more people being reckless about what fate would befall them for speaking truth to power.  The usually careful journalists who abdicate their voice and do barely reported protest marches are using their pens against you and making furious statements that will reach across their spheres of influence. You have killed one of them. They could be next. Do you think they can be brought back to obedience? All of them? Do you have the capacity to keep the country running if enough people decided that your protectors did not deserve to run it? Do you have anywhere to hide when they are forced to give you up to survive? Wield your fear wisely, lest you force too many to fury and any government that shelters you be forced to give you up or fall itself.

There is only so much terrorism can force people to swallow words. If we must die one way or the other, we might as well die once, instead of daily.

1

I tend to have very strong opinions, so my contempt for the increasing "stupidification" of India is hardly a secret. This is a cause for alarm, because it is indeed contagious. Political views, gender, caste, class, religion are not barriers to this epidemic. The reason for it is the natural human tendency to reply in the manner in which we are spoken to. I have brought this up before. If I say apple, you may say "oranges, pie, tree, cold weather, computer...." but you are unlikely to say, say for example, "spoon" - our mind tends to reply in a manner that is relevant to what it is that we are replying.

This is a problem when there is an overall process of radicalization, because those conditioned to thinking in a polarized mannerh will have a tendency to bring all conversation to their programmed triggers. The trap is already set. There are few responses that can be made at that level that won't derail you from the subject you wish to talk about. As a consequence, this conditioning spreads also to those who oppose it through sheer Pavlovian repetition. So a person questioning a liberal perspective may be a bhakt, a person questioning a feminist perspective may be a misogynist, and so on. The fundamental tendency proliferates on its own through sheer engagement with it. Whether in agreement or disagreement does not matter, as long as the nature of interaction is polarized.

It creates an unconscious conditioning of disagreement being seen as hostility or outright evil. Among both desiring to exclude or target specific identities or those wishing to exclude or target those who exclude or target specific identities. This is where we are today. This is why it is so difficult to prevent the increasing irrationality. Because those opposing the irrational views themselves get sucked into the whirlpool to the bottom of the IQ scale.

It is human nature to recognize our own view as the sane one and see the irrationality outside us.

However, if we examine the interactions we have, for quality, as opposed to morality, the problem is clear. We have gazed too long into the abyss and the abyss also gazes into us.

This, in my view is the real danger to the society, the country and the world. A departure from rational thought in the public space is a very alarming situation. The stupidification is a bigger threat to India long term than the violence and it has grown far more than either side of the polarization is able to recognize.

Fear is seductive. Our survival instincts condition us to pay attention to threats in order to survive. Hence, negativity - real or imagined - will always draw attention more easily than well being (there is nothing that needs urgent attention).

In my view, the bigger urgency today is to understand how we get sucked into talking about things we don't wish to through sheer Pavlovian conditioning. We need to develop skills to engage in rational debate and refuse to engage in irrational triggers derailing conversation to programmed tirades on political stands. The immediate danger may be violent mobs, but the larger long term concern is what caused so many people to think that such a stupid choice is a bright idea.

This is the result of fear. The fear that is used as a quick fix to compensate with paranoia what the agenda lacks in quality. We are surrounded by a culture of fear. Majorities are led to believe that minorities are somehow going to subjugate them. People who wouldn't quit smoking over health issues in the next decade would happily celebrate the murders of hundreds or thousands to "protect" themselves from that unlikely threat. The chances of dying in a road accident are higher, but they feel no fear about being in a vehicle. The point I am making here is anxiety is carefully built about specific subjects to turn them into threats for political profit. This is how Muslims being less than a fifth of the population and yet disproportionately underrepresented in jobs, education, housing and over represented in disadvantageous statistics like death tolls in communal crimes or being killed in state violence or being imprisoned without trial and so on, still results in a perception of Muslims as a threat.

It is like asking someone whether they have a pimple forming on their nose. They will touch their nose and examine the smallest hint of a bump and see it as proof that a problem pimple is indeed growing. It is how a stage magician may move his hand in a flourish while saying something in a dramatic manner, while the other hand palms a coin or scribbles a message for the audience to "discover" in full sight of the audience - and yet invisible. Because attention is focused elsewhere. People trying to figure out how the trick was done will continue to imagine that there was something about the flourish and want to examine sleeves and such, but fail to notice the other hand in full view doing the tricky part on the table. If you see enough TV programmes discussing the risk Muslims are to the country, you don't stop to ask why there is a need to discuss Muslims specifically. The unconscious conditioning to see them as a problem that needs to be resolved is already established through what is called a "false dilemma" or "false dichotomy", where you are presented with two choices as the only ones possible, making several illogical assumptions in the process.

If you were to see TV talk shows discussing daily whether apples were healthy at all, regardless of the discussions or conclusions, the fact that there was a need to evaluate the safety profile of apples specifically at all on a daily basis would have you avoiding apples and eating bananas or some other fruit to play it safe. In reality, there is no particular reason to discuss apples with such exceptional intensity. There is nothing wrong with discussing apples either. But the disproportionate attention given to evaluating their safety will make them appear to be unsafe even if discussion after discussion daily affirms after much debate that they are safe - because that affirmation is no conclusion, a new discussion will be required tomorrow - it is not safe. It is an ongoing threat. Better eat the orange. Now, if I sold bananas and wanted more people to switch from apples to bananas... would I have a reason to trigger such paranoia among those I want to manipulate?

This is an important part of propaganda - the delegitimizing of the targeted population. The questioning of every aspect of their existence and needing it to be proved harmless, while the rest of the population is very much similar but bears no scrutiny gives out its own message. The issue is not what these debates conclude. The fact that you devote 80% of TV debates to less than 20% of the population itself is its own signal to the population - here is something that needs you to be alert. The examination of every aspect of a part of the population as though they were aliens also serves another purpose - dehumanization.

Humans inherently are social animals and do not aspire to see themselves as vicious killers or attackers or those depriving others of basic human dignity. Mere differences cannot make a person be okay with inhumanity. For that, the target needs to be dehumanized. It has to be rendered to something less than human. A threat. Something so alien that it feels less pain than us, is more violent than us, is less deserving of compassion than us. This is where impunity for genocides is manufactured. We are in this cold blooded process. And we have no way to elevate the conversation. Partly because these conversations are carefully engineered to avoid targets being seen as humans, but also because those countering have no skills to set their own level of conversation and respond on the same level. Whether you don't talk to me or I don't talk to you, if the end result is a chasm, the objective is achieved.

This manipulated and deliberately propagated insanity is also the reason why there is an increase in violence - both physical and verbal. Violence is the last refuge of the illogical. When a person runs out of words to express their stand, they escalate to violence. As long as there is scope for presenting more and more of their perspective with words, there is no need for violence. But because the propaganda is inherently illogical, a person who believes it has no way of explaining it to one who doesn't, unless they make considerable effort to come up with enough logical fallacies themselves as well. Questioning then becomes a threat, because they are convinced of the threat to them from their targets and any questioning that could undermine it also becomes a threat.

To avoid increasing violence and hostility, we desperately need more clever and well planned conversations. We need the public to develop skills in assessing where their interests lie and when they are being manipulated toward prefering or avoiding something for reasons that are completely irrelevant to them and will likely harm them.

Long term, I think Darwin nailed it. The stupidification itself will erode the mental faculties of those depending on propaganda and with time give increasing advantage to those able to think through it. In the meanwhile, I suppose they will also have to learn how to survive till that point.