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  Summer 2009

Democracy's Failing Light

What happens now that democracy and the Free Market have fused into a single predatory organism that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit? Is it possible to reverse this process? Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used to be?

            What we need today, for the sake of the survival of this planet, is long-term vision. Can governments whose very survival depends on immediate, extractive, short-term gain provide this? Could it be that democracy has been the sacred answer to our short-term hopes and prayers?

Has Democracy been the protector of our individual freedoms and nurturer of our avaricious dreams? Will this Democracy turn out to be the endgame for the human race? Could it be that democracy is such a hit with modern humans precisely because it mirrors our greatest folly - our nearsightedness?

We are unable to live entirely in the present (like most animals do).  Combine this with our inability to see very far into the future. It makes us strange in-between creatures--neither beast nor prophet. Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival. We plunder the earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for the profound, unfathomable thing that we have lost.

            As a Kashmiri protester once put it: 'Democracy without Justice=Demon Crazy.'

            It takes odd tools to uncover the subterfuge and hypocrisy cloaking the callousness and cold, calculated violence of the world's favorite new Superpower.

            Words like 'progress' and 'development' have become interchangeable with economic 'reforms', 'deregulation' and 'privatization'. 'Freedom' has come to mean 'choice'. It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant.

 Market' no longer means a place where you go to buy food. The 'market' is an abstract space where faceless corporations do business. This includes buying and selling 'futures'. 'Justice' has come to mean 'human rights.' (And of those, as they say, 'a few will do').

This is a theft of language. It is a technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons. This Superpower uses language to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant.

This language theft has been one of their most brilliant strategic victories. It has allowed them to marginalise their detractors. It deprives them of a language in which to voice their critique. It dismisses them as being 'anti-progress', 'anti-development', 'anti-reform' and of course 'anti-patriotic'--negativists of the worst sort.

Talk about saving a river or protecting a forest? They say, 'Don't you believe in Progress?' To people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs and whose homes are being bulldozed they say, 'Do you have an alternative development model?' To those who believe that a government is duty-bound to provide people with basic education, healthcare and social security, they say, 'You're against the Market.'

And who except a cretin could be against a Market?

  An Excerpt reprinted  from Arundhati Roy’s article in July’s Outlook India Magazine 


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