Saturday, January 24, 2009

Political Identity

Over the last four years, and increasingly in the last 6 months, I have spent a lot of time in trying to analyze who I am, where I think I belong, what does everyone else see in me, what am I to myself and the world. A significant part of these thoughts have been around what my political views are. I have always followed Indian and world politics fairly closely, and in wake of the brilliant coverage of the American elections last year, ended up reading a lot of political literature too.

I have a very strong sense of identity. Whatever differentiates me with most others, brings me closer to those of my own kind. Or, to try and put simply, I tend to group myself with people with whom I have a similar differentiation. Where I was born, the colour of my skin, what I studied, my alma mater, my profession, my firm, my hobbies, my caste, my nationality and several other things, with different emphasis over time and location, have defined my identity. When I meet someone, I categorize him/her across several of these labels, and see where they match or come close to. That is how I develop a conversation, a rapport and a friendship.

For instance, when I meet someone who lets say belongs to my region of the world, that is what we bond on. When I meet someone, who has the same interests as I do, that's what we talk about. One implication of this is that most of my friendships are fairly compartmentalized and I don't spend much time celebrating diversity, but that's not the point of the post.

I have always considered myself as a liberal sort of a fellow. What people do in their own time is their own business, and as long as nobody troubles me, I don't give a shit. But this runs into conflict with my earlier sense of identity. What do I do when what I believe is my group, is under a perceived threat? How do I reconcile my tribal bonding need and my liberal value-system?

What do I do, when people of my nation, my religion are under threat for being different. Do I sit on the fence and laugh at the infantile behaviour of the extremists, or do I take cudgels on behalf of my side, even as I know that what I would end up doing would definitely be unpalatable and probably wrong.

And my answer has always been to join the fight on my side and try to win.

Ideally, one would want to know the right or wrong. The problem is, sometimes, things stand so far back in time, one doesn't really know how anything began. But that's not the real reason why I choose to take a stand. I would probably stand by my group even if they were wrong. The reason is my innate need to survive.

I don't like saying this but ethnic cleansing works. We only have to look back at the 1500s and see that in the last 500 years, in almost half the world, one group of men have annihilated another. Both the American natives and Aborigines have been removed from the face of the earth and Africa has been screwed beyond possibility of quick redemption. Yes, men can do bad things to other men, and the earlier we recognize it, the better. Some would call it paranoia but who is to say it can't happen again.

In everyday life, we are used to being safe and protected and sheltered, and fed on a diet of Page-3 newspapers and escapist cinema, forget that outside, wars go on, people kill each other, and sometimes, the bad guys end up winning.

In the comfort of one's arm-chair, a libertarian ideology is very attractive. It gives us a moral high ground - when we are safe, we can afford to have one. However, with such a mentality, if and when the barbarians come at the gates, we'll probably end up being spiked.

And I would rather fight, kill and survive than stand aside.

The other problem with the libertarian utopia is that would imagine that everybody would love everybody else, and live happily ever after. But there is no example known to me that suggests that no chink will appear in this vision - people have always become greedier, nastier and given the variation in temperaments, there will be some bastards at any point of time. What do you do then?

When I ask people whether something is black or white, and I hear, gray - it makes my blood boil. The purpose of information is to take action, and saying gray doesn't help. Decisions need to be made - and one has to take guesses in real life, and hope for the best. One of the biggest sins in this world is inaction - because of absence of 100% evidence. And, I would, any day, prefer efficiency over precision. It's like the debate I was having with someone about global warming - the other guy said, "There is still not sufficient proof that global warming is happening," and my reply to him was, "If we keep waiting for proof, there'll probably be no earth left". Survive first, ask later.

So I am asked - are you right-wing? And I would have to say yes. As long as there is someone ready to shoot me, I will carry a gun myself. In the legendary words of Dinkar:

Kshama shobhti us bhujang ko, jiske paas garal hai
Uska kya jo dantheen, vishrahit vineet saral hai

Liberalism is a luxury only the powerful can afford, I would rather watch my back.


Anonymous said...

a very sound strand of thought..appealing reasoning.

ruse said...

well thoughtout, mustsay