Disappearing World Forum Q&A Session with Arundhati Roy, held at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, 2013
One could write a never-ending book about all that is contained in and around this event so it will be difficult to write anything short here. I could say something romantic about ugliness and beauty, about the drama of our existence, of exploiter and the exploited, of greed and resistance to that greed. Or about the possibility that we humans are flawed in our very DNA and evolution and may never be capable of collective peace and goodwill to all. I could say history is never in the past. I could say ideology is profound, especially when it has almost unlimited power driving it into plastic labile minds. I could say capitalism is a fundamental threat to the survival of almost all living things – especially humans. I could say corporate neoliberal rule is designed to exacerbate the logic of capitalism which is ceaseless accumulation and the commodification of all things. Or I could focus on the institution and histories and ideologies and power relations that brought those specific questioners there at that particular time. Or I could focus on Arundhati and all she is representing and all the superlatives that would flow from there. All of the strength, intelligence, elegance, beauty, all of the eloquence, patience, and fortitude. Or I could point out her seeming prescience about our current state of affairs, which was actually a clear-eyed left analysis that has been on the right (correct) side of history for generations, along with common sense ideas like fairness, justice, right and wrong…and feelings, like passion and empathy. Well, the never-ending book won’t start now, so here ends this bit of thought and feeling, digitized, and published for those few who will come across it.
At this point the choice for liberals is clear, but it’s clear the liberals asking the questions still don’t get it – or they do get it, but are so steeped in the venality of capitalism and neoliberalism they are confused. Yanis is frequently called a radical and liberals have consistently dismissed him as unrealistic, though it’s clear they are willing to listen more now than they have been in the past. If liberals still think Yanis is a radical they are sadly mistaken. He is offering the moderate way forward. I don’t know how big his organization is at the moment and it’s yet to be seen if it will gain enough traction to become viable in Europe, but if self-proclaimed liberals can’t get behind someone like him…well, I’ll leave it to you to complete the thought.
The minuscule level of left gains since 2008 have not moved the needle much – and “The Resistance” is a sad joke. The next manufactured crisis the financial “industry” will bring down on us will make people more extreme in every direction. The currently comfortable might then wonder why they didn’t try to do more when they had a chance – or more likely, they will do what they have been doing: the ol’ see no evil routine and/or keep head in sand/up ass and/or continue to support the right wing (and yes, that means most Dems, or whatever party you want to substitute in your country). Simply pressing a button or filling out a form every two or so years has never been and will never be enough.
When confronted with any of this, the first thing I always hear from liberals is, “well what can I do?” You know what I never hear them say? “Instead of binge-watching tv and letting corporate news wash over me every night, I took a day to research who was already organizing and doing something and then I went out and met people and actually tried to do something.” Never hear that. I’m not saying that will change our current trajectory, because a lot of those people thought they were doing something by knitting pussy hats, but I am saying being a liberal was never a good thing and in the last forty years those liberals who thought voting was the be all and end all of politics, voted for right-wing neoliberals over and over. They voted for the lesser of two evils and eventually got the current u.s. president, or macron, or may or erdogan, or take your pick…
It’s too late to say time to wake up. That time has passed. Organize locally, find left organizations that are national and international, and if they aren’t, make them international. And don’t stop until it’s world-wide. A perfect test case would be teachers. You may have noticed teachers organized to strike in some of the poorest states in the u.s. They realized they could do something and then they realized they could talk to other teachers in other states. They called for a reduction in their health insurance costs, they called for raises for all state employees and for the major corporations sucking the wealth from their states to actually pay taxes. The next step, though literally no one is saying this, is to talk to teachers in other countries. Form organizations and then join up with other organizations to form something massive and worldwide. Think about how many teachers there are in the world, think about how many nurses there are… If unions were democratic and had the ideals of the I.W.W., they’d be doing the same, or better yet, they’d be welcoming groups with open arms of solidarity and sharing resources. (To be fair, some are more democratic than others and some are doing better work than others, but no big union is working for real internationalism). If you’re in a union, democratize it, and then make it international.
Well, I could go on, but I don’t have the time or energy. About three to ten people will read this. It’s more venting than anything else, though it is not satisfying in any way, shape, or form. I’m writing this as a poor person in the richest country that ever existed in the history of the world. You know, the country where about half the people are poor and a paycheck away from the street – if they even have a paycheck. The one where millions have no health care, and the ones who do find out it’s inadequate when they actually need it because there is a massive corporation between them and well, living. The one where mass shootings happen every week. The one with a record number of people in prison. The country who went from a deporter-in-chief sending people to die in countries the u.s. helped turn into corrupt regimes with gangs and putting women and children into for-profit detention camps, to an avowed racist deporting people and putting them into for-profit detention camps – or let’s just be honest and call them what they are: prisons. Of course this is the land of for-profit prisons. What do you need for more profits? You guessed it, more prisoners… The land of poisoned earth, air, and water. The land of mass surveillance, mass homelessness, mass killings. The one bombing the world into oblivion, selling the most weapons of any country. Selling them to the dictators it props up and attempting to overthrow democratically elected politicians it calls dictators. The one at endless war in multiple countries. The one with the homeless drug addicted veterans with PTSD it denies services to. The one where people who literally want to kill regulatory agencies are in charge of them. The one with the militarized police who harass and kill with impunity and think they are an occupying force in their own country. The one whose federal courts are packed with hanging judges and where the supreme court rules corporations are people and reverses voting rights for people of color. The one with hungry kids, the one with all the wannabe fascists (sometimes on the street and often in churches and government). The one whose corporations don’t pay taxes while grinding austerity and privatization is loosed on everyday people by the politicians the corporations purchase. The one with the most effective propaganda since the third reich. The one with current and former students carrying almost 1.5 trillion dollars in student loans – that the government is making money on. The country where people who should be building a future are forced to spend 50-80% of their income on rent – if they have a place to rent, Again, if they even have income… Ok, time to stop, because this list could fill many volumes.
The u.s. didn’t invent death and destruction and making war on it’s own people, but it has exported its capitalist, neoliberal version of these things all over the world. That alone gives the people of the world a shared struggle, if they choose to come together and fight this insanity. Yanis is proposing and trying to work for a way forward. Is it “the” way? Impossible to say, but I can say that it is moderate. Increasingly, our collective options for change are being narrowed and will, more and more, be determined by extreme situations created by extreme people with extreme ideas. The only way forward is collective action on a worldwide scale. Liberals are afraid of radical change, so they turn away from the left, but guess what we’ve been living through instead? What liberals have, let’s be generous and say unwittingly, helped to bring about? Right wing extremism. Ironically, for liberals to get the peace and equality they say they want and believe in, they will have to become radicals. Radical change, just means change at the root. Fundamental, systemic change, not tweaking a totally corrupt system around the edges while more and more people suffer every day. Yanis is proposing to start with moderate change that will stabilize global capitalism so we can then calmly implement some kind of collective ownership. Again, I won’t go into the arguments for and against, I am simply saying this seems like radicalism to liberals, but the political spectrum has been dragged to the right by right-wing extremists for forty years, which means liberals are on the right, fascists are to their right, and Yanis is simply proposing moderate old school social democratic changes. If you aren’t choosing to support that and you’re not doing anything that could be called organizing the left, you are choosing the right-wing extremism that is the status quo.
There are many other elements to analyze in the film: the homage to films of the 30’s and 40’s, especially the film noir detective genre and the Busby Berkeley musical of course. There is the satire of the art world, L.A., power and violence, the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy and violence of the rich (and their cop enforcers)…The list is long, but this clip gets at the most important theme, the heart of the matter, in more ways than one.
The dude abides…
P.S. This is a short video clip with a voice-over review from Richard Brody’s “Front Row” series for the New Yorker magazine. In case they move the link again, that should help people search for it. If you find the link at the top is broken, please let me know in the comments and I will fix it if possible.
P.P.S. This is a spoiler for the clip, but if the clip does get taken down permanently, here is the most important part of the review:
After The Dude tells Maude about his experiences as a 60’s radical, Brody comments,
“The historical events The Dude refers to here are real and crucial moments in the American New Left in the 1960’s. The subject of the film is, what remains of the 1960’s, of the spirit of protest, of the anti-militarism of that period? And the Coen brothers provide an answer: No matter how burned-out and gone to seed its heralds may seem, its spirit abides.