Monthly Archives: June 2014

Language, Pain & Tamil Nationalism

Solitude as a philosophical problem has a long tradition of traversing through both the theological and secular realms. The most interesting point of it, one’d think, was towards the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. The problem statement, put simplistically, can be approximated to: can someone who’s alone and contemplating be considered to be in solitude? At least that was what Wittgenstein considered since he thought language being a social construct meant that any contemplation even within yourself essentially involves language and therefore is social. Ernest Geller wrote a wonderful book titled Language and Solitude on this consideration of Wittgenstein’s in 1998. It’s available for free and if you haven’t read it, perhaps you should.

More recently, Joanna Bourke explored a specific case of the problem Wittgenstein considered. In her book The Story of Pain, she argues that pain is social too. Sometimes she takes it to the extreme by dismissing Biology which annoys the reader. But her general point that we experience grief and pain based on the way in which our society  trains us to is well made. She even cites a joke that explains the whole book: a doctor who’s an expert in pain relief goes to a physician because he has stomach ache; when the physician asks the pain doctor where it hurts the latter blurts: of course in my head.

The purpose of both those references to political equilibrium is of course from the view point of what counts as an insult to political dignity and why some issues flare up and others don’t. A classic case, as this blog is bound to perceive, is the Tamil’s notion of ethno-linguistic pride. Any effort to make Hindi any more important with regard to the Central Government results in a sort of pain in Tamil society that as Joanna Bourke suggests is a learned response that is both a signal and is cathartic. Why this was learned and whether this is the correct reaction is immaterial since it’s now organic regardless of whether this was astro-turfed in the past. As someone who belongs to that society, one is tempted to think, if the learned response is all that there is by definition then that’s what’s real.

But the question one then has to grapple with is: isn’t the reactionary nonsense of right wing ideologues also learned and hasn’t that become organic in some sense among sections of people? If what exists is what is because nothing can exist outside the context of a social process, is a modern liberal Democracy impossible by definition?

Growth: a necessary condition of modern dictatorships

Ernest Ruzindaza, permanent secretary to Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources in Rwanda, was a panelist on The Forum sometime last year. In it he sort asked a fellow panelist talking about open defecation and access to toilets for women to instead speak about positive and development related things that paint a better picture of Africa. It was a bit odd. And then Ruzindaza went to quote statistics about a cow give-away scheme and its exponentially accruing prosperity effect. The anchor, a usually well informed Bridgett Kendall, cited Rwanda as a success story.  Some months later, the very impressive Anjan Sundaram wrote about Rwanda’s ruling dispensation and its darling Tyrant for Politico.

To a lay person reading about Rwanda for the first time it appears: there was a genocide followed by a strongman heading the government since; he doesn’t tolerate opposition to the extent of possibly staging political murders. The said leader delivers high growth and employs a propaganda machine to tout the said growth with some questionable statistical claims. The world’s media, with limited resources to dig deeper, readily buys the hype and peddles it itself. The parallels between Rwanda and Gujarat along with Paul Kagame’s similarity to Narendra Modi are not difficult to conjure. If China and Russia are added to the list, a modern template for some version of an illiberal government emerges.