In the past few weeks, the Twitter handle associated with this blog has been deactivated. It’s been a remarkably clutter free environment in terms of thought. A need to react has a point of no purchase that Plato, surely, did not recognize. And it’s easy to rationalize that this relative silence is an objectively better place if one’s purpose is expanding one’s own thought; to the extent one’s own ability limits it. Of course that’s not true in all cases and someone far more erudite has already written an essay that touches on the topic while extolling Max Beerbohm.
The polarization of opinion on all forms of media, and particularly in shorter forms, often surprises us by its effect on ourselves. After all, we think, we are beyond the petty tribalism of everyone else. But the constancy and the immediacy of the medium forces one to seek out how intolerable the intolerant are. That seems to be the natural equilibrium of mass participation.
Consider the recent remark that an AIADMK MP made: he’d cut off tongues that spoke ill of J Jayalalitha’s health. No reasonable person in Tamil Nadu takes that seriously. The people of the state engage with Dravidian politics with the same common sense that Antonio Gramsci credits the subaltern of; the set of cultural pre-suppositions which define that common sense extend to the semantics of Dravidian politics. But someone who’s not from the state or does not form part of the in-group that Gramsci defines will find it shocking. No wonder Delhi found it that and picked it up.
If one is able to understand a Tamil politician thus, does the same argument apply for Hindutva rabble rousers of North India? To think of it, it does sound unlikely that a man who writes atrociously bad poetry will go around cutting hands of people. Narendra Modi, for all the image makeover he’s received, is still a provincial politician with particular cultural pre-suppositions that act as his common sense. Does a person in Madras then give the incumbent Prime Minister an ‘I don’t know’ grade for his earlier speeches in Gujarat that sound like ugly Islamophobia? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
But the problem for the rest of us is that when criticism becomes the the dominant form of consumption, distillation and postulation of thought, reality takes note and tries to game it. Plucking a low hanging fruit isn’t the pluckers’ fault. This explains reactionary politics everywhere and at all times; except the degree of feedback in that loop now is far greater than it ever has been.
What does a reasonable person do, then? Wait and see if tongues and hands are cut to form an opinion? Or, be hyper vigilant about every single aspect that’s regressive in the cultural pre-suppositions of those in power? Thus wasting time that ought to have spent expanding the edifice of human thought. Or, observe the long arc of history regardless of which way it bends? What’s reasonable, therefore, appears to be held within the common sense of each strata. After all, enlightenment has always been defined as something in contrast to something else, hasn’t it? Just like teens, sometimes, want their parents to be conservative. So, there is something worthy to rebel against.