Opinion: Reimagining the world, not exceptionalism, should be the way forward
Representative Image Photograph: (Others)
RSS leader, Dattatreya Hosabale, at an event organised by the US-based India-centric think tank, Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FFIDS), has stated that “the relevance of culture and nation is getting more and more important in a globalised world”, adding that the key factor for real globalisation to take place “is the universal consciousness of tolerance, mutual respect and acceptance”.
The RSS leader also took a dig at the United States and alluded to the “discovery of roots” in an interconnected world induced by globalisation.
There are obvious contradictions in Hosabale’s statements and assertions amounts to stating the obvious. The egregious one is the reference to the what may be called “cultural revanchism” or “cultural reassertion” and the “ return of the national” in a globalised world. In a way, the RSS leader’s assertions are a pale parody of the thesis developed and adumbrated by Benjamin Barber in his classic,“ Jihad versus McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World” where McWorld referred to Globalisation and Jihad, the struggle for tradition and identity.
While it is true that the toxic combination of nationalism, sovereigntism, nativism and populism are making a comeback, but it is not entirely due to globalisation. Hosabale is getting the causality wrong and he appears to rehashing Barber’s thesis in a native idiom in a classic case of appropriation. But, this may be beside the point here. The question is: Is globalisation the sole culprit for the “return of the national” and the reassertion or rearticulation of sovereignty of the nation state? And, is the quest for “roots” the concomitant of displacement and interconnectedness?
Yes and no is the answer. Yes, because globalisation, which can be roughly defined as the free(r) flow or movement of capital, money and ideas and their isomorphism thereof, the dissolution of barriers like borders and assorted controls, and the morphing of the nation state as a closed container of peoples and capital into a somewhat quasi open entity, entails a paradigm shift amongst and in peoples and states.
Globalisation, it may be pointed out here, has been happening since centuries. It was and is. Only its form that mutated and morphed on account of the stupendous Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) revolution.
Given its very nature then, globalisation is an uncertainty inducing factor and the phenomenon thereby goes against the craving for certainty that defines human beings. On account of this factor, and overlaid by some other structural factors, there has been a reaction against this macro historical trend. The consequence has been a yearning for the ‘familiar’ and disavowal of the “strange and the “novel”.
There then is neither anything “original”, “organic” nor “authentic” about the return of the cultural or the national. Moreover, the “national” and the “cultural” are constructs reified by the practices of people. There is nothing original about these. The domain of the national and the cultural is fluid and malleable. These are, more or less, quasi fictions, which again pertain to the need for certainty and anchors that humans crave. (This is not to demean the domain of culture or the cultural but to put these into perspective). If culture, upon which the national is predicated upon, is malleable and fluid, then the “quest for roots” is too romantic an idea to be entirely real. All this then renders the nation state , sovereignty and even identity contingent and tenuous.
In sum, reverting to Hosabale’s assertions, these are not only contradictory but are a mish-mash of variously appropriated themes that fly in the face of reality. This, to clarify, is not to deny that the world is gyrating smoothly in a unidirectional way. No. Not at all. The tension and dialectic between Jihad (understood as tradition) and McWorld (globalisation) is real and panning out in insalubrious and ungainly forms and idioms across the world. But, if a 'longue duree' view and perspective is taken, then this dialectic might be a phase or merely an aberrant interlude in world history.
Or, it may even be an indelible component of the human struggle to arrive at an end point where humans get stripped of artificial accretions and be viewed as human. However, this noble ideal, to which all major religions and philosophies adhere to and propound, is something that has to strived for.
If the nation, to paraphrase, Benedict Andersen, is an “imagined community” then there is nothing original or even real about it. But, if the nation was imagined and then became reified, then the same would hold true for a bold and beautiful future and condition, where the national loses salience, roots are multiple and fluid and people can move seamlessly through and across various identities.
Admittedly, a rather contrarian view given the contemporary condition of the world, riven as it is by conflicts over identity, it must be the ideal that must be strived for and aimed at. Recalling visions of a hoary and imagined past and appropriating these for political purposes is not only uncalled for but also means and implies a dreary and stultifying conformity in the service of a certain exceptionalism.
It is time to move beyond these and visualise a bold and beautiful vision of the world where the human, the spiritual and the rational are conjoined together!
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)