With right-wing being reduced to fascists and left-wing to as proponents of violent revolution& self-accepted elites, is there a space left to call out moral wrongfulness & promote ethical principles in the first place?
We made some progressive changes in our social customs by adopting the western model, some bore fruit to make a transformation from the rudimentary notions of society to a more accommodative & respectful medium to accept changes as they are inevitable. Eradication of sati & child marriage are just a few among many, there is another side of the story too which is daunting as we embarked on a path where being modern was synonymous with the ideas of the west, which is problematic in a way that partial liberalism doesn’t liberate but creates unseen barriers in the name of liberty engulfed in self-serving shenanigans, speaking in Hindi or other regional languages became a matter of shame subsequently, is also a story of our times.
After George W Bush took an amicable stand towards India by putting the suspicions of Bill Clinton on the back seat, odds favored a more conducive ecosystem for Indo-American relations with its zenith in the Obama & Trump era hopefully. We now look up to America for aspiration, inspiration, validation, investments, bilateral trade & a sustainable partnership of ‘standing for & standing out against same values’. In wealthy nations like the US more exuberant things happen as our intolerance& vandalism are labeled as ‘ cancel culture’ there not a new phenomenon but gained traction after prominent 153 academics, writers, artists, intellectuals published an open letter in the Harper’s magazine a month ago.
The names included Noam Chomsky, Margret Atwood, J K Rowling, Salman Rushdie, Francis Fukuyama and many other reputed personalities. The letter intends to portray that liberal values are in danger if freedom of ideas & thoughts is not emphasized, with every cancellation in a liberal democracy there are serious repercussions in terms of economic hardships & a looming threat of getting maligned for simply disagreeing, the space for debate should be larger & topics which can’t be debated in an open civilized manner must be too little. This letter witnessed a backlash from the extreme left for being too superficial or merely on the basis of people who signed it (JK Rowling allegedly made some anti-transgender remarks).
A columnist ‘Bary Weiss’ of the New York Times resigned citing the outrage from the public over her centrist leanings which made her prone to abuse from the left & right simultaneously. The editor who ran a piece of republican senator Tom Cotton also had to resign over the burgeoning protests on the black lives movement. Bloomsbury India withdrew a book by the writers (Monika Arora, Sonali Chitalkar, Prerna Malhotra) with RSS links after the so-called liberals outraged.
The person who made the most incendiary speeches during CAA protests, the ‘instigator in chief’ was asked to preside over the book launch. When I heard of such an arrangement, I too grew wary of this as a possible step towards attempting a hijack of academia by the right-wingers who in the name of nationalism & Hindutva are furthering their propaganda of polarization & a tumultuous shift towards a Hindu nation, which isn’t an exaggeration either. As a result of such kerfuffle, a very common& important question arises of freedom of expression& the need to draw a line between extremism & hate speech. Where is the fine line, where the dissenters should be muted, where is the rational basis for the deliberation of social responsibility?
Is tolerance magnified to favor selective pursuits?
If you ask me, I am simply not going to read it, not for the picture Or the untold story of the Delhi riots it wishes to depict, not for the sake of ideology but for the misinformation the book is made up of & how facts are manipulated to vilify a community leading to an implicit justification of the carnage that followed after Kapil Mishra warned the Police to take law in his hands If the protest site wasn’t cleared with an alacrity! It’s evident that the worst affected people belonged to the Muslim community; this book however is telling a different story. So to ban a book, the first check of social responsibility is violated by this book. With a narrow definition of social responsibility comes another deterrent ‘freedom of expression’ as the right accuses left off making a self-acclaimed bubble of’ shared ideology’ which comes under the purview of free speech only. Sure cancel culture reduces our discourse by making it confined to some corridors or cafes where like-minded people have a say on a plethora of issues.
The idea of debate was to add views & opinions which create a pacified inferno in a way that the sanctity of the topic gets bolstered with a multidimensional approach. Debating freedom of expression is given a legit space, but given the complexities of societies, it’s a gargantuan challenge to engage people with topics that are dear to their beliefs. A freedom of expression needs to survive anyway! But the space for debate is shrinking not because of cancel culture but because of our hostility towards those who don’t agree with us. Whenever there is a debate now days on say economy between left& right, in no time the debate derails itself from the core subject to a kind of ostracism by calling each other names. When it comes to religion it is advisable to insulate. But if this was the case, no religious reforms would have come if those people were silenced or canceled then? We would have still believed that other planets revolve around the earth, child marriage, genital mutilation, sati, etc would have continued. This book might not be promoting dialogue or debate rather aims towards building a narrative around a well-designed propaganda of the ideology the ruling dispensations enjoys. But this book passed the editorial test if the editors haven’t had a problem with the content now why for the sake of people who for whichever reasons are calling for an overhaul is withheld?
The point is that if in a society where rule of law prevails, a number of fundamental rights are practiced if a person can’t say something because the majority wouldn’t listen to him & is feared of consequences, the systems fail! Similarly, if a book well scrutinized by a reputed publishing house that has gone through editorial checks & balances is being taken back for the fear of people who don’t agree with the narrative of the book isn’t good either! This isn’t about freedom of expression& a social responsibility but a matter of protecting an article of thought from the dissidents or from those on the other side of the aisle. If we can say it, let them say it also, with banning the’ saying’ gets dwindled in darkness & history tells dacoits waited for darkness. Morality can never be compromised but stopping something in the name of being the only panacea, guardian of social justice& moral ethos isn’t going to emancipate us, with cancel culture mob culture is also soaring. We need to think& move with a calibrated pace where we can respectfully disagree & explicitly call out things which we think are causing a collective harm. Now, this definition of social harm & ‘we’ is also elastic or malleable given the status a group has, to shape things in its tandem. Moral wrongfulness can be a factor as Edmund Burke said, there are pretexts. So let us empower each other to have choices with a morality talking of humanity & mutual harmony what come may.
This argument seems to collude with the theory of “cognitive dissonance’’ given by Leon Fester, but it’s about seeking a space between cancel culture& slander the besmirching a censorship brings. It would need a provocation from the liberals to resuscitate the liberalism in its true sense & conviction from the right to pursue morality as a mobilizing force, centrists need to widen the scope where they can co-exist in between the poles.
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