“God made everything out of nothing. But the nothingness shows through. ” — Paul Valfry
The nothingness is indeed showing through — now more than ever.
When the gates of proverbial hell collapse around Syria and the doomed people of Aleppo and Homs , while the rest of the world stares unblinkingly at the unfolding drama of sports-as-war. When the fourth-largest economy in the world suffers an embarrassing power crisis, while the Power Minister thumps his chest unabashedly saying “The US took 4 days to fix their problem” and anachronistic do-gooders like Anna smell political conspiracy when all it really amounts to, is plain-old garden-variety incompetence. When Narendra Modi rhetorically asks that “he be hanged if he is guilty” and a Congress leader calls him a “Tiger” — not very far off, considering his predatory skills (the pogrom victims can testify). When I see two kids being hit in the assembly for being over-zealous while singing the national anthem — and singing it out of tune and sync. Discipline and respect, you see, are very important. And the national anthem, that is beyond reproach. Sacred !
And last, but most importantly, when my school is the only one open on this weary, humid, power-deficient Monday — when all others are closed. Quelle horreur !
Nationalism evokes a mixture of pity, sympathy and revulsion in me now, in increasing order of magnitude (and also depending on the gender and physical appearance of the subject involved). Collective fear, stimulates the Herd instinct and gets legitimized by constructed boundaries. And Pandora’s box is open. But why do I question it now ? I did, at some point in time, feel proud to be an Indian, took great delight in pointing out the numerous victories of Indian stalwarts through the ages… and in weaker moments, I am still prone to indulging in this form of intellectual debasement. But I think the time is ripe — when sporting passions are running high, when the Times of India, in all its journalistic prudence, decides to prioritize Gagan Narang’s heroic bronze medal triumph over the gruesome charring-to-death of 30-odd passengers in an express train — I think, the time is right. To question nationalism.
We identify the nation as the extension of our own selves, or at least pretend to. Why ? I think the nation is a convenient way to maintain status-quo in society, power relations are kept untouched and perpetuated forever when you have the full weight of a nation state behind you. Nationalist ideology denounces dissent– labels it, de-legitimizes it and eventually, if nothing else works, kills it. Brutally. That is the trajectory of most popular protests which try to shift the discourse from the collective Nation-State to the plight of the individual poor. But frankly, as long as lip-service is done, crocodile tears shed, committees created and statements issued, who cares ? I don’t see that changing.
On Sports then. A very beautifully disguised, ritualized form of war. Identities are formed, sometimes national, sometimes more nebulous club-identities, or sometimes the worship of the personality archetypes — and then these identities do battle. It is theater and it is a diversion for humanity’s more violent urges. Bertrand Russell once remarked about war – —
“War does not tell us who is right … only who is left. ”
Fortunately, sports does not kill. Opponents are left standing, able to get second chances at the opponent again. We humans love conflict. And even more so, when it is clean — without blood and gore, as it is most definitely not, right now, in Syria and in Iraq and countless places where the omnipresent eye of Facebook/Twitter and the Mainstream Media does not rove. How beautiful it is, when anthems are sung, athletes parade around lapping in the adulation of the blissfully ignorant masses, while people die ? Barack Obama is keeping a keen eye on Syria and will not “cease to remind Assad that he is watching.” Meanwhile Russia and China vetoed a resolution against the Syrian regime. Inaction seems to be the geo-strategic safe move.
Enough of this violence and depressing talk — Silvio Berlusconi is planning a return to Italian politics. How we missed him ? While the Euro-zone teeters on the verge of dismemberment and recession, who better to stand at the helm and direct the performance in tragic comedy ! In democracy, a fool and his money are soon elected. And how acutely aware we are of Italian democratic ideals : consistently standing up against nepotism ! (a popular Bolywood tune comes to mind …” You are my Sonia .. ooh aaaah” and repeat. 😛 )
Kids in my Muslim school are being hit for not singing the national anthem well. History and repeated betrayals at the hands of the Indian State have had the not-so-subtle impact of making the people in this community cling to national identity more fiercely than ever before. Patriotic -to a fault. Jingoist. And the kids get the raw deal. It is just a song, our national anthem, written by a poet renowned for his imaginative ideas on childhood and educational reforms. How ironic!
In times of war and calamity, nation-states work well, collective impulse drives human endeavour and creativity to unprecedented levels of productivity. (Case in point — Germany 1930s-1940s, Japan etc.) But in most other times, nationalism is a waste of breath — at best, an ideology to fill the idle moments of bored people and dull conversations, and at worst — a dogma perpetuated to protect those in power, authority — be it politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists (national development, progress over land-rights, livelihoods) and sometimes even teachers (disciplining kids with sticks over singing a song out of tune).
Russell once said, ” Many men will sooner die than than think. In fact, they do so. ” Whoever said that man is a rational animal, was clearly wrong. No evidence seems to support that.
Irrationality, hypocrisy and apathy abounds. The nothingness is debilitating. And all the Gods are dead. Probably, by the horror of this world, this fraying reality! Save me, O Dark Knight of Gotham !