Cause For Optimism?

Content Warning: Religious Violence

I’m not going to wade into the discussion surrounding Rebecca Solnit’s opinion piece [sol] that argues we should be optimistic, because the right-wing activity we are currently seeing is an extinction burst – progress is being made, yadda yadda. Mano comments on it over at his blog, [mano] and Crip Dyke weighs in over at Pervert Justice [pj]. To me, it’s just parochial – the US, the world’s economic and military super-power, is struggling over its internal rifts but mostly it’s still the smug self-congratulatory shitberg it’s always been. Arguing about whether a country founded upon slavery and genocide remains more or less fascistic is to be wearing rose-colored glasses so opaque you could use them to protect your eyes while welding.

When I was a kid, the cold war was on, and the world was still settling down into its post-WW2 alignments – the “knock on effects” of the two great wars which were really one, and consolidation of power and alliances. I was totally naive, of course, though I saw reporting about the Vietnam War on television, and believed the bullshit about that it was somehow something to do with bringing freedom to all those people over there. I don’t know when and where I was, exactly, that I figured out it was all lies, and started to re-assess world history in terms of it being an endless cycle of power and people’s attempts to get the power-hungry to let them live in peace. Of course there were some legitimate well-meaning efforts to make things better thrown in here and there, but mostly, I would describe history as mostly a litany of horrors. Of course, I eagerly jumped at things like Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature but by then I was skeptical enough to immediately suspect Pinker was playing around with his interpretation or just flat-out lying. The problem with such big pictures as Pinker paints is that if you try to argue with them, it’s easy to get lost down in the weeds of some bit of interpretation. For example, were the ~1million dead of starvation in India, due to Winston Churchill’s policy of stockpiling rice in case britons got hungry (they didn’t) – were those dead of violence or just incompetence? It seems like it’s a dumb game/losing proposition to even try to sort that into something that makes sense, which makes Pinker’s efforts seem especially sinister and ghoulish to me. What is he trying to defend, or convince us of, and why?

You probably already know that, from here, my perspective is that the world is horribly grim. It’s not merely that we’re staring into the double barrels of a climate crisis and massive food shortages, but authoritarian creeps appear to be winning all around the world. I’m not going to even attempt a big picture analysis like Pinker’s, but I suppose it makes sense: people are scared and it makes them more prone to listen to bad leaders, rather than the other way around. And the bad leaders are, as always, busy promoting themselves and their bogus nationalist, fascist, hydroxychloroquine “solutions” because it’s always easier to lie than to actually do something positive. I am writing this just after watching video of exchanges between Rand Paul (who is a waste of meat that never did an honest day’s work in his life) and Tony Fauci, who has a long career of trying to help make public health problems better. Paul’s got nothing better to do, literally nothing better to do, than attack Fauci and imply he’s being dishonest. That a US senator is attacking anyone for being dishonest is such a sick joke, it exceeds my capacity to come up with creative invective. Anyhow, like Solnit, my view remains unfortunately parochial.

I try to keep in touch with the rest of the world, but I feel like I’m really unqualified to comment on politics in China, or worse (because of sheer complexity) Africa or, I suppose much of the rest of the planet, really. But the thumbnail sketch in my mind, which forms whether I want it to or not, is bad: The US is whining about its fake democracy becoming fakier and less democracy-y, but China comfortably has collapsed into an authoritarian state that, well, really isn’t doing as badly as the US, or maybe even a bit better. Russia has collapsed into an authoritarian state as well, and continues to skate along on a wave of “… well, it’s better than Stalin.” Africa is a post-colonial mess, as is the Middle East thanks largely to the British and Americans using their spy services to prop up and maintain economic colonies for oil – so the Middle East and Africa are full of various authoritarian dictatorships. I’m going to be ‘edgy’ and specifically call out Israel as one of those authoritarian pseudo-democracies, because for all intents and purposes it may as well be Rhodesia2.0. Turkey was regarded briefly as a case study in forming post-colonial democracies, but, whups, trusted the wrong guy and now it’s headed for authoritarian dictatorship. Hungary, Ukraine – the central European nations are struggling (and losing) in the battle to keep dictators out of power. Conspicuously lacking is positive nation-building from any of the current handfuls of great powers because none of them are democracies, really, either, and wouldn’t know how to turn on the lights of democracy if you handed them infinite power – because that’s what (effectively) they’ve got and they’re not interested in shaping up themselves let alone anyone else. I did not forget Brazil, another huge nation that was once sort of portrayed as a beacon for optimists, but which looks now like a late-stage trumpenstaat or fuckocracy or whatever it should be called. And I left a big one off the list; give yourself a gold star if you caught it.


[guardian] People are being beaten, raped, lynched, and burned alive

As usual, I feel completely unqualified to write about India, because there’s so much post-colonial nightmare there, and then there was the famine and the partition and now there’s border standoffs with China and Pakistan; India is the odds-on favorite in the “where is a nuclear war most likely to start?” discussion, and that’s not a good place to be, at all. And right now, it’s getting racked with COVID-19 and, apparently, the uncaused disasters India faces right now are shadowed by the human-caused disasters in progress. The other day over at Daily Kos one of the community members posted a piece entitled Spare a Thought For India [dkos] and it’s grim.

India you see, has a far worse case of democratic backsliding. In fact, V-Dem calls us an electoral autocracy. We have Hindu nationalists calling openly for genocide of Muslims in Hindu holy places. We have Muslims being attacked and harassed during Friday prayers. Muslim artisans are being attacked and small traders kept from plying their trade in many regions. Christians are being attacked in churches and schools run by them. Oppressed caste people are facing attacks with women being the worst hit (though, casteism has always been a problem in India; the rate of crime has increased compared to the decade past).

There’s a question for would-be Pinkers: does a drop in crime indicate perhaps that a country is about to fall into authoritarianism, rather than indicating things are getting better?

But these vigilante cases, which now take place across the Gangetic Plains and have infiltrated into the Southern State of Karnataka, are not all. The Government Of India, under the Hindu Nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its allies, has so far:

  1. Jailed activists, journalists, and lawyers, who provide services to labour and tribes (we call them first nations, Adivasis), without bail. Many have been in prison for years without trial. One, Stan Swamy a Jesuit Priest, died in prison.
  2. Demoted Jammu and Kashmir from a state to two Union Territories (directly governed by the Union Government) thereby reducing the people’s autonomy. Since the Supreme Court of India has been dragging its heels on the issue, we did not even get a judgment on whether this is unconstitutional (it should be, but the SC may ignore that; the SC has given some really terrible judgments in favour of the government and Hindu Nationalists in the past few years). Kashmir has been under brutal suppression for years and both terrorism (Pak-supported) and support for insurgency (home-grown) is on the rise. Note: When Kashmir is mentioned, many Indians (including Indian Americans) take offense or mention Kashmiri Pundits. Pundits, the Hindu minority in Kashmir Valley were ethnically cleansed (many murdered) and forced to move out of Kashmir in 1989 and early 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of Pundits left Kashmir for other regions. However, one crime does not solve another. Also, a majority of Kashmiri Muslims has had nothing to do with it.
  3. Introduced a citizenship register in Assam (a border state) to identify non-Indians. This has led to close to 4 million poor people being categorised as non-citizens despite having documents. A majority of them have been Hindus in Assam. However, the BJP must have expected some Hindus, because they had introduced the discriminatory bill mentioned below.
  4. Introduced and passed into law a discriminatory citizenship amendment bill that may disenfranchise many Muslims or at least make them live in fear. This bill allows Indian government to give citizenship to non-Muslim people from neighbouring countries who settled in India before 2014. What it does is: allow Hindus (and folks from other non-Muslim religions) who may not be able to prove citizenship during the Citizenship registering exercise to regain or apply for citizenship while Muslims who are similarly left out will not be able to do the same. It is anti-constitutional since Indian constitution explicitly forbids discrimination on the basis of religion (plus gender, ethnicity, caste and geography). However, our Supreme Court is yet to hear a case on it.
  5. Said they would introduce a national level citizenship registering exercise similar to the one introduced in Assam. But they have not yet done so. (See the same source above.)
  6. Passed many problematic bills that hurt labour and poorer sections and reduced state power (with respect to the Union/federal government) without proper parliamentary debate or support. The Farm laws, which was discussed here long back, was one such set of bills. They were repealed in December, again without debate.
  7. Managed the economy so badly that India has been on a downward economic trend even before Covid 19 hit. Around 165 million people have been pushed into poverty in the past few years and the slowing down of economy and unemployment has not been just because of Covid. Middle Class has shrunk while inequality has increased.
  8. Managed Covid badly leading to hundreds of thousands (millions by some estimates) dead.

I think that a lot of us in the atheist/skeptic world sort of step past hinduism because it’s just another batshit religion, but it’s too complicated with too much batshit detail on it, to bother studying. I’m sorry, but I’ve been dismissing religious hinduism out of hand and that made it easy to also not pay attention to political hinduism – because, in terms of batshittery with a political agenda, they’re right up there with the craziness of christians, and their religio-political agenda is just as closely coupled. Again, here we can argue with how stupid christianity is, while not confronting the fact that yes, they want to use that stupidity to shape their politics. Same in India.

In addition, BJP ruled states have passed laws against eating beef, and conversion – called ‘love jihad’ in the case of women converting to Islam after marriage. This prevents women from marrying the men of their choice and some of these laws even void such marriages. A new bill passed by Karnataka State Assembly prevents people from converting to Christianity without a District Magistrate’s approval. Again, Supreme Court has been a mute spectator. Freedom of religion, including right to propagate, is a fundamental right in India.

Of course, US politics toward Modi are “so what if he’s a dictator, he’s someone we can work with”, as usual.

Modi has tremendous support in US and UK. In fact, when Hindu Nationalism was nascent in India, it was the Hindu Americans abroad that gave them succour.It is not just Tulsi Gabbard. Almist 70% of Hindu Americans (50% of Indian Americans) support Modi. If you have Hindu American friends, just making it clear that you oppose Hindu Nationalism and casteism may help.

I’m also going to go out on a limb and predict that, in the quiet parts of the halls of American power, when the mics are off, US leaders whisper “can we hope that both sides kill each other?” We can’t expect the Bidenists to give a rat’s ass, anymore than the trumpers – they’re just going to stand back and negotiate with the winners. As usual.


The violence raged across the north-east of India’s capital for four days as mosques were set alight, Muslims were burned alive in their homes or dragged out into the streets and lynched. Muslim businesses and property were also set alight. In streets where Hindus and Muslims had lived peacefully side by side, bodies lay bloodied alongside discarded and burned-out cars, bikes, shattered glass and smouldering shopfronts. The police have been accused of enabling, encouraging or even joining in with Hindu mobs.

The poster on Daily Kos sounds desperate but still optimistic:

Finally, if US does want to be a more inclusive democracy and a beacon for the world, its people cannot remain negligent or indifferent to other cultures and people. Especially because it holds so much power. But, I find that, beyond a few notable exceptions, Daily Kos rarely ever pays attention to the rest of the world despite US’s enormous impact on the world (I will remain diplomatic and not elaborate on that impact. Much). When you discuss it, it is typically in terms of bad Republicans vs. not bad Democrats rhetoric. Is it any wonder that your country manages to take you to war without much protest when many citizens remain ignorant and those who are knowledgeable rarely discuss other countries and cultures with any depth (or unless forced to)? Is it any wonder that your country doesn’t welcome immigrants when you do not discuss or show any interest in other countries and cultures? Is it any wonder that drone strikes continue to kill innocents, and US arms destroy thousands elsewhere? Why doesn’t Daily Kos have a proper Foreign Policy/Foreign Culture section?

[my emphasis]

What percentage of the planetary population lives under authoritarian rule, fake democracy, or outright dictatorship? That’s the metric I want to see. Given that the biggest blocs of population are all shifting to be under authoritarian rule, I don’t think the situation would look very good. India, Brazil, China, and Russia – that’s, what, more than half of humanity right there? I know I could sit with some maps and wikipedia and throw together a metric but, to tell the truth, I’m scared to.

It’s like an iron curtain is falling, blocking off the sun.

I will mention that there have been attempts to rein in the US war machine, and to regulate export of weapons to countries that use them on their people. Except that the attempts to restrict the US president’s powers to commit military force have been consistently mooted by both parties, and the weapons export controls are all waived.

Perhaps the only thing that will save humanity from its plague of dictators is that dictators don’t work well together. Of course, we’ll get a great big contest of dictators and the winner will be the biggest of the big.

– “Demoted Jammu and Kashmir from a state to two Union Territories (directly governed by the Union Government) thereby reducing the people’s autonomy” – damn, wait ’till the republicans start using voter suppression like that. I know Puerto Rico was a prototype of this, as was the District of Columbia, but this is nazi-level – or Georgia-level – shit.


  1. says

    I really have trouble working up any upset about anti-christian oppression but religious oppression in general just sucks:

    Earlier on Monday, the chief minister of West Bengal state, Mamata Banerjee, sparked outrage when she tweeted that the government had frozen the bank accounts of the charity.

    “Shocked to hear that (at) Christmas, Union Ministry FROZE ALL BANK ACCOUNTS of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in India!” wrote Banerjee, an opposition leader and vocal critic of the Modi government.

    “Their 22,000 patients & employees have been left without food & medicines. While the law is paramount, humanitarian efforts must not be compromised.”

    Cash grabbing by governments against religious sects that pile up too much gold, wasn’t that Philip IV shutting down the knights of the temple? I can work up some sympathy, but I bet the Missionaries of Charity have been socking aside the cash and we’re talking a substantial sum.

    Hardline Hindu outfits affiliated to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have repeatedly accused the MoC of leading religious conversion programmes under the guise of charity by offering poor Hindus and tribal communities money, free education and shelter.

    Yes. That’s accurate. They’re fucking christian proselytizers. That’s what the whole scam is about.

    See what I mean? There’s so much to hate about what’s going on.

  2. crivitz says

    Marcus, I’m about the same age as you, but was probably even more naïve about what the US war in Vietnam was all about back when it was going on. I pretty much went along with what the government told us which was also what most of the people in my conservative part of the country (which was probably the entire country anyway) thought about it and figured that all those “hippies” who were protesting the war weren’t doing it for their stated reasons of the war being unjust, but just because they were afraid of being sent over there and getting killed or injured. As a little kid, I kind of sympathized with that view, but still thought that if the US government (you know–the “grown-ups”) says you have to go to war, well you have no choice. Oh, for the innocent days of childhood;>D

    An interview with Dr. Fauci on the Chris Hayes show yesterday showed some video clips from the 80s and 90s of the AIDS activists from Act Up demonstrating over the lack of federal action on AIDS which singled out Fauci and included video of a march featuring a faux Fauci head on a spike. This really showed a prominent difference between Act Up then and the Rs in congress that are demonizing Fauci these days. Act Up were bringing real problems to light to which Fauci responded and led to some federal policy changes (I’m assuming), but these idiotic senators are just trying to stir up shit to make more money and win elections (and maybe get Fauci killed in the bargain).

    I tend to agree more with Crip Dyke than Solnit on what the future holds. I don’t believe the arc of history bends toward justice or that the progressive left is a mighty river that will sweep away the fascists with their dams a-building and that “victory” isn’t inevitable, but more likely, some kind of struggle is. I’ve come to think that everything in the future will continue to get more and more chaotic, be it the climate, the politics, the economy, or domestic and international relations since it looks like things have gotten more and more chaotic in recent years anyway.

  3. says

    An interview with Dr. Fauci on the Chris Hayes show yesterday showed some video clips from the 80s and 90s of the AIDS activists from Act Up demonstrating over the lack of federal action on AIDS which singled out Fauci and included video of a march featuring a faux Fauci head on a spike. This really showed a prominent difference between Act Up then and the Rs in congress that are demonizing Fauci these days.

    Yes, Act Up was also hardly a knee-jerk political response; it was a thought-out movement created as a response to years of deliberate government inaction. It’s hard not to see Reagan’s policies as homophobic. By which I mean if you squint and stretch facts hard you can kind of justify parts of it, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would bother trying to apologize for the reaganites.

    Fauci has been in the middle of some interesting shit. I’m afraid that, at this point, he’s not (and maybe never was) the person who wants to take on political strife – he’s more inclined to try to make progress without kicking the table over.

    I like the smell of burning bridges in the morning. It smells like impending victory.

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