Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Age of Perversion

Tabish Khair 



 

We exist in a world where capital has become an obsession. And we are the perverts of free-floating ‘god-like’ capital

The period we are living through has been dubbed an Age of Fundamentalism, of Extremism, of Intolerance, etc. These are all appropriate descriptions. But if I had to choose a tag, I would call it the Age of Perversion.


An overbearing perversion

I do not use ‘perversion’ in its ordinary sense of ‘deviation from normal or accepted behaviour’. Simple deviation is not sufficient (and not necessarily bad) if it is not of an obsessive nature. What characterises a pervert is not the choice of a different option, but an obsession with only that option. The hallmark of an overbearing perversion is that no matter what one says, the pervert sees it only in terms of his/her obsession. Examples? Here you go.

A Muslim girl is raped in a Hindu temple, which causes justified outrage in many Hindu circles, but seems to leave some circles untouched. These miraculously untouched people not only make excuses but even point a finger (without any evidence) at Muslims, or, what they associate with Muslims, Pakistan. A post on Facebook states that Muslim clerics rape with impunity in their institutions. Apart from the wide sweep of its xenophobic purview — and I say so without denying that there can be serious problems in all male-controlled institutions, whether Hindu, Muslim or non-religious — I am shaken by the obsession of the person. No matter what the evidence, such a person can only blame ‘Muslims’. This is a perversion.

Versions of this exist elsewhere too. Go online and look at what many Islamists — who form only a small percentage of Muslims, just as Bhakts form only a small percentage of Hindus — have to say about the U.S., the Central Intelligence Agency, or Israel. No matter what happens, they point a finger at one or all of these three usual suspects. As their easy accusation is far in excess of any evidence, what this indicates is a perversion. Or look at hardcore Republicans: they are capable of blaming even the sinking of the Titanic on either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, or both! This too is a perversion.

What has happened to so many people in our age? Why has there been a decided increase in what can only be seen as obsessive perversions?

One can point to the nature of the Internet — the easy circulation of ‘alternative facts’, unmediated by any real expertise and effective counterchecking. But this is more symptom than explanation. Surely, there is something in us as an age that predisposes us towards such obsessive perversions, so that we seek on the Internet (and elsewhere) only ‘facts’ that suit our singular version of the complex reality out there? What is this ‘something’? Why has it become so extensive that it is changing the political character of entire countries?


The nature of capital

The main explanation is the nature of capital, especially now, when capital is no longer embedded, as it was under classical capitalism, in production and labour. The ‘freer’ capital gets from human labour, the more of an obsession it becomes. If 19th century critics (and even some conservative defenders) of capitalism had warned against the tendency of capital to impoverish other human values and relations, then, today, we have crossed that threshold. Everything has been ‘capitalised’, and capital, unlike money, is no longer just a medium of exchange or a social relation. It seems to be all there is under neo-liberalism. It seems to exist on its own. It is everywhere and nowhere. It reproduces itself. It dominates everything else. It obsesses.

This fact lurks under the surface of governmental actions in all countries, ranging from the U.S. and India to China. Governments defend, primarily, the interests of capital, even by cutting services and causing problems to citizens. Donald Trump’s government is currently being accused of running up trillions in deficit by providing huge tax cuts to the top 5%, and then trying to balance that deficit by cutting necessary services available to the other 95%. But versions of this ‘balancing’ act exist in almost every country in the world: as long as free-floating ‘capital’ is happy, governments can live with their (dirty) consciences, and probably win the next election!

We exist in a world where capital — diminishingly connected to labour and production and no longer primarily a medium of exchange — has become an obsession. It has reduced everything else, usurped the world. We are the perverts of free-floating ‘god-like’ capital. And this is our ‘natural’ state; we cannot really question it. We internalise its structures — and transpose them. Is it a surprise, then, that so many of us succumb to placebo perversions?

The other, smaller explanation is the nature of politics today. Given the kind of world we live in, politicians, operating on quasi-democratic platforms, prefer to cater to the perversions of their voters, which are easier to use as enticement: offer the pervert a titillating picture of his perversion, and you can lead him by the nose. Hence, we have politicians who put all the blame on one obsession – the CIA, Israel, Iran, Russia, Nehru, the Pope, immigrants, Muslims.

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