Sardonicism just constrained itself to post-mortal non-existence.
In case you’re clumsily negotiating the web of jargon I deliberately weaved, it is just a more academically inclined way of saying that irony gagged itself to death.
Why? Because someone called Alok Rai, infusing all the seductive charm of Cultural Marxism in his piece titled “Orwell, again”, chose of all the things under the sun, George Orwell’s dystopian novel, ‘1984’, as the reference point to convey his disapproval of the state of affairs in the two most flourishing democracies of the world, USA and India, in the age of – hold your breath – post truth.
In other words, The Indian Express allowed nearly 1200 words of uninhibited leftist propaganda about nothing in particular to fill its centre page, and since the writer chose to be as compulsively oblique as human nature allows, I thought it wise to deconstruct the piece for the unwashed masses of social media, a space that most liberal intellectuals so viscerally abhor.
The article starts on a painfully predictable note of condescension towards the new president of the United States and goes on to unselfconsciously borrow Orwellian terminology to give vent to personal frustrations before taking cheap pot-shots at profound philosophical matters concerning India’s place in the world.
Like the monkey symbolizing human cleverness in Wu Cheng-en’s extraordinary Buddhist masterpiece, the Indian Express columnist, thanks to spectacular verbal acrobatics, self-assuredly traverses the world only to be politely informed that what he thought was the whole wide world was just the distance between the Buddha’s two fingers.
Rise of Trump and the age of post-truth
Suddenly, the term post-truth has gained unprecedented currency in the media. In simple words, post-truth denotes a political culture where public opinion is shaped just by appeals to emotion rather than by providing objective factual information or reasoned analysis and consequently, those who cry the hoarsest and scream the loudest call the shots. As the narrative of the piece implies, with Trump becoming the president of the United States, “we entered the present post-truth paradise.”
However, on careful assessment, we find that post-truth is just a clever coinage for a phenomenon that is as old as politics itself. The inconvenient truth is that appeals to reason and fact by intellectuals are more often ways of countering the cognitive dissonance that engulfs their minds as soon as they’re proved wrong, which is more often than not.
For instance, as far back as 1793, William Godwin, the first proponent of anarchism, ironically (again!) declared, “we must bring everything to the standard of reason”, thus betraying the underlying elitist exasperation with things that intellectuals like him disapprove of or simply don’t understand.
As Scott Adams lucidly notes,
You might recall that the Huffington Post made a big deal of refusing to cover Trump on their political pages when he first announced his candidacy. They only carried him on their entertainment pages because they were so smart they knew he could not win. Then he won. When reality violates your ego that rudely, you either have to rewrite the movie in your head to recast yourself as an idiot, or you rewrite the movie to make yourself the hero who could see what others missed.
The comic banner image of Donald Trump used in the Indian Express article is representative of how the left dominated media outlets even in India consistently caricatured him before elections. But now that he has won, it is hard for them to eat their own words. So, instead of humbly accepting the verdict of the American people, these intellectuals prefer to mock the average American voter, convinced that only their own ideological clones are somehow endowed with the faculty of segregating fact from fiction.
Therefore, we are told that we live in a post-truth world because voters don’t listen to the self-appointed vanguards of truth anymore.
Before we move on to the parallels drawn in the article between the imagined mayhem in the US and India, a slight digression is in order. A clever trick in the leftist propaganda arsenal is a convoluted form of what logicians call the ‘appeal to authority’.
It could be safely assumed that most readers of the Indian Express haven’t read Orwell and at best, are only distantly familiar with the plot of ‘1984’. By using three different concepts from the novel to build his case, what the writer has effectively done is to substitute the force of his own argument with borrowed terminology that is not self-explanatory and the writer takes no trouble of demystifying it for the reader.
Similarly, Barthes and Kundera are not exactly household names in India and the barely relevant references to them seem to be techniques to impress the uninformed rather than adding value to the argument being made. On empathetic reflection, it becomes clear that appealing to authority is the only recourse available in the complete absence of a realistic perspective on current affairs.
Notwithstanding my possibly biased allegations about the ineffective use of rhetorical techniques by the author, it would be useful to find out how apt the references to Orwell’s masterpiece really are.
The first two references to ‘newspeak’ and ‘memory hole’ are interesting but so obviously misplaced and misunderstood. It beats me as to how the two methods of thought-control enforced by a totalitarian state in the novel are even comparable to the chaos and cacophony that characterizes the social media.
On the one hand, there is the rant against the “amplifying potential of social-media technology” and on the other, the hallucinatory assertion that millions of lowly social media users are evil right-wing agents who have spawned from certain “troll-factories”. Also, “thousands of people across the length and breadth of the country can be prompted to repeat the same lies” may be a necessary but is surely not a sufficient condition for totalitarian control.
There is a less sensational name for such a society – Democracy, and left-leaning intellectuals have a long history of being dangerously anti-democratic in practice while championing for democracy in theory.
Finally, the third reference to ‘1984’ ends with the claim that the term ‘Americanism’ – a belief in devotion, loyalty, or allegiance to the United States of America or to its flag, culture etc. – has lapsed from public memory, presumably under the diktats issued by the new president.
Can someone please remind these guys that the main slogan of Trump’s election campaign – Make America Great Again – was but an aggressive reaffirmation of this supposedly forgotten and downplayed conspiracy? All said and done, it is an achievement of the leftist propaganda machinery that they have the gall to quote from a book that is biting commentary on their own ideological perversions.
After making some inane comments about pushpak-vimana and other inconsequential matters that only unknown Marxist intellectuals worry about, the writer takes up a pet peeve to make a point that he has been struggling to make so far.
He calls the Ramjanmabhoomi movement “the inaugural moment of the tragedy that engulfs us today” and laments the loss of “a precious and irreplaceable archaeological site — the Babri Masjid”. He also states that “the entire mobilisation was founded on the belief that a certain mythical character was born at a particular spot”.
Unfortunately, every word written about the Babri episode cries out loud for correction. I mean the average liberal’s grasp of the issue is so spongy that even a snowflake would refuse to get crushed under it.
First of all, while the historicity of Ram is hardly a point of contention among Indians, it is irrelevant to the legal dispute between the parties involved. Secondly, it has been proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the “precious” mosque was built over a pre-existing temple and the archaeological evidence for the same has not been fabricated by any political party or cultural organization.
Most importantly, the same people, who lied blatantly in newspapers, concealed the records of archaeological evidence regarding the temple structure under the mosque and desperately tried to steer public opinion in the direction of ideology rather than facts turn out to be aligned with the views expressed in the article.
Of course, this does not automatically translate to a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts in the column but it raises serious questions about the competence and aptitude of the intellectuals who are given space to write in a hugely popular national daily.
In the end, the writer turns out to be right (in a non-ideological sense) for once in that Trump has much to learn from India about how beliefs challenged by facts can be transformed into hurt sentiments. You see, progressive academicians can speak with great authority on the subject, given how ill-founded and fragile their own beliefs are.
As is often the case in matters of thought, there are two moral choices before our eminently unknown columnist. After realizing that his beliefs (as represented by his secularist friends) were shown the door in a court of law, he can either educate himself on the matter by reading a well-researched book or he can write another substandard column for The Indian Express scoffing at the impersonal majesty of Indian law. Guess which path he is likely to take!
Ashish Dhar, a Mechanical Engineer and an entrepreneur, lives in New Delhi. He is the co-founder of Pragyata, an e-learning portal dedicated to Indic knowledge systems.