The modern means of political control are quite complex and benign as opposed to the conventional means of physical control through violence. In the past, kings and emperors used predictable violent means to exert political control through fear and brutality. In our modern capitalist democracies, instruments of political control are much more sophisticated and are packaged in the ideological veneer of subjugating the human spirit and mind rather than controlling the human body.
However, one thing is common in all tactics of domination throughout political history: the intent to exert political control by diffusing or deflating the potential of danger to a given system or, in Foucault’s words, the order of things.
Those who strived to break the yoke of political control in the past either went to the gallows or became the new emperors. It was an easy choice, driven by the brain and the brawn, to take the course of revolutionary change. All you needed was some good swords, mighty legions and wisdom to look more strategic than the common fighters, and some oratory to motivate those in misery.
In our modern calculus of revolution, one has to fight the mental delusions of freedom and democracy first. This is the trickiest war that change-makers have to wage against an amorphous world characterised by the diffusion of power and ideology. The concept of the diffusion of power works well in societies with a decaying social fabric and extreme consumerism, which are generally associated with the post-industrial world. But this concept has also found a strong ideological following among the Westernised, educated middle classes in underdeveloped societies.
The emerging Westernised middle classes in India and China have been staunch advocates of this anti-transformative movement where indigenous narratives of change have gradually been dissipated. The anti-transformative and capricious world of post-ideology is smartly framed as an invisible ideology of controlling the human agency of radical change. The myth of post-ideology is so deeply rooted in our political life that we hardly find any strong voices to supplant this structural tyranny to maim human intellect. The most common critique of indigenous change is its politically untenable perspectives of a better society because of its lack of relevance to a universal and cross-cultural transformational movement.
Having said this, even the universally applicable principles of change are presented as redundant and antiquated in our corporate-sponsored media talks anchored by Westernised middle-class professionals. Today, any struggle for change is much more complicated than the physical fights for dominance in the past.
Nobody will beat you, assault you or inflict physical pain on you for saying nay to the given political order. But you will be isolated as a bizarre character with unrealistic ideas if you dare to challenge the political and economic order. You will become a laughing stock and a loser with no capacity and vision to operate in the real world.
The real world that is being presented thus is, in reality, a virtual world of shadows and images created and imposed through a powerful corporate media. You have all the freedom to say that a capitalist democracy is not perfect but you will become a political pariah the moment you dare to propose an alternative world. You are made to believe that there is no possibility of another world.
The media is one part of the story of perpetuating an anti-change ideology. The real challenge, however, is the propagation of complex and vague ideas that stifle the human cognitive faculties. We often discuss very complex ideas to prove that we are knowledgeable and to impress upon others our wisdom. But in doing so, we usually end up spreading confusion and engage in inconclusive discussions which take us to nowhere.
Lofty ideas, if not grounded well, are meaningless. They are merely phrases that hide the existence of an ivory-tower intellectual. Intellect is the product of a process of engagement with nature and society, and it cannot be evolved in an isolated corner of a library, in a meditation room or in a far-removed summer house. Intellect and wisdom are also two different but interlinked features of a person’s power of reason and logic. The traditional intellectuals as the emitters of wisdom lose the relevance of their ideas in a rapidly-changing world if they are far removed from the workings of the real world.
Wisdom is universal. It usually stays out of the domains of the snobbery of traditional intellectuals. Wisdom is applicable and tends to provide creative solutions to a given puzzle, problem, conflict or any other unwanted situation faced by people. Wise people are magnificent readers of real-world problems. They live in a world shaped by forces beyond their control and, therefore, offer realistic solutions. They are not idealists like the ivory-tower intellectuals who loath mingling with people who they believe are creatures of low intellect.
The platonic idea of exalted intellect has never been the mover and shaker of the world because it could never percolate into the deep soil where the roots of social life are grounded. Ideas cannot come into being beyond the material reality of life and those who strive to shape the material reality through ideas end up being bohemians of a shadowy world of their own imagination.
If you read the history of great revolutionaries of the world, you never find in them an iota of the platonic thinking of creating the ideal world of our imagination. Revolutionaries have always interpreted reality, not ideas because the latter is only a by-product of the consciousness derived from material reality. Revolutionaries are not mechanical interpreters of ideas either. Instead, they are the most dynamic thinkers and people of high imagination. But what makes them different from ivory-tower intellectuals and snobbish academics is their ability to form ideas to build a better world for all. They do not fight to establish the veracity of their ideas; they fight for a world where everyone has a dream to fulfil.
Change-makers and revolutionaries are never content with what is said to them until it serves the larger good. If you are an avid reader of faces and if you happen to be privileged to enjoy their company, you will read the untold answers about the poor and democracy from their faces. There has never been any perfect democracy governed through popular will because – we are told – people have only desires with no wisdom.
The platonic democracy of wise men, the Western-educated, upwardly mobile middle classes, aristocratic families and sophisticated geniuses have all the credentials to be the custodians of our brand of democracy. The poor are born to be led and they cannot represent themselves because their only concern is to eat to the brim of their bellies. They are not born for ideas, but to fulfil the social cause of serving the noble classes. Their brains must not be burdened with big political ideas.
It is better for them to be ruled rather than to become an unruly crowd, which can be a great risk to the social and political order. How would you define all this, if not as an ideology? The dilemma of post-ideology is that it has carved out an ideology of its own to repudiate the ideology.
The writer is a senior socialdevelopment and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.