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Thursday September 29, 2022

Crisis of political imagination

August 13, 2022

It keeps us on our toes to defend the fortress of morality and keep the power of a shrewd politician far away from us. It keeps us engaged in a battle that is of someone else but which seems to be ours. The ideologies of competing interests are replaced by the fan followings of personality cults and simulated narratives of competing moralities unleashed by super humans who have the inherent tendencies to assume the roles of demagogues aspiring to expand the frontiers of blind followings to the extent of worship.

In our time of information flux, the public discourse on political ideologies has turned into fabricated stories of godly political figures and spellbound audiences. This postmodern dramatization of politics is governed by a metaphysical conception of elevated disrupters of the order who rule the hearts and minds of a significant majority. They rule us because the free thinker in us is dead at the altar of the structural and institutional order of individual subjugation. 

This is true with all post-ideology societies where a multitude of seemingly disconnected forces shape a disconnected, disillusioned and alienated social and political persona. It also gives birth to a nonlinear political discourse where the world around us looks like a jigsaw puzzle and riddle to be resolved by a superhuman. It reduces our transformative potential to a common sense debate of fixing the nuts and bolts of a disconnected system of ideas and ideals.

This post-ideology tyranny has reduced politics to a set of sellable narratives and citizens have become the willing buyers and consumers of concocted stories of a super morality. The consumers of fabricated political narratives are also good consumers of corporate products. Here neoliberal capitalism gets intertwined with the post-ideology disorder. A disconnected, disillusioned and alienated individual becomes an ideal consumer without having strong political views and free thinking.

Giant corporations invest heavily to create political and religious idols and icons as the ambassadors of their brands. The separation of politics and religion — the hallmark of modernity — has lost its credence in a world increasingly ruled by global corporations. Modi’s saffron symbolism in India, the legacy of the white evangelical supremacy of Trump in the US and a perverted rightwing Che Guevara in the garb of Imran Khan in Pakistan. It works wonders to create an ideal world of consumerism for the world ruled by global corporations. After the enormous success of corporate supported religio-political fascism in India sooner or later we will see corporate branding of rising fascism in Pakistan too.

This branding is buttressed through the power of social media that continues to shape and reshape our being as a political stakeholder in an increasingly polarized world. Our postmodern politics is no longer the preserve of aristocratic classes, it is no more the art of sophisticated gentlemen of statecraft, and it is no more about the so-called high moral grounds and public morality. Politics has become a common sense affair that consumes most of our time. Our hand-held devices empower us to believe that we can choose and even create our own political product in the supermarket of nonlinear narratives.

Postmodern politics has intruded on our private spaces as a divisive force with devastating impacts on conventional sense of collective social life. Many people believe that politics is no more about Platonic ideals of elevated thinkers, it is about our daily life affairs and it is about us. Shrewd men and women can reach the pinnacles of politics and build a fan club through continuous hammering of propaganda of self-aggrandizement in a public discourse.

We are told that politics is the art of possibilities and that all of us have an axe to grind to realize some of these possibilities to serve our ends. The seemingly greedy, the sane, the saint, the simpleton, the wise, the equity advocate, the self-proclaimed democrat and the power seeker and all others seem to believe in the diction of politics as an art of possibilities.

The possibilities of politics tend to unfold differently for each of us — perhaps because our expectations from politics are different from each other. With all the variegated expectations out of politics, none of us would resist being branded as power realists, moralists, rationalists, democrats, communists and so on and so forth. These hugely historicized notions still inform the intellectual debate on politics as if we humans are only categories of consumption in the politics of thrones.

Our social media gurus remind us time and again that we have to take a side to be recognized as a category in the world of politics. Hence we are only categories — sometimes seen as binary opposites in a closely contested political race and sometimes unbridled liberals having no position and hence vacillating hypocrites.

But beneath these political jargons there exists human creativity which gets trampled in the days of the crisis of imagination. Branded as a category in the political arena, we have lost the possibilities of retaining our own being as an existential reality. The politics of our times has plunged us into the abysmal state of our existential being where we have become reduced to objects of capricious power realists and fascists.

We are told that politics knows no bounds, no morality and no principles and it is all about realpolitik that governs the relationship between state and society. Even some sane pro-democracy voices in the media tend to promote this Machiavellian conception of politics these days. Power realism of course is a strong political theory that draws upon the obnoxious dimension of human will to power but it does not explain why altruism works better for modern democracy than realism. Politics must have principles and ethical dimensions too if it is a means of attaining democracy and fair social contact between the ruler and the ruled.

We live in an age of the crisis of imagination more than the crisis of politics as the latter continues to thrive on our ignorance and frivolity. Just look at what is happening around us in Pakistan. Our social media is replete with the binary images of politics. If you are a critic of the PTI, you must be a supporter of the PML-N or PPP or JUI-F as a necessity and vice versa. No matter how powerful and convincing your political critique, nobody would bother to pay heed to its veracity. You will end up being identified in a certain political camp quite contrary to your political ideas.

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets @AmirHussain76 and can be reached at: ahnihal@yahoo.com

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