Re/thinking Ethically:

Recently, I came across this photo on Facebook. Although the image was explicit about its intention, my first reaction was to question myself, thinking I had somehow failed to infer the message. And upon realizing that the source of the photo was Ekantipur, I was simply flabbergasted. I was further shocked to find the photo caption as “लौ आयोऽऽऽ !… आलु, प्याज, भन्टा, काउली… प्यार्टोल, डिजेल, मट्तेलऽऽऽ…”, followed by comments like “rastriyeta ko sabalma haso hoina ab dhoti harulai 2061 salma man power company jastai dhost parne din aaisakyo”, “अब पेट्रोलपम्प मा धाउनै पर्दैन , भैयारुले होमडेलिभरी गर्दिन्छन # ढुक्कै #”…

One could possibly argue that, in today’s world, most people get majority of their information via voices of the total multiplicities available to them based on their respectively preferred media platforms. And since the advent of digital technology, social media sites have intricately woven themselves into the fabric of information flow. International, national, local, mainstream, alternative — almost every type of media outlet has had strong presence in social networking sites, perhaps due to their accessibility and viral nature.

Living in a society governed by institutions and saturated by media, I believe, it becomes our ethical duty to critically assess the power structures that are continuously interacting and unfolding the way we perceive our beings with respect to the surrounding environment. French philosopher, Michel Foucault, wrote extensively on the rearrangement of power dynamics that occurs during the transition of a sovereign ruler system to a modern democratic one, and highlighted the dangers of the latter. For Foucault, the evolution of power from an autocratic system ensured that power was no longer in the form of a top/down control. It rather manifested in multiplicity of inegalitarian power relations, whereby institutions solidified and advocated for “administering life”. Thus, in order to do so, new forms of power treated the body politic as a mere machine to be optimized; human capital. This, he believed, materialized the irony of totalitarianism, since the institutions tended to compromise the subjectivities of “lives” for the sake of “all of life” in order to sustain themselves.

It can perhaps be argued that the presence of such imageries, in a national media outlet, is an example of how hegemonic power structures not only harbor but continue to reinforce and strengthen our deepest ethical problems; accentuate the long existing hostile discourse of “us” vs “them” and maintain the status quo. We must realize that propagation of misleading imageries via national media outlet is nothing more than perpetration of the very violence that has led to gross inequalities in the first place. Therefore, I believe, in the times of urgency it becomes important for us to critique such infusion of social sentimentality into politics that the dominant media outlets — which have immense power to viscerally invade and colonize our culture spaces — utilize to propagate their content.

The pretension of representing “all of life” at the expense of “life” does not occur simply at such non-abstract institutional level. In fact, social institutions are more aggressive while espousing normative discourses. Manjushree Thapa, in her article Women have no nationality, and Sanjeev Uprety, in his piece Flawed Discourse, have recently attempted to deconstruct the power relations within our social institutions and present their failure to embrace inclusivity.

Even after decades of struggle, most people will acknowledge that the social, political, economical and ecological realities of Nepal are not the way they ought to be. Certainly, we were fighting to bring about fundamental changes in the way our society was organized; we were moving towards becoming a democratic society; we were fighting to get rid of the monarchy and dissipate power among the body politic. Such efforts of rearrangement entail a lot of trade-offs and compromises throughout the evolution. However, the persistence of gross injustices for a prolonged period of time, nevertheless, signals our inadequacy to heal the societal wound that we created and demands for an act of urgency on our part. And for a nation like ours, which has undergone a similar alteration in the arrangement of power system and is struggling to hear the voices of “lives” in the midst of administering “all of life”, viewing our realities from Foucault’s theoretical lens will undoubtedly provide insights on the link between our systems of thought control and the issues of legitimacy. Therefore, an attempt to reflect on some of the manifestations of institutional power relations, that (I believe) became intentionally/unintentionally hidden in this discourse of power transition, remains imperative if we are to form an ethically just society.