When silence and corruption flock together…
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,…”
These lines belong to the infamous 1919 poem THE SECOND COMING by William Butler Yeats, a futuristic poet whose works find relevance in every subject to this date. Yeats suggested that the world he knew, one that was built on rationality had become foggy and new meanings had overwhelmed peoples’ understanding. Even today 100 years down the line, one could look around and concur with what he implied. If one wanted to understand how the past notions of society derived from rationality have drifted away from their context, they would have to look at the elements in the society that benefit from this shift.
But what is even more surprising is that this shift has occurred multiple times throughout history. However, the reason why people do not learn from history is that most of it is kept veiled. People who are in power wish to keep that equation as it is and that requires conceding the knowledge. To maintain the power equation it is important to keep the general population in darkness, surrounded by insecurities, struggles, hatred, etc on which the power struggle thrives.
We all try to win this struggle every day. It exists in different forms of relationships be it personal or professional. We navigate through power systems made by other people and to navigate through this web safely, it is needed that we aren’t taken advantage of. Fulfilment of this objective often leaves people with little choice. For a common person, not only are these choices ill-informed but in the words of Yeats, they drift our consciousness away and we become the falcon, moving away from the gyre. Tools like corruption take precedence and a culture of silence is propagated so those who are privileged enough can use this tool to their advantage.
Proponents of democracy suggest that power and character make a great citizen. But it’s also emphasised that “with great power comes great responsibility” — an ancient adage in the allusion to the Sword of Damocles. Without character, it’s difficult to act on responsibilities. What is even more concerning is that in the present market pattern, this behaviour is rewarded. The slightly privileged are made to believe that they are being rewarded for their actions or rather I should say inaction but this silence perpetuates a cycle of injustice towards the severely underprivileged which in turn widens the gaps between those taking action and those being acted upon.
People who are simply trying to navigate through the power systems and can afford shortcuts like the tool of corruption, often look through a myopic lens because they simply care about their short term objective of not being taken advantage of at that instance. They fail to realise that they themselves are being used as pawns by those who have created the power system. Even if unwillingly but the slightly privileged are in fact providing the staple that’s necessary for those at the top of the hierarchy, to sustain the system.
The makers of the power system do this effortlessly by using mass media as a propaganda organ. In the current Indian context, this holds very true for the state of television news channels these days. ‘The satellite TV boom had corporations leap into the news business. It was presumed that news channels would be relatively independent and hence unencumbered to report and opine on myriad stories that they couldn’t do earlier owing to government compulsion.’ But sadly they instead started using it to their advantage to reap profits.
The state of television news channels in India at present also represents the falcon in Yeats's poem. Journalism has a responsibility towards society as it is the self-proclaimed fourth pillar of democracy. But as it drifts away from its responsibility, it loses its character and in Yeats's words, because of its inactions, “the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,..”
‘When we try to understand how we reached this phase of global history, one simplistic answer has been that the common people like it this way. Filmmaker Adam Curtis has rightly remarked that the world is too complex and frightening to endure so we watch as things come and go in the news cycle.’ This inaction helps to solidify the power system which in turn easily silences those who try to question it. Thus we see another aspect of silence- one adapted by people leading to another which is a consequence of this silence. This in turn further aggravates the culture of silence around corruption and it becomes a vicious cycle.
There is another explanation for this ‘inaction’ by people which is a consequence of capitalism. H.G. Wells in his 1895 novel THE TIME MACHINE projected how the upper class and workers evolved into separate species. In Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ published in 1913, the protagonist Mrs Morel is also seen disassociating herself from the rest of the collier families dwelling in the area. The novel intricately links industrialisation to the class division which holds true for today’s context as well. Wealth inequality in capitalist-driven economies is so vast in today’s world that it is fragmenting people and communities more than ever.
The struggle to navigate through the power system for the fear of being taken advantage of or acted upon has compelled people to associate themselves with those who are oppressing rather than with those who are being oppressed. In media studies, we read a vast range of theories that explain the nature of our communication patterns. One such theory is called the Spiral of Silence. It suggests that ‘people’s willingness to express their opinions on controversial public issues is affected by their largely unconscious perception of those opinions as being either popular or unpopular.’
But again who is creating these popular opinions? Winston Churchill famously remarked that there is no public opinion, only published opinion. Here once again, if we connect the dots, it’s on the horizon that we are being acted upon and this time by the media which has its own vested interests. This inaction by the media is fuelling the income inequality in turn which is why today the top 1% of the global population owns the same wealth as the bottom 50%.
The consequence of media malfunctioning is pushing us towards a failed society. The inability of media houses to act on their responsibilities can weaken the other three pillars of democracy namely the legislature, judiciary and executive. This is because the media is the watchdog and it is supposed to keep a check on the functioning of the other pillars of democracy. As Yeats has said, failing to act will lead to things falling apart and the country will automatically head towards anarchy.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels talks about fictional societies. At first, the places mentioned in this novel seem impressive but after closer, they all appear seriously flawed. Swift through his works has established a blueprint of dystopia. Though unfortunately, his works are a reflection of our society and dystopia does not just exist in our imagination. A trailer of such a society is already visible given how even a country like India is trading poorly in terms of gender equality, wealth disparity, caste discrimination, poverty, pollution, tackling crime, etc. The aggravation of these factors points towards ‘THE SECOND COMING’, the one where the centre cannot hold which Yeats has mentioned in his poem.
Citizens are engineered and conditioned to perform their roles in society. Currently, we are managed by a system that has been born out of private ownership that cares about competitive markets and capital accumulation. This system has brushed aside the concept of social welfare thereby depriving people of all classes of fair opportunities. This systemically pushes away the underprivileged who inherently lack the resources to compete in the system and creates vast disparities in terms of wealth, lifestyle, knowledge, etc.
The capitalist system runs on a mechanism where people are encouraged to be as materialistic as possible which becomes the new normal. This is how logic and emotions are done away with and people like Lawrence’s Mrs Morel do not wish to associate with those who are relatively poorer than them and a notion of us v/s them is created. Thus, a bridge is created that just keeps widening as more people are pushed to the other side of the line where basic necessities are a luxury.
Marx has essentially said that this culture does not have a long shelf life. He believed that eventually, the accumulation of wealth in the just hands of a few per cent of the population will compel the have nots to wage a war against injustice. This will bring a revolution and wealth inequality will be demolished. However, we all have witnessed what happened in Russia post-1917. The revolution gave birth to an advanced stage of capitalism where neighbouring countries were colonised to create the Soviet system which in itself could not sustain for long.
This has brought me to the conclusion that if the relationship between corruption and silence is so perpetual that it’s fuelling one another, there must be a way to break this chain. It is understood that in times of distress, the mind does not turn to higher things. But yet if it is possible to instil a culture of growth and knowledge among the common people, we shall overcome this problem. But again, that would require the media, the fourth pillar of democracy, to function responsibly.
Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution did not believe in protests and civil disobedience. He said on the floor of the Indian Parliament that using such unconstitutional methods to attain social and economic welfare objectives should be our last resort. But he had full faith in the power of our constitution. The Indian Constitution empowers us by protecting our rights and duties. But the inevitable role of the media in creating this difference cannot be overlooked.
For the media to be independent, it needs to be funded publicly rather than being driven by corporate agendas. The government needs to intervene and ensure an environment where a mechanism of self-regulation is created and common people can be witness to this process. Media can help us fight the drifting identities and growing marginalisation that is perpetuated because of the vested interests of a few. It can prevent what Yevgeny Zamyatin in his novel WE had predicted about the loss of free will and individuality in a growing dystopian world propelled by capitalism.
Orwell’s Animal Farm is not a children’s bedtime story. It warns us that without a strengthened democracy, it is difficult to fight the perpetual cycles of oppression. Until then, Martin Niemöller's famous words must echo in our minds,
‘First, they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.’