04 Discontent and Unrest
Reader: During the freedom struggle there was a lot of anger and discontent. Today, the nature of that is very different. However, violence, one can argue comes from that same anger and discontent. Are you then saying that violence must not exist and there are other ways to express this discontent?
Editor: This is a nuanced topic that must be unpacked a bit more.
Let us first look at the nature of violence. It has become not only physical and verbal but also very structural. The state uses its own force to dispossess people. This violence has been legitimized in some ways. It is this type of violence that creates a counterresponse.
Then, there is the violence of advertising and persuasion. This is much more in the nature of seduction rather than violence. When we push messages into people’s minds without their consent we are shaping their behaviours violently. They haven’t arrived at it through their own independent judgement, they have not choosen to focus on the information but rather have been tricked to do this.
So there is that violence too.
Unfortunately the space where anger manifests is totally different from the space where violence actually occurs.
So for example the anger in the case of structural violence can erupt locally where villages are being taken over, while the source of the violence is a central place where decisions are being made.
Similarly the anger and discontent against the advertising violence can manifest in feeling worthless and not being able to afford things.
The second part is to examine the nature of the discontent itself.
Today, discontent has been privatized. We are told that we are free and responsible for whatever happens to us. That is not true.
There is so much that is determined by external factors that the individual has very little choice on many different matters. It may seem like we are free and that is the holy grail of capitalism but in doing that it manages to locate the discontent with the individual, very convinently.
Privatized discontent can’t create public revolutions.
Reader: How do we then express this discontent? I feel quite helpless in this matter given the size of the sturctures around us.
Editor : In a constitutional democracy like India, there is very little space for civil disobedience and nonco operation. Babasaheb had specifically outlined in his speech in 1952 before the constituent assembly that it is time we give up resisting against our own governments.
Even before we express discontent against others, the first exploration is the inertia that has accumulated within us.
If we really look at our leaders and say that we have terrible leaders, I would say we have citizens who are even more ‘terrible’ than our leaders! Yes, we exemplify inertia, decay and irresponsibility.
This is not a charade to dismiss the question, which I will shortly come back to. But before that, can we look at channelizing this content inwards towards our own apathy? How we live day after day being numbed to what is unfolding in the world around us. The inequality, the poverty and the pain that we turn a blind eye to?
Once we are able to harness the fire of discontent and arise out of our own slumber, we are ready to step out and engage with others. There are millions of kindred spirits around the world who are all feeling the urge to act. It is with them that discontent needs to be amplified.
It is here that the importance of channeling the discontent comes. Just as bottled up discontent is dangerous, so is discontent that finds expression as external violence.
The possibility here is for nonco operation as consumers, shareholders and employees. If we are able to boycott products collectively, speak up in meetings of corporations and change working rules as employees, we are slowly starting to reclaim power.
One last thing that I must say about discontent is that to hold it and channelize it is a physical capacity. It is not only a mental capacity to think about discontent. When we do that, there is a response in the body that rejects this thought and seeks release, seeks comfort. Hence we are motivated to either block it or to action it immediately.
Rather than that, if we can train our bodies to hold this discontent, then we are learning to channelise its power the way water, when boiled becomes steam and powers engines.
This is the right thing to do with our discontent.