Hitler it was who said, in essence, that the larger the lie, the easier it is to sell.
The largest lie told to us is of Western exceptionalism. Before I continue, I want to emphasize that this is not a diatribe against the West. I am merely trying to come to terms with my own swallowing of the lie.
The lie I bought had a few pillars on which it was predicated.
For instance, I believed that the West was far more egalitarian and afforded more opportunities for everyone, that upward and cross-ward mobility was available to anyone who was willing to put effort into it.
I truly wanted to live in a society where the content of your character overrode the color of your skin, where the society I was moving to would never going to succumb to the fury of triablism.
I presumed the West to be a monolith of reason where supersition, disorganization, and mindless parroting of ideology had been excised in favor of conscious thought and deliberate action.
One by one, each of these pillars has proven to be hollow.
More Equal than You
First came the Great Financial Crisis of 2008–2009. While I can see the argument in favor of saving the global economy by bailing out too big to fail banks and financial institutions, I cannot ignore the conclusion — some are more equal than others.
Full disclosure — I used to work on Wall Street at the height of the GFC. I was a happy beneficiary of governmental action.
Occupy Wall Street was a direct response to the bailouts but instead of addressing the concerns of the Occupy movement, Michael Bloomberg used heavy handed tactics to evacuate Zucotti Park.
The stockmarket is zooming, corporate profits are at all time highs, full employment is in sight, and companies like Amazon and Apple are approaching market caps of $1Trillion but the fruits of that strength are not reflected in higher wages across the board.
How this is any better than the rampant inequality in India I wouldn’t be able to say.
Less Welcome than Me
The petty viciousness of the Trump administration and nativist movements across Europe showed the rot in the second pillar.
Separating children from their parents on the Mexican border, kicking out long standing residents of the United Kingdom, far right nationalist leaders like Marine Le Pen being nominated (but ultimately losing the race) for President of France, Japan’s naked opportunism in only now inviting Indians to emigrate to that country, and Italy electing far right governments should tell immigrants to Western/wealthier countries that notwithstanding their abiding by the laws of their adoptive land, regardless of the quality of their work and civic engagement, they are but guests of those countries.
The treatment of African Americans in the US, of the LGBTQ+ population in Russia, the hysteria against Muslim refugees and immigrants in Europe, or of the Roma — gypsies — in Romania should tell us that India’s inexcusable caste system and inhumane treatment of Dalits is but a symptom of the deeper, worldwide malaise inside the human heart.
An immigrant who imagines she is welcome abroad because of how she comports herself is wilfully ignoring the truth that she is not yet a target for discrimination because the majority isn’t done suppressing the original “Other”.
Unless she adds her voice against the treatment of every persecuted minority in her adoptive land, she is going to be left alone in her misery when the majority’s attention turns on her.
As Credulous as All
For decades, public education and liberal arts studies promised a citizenry guided by science, by facts, capable of thinking for oneself.
And then the Birther and the Anti-vaxxer movements took root. Truthiness became word of the year. Jon Stewart showed us what information warfare looked like.
Just like that, superstition and faith over fact that I was trying to leave behind came to the fore in my adopted country.
If one crackpot researcher could derail decades of pro-vaccine sentiment, if rising summer temperatures could be ignored and global warming euphemized into “climate change”, if a pizza joint without a basement could be shot up for operating a pedophile ring in that non-existent basement, what superstition and fact-blindness have we really escaped by living in the West?
There is a saying in Hindi — we are all naked in the bathhouse.
हामाम में सब नंगे हैं
As an immigrant, I may have worn rose colored glasses when I boarded that flight to JFK back at the start of this century but the intervening years have ripped them right off.
This is where I stand today.
No country in this world has a lock on opportunity for all, equality for all, and openness to all. The umbrella of enlightened thinking I took shelter under on foreign lands has proved to be ripped and sparse.
I still don’t know what point I am trying to make with this post. Am I telling people to stop immigrating? Am I telling myself that I did the right thing by returning home? Am I merely explaining why Western exceptionalism is a big lie?
If, with this post, I have only brought to light the unresolved dichotomy at the heart of every society, it would have served its purpose.
Originally published at https://blog.ramachandr.in/2018/06/18/the-lie/ on June 18, 2018.