4 min read.Updated: 12 May 2019, 08:01 PM ISTManu Joseph
Its defamation is the parting abuse of those who have lost control over transmission of ideas
When people say “society is polarized today", what they mean is that other people have extreme views. If you have heard of the word “polarization", you probably believe that it is something inherently bad because that is the message in every sentence that mentions the word. In reality, the fact that a society is polarized is a sign that one class of people does not have a monopoly anymore over mainstream ideas. The defamation of polarization is the parting abuse of those who have lost control over the transmission of ideas.
The global evangelists of equality and human rights should ideally rejoice polarization, but they are the very people who lament it. It is rare to hear a “chowkidar" utter “polarization". True that the posh Arun Jaitley uses the word on occasion, but when he does, he appears thrilled that the world is polarized. It is an important reaction. Most people Jaitley represents do not see their world as “polarized". They see themselves as people who were until recently made to feel like the freak fringe, like delinquents for having a set of reasonable thoughts about the sacred nature of the nation, home, traditions, temples and religion. Many of them in the upper classes used to hide their political thoughts from their family, especially their conscientious daughters. But now, they see their thoughts in the mainstream media shared by billionaires, by actors.
Hugely popular “polarizing figures" may deepen malice in a society by corroborating the reasons why one community despises another, but even such figures do good: they are lightning rods who absorb a lot of hatred.
In a recent interview with actor Akshay Kumar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he is probably responsible for the domestic harmony in the actor’s household. Because, he said, Akshay Kumar’s wife Twinkle Khanna expends all her quota of hate on Modi. He was being jovial, but it is still an underrated political analysis. Modi has absorbed so much hate from those who imagine him as a mascot of their darkest fears that when they now talk of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minus Modi, it is as though the party is some noble United Nations. Modi has done the same favour to the BJP that Muslims have done to Hinduism. Muslims have absorbed so much hatred that they have saved Hinduism from collapsing into caste wars.
One may argue that the lament against “polarization" is not that people have diverse views today but that society is divided by strong views. This is intellectual deceit. “Strong" is a meaningless adjective of opinion. An opinion is by nature strong. In fact, until recently, when the provincial liberated themselves from the uniform thoughts of global scholars, “objectivity" itself was nothing but the opinion of intellectuals, which was passed off as a balanced view, or even a fact. As this column once argued, objectivity is mostly a trick and a farce. In some who are “objective" across the whole width of their life, objectivity is a sign of personality disorder. In many who are “objective" about some issues, it is a sign that they have no stake in those issues. Now that intellectuals cannot promote their biases as “objectivity", they are framing an overt moral reprimand of objectivity itself.
The journalist Elisabeth Zerofsky recently wrote in The New Yorker: “For many journalists reporting on the new right in the US and Europe, it may be difficult to shake the feeling that this (unbiased reporting of events and people) is somehow irresponsible. There is a strong argument to be made that anyone who professes bigotry and hatred doesn’t deserve to be considered seriously, let alone objectively." She was reviewing a French book, Berlin, 1933 by Daniel Schneidermann, which argues that the newspapers that were objective about the Nazis were, in retrospect, disgraceful, while the hysterical activist-journalism (which is an oxymoron) alone captured the soul of the times. Schneidermann writes in his book, as translated by Zerofsky: “Activist journalism, journalism that subordinates the quest for truth to the quest for a truth that is useful to its cause, is the only journalism that, today, doesn’t have to feel ashamed about what it produced [about the Nazis]… Everything reasonable, scrupulous, balanced, in my opinion, contributed to lulling the crowd to sleep." This is the ultimate moral defence of all biased journalism. This is the argument that philanthropy-funded “activist journalism" uses to malign everything it despises: Like lawfully elected strong politicians, the power of the social media and Aadhaar, which have eliminated the need for middlemen.
In response, the other side too fabricates moral reasons to transmit its biases. That is all there is to polarization: the chowkidars of the world imitating the corrupt ways of the asparagus-eaters. Once you find a moral compass for your prejudice, you are automatically an activist.
Are there spheres of human interest without polarization? Even science is sharply divided—by “facts". Genetics and climate change, for instance. There is dissent in theoretical physics, but not deep enough to say the field that probably gave us the word “polarization" is polarized. Last month, when scientists passed off their conjecture as a “photograph" of a black hole, there was hardly any dissent. My scientist friends tell me that the silence is out of reverence for the rigorous process of science. But politics should teach us that when there is no polarization in a system, it does not mean truth has won; it means one class of people has.