I was born into ideology–just like John Robbins of the Baskin-Robbins legacy and like him destined to rebel. I was also brought up on books and so cultivated by default a taste for literature, the arts and such. Along with that came a disdain (for no apparent reason of my own) for all that was economic or business oriented. My family is small and their tradition socialist, not just any variety–and certainly not ‘Utopian Socialism’ or ‘Stalinist’–a sort of ‘Leninist-Marxist liberal’ viewpoint and the only thing I knew about it was that it was left of the political spectrum.
At that age (around fourteen), you want to believe that adults have nothing further to teach you and that you know pretty much all that one needs to know to get around the world—boys, looking good, reading, faffing and the ability to wangle a part-time job. So I never asked what the deal was with socialism and all the other ‘isms’ that floated around dinnertime conversation in the cultured household of two mini-celebrities of journalists and a budding communist-cum-activist for a sister.
The first time I got jolted out of my apolitical bliss was when I bought my first mobile phone. My father (a man I love and respect more than most others) labeled it elitist and a symbol of the bourgeoisie. At that point, I was rather unsure of what ‘bourgeoisie’ meant but I was sure of was this: I liked mobile phones as much as I liked good books, alcohol, discothèques, expensive clothes and making a profit only for myself. So that made me capitalist-ish, right of the center if you can visualize the political spectrum. I, however, was still an enthusiastic part of every human chain that protested nuclear weapons, brought stray animals home and vociferously demanded that the Muslim maid of the house eat at the same table as us.
Six years hence, post-Marx, Lenin, Karl Popper, Sartre, Nozick, Friedman and an insufferable course at philosophy, I am more informed (and, yes, I have concrete political viewpoints) but no less certain about what my political ideology is. Funnily enough, I know what it ought to be in terms of outcomes.
When I say I know what the outcomes are, I mean I know what the elements of my vision for society are and I have my rationale. I know what my version of society will look like if I were to piece together civil society right from the start. I know for example that I do not trust the notion of ‘government’, to go back to first principles—a single authority, a monopoly (public or private, social, economic or political) if you please. I know that free speech, livelihood, minority inclusion and reproductive rights are my top concerns. I know I find nothing more revolting than pogroms, arsenals (especially nuclear), sectarian violence, gender bias and war. If you looked carefully, you would find a curious amalgamation of anarchy, capitalism and socialism right there.
So what am I? A green, a red, a blue or a white? An objectivist, subjectivist, libertarian, neo-socialist, retro-capitalist, social-individualist, extropian, futurist, cypherpunk-cyborg, eco-feminist, anarcho-capitalist or just someone with weird political fetishes?
My point is rather obvious, which is to say that it is rather difficult to straitjacket ones politics to fit a set of articulate but nevertheless inadequate set of bullet-pointed agendas. Why? Because, despite what we like tell ourselves, the personal is the political. Your politics is your set of beliefs, your desires and your customized road map to getting there. More importantly it is uniquely yours, you come upon it in ways that no one else could have because your experiences are uniquely yours.
There, however, is more to this argument, one that has wider and deeper implications for all that is political. Politics is the process and method of gaining or maintaining support for public or common action and by virtue of that it applies to every single thing within the structure of society it governs–how you redeem services, provide services, transact and interact.
To assume then that the political has to do solely or even largely to do with governments is at best faulty and at worst dangerous. Politics applies to all human group interactions including but not limited to corporate, academic and religious. Most vitally, politics is about the acquisition, application and distribution of power, i.e. the ability to impose one’s will on another. This could be everyday decision making or it could have to do with party politics.
There is another discipline to which my definitions would apply rather neatly as well, that of economics. In fact, political theory and economics are not mutually exclusive entities despite their being taught so in a vast majority of educational institutions. Economics deals with a different notion of power–the capacity to trade and use money to fulfill desires. It is as much of a study of people and their behavior as any other social science. Political economy is then what ties these together—the ‘on what’ of budgeting and the ‘who’ of governance.
And these ought to be and in fact are everyone’s concerns. This is why the outraged squawk of the average middle-class Indian when I attempt to take a stance on issues “Don’t politicize the issue yaar, people are suffering as it is…�? makes me pause in bewilderment. Isn’t this exactly why people are suffering? Because most people aren’t political, the few who are– practice party politics that has little to do with real social or economic reform, policies or governance that impacts your life in any significant way.
Ought the state to decide on what terms you can trade, what property you can own and what schooling your child has? Ought it to decide what films and advertisements you can or cannot watch? Must the state lay down the moral regime for a social collective to submit to?
What would it take to shake a languishing sea of humanity into an organized, demanding civil society movement? Specifically, what would wake the Rams and Salims of India out of their stupor to take charge of their own lives and rights? How many more Narmadas need be dammed, how many more Gujarats need to be crafted and carried out? How many more Kashmirs must we create, how many more Pokharans must we blast?
No one with a conscience can be apolitical and yet if you claim to be—then that is your bias. We may not be participants in the planning. But, if we are (and I believe we are) beneficiaries in any sense, then is it not time we took the responsibility?
This is why we must have a place at the policy tables, you and I. This is why we must devise a third way. We don’t have to choose between a unilateral world and terrorism, between the architects of the Gujarat pogrom (BJP) and those responsible for the Sikh riots (Congress), between free-market + war and license-quota raj + status quo. This is not what political choice is about. The real political choice is about governing yourself, building a democracy on liberal foundations and minimal control from a superstructure.
To this end, we must de-recognize political ideology from the pre-determined agendas of political parties. We must disassociate politics from social abuse. This will be the next revolution.