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April 23, 2018

The Thesaurus Of Unloving | Shiv Visvanathan

Outlook Magazine
30 April 2018

The Thesaurus Of Unloving
In the brutalities that the Bakarwal child suffered till she died, we need to see the battle of hate against the moral emptiness of democracy

Shiv Visvanathan


The psychologist, Bruno Bettleheim, who was a concentration camp survivor, once wrote of a psychologist who went to interview Adolf Eichmann. The scholar found his own questions inadequate, unable to meet and match the mundanity of the man in front of him and the enormity of his crime. The psychologist claimed he felt less normal than Eichmann after interviewing him. Innocuous, trite, replete with cliches, Eichmann demanded a different level of analysis. He behaved as if his hate had been sanitised into a management mac­hine and violence transformed into a question of productivity and technique. Eichmann’s hate and violence represents the rationalisation of violence that has become impersonalised and technocratic. The violence we are discussing today is less sanitised, individualised, still brutal, embodying a pin cushion of frightening emotions. The chronicle of Kathua demands a different narrative to comprehend the folklore of hate underlying it.

One senses Bettleheim’s consternation and perplexity in the writings of journalists covering events such as riots, lynch mobs or gang-rapes in India. There is indignation, shock and professionalism in the detailing of events and excesses, yet despite some stark reporting of brutality, the story of hatred is inconclusive and incomplete.

To describe hate, one also needs to be a ­botanist of emotions, reading hate like a special species of inhumanity.

Hatred, as a social scientist told me, demands to be a thrice-told narrative. Firstly, one needs an ethnography of detail, which has to go beyond the mimicry of a self-styled Guinness Book of Excess. Secondly, one needs a theory providing insights and even requiring a sense of new possibilities. Yet theory cannot restrict itself to the bureaucratic and the political. One has to return to the moral foundations of the society and confront hatred with the nomos, the axiomatic requirements of a good society. The task is difficult because hatred has a mundanity and an epic character to it, an anecdotal feel and yet an enormity of intensity and scale, which makes it incomprehensible. How does one describe hate? One needs to be both a philosopher and botanist of emotions, reading hate like a special species of inhumanity.

Recently, I was reading Martin Buber’s great classic about the wonders of a face-to-face relationship, where the great philosopher develops the contrast between the reverence, the aesthetics of the I-Thou relationship and the indifference of the I-It relationship. Hate is that no man’s land and every man’s land between the borders of reverence and the boundaries of indifference. Even Buber, for all his eloquence, was not able to comprehend the distance between Jew and Arab, caught in the ethnocentricity of valorising a settler’s mentality over a nomadic community.
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Hatred is one emotion where the self cannot do without the other. It is almost as if an exaggerated ontology, a being of the other, is needed to construct the self, no matter how impoverished. One has to deconstruct it like a detective novel, connecting attitudes, motivation and the acts of violence, where Kathua is text, pretext and context for an analysis of hate.

Holocaust

Adolf Eichmann
Photograph by Getty Images

Kathua shows that hate always needs a penumbra of other emotions—of contempt, suspicion, misunderstanding and hyperbolic insecurity—to thrive. In that sense, for all its single-minded focus, hate is a many-layered emotion, needing a thesaurus of feelings to articulate it. It has an alchemy of its own, an attitude embodying violence embodied in stereotypes (ethnic), ideologies (class enemies) and institutional rituals like lynching or jehad. It is an attitude to a stranger, the unwelcome other—a response to a real or imagined threat that can be a mere construct. For example, in Rwanda, the difference between Hutu and Tutsi was marginal, but minor differences were exaggerated by a hyperbolic memory, which triggered genocidal violence, eliminating almost a million people. It confirmed the Shakespearean dictum in Macbeth—“the nearer in blood, the nearer bloody.”

Hate is both belief and ritual, a framework of categories for distancing and stigmatising the other, and “rituals” that channelise violence, stoking hatred like a perpetual fire. Yet for all its exaggerated power, there is a banalisation of categories needed to sustain the everydayness of violence—the everyday emotions of suspicion, distrust, envy, without which hate is powerless. The language at a social level is mundane, regardless of the personal intensity of individual emotions. Secondly, the emotions can be ersatz. For example, studies of Partition chronicle a strange difference between the feelings of original victims and the attitudes of the second generation. First-generation victims are more complex. They feel injustice, regret and loss, and a lost love for a home. When a visitor came from Karachi, the original survivor would rush to enquire about his home or his favourite sweet shop. It is the second generation, which consumes Partition without experiencing it, that feels hate in an abs­tract, ideological and genocidal sense. In fact, it is this category that supplies the willing perpetrators of the RSS, the BJP and the VHP—the real practitioners of sustained hate.

In the case of Kathua, one sees an articulation of border fears, an exaggerated fear spread by BJP propaganda about the fertile Muslim des­troying the demographic balance today. It is the Hindu fear of Malthusianism directed against the Muslim, who is also nomadic, pastoral and not quite fitting the civics of development, creating a double alienation, where the other is both alien and unfit to be a neighbour. What looks like a powerful labyrinth of stereotypes becomes a magnet for the vilest emotions, like lust, rape, torture—a distance from the other that feels no guilt, that eliminates all responsibility and, in fact, becomes an example of a machismo of violence that seeks to displace or eliminate the other, in this case, Bakarwal pastoralists who are also non-sedentary and Muslims.

In a double sense, hate both depersonalises and demonises. Yet it is the economy of hate that is critical. Hate always needs redundancy and exc­ess. It is a need that is perpetually unsatiated, where a notion of limit is an unacceptable taboo. It is both surprising in the new brutality it inv­ents, and yet a sense of stereotype and herd int­ensity makes the perpetrators appear more like Pavlovian dogs, salivating predictably and gleefully at every signal. By stigmatising the other as victim, the perpetrator has already exonerated himself from guilt and doubt, combining a sense of being both agency and vehicle, visualising ind­iscriminate violence as a pedagogic act, where the other has to be brought in line with the ­imagined self. A woman has to be disciplined for her dress, a Dalit warned about imitating dominant castes, and an ethnic group taught to recognise its­elf as a lesser order of being. The pomposity and righteousness that follow acts of hate violence alm­ost assure the perpetrator that society sees him as a hero, a warrior for a cause. Lawyers tried to block the filing of charges. The mob in Jaipur raised hosannas to Afrazul’s murderers, which made them sound as if they were honouring a hero.

When society, politics and bureaucracy connive in such an act, we induce a death of conscience sandwiched between alienation and anomie (normlessness). These murders won’t produce Shakespearean soliloquies of doubt or the need for redemption, but just messages of self-congratulation. Every official governmental response promises a return to law and order, but rarely a moral order. Governments, whether Modi or Mufti, app­ear like a Rip van Winkle uttering clich├ęs bef­ore returning to a clerical passivity. When Modi speaks, there seems to be no difference between the language of moral order and a promise of higher productivity. The rhetoric of development and the violence of the current state become more a paradigm for sanitising or ideologising hate than a search for the moral order of a good society.

There are moments of distraction or diversion in the narrative that we must be wary of. The brutalisation of Asifa occurred in a temple and often before engaging in the sheer redundancy of rape, the perpetrators would engage in rituals placating some god. It was as if a modicum of prayer added to the legitimacy of rape. Not all these acts should be confused with occult rituals because occult was an attempt to challenge the secular consciousness with a rereading of the relation between magic, science and religion. Such superstition as in Kathua is almost promoted to a tantric legitimacy. Yet the very idea of such possibilities opens one out to the relation between hate and evil, because occult as a pre-Freudian consciousness captured this canvas of evil, as hate gets ritualised. Language thus becomes a critical form of understanding hatred, but language too can be deceptive. Hate can be a flat land of distances or a valley of specific differences. One has to learn to decode it. I am reminded of a story that I read in an essay by the psychologist Carl Jung.

Jung recounts a visit by the great Irish writer, the wonderfully inventive James Joyce. The aut­hor of Ulysses brought his son along and talked excitedly about latter’s command of language. Jung listened patiently and then told Joyce that while his writing revealed the power of language and its perpetual inventiveness, his son’s vocabulary was symptomatic of schizophrenia. Kathua captures this schizophrenia of hatred. Hate, for all its demonic power, lacks convincing poetics. All it can contain is the corrosive power of violence and stereotype. In fact, as one replays the conversations of the perpetrators or even the language of lawyers hysterical about defending them, all one sees is a mediocrity, a overblown pettiness, where vice as a habit is ordained as virtue. One wishes media reports were more fine-tuned to the mediocrity of language in hate, without confusing it with the intensity of animosity and hatred.

Yet when we think of an alternative, we must rea­lise that tolerance and secularism as antidotes will not do. Tolerance is too passive and secularism almost empty today. One needs a pluralism that is dialogic and a language that can challenge the stereotypes of the procrustean frames of modern state, racism, ideology and nationalism, many of them 19th-century consolidations that need 21st-century exorcism.

Holocaust

Jews being rounded up by the Nazi SS in Warsaw, Poland, 1943
Photograph by Alamy

The analyst needs to heal his own professionalism before he steps in. In fact, one has to add that politics and bureaucracy add little in terms of moral responsibility, though they might add to a regulatory frame. One needs to create a Dur­kheimian frame, where hate is read as a social fact permeating the individual, as a symbolic order of reality that imprisons the other in perpetual otherness. One needs a holism that goes beyond itemisation or a symptomology. One needs the moral risks of a dialogue that dissolves borders and distances to capture the truth of difference, separating genuine doubts and fears from an ­epidemic of virulence.

Democracy is still a long way from inventing these experiments. Maybe it’s not social science or clinical psychology that we need, but a rethinking of moral and ethical foundations. What we are confronting is the battle of hate against democracy’s moral emptiness. One has to find wisdom not in social science, but in folklore, the cosmology of people, and search for a thorough-minded resolution, which has to be reworked repeatedly.