A nation of my dreams : Imaginations, Partitions and the Colonialism of Ideas

Political Rally in India - National Elections, 2014

A strange sort of dream haunts our world, born of the minds of great thinkers, politicians and leaders of men – a dream of the future. Their minds – or souls would be a better word – are possessed with dissatisfaction, a constant state of unrest and a longing. It is a longing for the future. For a future tht they envision in the Dream. The longing is fuelled by a sense of destiny – something so peculiarly intrinsic to all human beings, which is a problem, as we will see. This destiny moulds the Dream – which is constructed from visions, with the right tinge and hue of hope and desire, for their nation, their sense of the nation – visions of greatness. When the Dream, born from the imagination of the great thinkers, politicians and leaders, is then Proclaimed, in speeches, books, articles, rallies, all foprms of articulation, it becomes a shared dream. So, their Dream becomes a National Dream, even if it is only theirs, truly.

But one mind dreaming for so many? Isn’t there a problem, one might ask? There is precedent, of course, in our cultures for such mass dreamers – visionaries, they are called. From the kivas of the Native Americans to the cells of Christian monks, from the podiums of political rallies to the pamphlets of political minds, from democracies, to dictatorships, to everything in between and all around – the imaginations of a few have always colonised the minds of the many. And we go along with it – the call of destiny, we say, is enshrined in the visionaries’ view of the world. But when we follow such a call, we surrender our own dreams, our own desires and our own interests, willingly or impulsively, and we don’t complain until it is too late.

The march of history, so to say, flows in waves of order and chaos. When one organisation of order loses its hold, there is a rapid moment of disordering, an unmaking of the old, to set the stage for creating a new kind of order – to correct the flaws of the old. Why does this cyclic wave unfold? Any system of order must have consent from the populations it holds in its way. This consent remains, implicitly, until the population is more or less satisfied. But gradually, the ability of any structure of order to satisfy its populations diminishes – or, more importantly, the perception that it no longer doe so heightens in the population at large. This happens, mainly, due to the aggregation and accumulation, and consequently their articulation, of micro experiences of dissatisfaction, experienced by small groups or individuals, over somewhat long and broad ranges of time and space. The longer the range the more the accumulation, of course. The more the opportunity to share the experience. So, say while 100 moments of experienced dissatisfaction might happen every year within a given system of order, they might not be enough to threaten the system. In ten years, they aggregate, however, to a 100 times 10, so, even if half are forgotten, at least half remain in memory, in shared memory, that is. Now, we have a problem. Every new experience of dissatisfaction will draw on and refer to that collective memory pool, and its effect is multiplied. Therefore, over a range of time and space, every system of order will be challenged.

And, here come the National Dream. At this moment in the history of a society the Dream is very evocative – handy, one might say – to frame all that is wrong with the ‘system’. Consequently, the realisation of the Dream, becomes the sure shot solution to set every thing right. But the question, then again, is why do the ‘masses’ adopt such a Dream? The answer again lies in the ability of the Dream to frame the larger context of the moment in history in terms of one single cause – the failure of the system. To the individual, only his immediate dissatisfaction with the system is immediately available. Through the Dream, he can ‘feel’ the anger and pain of that collective aggregation of failures of the system. So, the Dream makes the collective experience of the faults of the order real to individuals who now come to share that Dream. They come to believe in it and, at least in their belief, begin to dream that Dream too.

American Progess

There is another element to this story. We, as conscious human beings. inhabit a moment in time which is an intersection between memory and destiny. This moment in time, all that led to it, the past, and what leads from here, the future are not merely things that were and things that will be. Not merely events, so to say, but everything that happened and will happen is weaved together into a larger meaning, a purpose, a destiny – for us as individuals, as families and as nations. Maybe even as the human race, but most of our cultures are too narrow minded to go that far. Maybe it is our parent who condition us to view the world that way – they tell us that we will grow up, be something, do something. Maybe it is an evolutionary thing in that a belief in purpose gives us a reason to survive despite all the problems and challenges that come with it. But a sense of destiny is crucial to the human existence.

This sense of existence is at most times viewed through the colours of hope. Destiny, in other words, will always lead us to a better state of being, a better world, maybe. Hope, Destiny and Progress – they are all weaved up together into the fabric of National Dreams that promise to destroy old, oppressive orders and usher in a new age – but only for those who are willing to submit to the Dream.

Therein lies the rub. Every National Dream sets up clear boundaries between who can share the Dream, thus who will partake of the fruits borne in the new age, and those who must not be allowed through the gates, those who must be kept out, and, crucially, those who must be swept away to make possible the Dream. Imaginations of the World always impose Partitions on the World. National Dreams are, first of all, dreams for the Nation only, and, then, for the idea of the Nation as defined by the purveyor. To move away from an old order to a new, we need to do away with old things, and, tragically, these old things are often people who stand on the wrong end of the partition.

What we have witnessed in the last century, since the advent of a truly globalised world, is, one the one hand, a spatial integration of disparate cultural worlds into one economic world, thus giving us at least on truly global world that allows us escape from our narrow domestic walls. One the other hand, however, we see a distinct crystallisation of local identities, committed to smaller and smaller definitions of who ‘we’ are, with growing hostility to everyone beyond these narrow boundaries. Take Ukraine. As a civilisational entity, the space occupied by the present country of Ukraine, including Crimea, has been a region of intense intermingling of cultures, with acceptance of diversity and plurality, and peaceful cohabitation between people professing different ways of life. Over the past century and a half, with each change in socio-political order, from the age of Empires to the Soviet Union to the present, the region has closed itself into more and more boundaries, narrower identities and smaller territorial units.

It is a strange vision of the world we tend to hold today. On the one hand we commit ourselves to a globalised world, but, on the other, the mania of drawing more and more boundaries is worse than ever in the past hundred – be they social, political or racial. In the mid-twentieth century, with the end of the world wars, with decolonisation, despite the spectre of the cold war, the world looked towards a future of openness, with more and more nationalities joining a world society. Then, we at least hopes to construct an open world order. The events of the past few years, and current events, seem to suggest we are slipping backwards again. It is not the question of what ‘is’ that concerns me – yes, the world is more open than before – but the trends that concern me, of what threatens to be. From Ukraine, to East Asia, and maybe even Europe with its right-wing upsurge, anti-immigrant moods and possibly rising racism, we seem to be heading towards a closed world. A strange dream, a strange future.

An interpretation of the world

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