While the idealists tell us that politics is about hope, the truth is that mass politics has always been characterized by the politics of resentment. Resentment is, in a way, the motivating force of modern politics.
This resentment could be directed inwards, against a ruling class, or it could be targeted outwards, against another nation, or any other outsider group within one’s own nation. The politics of resentment has been the most powerful mobilizer of people, whether for a cause, or against one another. The proponents of the politics of resentment, often resort to basic formulas, which are based on simplistic explanations of the world. The most effective of these are two, nationalism and religion, and when the two are fused together, they make the most powerful, often deadly, combination.
The politics of resentment, in most cases, when one looks closer, is a story. It is a story of two equal halves : of denial and aspiration. The first motivator of resentment is a deeply and widely felt emotion of deprivation, of injustice. The second is the desire for change, to make things better. Resentment, captured in the feeling of historic injustice, is a powerful force, which can be mobilized for progress, for justice, for change. But when captured and propagated by darker forces, by demagogues professing mass political slogans, it can become a cruel master, often leading into xenophobia and violence.
The revolution of rising aspirations : youth and and the billionaire
Our 21st century world, is characterized by what some scholars call a revolution of rising aspirations. The world is younger than it ever was, if one was to look at the proportion of various age groups in the composition of the global population, we would see that well over 50 percent of people in the world being under the age of 30. The world, while also being freer and more peaceful than it has ever been in history, despite what media images might tell us, is, importantly, also much more unequal that it has ever been – in all of human history, since the time of the cro-magnon and before. Only recently it was reported that just about 50 individuals control more than 50 percent of global wealth. This is astounding. In other interrogations of inequality, a global 1 percent own more wealth than the 99 percent of the world. This is not to say that there are no divisions within the 99 percent. Well over half the rest of the world, i.e. the 99 percent, live in developed countries where their individual wealth and well being, even if they are at the bottom of the wealth pyramid, is much higher than their counterparts in the rest of the world. Almost 70-80 percent of the population outside the first world, speaking transnationally, lives in borderline poverty where one harvest, one drought, one factory closure can be the difference between both a good school and a full belly. Of course, less people are dying of hunger now than even fifty years ago. But that is not, surely, a good denominator of human existence. The truth is, despite whatever progress the world might have made in human development indicators, less people than ever have the ability to fulfill their aspirations than ever before.
The perennial question for all philosophers is what makes us human. The crux of all answers to this question is that it is our ability to hope, to dream, to imagine, that makes us more than animals. For Aristotle it was the pursuit a good life, eudaemonia. In ancient India, this meant balancing the four goals of please, wealth, righteousness and spiritual satisfaction. The sad truth about the world today is, that while more and more of human beings are being provided basic animal subsistence than ever before, every passing moment, we are lesser and lesser able to fulfill these human aspirations. So, we are, globally, becoming less and less human every moment. We are becoming, one the one hand, more and more beast, and on the other, in our technological age, more and more machine.
Ignorance in the Information age : cause or consequence?
In the information age, we live in societies in which a single human being has access to more information than whole governments had even 50 years ago. The more we know about possibilities of wealth, pleasure, advancement, in the world, the more we hope to achieve. Yet, our economic systems ares so skewed in their priorities, that the common man on the street, is hardly equipped to deal with the rapidly changing world. The more information we have surrounding us, inundating us, the more skills we need to process it, to understand it, to frame it, in terms of its relevance to our existence. But, sadly, our intellectual infrastructure has not grown to keep up with the demands of the knowledge society we have created. The majority of the citizens of the 21st century are unequipped to deal with the world of technology and new capitalist methods it has wrought. So, we have had to reframe the politics of today into the terminologies of yesterday, in the process losing the complexity of the problems that face us in our complex environment.
In the past decade or so, global politics has witnessed a renewed resurgence of nationalism and religion, typified by the rise of right wing politics in democracies and ideas such as jihad or jingoism in our societies. These simplistic explanations of the world seem appealing, because they reduce complex reality into simple formulas of right and wrong, or good guys and bad guys.
We see such an upsurge for the simple reason that our intellectual landscapes, in both the mass media and the education system, because our politics has failed to train us to understand the complexity of the information age. That is, develop in the citizenry of the world the capability of transforming the mass of information into deliberated knowledge and perhaps even wisdom. We should have gotten smarter in the information age, sadly, we have only become more confused. And that has left room for demagogues to exploit us. This must change, this will change. But it should not take too long. The world has paid a heavy price for conflicts created by narrow interpretations of nationalism and religion in the 20th century, even overlapping into ours. Another crisis inspired by these old sins should not be allowed to destroy us.