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Things That Can and Cannot Be Said: The Dismantling of the World as We Know It

Things That Can and Cannot Be Said: The Dismantling of the World as We Know It

  • This is the full text of the Stuart Hall Memorial Lecture delivered by the author at Conway Hall in London on September 30, 2022. 

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today in memory of Stuart Hall.

We’ve been trying to make this happen for what seems like years. I will never ever again take for granted the pleasure of being in a room together with so many fellow human beings. The pandemic has faded somewhat, but many of us are still struggling to get the measure of the trauma it has left in its wake. I can hardly believe that I never met Stuart. But reading his work makes me feel we would have spent a lot of time laughing together about things.

The main title of this lecture, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, is the title of a little book I wrote along with the actor John Cusack. It was about a trip that he and I made to Russia in December 2013 to meet Edward Snowden in Moscow. Our other companion was Daniel Ellsberg – for those of you who are too young to remember, he was the Snowden of his time; the whistleblower who made public the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war.

Snowden, who warned us years ago that we were sleepwalking into a surveillance state, continues to live in exile in Moscow. And we have tumbled enthusiastically into the surveillance state he warned about, with our little phone companions that have become as intimate and as indispensable as any vital organ in our bodies, spying on us, recording and transmitting our most personal information so that we can be tracked, controlled, standardized and domesticated. Not just by the state, but by each other too.

Imagine if your liver or your gall bladder didn’t have your best interests at heart, your doctor would tell you that you are terminally ill. That’s the sort of bind we find ourselves in. We can’t do without it, but it’s doing us in.

The first section of my talk will be about things that can and cannot be said. The second, about the dismantling of the world as we knew it. 

This has been a bad year for those who have said and done Things That Cannot Be Said. Or Done. In Iran, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed while she was in the custody of Iran’s moral police for the sin of not wearing her headscarf in the way that is officially mandated. In the protests that followed and are ongoing, several people have been killed.

Meanwhile, in India, in the southern state of Karnataka, Muslim schoolgirls who wanted to assert their identity as Muslim women in their classrooms by wearing hijabs were physically intimidated by right-wing Hindu men. This in a place where Hindus and Muslims have lived together for centuries but have recently become dangerously polarized.

Both instances – strict hijab in Iran and the prohibition of hijab in India and other countries – may appear to be antagonistic, but they aren’t really. Forcing a woman into a hijab, or forcing her out of one, isn’t about the hijab. It’s about coercion. Robe her. Disrobe her. The age-old preoccupation of controlling and policing women. 

In August, Salman Rushdie was savagely attacked in upstate New York by an Islamist zealot for his book, The Satanic Verses; a book that was first published in 1988. In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution and the first leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued an edict calling for Rushdie’s death. All these years later, just when it had begun to seem that the anger and passions his book aroused had abated and Rushdie gradually came out of hiding, came the attack.

After the initial news of the 75-year-old Rushdie having survived the attack and being in good cheer, there is no news at all. One can only hope that he is recovering and will return to the world of literature with all his powers intact. Heads of state in Europe and the US have come out robustly in Rushdie’s support, some saying, a little self-servingly, “His fight is our fight”.

Meanwhile, Julian Assange, who published and exposed some of the more terrible war crimes committed by soldiers of those countries, wars in which hundreds of thousands died, is in terrible health and remains locked up in Belmarsh prison, awaiting extradition to the US, where he may face a death sentence or several life sentences.

So, we must pause before casting this horrifying attack on Rushdie in cliched terms such as a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ or ‘Democracy versus Darkness’. Because millions have been killed in invasions led by these so-called free-speech evangelists, and among those, millions have been writers, poets and artists, too.

As for the news from India, in June, Nupur Sharma, spokesperson of the BJP, India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, once a permanent, bullying presence on TV talk shows, made several intemperate comments against Prophet Mohammed in a provocative performance whose very purpose appeared to be to cause offense. There was an international uproar, and several death threats later, she has retreated from public life. But two Hindu men who supported her comments were brutally beheaded. In the days that followed, throngs of Muslim zealots have gathered to chant “tan se sar juda” (separate the head from the body) and call for the state to pass a blasphemy law. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that nothing would make the state happier.

They’re not the only ones who conflate censorship and assassination. Earlier this month I was in Bangalore to speak on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the assassination of my friend Gauri Lankesh, the journalist who was shot down outside her home by Hindu fanatics. Hers was one in a series of assassinations that appear to be connected to the same shadowy group: Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, the physician and well-known rationalist thinker, was shot in 2013; comrade Govind Pansare, a writer and member of the Communist Party of India, was shot in February 2015, and the Kannada scholar professor M.M. Kalburgi in August that same year.

Assassination is of course, not the only form of censorship we experience. In the year 2022, India ranks 150th out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index, below Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. We are policed not just by the government, but by mobs on the streets, by social media trolls and, ironically, by the media itself.

On the hundreds of 24×7 TV news channels, we often refer to as ‘Radio Rwanda’, our baying TV anchors rage against Muslims and “anti-nationals”, call for dissenters to be arrested, sacked, punished. They have ruined lives and reputations with absolute impunity and no accountability. Activists, poets, intellectuals, lawyers and students are being arrested almost every day. As for Kashmir – the Valley from which No News Can Come– it is a giant prison. Soon there could be more soldiers there than citizens.

Every communication by Kashmiris, private as well as public, even the very rhythm of their breathing, is supervised. In schools, under the guise of learning to love Gandhi, Muslim children are being taught to sing Hindu bhajans. When I think of Kashmir these days, for some reason I think of how, in some parts of the world, watermelons are being trained to grow in square molds so that they are cube-shaped and easier to stack. In the Kashmir valley, it looks as though the Indian government is running that experiment on humans instead of melons. At gunpoint.

Activists, poets, intellectuals, lawyers and students are being arrested almost every day. As for Kashmir – the Valley from which No News Can Come – it is a giant prison. Soon there could be more soldiers there than citizens.

Down in the Gangetic plains – the cow belt – of North India, mobs of sword-wielding Hindus led by godmen, who the media for some reason calls “seers”, call for the genocide of Muslims and the rape of Muslim women with complete impunity.

We have witnessed daylight lynchings and the genocidal killing of more than a thousand Muslims (non-government figures put that number at closer to two thousand) in Gujarat in 2002 and in hundreds in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh in 2013. Not surprisingly, both massacres took place just before crucial elections.

We have watched the man under whose chief ministership the Gujarat massacre took place, Narendra Modi, consolidate his position as Hindu Hriday Samrat (the Emperor of Hindu Hearts) and rise to assume the highest office in the country. He has never expressed regret or apologized for what happened. We have watched him continue to amass political capital from his dangerous, sneering anti-Muslim rhetoric. We have watched the highest court in the land absolve him of all responsibility, legal as well as moral. We have watched, nauseated, as leaders of the so-called Free World embrace him as a statesman and a democrat. 

Last month, India celebrated the 75th anniversary of its independence from British Rule. From his elevated lectern in the Red Fort in Delhi, Modi thundered about his dream of empowering women in India. He spoke with passion, clenched his fist. He wore a turban flecked with the colors of the national flag.

Empowering women in a society built on the Hindu caste system where privileged-caste men have for centuries exercised what they believe to be their ordained right to the bodies of Dalit and Adivasi women, is not a matter of policy alone. It’s about socialization and a belief system.

There is a rising graph of crimes against women in India, putting it on the map of the most unsafe places in the world for women. It surprises no one these days to see how often the criminals belong to or are related to members of the current ruling dispensation. In such cases, we have seen public rallies in favor of rapists. In the most recent case in which a 19-year-old girl was raped and murdered, a local leader blamed her father for “spreading raw milk before hungry cats.”

Even as Modi was delivering his Independence Day speech, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state of Gujarat announced a special amnesty for 11 men who were serving life-sentences for the 2002 gang rape of 19-year-old Bilkis Bano and the murder of 14 members of her family, including her mother, her sisters, her baby brothers, her aunts, her uncle, her cousins, her cousin’s one-day-old infant, and Saleha, Bilkis’s three-year-old daughter, whose head was smashed against a rock.

This grisly crime, only one of several similar ones, was a part of the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat pogrom I mentioned earlier. The panel that approved their release had several members from the BJP, one of them an elected legislator who went on record later to say that, since some of the convicts were Brahmins with ‘good sanskar’ (good upbringing), it was unlikely they were guilty at all.

In cases investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation, as this one was, it is legally mandated that any decision to give convicts amnesty has to be approved by the Central government, which is of course the government of Narendra Modi. So, we must assume that permission was given.

When the convicts came out, they were greeted outside the prison walls as heroes – they were garlanded with flowers, fed sweets and had their feet touched – by members of Hindu groups loosely affiliated with the BJP (the ‘looseness’ is to provide what is called plausible deniability) that make up the ‘Sangh Parivar’, the Joined Family. In a few months’ time, Gujarat goes to the polls.

In India, strange things happen just before our free and fair elections. It’s always the most dangerous time. 

As the rapist-mass murderers return to take their place as respected members of society, Teesta Setalvad, the activist whose organization, Citizens for Justice and Peace, has meticulously compiled a tower of documentary evidence that points to the complicity of the Gujarat government in general and Narendra Modi in particular with the 2002 massacre, was arrested, accused of forgery, tutoring witnesses and attempting to keep ‘the pot boiling’. 

These are the conditions in which we live and work. And say the things that cannot be said. In speech, as in everything else, the law is applied selectively depending on caste, religion, gender and class. A Muslim cannot say what Hindus can. A Kashmiri cannot say what everybody else can. Solidarity, speaking up for others is more important than ever. But that too has become a perilous activity.

In India as in other countries, the weaponization of identity, in which identity is disaggregated and atomized into micro-categories, has turned the air itself into a sort of punitive heresy-hunting machine. Even these micro-identities have developed a power hierarchy. In his book Elite Capture, the philosopher Olufemi O. Taiwo describes how certain individuals then become elevated from among these groups, individuals usually located in powerful countries, in big cities, in big universities, those with social capital on the internet, and then are given platforms by foundations, by media, by corporations to speak for and decide on behalf of the rest of their communities.

It’s an understandable response to historic pain and humiliation. But it’s not a revolutionary response. Micro-Elite Capture cannot be the only answer to Macro-Elite Capture. As some empirical research has shown, when we buy into a culture of proscription and censorship, it is the Right that benefits disproportionately. A recent study by PEN America of banned school textbooks shows that the overwhelming majority of proscribed textbooks contain progressive texts on gender and race.

Sealing in communities, reducing and flattening their identities into silos can be perilous and precludes solidarity. Ironically, that was and is the ultimate goal of the caste system in India – divide a people into a hierarchy of unbreachable silos, and no one community will be able to feel the pain of another because they are in constant conflict. It works like a self-operating, intricate administrative/surveillance machine in which society administers/surveils itself, and in the process ensures that the overarching structures of oppression remain in place. Everyone except those at the very top and the very bottom (and these categories are minutely graded too) is oppressed by someone and has someone to be oppressed by.

Once this maze of tripwires has been laid, almost nobody can pass the test of purity and correctness. Certainly, almost nothing that was once thought of as good or great literature. Not Shakespeare, for sure. Not Tolstoy – imagine presuming he could understand the mind of a woman called Anna Karenina. Not Dostoevsky, who only refers to older women as “crones.” By his standards, I’d qualify as a crone for sure. But I’d still like people to read him. It goes without saying that by these standards, every sacred book of every religion would not pass muster.

Amidst the apparent noise in public discourse, we are swiftly approaching a sort of intellectual gridlock. Solidarity can never be pristine. It should be challenged, debated, argued about, corrected. By precluding it, we reinforce the very thing we claim to be fighting against.

And now I’d like to turn to the subheading of my talk – the dismantling of the world as we knew it. I’d like to speak a little about queens and their funerals. 

When the Queen died, some British newspapers asked me to write a piece about her passing. I was a little puzzled by the request. Perhaps because I’ve never lived in England, Queen Elizabeth II barely existed even on the peripheries of my imagination. So, I said sure, but it won’t be about the queen that you’re thinking about.

The queen I was thinking about was my mother, who founded and ran a high school, who died earlier this month. For good or for bad, she was the most singular, most profound influence in my life. We were dangerous foes and desperately good friends. She was the obstacle race that I structured myself around from the time I was very young. And now that she’s gone, and left me not heartbroken, but heart-smashed, my rather odd shape and structure doesn’t seem to make sense to me anymore. I was tempted to make this lecture about the politics of two funerals. One on the world’s stage and the other in a small town in South India. But I will resist that temptation. 

Perhaps, now’s the time for me to say the first Thing that Should Not Be Said, at least not here in London, not now.

I couldn’t believe the pomp and pageantry and the days of endless television coverage of the rites and rituals of her funeral. I was transfixed by the obsequious, reverential paying of respects by those darker folks who hold high office in her former colonies, now known as the Commonwealth. There was nothing common about that wealth. It was extractive. And it flowed in one direction. We in the colonies paid for those costumes, those furs, those jewels, those gold scepters.

I apologize if this sounds like an unnuanced commentary on colonialism. That is not my position. I don’t count myself among those Indian intellectuals who rage against colonialism but choose to remain silent about the wrongs in our own societies. 

There’s much to say about colonies and colonialism and the Monarchs who reigned over that barbarous period in history. Who better than Stuart Hall to tell us that story? But how’s this – just as a piece of graffiti as the somber cavalry rides past? The historian Mike Davis estimates that in the last quarter of the 19th century, between 30 and 60 million people died of hunger in mostly man-made famines in colonial India, China and Brazil. He calls it the Great Victorian Holocaust.

Why do we love and admire those who humiliate us? That could be the most pertinent political, as well as personal, question of our times. 

I apologize if this sounds like an unnuanced commentary on colonialism. That is not my position. I don’t count myself among those Indian intellectuals who rage against colonialism but choose to remain silent about the wrongs in our own societies. The Hindu caste system, for example, is one of the most brutal systems of social hierarchy the world has ever known. Many would call it a form of colonialism that pre-dates British colonialism and is prevalent even today. Caste remains the engine that runs modern India. It is remarkable how many Indian writers and intellectuals manage to completely elide the question of caste. To unsee something that stares us in the face almost every moment of every single day, they have to assume the literary or academic version of a very elaborate, tortuous yoga asana. 

All this is the subject of much of my writing, so for now I’d like to return to my bemusement about the Queen’s funeral. What was it really about? Someone, please help me out here, because I don’t understand.

It can’t have been about the passing of a 96-year-old monarch of a small island country, which is having trouble even holding on to the sum of its parts – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Was it only a harking back, a nostalgic invocation, a paean to the ghost of the Empire on which the Sun Never Set? Or was it something more than that? Was it about the past, or is it about the future?

As the war in Ukraine unfolds and the modern world as we know it comes apart at the seams, was all that pageantry actually a pantomime rally, a posturing, a parading of friends and allies, for a battle that is still to come? 

It reminded me of the opening chapter of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August about the lead-up to World War I. 

“So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled sashes flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens…and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying world of splendor never to be seen again”

The dangerous brinkmanship being played out in Ukraine is being somewhat obscured by the noise of propaganda on both sides. But history’s clock could very well be racing toward sunset.

The various points of view on the war also involve some pretty tortuous yoga asanas – some pretty drastic seeing and unseeing – depending on where you have decided to place yourself. Many on the Left cannot find it in themselves to call out Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They believe that Ukrainian outrage against Russia has been entirely confected and cultivated by Western Imperialism. That the Ukrainian famine of the early 1930s never happened. They deny that millions of Ukrainians – the historian Timothy Snyder estimates five million – died in the famine of the early 1930s under Stalin’s policy of forced collectivization.

They see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a defensive war against an existential threat to itself by NATO. That’s not untrue. The fact that Russia does face a very serious threat is hard to deny. The hitch is that the “defensive” war is being fought offensively on Ukrainian soil and against the Ukrainian people. 

When the Cold War ended, demilitarization and nuclear disarmament should have begun. Instead, NATO did the opposite. It amassed more weapons, fought more wars and used the territory of its allies and proxies for the aggressive and provocative forward deployment of troops and missiles.

When the Cold War ended, demilitarization and nuclear disarmament should have begun. Instead, NATO did the opposite. It amassed more weapons, fought more wars and used the territory of its allies and proxies for the aggressive and provocative forward deployment of troops and missiles. If Russia had done through proxies in Europe or the US what NATO is doing to it, there is little doubt that we would be seeing the moral arguments and western media coverage turned inside out. 

None of this makes Vladimir Putin a revolutionary anti-imperialist or a democrat of any kind. None of it alters the fact that he believes in an overtly fascist, anti-Semitic, anti-Homosexual, Christian nationalist ideology (which ironically, he calls “de-Nazification”) propounded by his two favorite ideologues, Alexander Dugin and Alexander Prokhanov. 

His claim about Ukraine, Crimea and Belarus being inseparable territories that made up Ancient Rus, a theory based on the millennial myth of the Christian baptism of its leader Volodymyr/Valdemar in Crimea in AD 988, has been (correctly) met with hilarity.

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But we must ask why then is there less amusement in the same quarters when it comes to talk of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its claims of being the ancient Promised Land for the Jewish people, which translates in modern legalese as “the Nation-State of the Jewish people.”

Or in India, when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu nationalist militia and cultural guild of which Prime Minister Modi is a member, calls for an ‘Akhand Bharat’, a sort of fantasy that is futuristic and ancient all at once – a future ancient India that includes Pakistan and Bangladesh, which will be conquered and where all its people will be subjected to Hindu rule.

Ordinary people in Europe are gearing up to face the harsh winter that is nearly upon them, with very little or no heating, as Russia, in response to economic sanctions, threatens to shut off their gas supply. As Ukrainians fight on with relentless courage, and the chances of a negotiated settlement fade away, anxiety is building over the possibility of the war expanding and escalating. Putin has announced the ‘partial mobilization’, whatever that means, of 300,000 military reservists. Perhaps for now the US is far away enough and safe enough, but all of Europe, Russia and much of Asia could become the theatre of a war unlike any the world has ever seen. A war in which there can’t be a winner.

Isn’t it time for everybody to step back? Isn’t it time to begin a real conversation about complete nuclear disarmament? 

God forbid, Russia resorts to using U.S. logic for turning to nuclear weapons. In an article titled, ‘If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used’, published in December 1946, Karl K. Compton, the physicist and former president of MIT, said that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “saved hundreds of thousands – perhaps several millions – of lives, both American and Japanese; that without its use the war would have continued for many months.” His logic was that the Japanese, even though they had been defeated, would not have surrendered and, if not for the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of people, they would have fought to the last man standing.

“Was the use of the atomic bomb inhuman?” Compton asks himself. “All war is inhuman,” was his reassuring reply (to himself.) It was published in The Atlantic. President Truman wrote in to endorse this argument.

Years later, General William Westmoreland carried that logic a little further during the Vietnam war: “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.” In other words, we Asians don’t value our lives and so we force the White world to bear the burden of genocide.

And then there’s Robert McNamara, of course, who had a successful career arc, first as the planner of the bombing of Tokyo in 1946, which killed more than 200,000 people in two separate raids, then as the president of Ford Motor Company, next as the US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam war, in which US soldiers were ordered to “Kill Anything That Moves,” as a result of which 3 million Vietnamese lost their lives.

McNamara’s last job was to take care of world poverty as President of the World Bank. Towards the end of his life, in an Errol Morris documentary called The Fog of War, he asks an anguished question: “How much evil must we do in order to do good?” 

As you must have gathered, I’m a collector of these gems. Let’s not forget that President Obama had a Kill List. And that Madeline Albright, who President Joe Biden recently described as “a force for goodness, grace, and decency – and for freedom”, when she was asked about the estimated half-a-million Iraqi children dying because of US economic sanctions, famously said, “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

Where are we headed? Even those of us who stand squarely with the Ukrainian people against the Russian invasion of their country cannot help but marvel at the difference in tone and tenor of the Western Media’s coverage of the war in Ukraine and the breathless admiration with which it covered the US and NATO’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. This January, Tony Blair, the most passionate purveyor of the fake news about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, which was used to justify the invasion, and President George Bush Jr.’s most enthusiastic ally in the invasion, was ordered Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the senior most British order of chivalry. 

Watching the funeral of the Queen the other day I nearly choked on whatever it was I was drinking as I heard one of the Bishops or Archbishops say that, unlike those who merely cling to wealth and power, Queen Elizabeth II would be loved and remembered for her “life of service” to the public. Her son, the new King of England, will inherit her wealth and station. His royal lifestyle will not be supported by his own private wealth, which reportedly amounts to about a billion dollars. It will be paid for with public money, by the British people, millions of whom, the Guardian reports, have begun to skip a meal every day just to “keep the lights on.” 

Perhaps it’s hard for the rest of us to understand the mystery of the British people’s love and enthrallment with their monarchy. Perhaps it has to do with a national sense of identity and pride which cannot and certainly ought not to be reduced to vulgar economics. But allow me to indulge in some vulgarity for a minute or two. 

A recent analysis in the Financial Times concludes that income inequality in the US and the UK is so great that they could be classed as “poor societies with some very rich people”. They’re like us ‘Third Worlders’ now, Banana Republics whose wealthy have seceded into outer space and whose poor are falling into the sea.

A 2022 Oxfam study says India’s 98 richest people own the equivalent of the combined wealth of the poorest 552 million people. For this impertinence, Oxfam offices in India have been raided by the Income Tax department and perhaps will soon be shut down, like Amnesty International and every other organization that is critical of the Modi regime. 

King Charles III, rich though he may be, is a pauper compared to Gautam Adani, the world’s third richest man, Gujarati corporate tycoon and friend to Narendra Modi. Adani’s fortune is estimated to be $137 billion – a sum that rapidly increased during the pandemic.

 In the eight years of Modi’s rule, Adani’s fortune has grown from $8 billion in 2014 to what it is now. That’s an accumulation of $129 billion. I’m just saying. Please don’t read deep meaning into it. 

In 2014, when he was first elected Prime Minister of India, Modi made a point of flying from Ahmedabad, his home city in Gujarat, to Delhi in Adani’s private jet – his name and logo emblazoned across it. In the eight years of Modi’s rule, Adani’s fortune has grown from $8 billion in 2014 to what it is now. That’s an accumulation of $129 billion. I’m just saying. Please don’t read deep meaning into it. Adani’s money comes from coal mining and operating seaports and airports. Most recently, he was involved in the hostile takeover of NDTV, the only mainstream national TV news channel that dares to delicately criticize the Modi regime. Most of the rest of the media is already bought and paid for.

The corporations that are blasting mountain ranges, clear-felling forests and bleaching coral reefs also fund ‘happiness conferences’, sporting events, film and literature festivals. They provide courageous writers platforms on which to condemn attacks on Free Speech and make declarations about their commitment to peace, justice and human rights. And say Things  Cannot Be Said, Done.

Capitalism is in its Endgame. Sadly, as it goes down, it’s taking our planet with it. 

Between nuclear hawks and mining corporations, it’s a race to the bottom.

Meanwhile, for light entertainment, let’s all fight about what gods to pray to, what flags to wave, what songs to sing. In case I’ve left you feeling dejected, let me read you an email I wrote in response to a member of the audience who criticized me (gently) for sounding overly optimistic when I spoke in memory of Gauri Lankesh:

If we have no hope, let’s all sit down and give up. There are millions of excellent reasons for us to be pessimistic. That’s why I suggested we should divorce Hope from Reason. Hope should be wild, irrational and unreasonable. 

In every line I write, every word I speak, what I’m really saying is, We are not Zero. You haven’t defeated us.

For millions in the world with their backs to the wall, these debates about hope and despair are a luxury. Even here, underneath the reek of wealth in the city of London, a visitor can sense a sort of tense, vibrating unease, like the rumble beneath your feet as a train approaches the platform.

None of this will matter in the event of a nuclear war. That will simply end us. It’s time for the two sides to step back. And for the rest of the world to step in. Armageddon doesn’t contain a clause for second chances.

(The text was first published in The Wire and an audio version can be found here.)


Arundhati Roy is a writer and a political activist involved in human rights and environmental causes.

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