Transformative Social Change does not happen by ‘Storming a Palace’


  • October 16, 2020
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Real social transformation occurs in stages, with larger and larger numbers of the population buying into a new consciousness, in favour of the public good as opposed to the absolutely individualist credo. It is a protracted struggle not just for power seizure, but more importantly to have a sweeping majority consciousness, a counter-hegemonic “mood” that must prevail. A new “blood chemistry” must be built up in the veins of the nation. Without a majority consensus, social transformation fizzles out, writes Rana Bose.

 

There are periods of transition in reaching near the results we hope to achieve, in every struggle we engage in and in every transformation, we wish to attain. Be it the case of disease in the human body or disease in the way society functions.

 

Social revolutions—and by that is meant an overwhelming shift in the mental compass of the general population towards a more compassionate, sharing society—where social identity, regional, religious, ethnic and other “tribal” affiliations, do not interfere with the progress of such goals. An increasingly divisive society, wired and under the influence and the threats of troll armies from various camps, cannot be ready for a social revolution. The divisiveness and rancour can be compelling and debilitating.

 

Medical Science as a pointer

With the evolving research on Covid-19 and the continuously changing possibilities of prognosis, as well as some personal health encounters that I have had, I have realized that there is no binary decision-making process that will “fix” an ailment. It is, without a doubt, a question of attaining a chemical balance in the system that turns the tide. When we are diagnosed with an illness, or we have a rash that won’t go away, we invariably expect an instantaneous solution that will obliterate the disease on application of an unguent or following a medical or surgical procedure. Even a surgery and removal of a malignant tissue, does not give you instantaneous benign status. The rash stays for a while. The pain continues to linger. Further confirmatory tests are essential.

 

Most phenomena in this world, be it a disease, an epidemic or an environmental condition, operate at a subatomic level of quantum transformation—a conglomeration of continuously evolving aggregate information and data. A binary response is simplistic, arbitrary and reactive.

 

For prognosis or remedy to be effective, the countervailing “drug” must reach the core of the “storm” area, register its viability, challenge and overcome contending forces, defeat it or hoodwink it and achieve a state of recovery. The effectiveness of auto-immune therapy depends on quantifying and overcoming certain “enemy” cells and markers that are the causes and identifiers of major diseases like myeloma, multiple sclerosis, etc. That period of recovery is a period of transition, where a parallel or alternate condition must emerge, forces and energy must battle each other out. And it must do so gradually and in stages. Recovery cannot be instantaneous. It is the same with social transformation. Without achieving a “chemical” balance in the population, any attempt to achieve social transformation by overnight coup d’états or constitutional amendments or passing bills and laws, will divide the society further.

 

It’s in the blood works! 

In deciphering the medical, physical and mental condition of the human body—pathology, blood works, scans, psychological assessment, diet, immunological assays, etc.—a deterioration or wrong turn of disease markers signify possible liver deterioration, possible heart failure, possible kidney failure and even gradual deterioration of brain functionality. The demand for an overnight recovery is an infantile fantasy and a doctor’s constant nightmare.

 

Quite similarly, a social or climate revolutionary’s vision for social transformation cannot be reliant on a revolutionary change at the top, or an overnight switch of allegiance in parliamentary politics or a non-violent or armed insurrection by the population, at the nations’ palace of power. There is no headquarters for the disease. There is no magic instant-pill for long-term transition! Very simply because historical precedent and awareness, emancipatory struggles and their impact, class conflicts, racial prejudices, religious animosities, lack of awareness about climatological variables have left a confounding trail in the “bloodworks” of the nation and its history.

 

Removing statues and learning about settlers

Removing statues (and sometimes replacing them) has always been a historical way to reinvigorate discussion on historical injustices or well-established common wisdom. By removing a statue of Robert Clive (the most conniving, relentless, arrogant sociopath and racist initiator of the British Empire in India) one has re-initiated discussion on him and the likes of Warren Hastings and others. Montreal’s Amherst Street has been renamed Atateken Street, which denotes the idea of equality among people in Kanien’kéha, the Mohawk language. Amherst was a British General who openly initiated biological warfare against indigenous people by distributing small-pox infested blankets to them. Toppling statues is nothing new in many parts of the world. However, in the West it has caught on now and the process of raising discussions about slave owners and their front-line generals is quite lively. The point though, is that education (about colonization, settlerism, displacement and genocide of First Nations people), before and after the toppling, is a continuous process. Because for the first time, the great grandchildren of colonizers are realizing that their great grandparents were not saints or discoverers, really. They were occupiers, displacers, slave-owners and traffickers.

 

Overnight solutions?

Irrespective of how awful and disturbing we find the policies, actions and pronouncements of the Trump government, we must remember that ‎62,984,828 American citizens voted for him. It requires a commitment to a mental framework that is deeply entrenched in law and order politics and the projection of the US as an exceptionalist white supremacist state. (Be it Pompeo or Obama, they have addressed this issue of exceptionalism with great enthusiasm, always). And more perhaps will vote for Trump this time around in 2020. He may or may not win in the electoral college, but in the end, there are nearly 63 million people who will remain unconvinced, (especially with Biden as the most unconvincing, traditional representative of the extreme centre). These 63 million people cannot be won over by some magical transformation of their “bloodworks.” Even if a fraction of them are transformed, it is a good proposition. However, the fact remains that their very existence suggests that a silent “majority” still clings on to racist, settler beliefs and social transformation will not happen only by achieving a bare majority in the Congress or Parliament.

 

The Climate movement and the transition to a greener world

A segue way to the climate change movement is perhaps necessary now—to consider a transitory period as essential to decarbonizing. We have damaged the health of the planet. It is however, not beyond repair. Although species extinction has been spectacularly ominous, the ability of the earth and the climate to recover is also spectacular. The reappearance of birds, animals, fish and blue skies and the Himalayan mountain range above the clouds during the lockdown is also compatible with the notion that recovery is possible if the “chemical balance” can be restored.

 

The demand to switch overnight to a totally sustainable, waste-free, fossil-fuel free world is not practical or possible. A transitory phase must be envisaged. Several phases of knocking down the powers of the O&G lobby, making oil irrelevant (left underground) have begun. Having worked in the supply chain to heavy industry for over forty years, as an engineer and scientist, I am of the opinion that the world needs a treatment protocol. A phasing in-and-out process that involves phasing out fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, step by step. Natural gas may be a transient source of energy, until it is also phased out. A fair and comprehensive discussion on natural gas as far as emissivity is concerned, is contained here. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/environmental-impacts-natural-gas#.XArom3RKjIU

 

Every extraction process ultimately involves release of heat-trapping emissions. Nothing is really green. Not electric cars, not waste management and not power storage technology using rare elements. At the same time, in a world population of 7 billion, nearly 1 billion have no electrical power and that is not going to change overnight, because the 6 billion who do have power, do not have green power in the first place, and have not practised waste reduction and no one can throw the switch one fine morning and deliver green power to the areas of darkness in the world.

 

That is why transitions are necessary. Education, mass-scale awareness is obligatory, and it will not happen overnight. The bloodworks must change. A complete de-construction and de-hegemonizing of the mainstream discourse on climate change, (including those subtle invocations of objectivity) must happen. The nation’s mindset must change to a point that a majority of the population and I mean around 65% minimum (and not a mere 51%) are determined to fight fossil fuel step by step.

 

Similarly, evolution of technology and technical solutions that pretend to be green (electric cars), must all be verified for what is in the bill of materials and what extraction-based damage is already built into the materials consumed. Education about the potential of a successfully fund-able green economy must become a belief in the minds of the majority of the people.

 

The idea of servants, untouchables, “dirty work,” scavenging and thereby the need of an army of “untouchables” in India, is identical to the policies of those who initiated the Atlantic slave Trade. Without African slaves, the US would not have flourished as a powerhouse of economic and military might.  Without the caste system, India’s public works, household services, municipal maintenance and a variety of public institutions would have become a hopeless predicament. Without such a large illustrious list of Muslim intellectuals and nationalists, India’s independence struggle would have been mired in far greater violence than that which happened. But history is being wiped out. Revised. And today, the majority are not aware and it is up to troll historians to infect and paralyze the intellectual tradition in India. Revising history, populating the bureaucracy and other public institutions with their own versions and own thugs, be they judges or ministers, is making the idea of transformative social change a minority viewpoint.

 

Conclusion

It has been a routine practice, amongst those who have been engaged in revolutionary transformative processes to discuss whether the “revolution” will happen in one step, two steps or perhaps a top-down capture of the “palace” followed by step-by-step organizational transformations as per a political manifesto. Many of these past processes (the subject of many useful and some very useless acrimonious debates) may succeed for a while and then run into roadblocks, as a result of participating in the world economy (markets that is), dependence on a single reserve currency (and the strains of geo-politics) and the sheer lack of conviction and support from the majority of the population. Thereby, valiant efforts for transformation get sanctioned, blockaded, etc., and defeated. Binary convictions are simplistic and should be considered nearly irrelevant, except to study past practices from history. In the quantum-ised world we live in, the flow of ideas is nearly disorderly, but there is a general pattern that eventually emerges. It is increasingly clear that real social transformation occurs in stages, with larger and larger numbers of the population buying into a new consciousness, in favour of the public good as opposed to the absolutely individualist credo. It is a protracted struggle not just for power seizure, but more importantly to have a sweeping majority consciousness, a counter-hegemonic “mood” that must prevail. A new “blood chemistry” must be built up in the veins of the nation. Without a majority consensus, social transformation fizzles out.

 

  • Rana Bose is a writer, novelist and engineer.

 

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