Socrates believed that nobody willingly chooses to do wrong. Some may agree to disagree. We are moral human beings after all.
Do not be disappointed for I shall not attempt to grace you with thoughts of morality and ethics. Instead, I will attempt to strike an idea in you. Unless you do not attempt to think at all.
The world as we see it dwells in irony and rhetoric. You are both, the NGO pressing the ‘development’ agenda and the capitalist eating off the sweatshops. You are both, the woman ranting for freedom and the patriarch restricting it. You are the band-aid and the bruise. You are the victim and the perpetrator. For definitional purposes, the victim may be understood as the one who suffers. Suffering here is not limited to physical injury or harm but also includes economic hardships, social stigma and cultural subordination among others. The perpetrator is the one who makes the victim suffer. Both are human. But they share a dark yet complementary relationship: one ceases to exist without the other. As bitter as it may sound, it is the truth. Agreed, the truth may have variations too, but the one I wish to share is true as well. You may agree or disagree but do not discard it without actually having thought about it for a minute.
The systemic functioning of this endless operation between the victim and the perpetrator is aided by the institutions of media and democracy. Scholars Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman coined the term ‘manufacturing consent’ in 1988 to describe the propaganda model used by corporate media to manipulate and shape public opinion. According to Chomsky and Herman, the jigsaw of manufacturing consent fits in perfect if you join pieces of ownership, source, advertising and discipline. Each factor is to be taken in order of mention to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With big parent multinational ownership, it is easier for the media to be swayed towards the ideology or belief system or the group of owners of the corporation. This belief system or ideological inclination is nothing but ‘organised coincidence’ for the sake of political favouritism and helps to sustain the large entity they own. Thus, the source and presentation of news get defined here, suiting the political taste of the owners, but not by the true ethics of journalism. What is presented to the audience for consumption, thus, is a screened and ‘disciplined’ version of truth and opinion.
Next in order comes advertising, the money-making machine of the media houses that both influence decision-making in a free market economy at the macro level and tastes and preferences of the consumer at the micro level. The consumer often is swooned by the ‘spotlight’ effect or glaring attention of the media that is provided via advertising. Advertisements control media corporations with the large chunk of capital they provide. You must not be surprised when you realise that you are surrounded by advertisements way more than the news the media holds the responsibility to provide. How could a business possibly not reap profits out of its bread and butter? Thus, news is just a side business in the larger picture. It is actually interesting to note how the independent media houses that attempt to push for better journalism get crushed in the stampede of free market competition because they are unable to survive without advertising because of a low audience reach. This is the vicious cycle that a free market economy creates for the media, which constitutes the fourth pillar of democracy.
In a similar tone, in 2010, Michael Chossudovsky coined the term ‘manufacturing dissent’ to explain the prevailing illusion of democracy which serves the interests of the ruling class. The dictionary explains dissent as, “The holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held”. In other words, ‘manufacturing dissent’ suggests a ‘safety valve’ that protects and sustains the new world order. Chossudovsky suggests, “It is in the interest of the corporate elites to accept dissent and protest as a feature of the system inasmuch as they do not threaten the established social order. The purpose is not to repress dissent, but, on the contrary, to shape and mould the protest movement, to set the outer limits of dissent.”
The shaping of the movements of the neoliberal world are outcomes of a business model. Thus, it is believed that institutions such as the World Economic Forum, World Social Forum and The World Bank orchestrate this mechanism by directing the flow of money in the name of humanitarian intervention and aid to the Global South. In financing the idea of development, the free market economy provides benefits to certain powerful elites via schemes of monopoly, oligopoly and duopoly. The attempt to elevate poverty in a way is also contributing to increasing differences in most third world countries today.
In stating the above, I intend to suggest that the cycle of the victim being the perpetrator is a direct consequence of the larger forces of the free market, democracy and the media. A friend rightly gives a direction to this idea, saying, “Track where the money goes.”
Helen Hughes, in her research paper, titled “Aid has Failed the Pacific” (2003), argues that despite pumping huge sums of aid into the Pacific region, the region has failed to develop. Since 1970, more than $50 billion has been provided as an aid to the Pacific region. However, such aid inflows are majorly targeted in the form of consumption rather than investments. This practice distorts economies via creating bias in the market that leads to corruption. Most third world countries are victims of such unfortunate ‘goodwill’, welcoming the forces of globalisation as ways to ‘pump’ in development and growth. Such ‘consumption materialism’ is fuelled by a strong advertising mechanism, including film, television and radio among other media, that has both economic and social connotations.
The ‘consumption materialism’ in the USA creates a hollow health and education society in the country despite being a country of high per capita income and per capita expenditure. The case of the USA explains that the idea of the victim being the perpetrator is not only limited to the third world. However, the operation of such large mechanisms at the macro level has implications at the local level, equally. Although the implications at the local level are more interpersonal, emotional and sensitive, owing to social and cultural influences. The local here is not to be understood in terms of geography but instead as a term used as reflective of human interaction.
With the recent flood of feminism in India, everyone is cashing in on it. Celebrating womanhood, empowering the girl child are popular marketing themes for most brands in today’s times. Films, too, have used this theme to cash in on box office collections. Not that I intend to suggest that such steps are unwelcome. Instead, I argue that in attempting to indulge in creating an agenda out of the feminist cause, we are only making its significance more trivial in nature. Why trivial? It is because the subject matter is not given its required academic flavour in its varied representations, thus, often being more fictitious than real.
Such trivialising has dire consequences invisible to us at the moment. There will be individuals who may now argue that reported crimes against women have reduced over the years. My argument, however, stands apart from this. Instead, the argument I present is more related to ‘the attitude problem’ that haunts our country. Thus, while facts and figure may be measured and celebrated, the attitude of men and women towards the rights of women cannot be. It is sometimes visible in Indian society that the woman who faces harassment at the hands of her in-laws also passes down the same treatment and position of the woman to her daughter or daughter-in-law. The woman is both the victim and the perpetrator, and so is the man. Action may be said to be a reflection of the attitude, but does not represent it in its complete form. This is where the the macro differs from the local as mentioned above. The macro is more driven by profit, facts and figures. Whereas, the local is driven by human behavior and interaction, culture, tradition, custom, among others. Both these processes create the space for the victim and the perpetrator.
The inference from the example on woman empowerment may be applied to other sectors such as NGOs and development, medicine and pharmaceuticals, pesticide industries, among others. In each of these sectors, the market mechanism, aided by the media, creates a manufactured economic and social environment. This environment in return manufactures two distinct yet complementary, synchronizing yet opposing, theoretically parallel yet practically converging, roles of the victim and the perpetrator in the same individual. Thus, a poor farmer is bound to use the harmful chemical pesticides and fertilizers, to increase productivity and reduce costs, while being fully aware of its ill effects on his health. In many cases, farmers use organic methods of production for their own family consumption after having realized the ill effects of chemicals on crops. Hypocrite or hypocrisy may be appropriate words to describe such individuals and behaviour. However, the hypocrite may think otherwise. Primarily, it is because of this reason, that I initially talked about truth and ‘versions’ of truth in the beginning of this article. The cherry on top in our discussion is the creation of bigots under this process.
How can this problem be solved? What are the possible measures? I would possibly indulge in such ideation for a later article. However, for now, I leave you with some direction. A friend reminded me of a quote by Daenerys Targaryen, a character from the popular television series “Game of Thrones” which goes like this: “I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.” The problem that I address, perhaps, holds similar answers. It is practically impossible to ‘stop’ or disrupt global economic processes under the neoliberal order as a means to ease this phenomena – that would create chaos. However, an intervention that could possibly ‘break’ the cycle by intervention, appears to be a more comprehensive solution to it. What could the possible interventions be, is the subject of a new area of research all together.