The heart of the world is actually a bullet

What are we, the accidental bipeds, doing to ourselves? Not more than specks of dust in historical time and space, we are so good at creating hierarchies among our wretched selves. The Indian believes he is better than the Pakistani, the Israeli is against the Palestinian, the Occidental against the Oriental, the rich versus the poor, and the literate versus the illiterate. And the lesson seems to be that if you are powerful and have no fear of repercussions, just go for the jugular. 

Those who are not powerful are not concerned with justice either. They are waiting for their chance to go for the jugular. It is a war of all against all. No holds barred. The velvet gloves are off. The pretences are unnecessary. The bloody game of dominance is on. There are no ethical imperatives or prescriptions valid anymore. The killer takes it all. Most of the time, the killer does not even have to kill. He or she has to just demonstrate the capacity to kill. Show a weapon or advertise the sheer size of your army and you don't need to go and kill. If you are pretending at civility or living in peacetime, your dominance depends on your capacity to threaten violence. The bigger our bomb, the greater our chances of enjoying long-term peace. Or so goes the logic of realpolitik. The sad thing is that it seems to work. 

If it is a war of all against all, then what is the place of morality in the world? How to be moral in the war zone is the question? The answer is tricky if relativism is all you see around you. The life of one Israeli, one Briton, or one American is more precious than hundreds of Palestinians, Afghanis, Pakistanis, and Iraqis. That is what the newspapers tell you while reporting accidents. If a newspaper headline reads "200 passengers die in a plane crash including 2 Americans," what are you supposed to think? The 198 humans are part of the anonymous pulp of humanity but the two Americans are going to create a posthumous crisis for the diplomatic and political world. 

What the operational logic of this world tells you is: become as important as possible if you want your life and death to be counted. Otherwise, your life and death are not even newsworthy says the logic of homo hierarchicus. Some evolution theorists argue that this hierarchical logic is so hardwired in our brain that it affects the way we select our companions, mate, and procreate. We want life for ourselves and death for others/strangers. This simple logic, of survival even at the expense of the death of the other, informs our friendships, loyalties, and our hatreds at personal as well as state levels. 

And next to all this brutal logic of the world is the power of those who cannot directly threaten us. They use manipulation to ensure their survival. The producers of guilt. The preachers. Those who have no direct power to produce anything life-sustaining or life-threatening use humans to extract value by offering invisible punishments or pleasures. The advertisers of an unreal world. The seducers. The manipulators. But their message is the same as the creator of the bomb. Be seduced by our promises or you are doomed. A recent report published by Survival International tells us that all promises of progress by any superior civilisation yield little progress for the selected few and disease and death for the majority. And so goes the logic of the drone. Get seduced by our advertisements or get ready to die. Or, if you can, acquire the power to kill us. The heart of the world is actually a bullet.

Published in The News on Sunday

dated January 25, 2009