By Amir Hussain
Pessimism sets in as the world undergoes uncanny political changes in the aftermath of Brexit, rise of Donald Trump and declining popularity of social democrats across the Western hemisphere. Ruthless neoliberalism is here to stay with its gloves off, borrowing the phrase coined by Noam Chomsky, with its tentacles pierced deep into an already wounded body politic created by an indifferent global corporate world that hurts the poor and heals the rich.
The upside-down world of global capitalism has created mirages of prosperity through media Murdochism in this desert of poverty, famine, destitution, pogrom and pillage.
Our world is no longer safe for those who are condemned to be poor and whose very existence is punctuated by a horrid play of extermination, bloodshed and starvation in a world of abundant resources, technology and democracy. Millions of lives were maimed in the mayhem of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The mutilated and charred bodies of children and women littered across the ruins of those old civilisations show the unprecedented miseries heaped upon the poor by global capitalism. The unabated torment inflicted upon humanity has no audience in the self-proclaimed civilised world that germinates Trump and Hitler in its political womb and creates Al-Qaeda, IS and Zionism to justify its own fascism.
In this world of extreme contradictions, the only way for human emancipation perhaps lies in developing counter-narratives of economy, politics and development, coherent social and political movements at a global level and linking local resistance with the international struggle for human freedom. In this context, the objective of social development must also be redefined to promote welfare of the poor and marginalised not as a project but as a movement with advocacy for peace, equity, equality and freedom from the clutches of the corporate world.
Having said that, social development is a messy process which takes place in a world that is not smooth, even and humanistic and where human welfare is no more a priority. In a world of abundant resources, millions of people starve, face annihilation and die of curable diseases. Millions of children cannot make it to school and those who survive cannot afford to access quality health and education services, clean drinking water and decent employment.
In the same world of countless miseries there are those few who enjoy opulence, overconsumption and luxuries beyond the stretch of imagination of a common person. This visible disparity has become so entrenched that no one would bother to question it and risk his/her exclusion. The lofty political ideals of transformative engagement with the world of disparity have been cordoned off by the forces of bigotry, repression and the home-grown minions of global capitalism.
The naked brutality inflicted upon humanity by drug barons, arms dealers, oil mafias, land grabbers and construction cartels is justified by the free media in an unscrupulous discourse of the process of democratisation. These forces of profiteering, which imposed wars upon the citizens of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Palestine and in recent past in Balkan region, got exonerated by global media while millions of children, women and common citizens were maimed all in the name of democracy. The mystery of this precious thing democracy has not been unveiled yet and hence we are going to have more wars and unabated miseries to be heaped upon those who would love more to live with peace than to die in a war for democracy.
If the ultimate goal of an ideal democracy is to bring to power people like Donald Trump, then why would one want to sacrifice for such a horrid political future? For trendy liberals, capitalism and democracy have become the oxymorons of the day – ie two incongruous notions whose reality is that the former relies on wars to survive while the latter has become an instrument to moralise the wars as an evitable act to civilise the savage. The world has been shaped by wars, destruction, mutilation and eugenics in the 20th century coinciding with the height of capitalist democracy that left indelible imprints of brutality of civilized humans. All claims of modern capitalist democracy on education, citizenship, civility, equality and freedom are so hollow that one would idealise the cannibalism of cavemen and their outright savagery.
With all its illiberal liberalism and destructive instinct, capitalism has been able to establish its ideological hegemony through a number of sophisticated instruments of soft control including modern media, global corporate donors and maddening advertising and branding to instil consumerism. The consumerist society has replaced the political society of citizens in that the relationship between the ruler and the ruled is punctuated by economic transactions rather than a social contract of mutual accountability.
Capitalism, with all its liberal ethos, is a system of economic despotism and tends to control and shape the political domain through ideological hegemony by using its economic might to control the means of mass communication and platforms of social engagement.
From this perspective, the modern notion of the civil society can be seen as a domain of ideological control – an extension of the capitalistic mode of social relationships. The principles of social development which manifest in the domain of the modern civil society are therefore contested concepts. Conventional wisdom that places the civil society in a neutral space as a docile, obedient, de-politicised and anti-revolutionary bulwark against the forces of change has taken out its sting and potential of socioeconomic transformation of the poor, who are adversely incorporated in the neoliberal world of capitalism.
In Pakistan, some self-styled social development experts have been propagating the idea of the civil society as a complementary body to further the interests of the state and government – hence turning it into an instrument of governmentality. They have been doing injustice with the poor of Pakistan by stripping the civil society of its role to promote good governance, inclusion, accountability and transparency as a movement against the excesses of our Leviathan state and anti-poor growth logic of emerging private sector.
In recent days, the notion of the civil society in Pakistan has become a pariah and faces the wrath of a leviathan state which goes a far as to impose lien on their bank accounts – hence debarring nondenominational charitable trusts, in particular, from serving the poor. In the federal capital, FBR officials have been showing incredible efficiency in imposing strict taxation rules on docile poor-centric organisations. The irony is that billions of rupees have been stashed away in the coffers of the tax-evading affluent and rich elite in the same federal capital with visible impunity.
The absence of political sensibility, empathy and sensitivity towards the poor in the federal capital is alarming and needs to be resisted vehemently. The liberation of the civil society from the uncivil acts of the state lies in the action of the civil society itself.