Saturday, December 13, 2008

Blog on a Roll: Go Green & Hold the Vinegar until 2009

I began my modest Blog without a great deal of forethought. I had a vague idea that I wanted to write empirically about democracy. And, as it turns out, I began my Blog somewhat auspiciously, on Mahatma Gandhi's Birth Anniversary Observance on October 2, 2007 in Union Square Park, New York City.

On that Blog-less fall day in Manhattan I protested, alone, but not heroically, the use of Gandhi's birthdate and observance, as a subterfuge to promote sectarian divisions in India by Hindu political fundamentalist, antinationalist, antisecularist NRIs, deploying religion as a political weapon.

My protest did not incur the approval of the Indian Consul who continued to officiate the event and did not ask the self-ascribed Hindutva demonstrators to not politicize the memorial observance, to not use Gandhi's birthday to advance their pseudo-nationalist, anti-secularist agenda.

The consular officials' (there were two) passivity was not tolerance of dissent but its undemocratic, unethical opposite -- the craven acceptance, possibly even membership, in 'Hindutva' sectarianism, by India's official consular representative in New York. Ah the perils of self-serving civil service bureaucracy in emergent democracy. What were the consular bureaucrats thinking? If the BJP came to power in the next election, they would be counted as supporters?

At this Gandhi commemoration event in Manhattan, the Hindutva elements of the BJP and the RSS were advancing their agenda of anti-Muslim and Hindu supremacist ideas. What was even more surprising was that the event was actually sponsored by the Indian Consulate, New York. Speaking as a field-based postcolonial sociologist, I was once again struck, but only in a predictive sense, by the fact that government machinery of the sovereign nation-state especially abroad, could easily be usurped by vested extra state actors. (see blog entry)

Being Hindu (not so much by religion and ritual, in which I don't participate but by personal philosophy, family culture and informed inclination), a lover of Islam and its ideals and a supporter of all faiths, including and especially various indigenous pantheisms of Africa, I can see the need to stand up in the public square of ideas,(not the marketplace, as the disgraced Wolfowitz would have us believe) to challenge and dismantle such faith-state distortions of secular multiethnic democracy.

Until I got to Union Square Park that early October day, to participate in what I initially thought would be a celebratory observance of Gandhi's life and work, I didn't realize how easily the ethical ideals of democracy might be distorted and subverted by extra-state actors acting against the GCG -- Greater Collective Good
(see blog entry).

Born in the early Independence period and raised in a family that discussed politics and culture, in the world's largest and most vibrant democracy, an unprecedented post-colonial democracy with ethical origins if not current ethical practice,

I saw at first hand, in India and later in my adopted home and my geopolitical democratic context of the USA,

the importance of empirical investigation of the Question:

What is Ethical Democracy?

This is why I am hoping in the upcoming year (if not next year, same time year after next) to take my Blog on the road in South Asia. Blog on a roll. I want to find out, to learn at first hand, from ordinary people like myself, across the sovereign nation-states of South Asia, what it means to us and what effort we collectively think it will take,

to accomplish the development of a society that is consistently both free and ethical.

The above two-part construction of participatory democracy could deliver some cautionary as well as optimistic lessons, for US democracy in particular and others, as well as learn from the ones just unfolding in South Africa and continuing to unfold in Ghana.

In my research (based upon 45 years' lived experience concurrently in the US and South Asia), US democracy is many things -- originating in slavery and genocide; privileging the racialized commodified discourse of Systemic Whiteness; neo-imperial expansionism and hegemony; collusional power elites of the military, industry, politics and media (what C. Wright Mills called "power elites"); a nation-state in which the distracting, inalienable and unlimited right to shop, mainly for worthless, throwaway goods may well trump the urgent need for ethical development of global democratic participation, environmental sustainablity, economic/ social justice and health. That is my critical thinking in US hegemony on its own wavering meandering path to ethical democracy.

Growth and development, we know from empirical evidence, overlap but are NOT identical or interchangeable.

Particularly at this time, I think we recognize that the development of Ethical Democracy in South Asia

is critical to the dissemination of civil society in our regions and nation-states, as well as with our neighbors.

We are learning every day the grave dangers to the flowering of democracy in South Asia, posed by state-sponsored terrorism as well as extra-state terror actors.

Unjust and inequitable allocations of resources, the selective denial of opportunity to come to the table, within the world-system context of U.S. hegemony, may well ignite intermittent, widespread and ongoing pathological retaliation.


In conclusion, my Blog is now ready, after more than year of research and writing, to travel by foot (Gandhi's "padyatra" )and public mass transit, Go Green,

to attempt to make a breakthrough, to discover the roots (if any) of what Erik Erikson has called "ethical capacity", in the lived lives of diverse South Asian as
they, sometimes painfully, construct democracy.

Through these travels, I am hoping my Blog will morph into an Ethical Democracy Reader for use in South Asia and U.S. schools, an Ethical Democracy YouTube

Adventure in New Media for a new generation of Gandhian Swadeshi ethicists, Maulana Azad Indianists and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Frontierists.

The Blog and its spinoffs as decribed above may perhaps be worthy of the new generation of the orphaned 2-year Moishe Holtzberg, whose heartrending wails at the funeral of his slain parents, are also my inspiration (see blog entry)
Moishe's parents, courageous and hopeful young rabbis, were slain in Nariman House Mumbai, because they were guilty of the crime of lovingly practising their faith and caring for their Chabad Lubavitch community in Mumbai, New York and Palestine.

As Yeats noted in his poem Easter 1916, one of my all time favorites since the time I was a Calcutta schoolgirl, a "terrible beauty is born" when political protest wages long and without rest. No matter how just the cause, how high the principle, the voice becomes shrill, the features become frayed, the smile becomes vinegary, loses its lustre.
That moment, in my understanding of Yeats' poetic caution, is the moment to put away the vinegar and develop in myself that feathered thing called hope (Dickinson). "Sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine" but it is (equally) the "dapple dawn-drawn" flight of "the windhover" (Hopkins)that bears watching and learning from.

In 2009, my modest Blog will I hope grow in critical humility. I want to make uncertain, meandering yet steadfast progress in expectation that the ARC of Justice may bend slowly but it will bend surely towards us all in South Asia and everywhere.

Chithra KarunaKaran
Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice

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