Monday, August 29, 2011

Membership



...because I am thinking today about the idea of "membership," how powerful the human need to "belong" is, and how exploited that need is by popular people and movements. This comes from researching Anna Hazare and the anti-corruption movement, but encompasses so much human interaction. One tweeter noted that Britons rioted for ten days, but Indians changed their world with steadfast nonviolence. It was an amazing phenomenon. Hazare risked his life to unite people and bring change, and in the final days of this long campaign he compromised with the bumbling government on his draconian lokpal bill to make it more responsive to the Indian constitution, and democracy itself. But he makes me uneasy--his desire to see the death penalty for "corruption," public floggings of drunken people in his model village, Ralegan Siddhi, along with other undemocratic prohibitions, his view that we are all corrupt, even the voters (whom he has derided as being easily bribed), and the "with us or against us" tone of the protest that smeared critics of Hazare as somehow being "pro-corruption."

The vagueness of the word, "corruption." disturbs me, given that in Relegan Siddhi liquor, cigarettes, paan, meat, non-religious music and films are considered violations of the "purity" Hazare invokes so often.

That word, too, "purity," makes me uncomfortable. Yes, we are all corrupt in some sense--we are all human. I had to wonder how many people in the crowd of supporters have taken bribes, padded their expenses, or engaged in other corrupt practices. How much of the fervor comes from our desire to focus attention and anger away from our own misdeeds and towards others. It's so much more pleasant when we have an outside enemy, and can ignore the enemy within. How much of it comes from a desire to be purer ourselves by joining with the "pure," and who gets to define that purity?

I've seen many euphoric popular movements in my time, and joined the throng too, often to see my faith disappointed, so maybe I am too cynical. Hazare has vowed to take on universal public education now, which is a great cause and could give the Right to Education bill real teeth. Maybe the public floggings are in the past.

Update: A friend who supported Hazare in the campaign writes to ask, "Was Anna exploiting the public, or was the public exploiting Anna? ;-)"


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