DEVAKI JAIN | 29 MAY, 2017
NEW DELHI: Reading Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger reminded me so much of Sidhartha Mukherjee’s 'The Gene'. Both writers dazzle us with their well researched travel across time and space in bringing in reference to other writers or books or countries. When I was reading Mukherjee I felt I was rushing, like Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, into an endless tunnel, bumping into monks ,scientists ,writers what have you. There is a race going on here too, in Mishra’s story, calling attention to the many manifestations of rage at different times and different places.
The overall argument is that rising inequalities as well as the frustrations of not receiving what is promised - a process and a reality which has been expressing itself starkly from the 19th century, partly due to the adoption of neo liberal economics, and/or globalization, - has been responsible for the kind of careless ,cruel ,unpredictable, widespread acts of not just violence but also killing.
At the end of this journey , the collection of evidence from far and wide, from history and geography, and recalling so many incidents and historical experiences, Misra comes to the scenario which is what triggers the book -namely today's terror attacks as well as the return of the demagogues amongst political leaders. The review reveals that Islamic State is only a recent expression of what has been going on for decades, and why it has been going on.
What intrigued me was the elevation of this treatise , into something new and remarkable- the blurbs. While applauding the territory covered I cannot see this analysis as something new.
That not only inequality but also the frustration of the majority in not being able to access the promised dream or what others have accessed ,is the cause of anger and violence, is not a new proposition.
One of the most brilliant historians of our times, the late Fatema Mernissi explained the rising violence in the Arab region including the spread of IS, as due to the exclusion from the prosperity that the young could see. She also pointed to the power of the television which advertised so much of the good life - inaccessible to the majority of the youth in their region. Therefore the analysis that unequal access to the goodies of economic prosperity generates the violence ,fueling the anger, is not a new finding. What is special about Pankaj Mishra's book is the huge number of pages of illustrations on how such exclusion generates violence.
Exclusion, selective deprivation has been staring us in the face for quite some time. The run of greed which sustains that exclusion has also been with us for some time. The importance of redressing economic exclusion has been recognised widely. But what is thwarting an effective response by people and policy makers to this phenomenon is the inability of the very rich, the wealthy to shift their aims, and the desire of every politician and person in power to take more and give less.
I ask myself how does Mishra's analysis or description of this phenomenon of the wicked grabbing wealth , and the “other” becoming violent, enable us to overcome the anger?
(Devaki Jain is an Indian economist and writer, who has worked mainly in the field of feminist economics.)