July 16, 2016

Bruno Latour: People have been silenced by moralism

Interview: Philosopher Bruno Latour on Challenges of Identity Politics in India

The Wire - ‎10 hours ago‎
Bruno Latour: I don’t think identity politics is specific to Indians. I think it is everywhere. The BJP is one case [of religion-based identity politics], but in France we have a similar movement towards identity politics. We have the same in the USA with Trump and Sanders, or in Poland. It is of course very striking for observers that even Hinduism, which was never a religion associated with the European tradition of political theology, has been absorbed by this tradition and reinvented as a political theology, just like Islam or Christianity in Europe. So in a way, the more the BJP has brought religion into the Indian polity, the less Indian it is. The BJP has succeeded in banalising or losing some of the process and originality of Hinduism.  It was not in the nature of the religion to tempt its followers to form an identity group and then associate with the state.
The loss of originality of India in that respect is very unfortunate, but it is quite understandable because few resist the disappearance of politics and its replacement by identity politics. When Dewey was speaking of politics, he was saying something completely different, which was pragmatism. For him, politics was issue-based and consequences based, and had nothing to do with identity.
Pragmatism is built on pragmata, on things, ‘matters of concern’, as I say. And the Anthropocene is a matter of concern around which a public has to be assembled. The problem, in my view, is that politics has disappeared. Politics is not identity politics. Identity is something else, which has to be produced with other anthropological resources. We are talking about psychology, religion or maybe fiction, but we are not talking about politics. To use the terms of AIME, we are not talking politically.
GD: Could you elaborate a little further?
BL: The catastrophe is that everywhere at the moment people have stopped doing politics, because they are simply expressing their values. For Dewey, the habits of politics were arriving at a modus vivendi, through secular, mundane negotiations. The problem is that people have lost the ability to speak politically for two reasons. One of them is that they have been asked not to speak because of moral dictates, which happened in Europe.
It happened recently in Austria. People say things they were not allowed to say before, which means they had been silenced by moralism. They were pre-emptively forbidden to say things. Now they say things but they are not political things. They are moral things. How can you do politics if people have values? It’s impossible. You have values against values? That’s not politics. It’s a juxtaposition of indifferent strangers.
GD: So to do politics in Dewey’s sense, would be object oriented democracy?
BL: Yes, you turn around things. Each thing has a different interest, a different range of people. But this doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.
GD: Thank you
Gaurav Daga will soon join the University of Cambridge for his MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies.
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