I’m fascinated by the idea of a society in revolution and revolt, mainly because I can barely imagine it. No matter how disgruntled or angry many people seem to get in the UK, very little changes suddenly, no matter the big marches or the occasional riot. Things trundle on, people still disgruntled or angry.
I can’t imagine what it would take. Even with Occupy last year, and the continuing trickle of occasional outrage about bankers’ bonuses, and ministers calling people “plebs”, and all that… on we go. I can’t imagine — from my comfortable, middle class, metropolitan point of view — what would make a mass of people rise up in any meaningful way.
Which is just some background rambling to frame this bit from a review by Ian Jack (subscribers only) of Katherine Boo’s book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Amazon UK, US) in the New York Review of 5 April 2012:
What [Boo] discovered was that, though the poor might complain about the greed and self-interest of the rich, they complained about their neighbours much more. Poor individuals blamed other poor individuals for their predicament rather than expressing solidarity and taking their protests to the streets. As group identities based on caste, religion, and language began to wither, “anger and hope was being privatised, like so much else in Mumbai.” And not just in Mumbai, but also in Nairobi, Santiago, Washington, and New York.
In the age of global capitalism, hopes and grievances were narrowly conceived, which blunted a sense of common predicament. Poor people didn’t unite; they competed ferociously amongst themselves for gains as slender as they were provisional. And this under-city strife created only the faintest ripple in the fabric of the society at large. The gates of the rich, occasionally rattled, remained unbreached. The politicians held forth on the middle class. The poor took down one another, and the world’s great, unequal cities soldiered on in relative peace.
Which sums it up.
I guess this is a similar thing to how many people in, say, the US often vote for the Republicans against their own financial self interest — they simply hope to gain a slight advantage over those around them. (I’m simplifying of course; I know there are other reasons people vote a particular way.)
When I read that a couple of months back (I’m catching up) I noted that I should also link to some related article I’d read on the New Statesman’s site. No idea what that was now.
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