21 January 2017

On Obama, Education and Slavery

For a person who normally critiques globalization and the undue influence of the west over the rest, I should not be adding more attention to Barack Obama’s end of presidency than to what is already a sycophantic prostration being offered by global media.
But yet, I feel that one must not let this moment pass, without a due test of western democracy, which the USA represents; of the notion of equality, which Obama being a black president represents; and of modern liberal education, which is being touted as the means to that equality, but which to my mind is the blight of modernity.
Please allow me to explain.
Obama’s becoming president was instantly hailed as “even a black man can be president”; the liberal dog-whistle being “look, this is equality”. But the reality was that Obama was president, yes, but not a black man at all. That was not possible actually, because long before he became president, he was ‘educated’, and the liberal educating machine made him a brainwashed modern person, erasing his racial, cultural and ethical roots.
Obama’s presidency can throw no light on what it is for a black American to be free, or for that matter, it can throw no light on what it is for a human being to be free. His successful modern education and his successful election simply meant that he was now ready for the modern system – one may say he became a black Bill Clinton (though personally, a far better person).
I am not saying this simply because of his broken promises or weak performance where it really mattered – black incarceration, government surveillance, curtailment of civil liberties, bailing out of big corporate banks in cahoots with lobbyists, etc. – I am referring to a deeper problem as indicated in the criticisms by many liberal intellectuals in the USA. Larry Lessig, well-known academic and political activist, for example, has said this:
“Clinton saw the job of president to be to take a political system and do as much with it as you can. It may be a lame horse. It may be an intoxicated horse. But the job is not to fix the horse. The job is to run the horse as fast as you can… the game Obama has played has been exactly the same.. The problem with this administration is that it is too conventional”.
I see this malperformance from Obama, whom many consider as a good person, as a direct result of modern education. Such an education makes one toe the path of the “conventional” – it can make even a good man conform, but it cannot set any man free. It appears that barring a few brilliant iconoclasts, the elite black people in the USA, of which Obama is a symbol, are simply ‘educated’, they are not free. Without freedom, what equality can there be? And without freedom and equality, what democracy are we speaking about?
Modern education in a way is not unlike Christian conversion: the black man has to become like the white man, the Indian has to become like the European, the villager has to become like the city cosmopolitan. There is a superficial aura of voluntariness in this, but, like with religious conversion, modern education is a very forceful and wounding act.
This is not a new development for us. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Mohammed Ali Jinnah to Subhash Chandra Bose to Bhimrao Ambedkar, our nation has suffered the effects of a conformist western education. Even though these four luminaries may have disagreed with one another, all their arguments were within the then conventional western framework of capitalist and socialist and fascist; they were all, in the end, merely educated, they were not free actors at all. The one man who embraced true freedom, Mahatma Gandhi, has been forgotten, and his guidance on education and economics stands ignored.
Today’s crisis in humanity is about swatantrata, loosely translated as freedom, and this cannot come without a transformation in our moral imagination. And this moral imagination, I feel, cannot come from modern education based on western civilization of the last 400 years. To fire that imagination, we have to look away from this modern framework, we have to look within.

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