Globalized Anger: The Enlightenment's Unwanted Child
**This episode originally aired April 18, 2017.
Trumpism. Hindu nationalism. ISIS. Chinese expansionism. People everywhere seem fed up with the status quo, and their anger and intolerance are finding political expression. But why?
Pankaj Mishra believes that the current unrest isn't about any so-called "clash of civilizations" between the enlightened and unenlightened. He thinks the globalized anger is the legitimate offspring of the Enlightenment itself. He speaks with Paul Kennedy about his provocative book, The Age of Anger: A History of the Present.
We should really look at the modern world as constituted by sameness and similarity rather than religious, cultural, theological difference. Obviously, people make all kinds of claims for their cultural and theological differences, whether it's members of Islamic State, or whether it's Christian fundamentalists or white nationalists, who are very insistent that their, race their religion, their nation, is unique and they are speaking on behalf of that — on behalf of a particular tradition.
But I think the task of the interpreter is to go beyond these statements, not take them at face value. And to see what are the ways in which these supposedly disparate and diverse peoples are connected. What is the experience they are responding to, and what is their worldview, their particular makeup?
And this is where I think terrorism, for instance, has always been a universal phenomenon. And behind that lies the temptation of violence as a kind of aesthetic, as a kind of existential experience — and you see that right from the 19th century onwards, as a way of asserting your individual self, as a way of empowering yourself. And we see that again and again in modern terrorism, whether it is the man, Omar Mateen, who in Florida was constantly Googling himself, even while he was killing people: he was trying to see what people were saying about him.
This kind of exhibitionism — this is an attempt to find yourself, and to become famous, and to be celebrated by other people.
Terrorism, in almost all cases, is not separate from the way we live our lives today, in the ways in which we think of ourselves and the wider world. And I try to make this clear in a variety of ways, including describing this friendship that sprung up between Timothy McVeigh and Ramzi Yousef, the first man to try to blow up the World Trade Center. They found themselves in adjacent cells in a supermax prison in Colorado, and discovered that they had far more in common with each other than with anyone else around them.
In fact, Yousef is on record as saying that: 'I've never met anyone who was more like me.' And this is a man who had spent most of his life moving through networks of various fanatics and radical Islamists. So it's really important to see how there are all these psychological affinities, emotional makeup, that connect these diverse figures — and how this experience of powerlessness, experience of humiliation, the desire for vengeance connect all these different sorts of figures.
We have to move away from thinking of terror or violence as being specific to a particular religious community, or a particular part of the world. We have seen this over and over again erupt in all parts of the world. And we have to locate the sources of this violence in specific social, economic factors: we cannot really bring in religious scriptures, or indeed stereotypes about religious communities into our frameworks of analysis. If we do that, we are making a huge mistake.
Pankaj Mishra is a London-based Indian writer and thinker who has written widely on history, politics, and literature. Age of Anger: A History of the Present is his ninth book. It's published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.
- America At War With Itself by Henry Giroux, published by City Lights Books, 2017.
- The View From Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior published by Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2015.
- How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System by Wolfgang Streeck published by Verso, 2016.
**This episode was produced by Naheed Mustafa.