Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Arundhati Roy on Life after Democracy

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…or, as Roy poses in her essay about the dangers of democracy, “What have we done to democracy?”:

What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?

It is a question she poses to already-democratized nations, highlighting the fusion between democratic ideals and the free market. Roy, the author of the Booker Prize-winning God of Small Things and the edifying treatise An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, explores how the founding ideals of democracy–literal terms like “freedom” and “progress”–have been co-opted by capitalism. No longer is freedom about exercising individual rights, but exercising the freedom to purchase. No longer does progress invoke civilization’s push toward a greater society; instead, we consider progress a purely technological thing. As Roy states:

Today, words like “progress” and “development” have become interchangeable with economic “reforms,” “deregulation,” and “privatization.” Freedom has come to mean choice. It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant.

In general, Roy asks these questions of all modern democracies. More specifically, she turns her eye toward her own country, India, and its difficult dichotomy of sudden wealth and overwhelming poverty. “Two decades of ‘Progress’ in India,” she writes, “has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it — and a much, much vaster, desperate underclass.” How does India’s woes mirror other nations’?

The author continues her exploration with brief excursions into Kashmir and the Siachen Glacier, an example of military waste and poor climate regulation. Looks like this essay is an excerpt from Roy’s newest work, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.

I find it interesting how Roy has turned her powerful, clarion voice from fiction (and fiction’s imaginary worlds) to nonfiction, which has greater shelf life and, in terms of readership, greater impact. Reading her earlier excursion into nonfiction, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, I remember being taken aback by her unflinching gaze and her impassioned voice. Roy sees injustice in the world and is not afraid to face it.

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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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