It’s an easily verifiable unpalatable fact that there are oppressed and oppressors in our world. That we should help those oppressed is both a moral obligation and a practical necessity because it has enormous implications for social welfare. But manufacturing discontent out of thin air is neither morally right or practically useful. It is more than just wrong-headed: it harms precisely those who are the least able to bear any more injustices. Yet, there’s an industry solely dedicated to manufacturing discontent against the very instruments and institutions which hold the promise of alleviating material human suffering.
P. Sainath is a celebrated journalist who has spent decades reporting on the heartbreaking condition of the poorest of the poor in rural India. He has done what few of us would dare to do: live for significant time with the wretched of India, the hundreds of millions of poor subsistence farmers of India, and report their conditions accurately. I first came to know about his work through his book, “Everybody Loves a Good Drought” and met him when he came to UC Berkeley (in the late 1990s if I recall correctly) to promote his book.
As a reporter on the ground, he’s good. He’s very, very good. He tells it like he sees it. If you can’t actually go to the so-called grassroots, you have Mr Sainath to observe and report. As a journalist reporting facts he is as good as you need one to be. However, if you need to understand the implications of the facts he reports, you will have to look elsewhere. Sainath is a good journalist but his understanding of the economic causes of the problems he observes is abysmally inaccurate and fundamentally flawed. Read him for his reportage but when it comes to the implications of the data he reports, and his analysis of the causes and what’s to be done to fix the problems, it is best to ignore him. Unfortunately, most of his audience are a bit more clueless than he is and they get taken in by his rhetoric.
Here’s Sainath’s talk at the University of Texas, Austin, of 6th April 2011 titled, “Mass Media vs Mass Reality: From Farm to Field to Wall Street Deals.”
It’s an instructive talk. The main lesson I take away from it is that there’s much profit in the manufacturing discontent industry. I wish it were a cottage industry but unfortunately it isn’t. It’s much more than that: it’s as much of a multinational global industry as the multinationals that it so vehemently opposes. It seeks to promote and sell its branded products — discontent and victim-hood which I wrote about in my last post — globally, and its captains seek its profits as assiduously as any CEO of a multinational selling soap.
I want to deconstruct that talk in a bit. For now, I leave you to take a look at it. As I said, it is instructive and well worth the time. The lesson can be titled, “How to misinterpret the world and make a killing at the same time.” I don’t wish to impute dishonorable motives on his part. The most charitable interpretation is that he is misguided. Perhaps he is simply ignorant and to a degree that he is ignorant of his own ignorance.