Last week was an eventful one on multiple fronts, though really they’re all of a piece. The dust-up in the London Review of Books between the neo-imperialist British historian Niall Ferguson and the prolific Indian writer Pankaj Mishra spurred me to write a critique – not of Ferguson, who has been amply critiqued (most amply of all by Mishra), but rather of Mishra. The broader purpose of my essay “Has Pankaj Mishra Ever Been to South Dakota?”, published this week in the Indian magazine Open, is to ask people worldwide who see themselves and/or their countries as victims of Western imperialism to remember with compassion that odious system’s other victims, namely the ordinary and provincial people of the West itself.
There’s more to say on that than I have space for here; suffice it to say that I’ll be continuing to write on that subject. It must sound cheap or glib for an American to assert that we’re all in it together, but the millions of American families whose homes are in foreclosure are not equivalent to the power that’s killing civilians in Waziristan with unmanned drone aircraft. The fact that Americans themselves will soon be on the receiving end of drone surveillance is not something from which Pakistanis or anyone else should be taking any pleasure or satisfaction.
Meanwhile, the slugger Albert Pujols made a most peremptory non-verbal statement to the people of St. Louis, a venerable and very serious baseball town, by signing a gargantuan 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Actually, the statement Pujols and his agent, and the powers that run America’s sometime national pastime, are making ramifies far beyond St. Louis, indeed beyond baseball, which is why I feel a need to devote next week’s entire column to it. Watch this space.
And on the streets of the real America, I witnessed the dismantling of the Occupy Seattle encampment on the grounds of Seattle Central Community College. My friend Jeb Wyman, who teaches at Seattle Central, emailed and phoned Friday morning urging me to join him at a teach-in that afternoon. The college was planning to evict the encampment over the weekend, so this would likely be my last chance to see the Occupy movement in the flesh, at least in its original incarnation.
Various criticisms have been made of the Occupy movement, by its enemies as well as by some who share many of its goals. Some of these are legitimate; others are distractions or even lies. What isn’t feasible is to dismiss the movement entirely. Since September it has touched a very sensitive national nerve and genuinely redirected the public conversation in America, not definitively (yet), but irreversibly. As we slouch ominously into a thoroughly uninspiring election year, the establishment that presumes to control the conversation and everything else in America has been put on notice.
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