Sudhir Venkatesh, a Columbia University professor, is an acclaimed sociologist in the U.S. who owes his reputation to his work on the street gangs of Chicago.
No Bandhs and Hartals in America
In today’s edition of the New York Times, Sudhir has an op-ed piece on an interesting subject that has often baffled us – Why is it that despite all the talk of rage and anger over Wall Street’s shenanigans there’s been only passivity all around and no real protests, no rioting or violence.
Folks, if this were India 10,000 buses would have been burnt by now, a dozen bundhs and hartals called, a mountain of stones hurled, universities, colleges and schools closed, Rasta Rokos organized, police would have fired on the mob, curfews imposed…you get the message about collective violent action, na.
Au contraire, in America there’s not a pipsqueak of real protest in the streets despite all the protestations of anger over the bizarre spectacle of executives at failed financial firms lavishing massive bonuses upon themselves.
Sudhir cites several reason for the absence of any riots in America including alienation from our neighbors, lack of trust, anger fatigue, the role of technology, high personal and household debt et al.
To be sure, Sudhir is not the first social scientist to address alienation from our neighbors. Other academics like Robert ‘Bowling Alone‘ Putnam have addressed the depletion of social capital in America over the last few decades and its harmful effects (aren’t we seeing that now).
Disappointingly, Sudhir does not touch upon the punitive laws that make it all but impossible to hold any kind of large civic protests these days in America. Time and again, the heavy-handed police action in New York City (before the Republican convention a few years back) and elsewhere have demonstrated that they will stoop to any extent (including use of violence) to crush any form of even incipient mass protest. After all with their high salaries and plush overtime allowances, the police has a big stake in the continuance of the status quo.
Here’s an excerpt from Sudhir’s op-ed piece in the New York Times:
And in todayâ€™s cities, even when we share intimate spaces, we tend to be quite distant from one another. Mass disturbances are not highly orchestrated ballets. They require spontaneous interaction, a call and response among unidentified cries of rage, the possibility for a unified mass to form from a gathering of loosely connected individuals.
But these days, technology separates us and makes more of our communication indirect, impersonal and emotionally flat. With headsets on and our hands busily texting, we are less aware of one anotherâ€™s behavior in public space. Count the number of people with cellphones and personal entertainment devices when you walk down a street. Self-involved bloggers, readers of niche news, all of us listening to our personal playlists: we narrowly miss each other. Effective rebellions require that we sing in unison.
….To restore our social bonds….Weâ€™ll also have to accept that anger, real anger, has a role to play in producing collective catharsis and fostering healing.