Reading this book reminded me of the Oxford Union debate on – ‘Extremism in the Defence of Liberty is no Vice’ I had watched a few months ago. I was particularly influenced by the points made by one of the students – Natasha Rachman.
In a world of capitalism, mass surveillance and perpetual warfare, we often give into the common narratives perpetuated by the state and its puppets. ‘The Things That Can And Cannot Be Said’ challenges every aspect of the normal public discourse.
The world is torn apart by ‘ill-advised, under-thought and immoral wars’. People have been denied basic humanity ‘not just through active perpetuation of oppression but through passive neglect that allows oppression to continue in every society around the world.’ Yet, we speak of them so casually and indifferently.
In the case of Edward Snowden, what the US tables as treason can equally be termed as civil disobedience or defiance. ‘The way we chose to apply labels to people’s actions is heavily contingent on the way we’ve implicitly already assessed their actions. And this is especially true to acts that do not reflect the dominant norms of society.’
Who defines what can be said? Who defines normal? The most powerful, the most dominant people in society, the powers that be – most importantly, the state. ‘Many acts that are termed extreme go beyond what we currently define as normal, the status quo and challenges the powers that be.’
History does not seem to have taught us the tough lessons we ought o have learnt from it. The same old policies, in much more palatable form, is being served worldwide by states.
The book explains, through thoughtful conversations, how states have drawn contours of what is and is not acceptable. From the wars to humanitarian aid to, from economic sanctions to the quest for human rights -Arundhati Roy and John Cusack blandly expose the hypocrisies and excesses of the state. They seek to change the very nature of the hollow conversations we usually have in our public discourse.