The Will to Outrage

There is no racist like an antiracist: That is because he is obsessed by race, whose actual existence as often as not he denies. He looks at the world through race-tinted spectacles, interprets every event or social phenomenon as a manifestation of racism either implicit or explicit, and in general has the soul of a born inquisitor.

That is why a recent cartoon in the Australian newspaper aroused the ire—I suspect the simulated ire, the kind of pleasantly self-righteous ire that we can all so easily work ourselves into if and when we want—of the guardians of racism purity.

The cartoon in question was by Bill Leak (who is no respecter of persons), and it showed a group of impoverished Indians sitting on the ground trying to eat some shards of smashed-up solar panels that had been given to them by the United Nations. One of them says, “It’s no good, you can’t eat them.” Another replies, “Hang on, let me try one with a bit of mango chutney.” The title of the cartoon was “Aid à la Mode.”

It was obvious to me that this was intended as a satirical comment on the deliberations of the recent climate conference in Paris, and not on poor Indians. The cartoonist meant to imply that climate change was principally the concern of the spoiled political class of rich nations, and that efforts to reduce worldwide carbon emissions from energy consumption would not benefit the desperately poor, quite the reverse: Rather they would inhibit the breakneck industrial growth that has lifted and is lifting so many millions out of abject poverty in countries that not long ago were deeply impoverished. There is even the suspicion that rich nations want to inhibit the breakneck industrial growth not so much to save the planet as to preserve their position relative to poor nations. At the very least, the cartoon was a variation on the old English proverb that fine words butter no parsnips; but it could also plausibly be interpreted as a protest against dishonest Western moral and intellectual imperialism.

But that is not how the entrepreneurs of outrage chose to interpret it. Instead they chose to interpret it as a deliberate slur on the capacities and intelligence of ordinary Indians, who (they claimed) were depicted as so stupid and backward that they did not understand the benefits of harnessing and using solar energy. The fact that, even after so much rapid economic growth, millions of Indians would understandably be more concerned with obtaining their next meal than with the alleged fate of the planet was missed by the deliberate obtuseness of these entrepreneurs of outrage, an obtuseness motivated by their desire to “maintain their rage” (to quote a former Australian prime minister addressing his supporters on being deprived of office).

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