AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guest for the hour, Arundhati Roy, the winner of the Booker Prize for her first novel The God of Small Things. Her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was long-listed for that same prize in 2017. Now, a collection of her nonfiction writing is coming out called My Seditious Heart. It is over a thousand pages and will be out in June. Last night, you gave an impassioned address at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater. The address that you gave was called the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, and you titled it “A Place for Literature.” Can you share a little of it with us?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Sure. As the ice caps melt, as oceans heat up and water tables plunge, as we rip through the delicate web of interdependence that sustains life on earth, as our formidable intelligence leads us to breach the boundaries between humans and machines and our even more formidable hubris undermines our ability to connect the survival of our planet to our survival as a species, as we replace art with algorithms and stare into a future in which most human beings may not be needed to participate in or be remunerated for economic activity, at just such a time we have the steady hands of white supremacists in the White House, new imperialists in China and neo-Nazis once again massing on the streets of Europe, Hindu nationalists in India, and a host of butcher princes and lesser dictators in other countries to guide us into the unknown.
"The U.S. government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state"While many of us dreamt that another world is possible, these folks were dreaming, too. And it is their dream, our nightmare, that is perilously close to being realized. Capitalism’s gratuitous wars and sanctioned greed have jeopardized the planet and filled it with refugees. Much of the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of the government of the United States. Seventeen years after invading Afghanistan, after bombing it into the Stone Age with the sole aim of toppling the Taliban, the U.S. government is back in talks with the very same Taliban. In the interim, it has destroyed Iraq, Libya and Syria. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives to war and sanctions. A whole region has descended into chaos, ancient cities pounded into dust.
Amidst the desolation and the rubble, a monstrosity called Daesh, ISIS, has been spawned. It has spread across the world, indiscriminately murdering ordinary people who had absolutely nothing to do with America’s wars. Over these last few years, given the wars it has waged and the international treaties it has arbitrarily reneged on, the U.S. government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state. And now resorting to the same old scare tactics, the same tired falsehoods and the same old fake news about nuclear weapons, it is gearing up to bomb Iran. That will be the biggest mistake it has ever made.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Arundhati, I would like to now turn to another issue, which you also raised in your lecture last night, and that is climate change. Another award-winning Indian writer, Amitav Ghosh, has written about climate change in his most recent book titled The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. Ghosh discusses two key publications on climate change that were written in 2015—the Encyclical on Environment and Climate Change by Pope Francis and the Paris Climate Agreement.
Ghosh points out several differences in the two texts, writing that the Encyclical doesn’t hesitate to “criticize the prevalent paradigms of our era. Most of all it is fiercely critical of the idea of infinite or unlimited growth.” He goes on to say, quote, “In the text of the Paris Agreement, by contrast, there is not the slightest acknowledgment that something has gone wrong with our dominant paradigms. The current paradigm of perpetual growth is enshrined at the core of the text of the Paris Agreement,” Ghosh writes.
Now during your lecture last night, you said that those most responsible for creating the problem, the problem of climate change “will see to it that they profit from the solution that they propose.” So could you elaborate on that?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, the thing is for me, for so many years, people—let’s say in India—have been fighting this very idea of progress, of infinite growth, of this form of development which has resulted now in what we call jobless growth, what everybody knows to be the case. You have nine individuals who own the same amount of wealth as the bottom 500 million. This is what infinite growth has led to—infinite growth for some people.
So I remember years ago, I wrote an essay which ended by saying, “Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?” Because I think that’s ultimately the question. Can you look at the mountain and not just calculate its mineral worth? Can you understand that a mountain has much more than just the value of the minerals in it? And there is—it’s a civilizational issue, right? That for people who have lived there, have known that mountain, they know it sustains not just the people. It’s not just a question of who is getting displaced. But how does, for example, that bauxite mountain—which stores water and waters the plains all around it, which grows the food, which sustains a whole population—but it’s meant for a corporation that is given the mining contract. It’s just, how much does that bauxite cost? Can we store it and trade it on the futures market?
So this idea that you will never question your idea of progress, you will never question the comfort of the Global North. And by Global North—now and the elite South, and the downtrodden North, you know? It is like what I said, that the elite of the world have all seceded into outer space, and they have a country up there, and they look down and say, “What is our water doing in their rivers, and what’s our timber doing in their forests?”
So there is a psychotic refusal to understand that the survival of the species is connected to the survival of the planet, you know? Because this sort of progress is a kind of church now. It is not amenable to reason. So it is very difficult to know how any real conversation can happen, which is why I said yesterday that the only real conversation that is happening is a conversation in which the language around climate change is being militarized. Because the U.N., underneath every conflict which appears to be a conflict between a tribe and a tribe, or a country and a country, is increasingly climate change, is increasingly the shrinking of resources and people collecting together to claim them and therefore, the growth of this kind of nationalistic or identity or tribal politics.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you make a connection between the issue of climate change and the issue of the growing inequality in the world? Certainly, it is massive in the United States. And in India, the growing inequality has increased enormously. You have this Oxfam report that just came out revealing billionaire fortunes in India increased by 35% last year as the poorest remain in debt. But that connection, that link of capitalism, between the two?
"That is what capitalism has become—a form of religion that will brook no questioning"ARUNDHATI ROY: The connection is just capitalism, isn’t it? I mean, it’s pretty clear now. That any sort of attempt—I will give you a very good example. Like a month or two ago, the Supreme Court of India, based on a case that a wildlife NGO had filed, said that two million indigenous people should be evicted from their forest homes with immediate effect. Why? Because that forest needs to be preserved as a sanctuary. But when, for the last 25 years, people were fighting against projects which were decimating millions of hectares and acres of forest, nobody cared. And it was the same people that were being displaced. Then it was for progress; now it is for conservation. But it is always the same people who have to pay the price.
And when you are talking about evicting two million of the poorest people, stripping them of everything they ever had, there is little outrage. When the Congress party announced that it is going to have a scheme in which 20% of the poorest people will get a living wage, everyone just exploded. Like, how can you think of doing this? Because it strikes at the core of unregulated capitalism. Any sense of talk of equality or justice seems to just have the same effect that blasphemy has in religious societies. That is what capitalism has become—a form of religion that will brook no questioning.