15 episodes

As violence against persons and things reaches a slow, catastrophic intensity worldwide; as the political and planetary become profoundly intertwined; as the deformity in our language thwarts our very ability to think about this suicidal moment in global politics and in human affairs as such, the brilliant thinker and scholar Aishwary Kumar (in LA) and editor-interlocutor Payal Puri (in New Delhi) begin a sustained, rigorous excavation of a deceptively simple question: What is up with democracy?

Taking as our starting point the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet, we create an alphabet of global political thought; a rigorous recuperation of the words and concepts without which we cannot grasp the power and the fragility of the democratic promise. Never has a podcast attempted to compress, in just 52 words — two for every letter of the alphabet — the human condition itself.

Mutant: The Democracy Podcast Institute for New Global Politics

    • Education
    • 5.0 • 1 Rating

As violence against persons and things reaches a slow, catastrophic intensity worldwide; as the political and planetary become profoundly intertwined; as the deformity in our language thwarts our very ability to think about this suicidal moment in global politics and in human affairs as such, the brilliant thinker and scholar Aishwary Kumar (in LA) and editor-interlocutor Payal Puri (in New Delhi) begin a sustained, rigorous excavation of a deceptively simple question: What is up with democracy?

Taking as our starting point the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet, we create an alphabet of global political thought; a rigorous recuperation of the words and concepts without which we cannot grasp the power and the fragility of the democratic promise. Never has a podcast attempted to compress, in just 52 words — two for every letter of the alphabet — the human condition itself.

    O | OCCUPATION

    O | OCCUPATION

    “We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings…our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives.” — Arendt, We Refugees (1943).
    What of oneself is lost—dispossessed—when one is possessed, owned and abandoned at the same time, by an occupier? Few thinkers open up the abyss of alienation that sprawls under the experience of occupation like Hannah Arendt. Contrary to what modern jurisprudence hangs its understanding of occupation on, for Arendt, the loss of home to conquest and “total domination” means not only a loss of land or territory but also an evisceration of one’s most private self—one’s sense of use in the world—so profound that occupation can mean nothing less than a total rupture, a borderless crime.
    Occupation is a colonial war without end, says Aishwary Kumar. “But it is not colonial only. It is a demolition of the mundane, a segregation so immovable that even the most routine acts—like Elizabeth Eckford’s resilient walk to a high school in Little Rock in her own town and country in 1957, surrounded by National Guard troops in Arkansas—feel like a crime. Were the troops that day protecting Eckford and her fellow students who became the heroic Little Rock Nine or were they reminding Black America of the sheer immovability of their old life even after the schools had been desegregated?”
    This is the vaporous heart of the history of occupation. So pervasive is it as a colonial, theological, and racial phenomenon that its ubiquity obscures from us a simple truth: that occupation, despite its violence and barbarism, is profoundly ambiguous in its form, structure, and effects. In that, it mirrors violence, without which it cannot be thought.
    Like violence, occupation is an anti-concept. And like violence, rather than helping us understand our political history and moral present systematically, it splinters our time—and our judgment—into a hundred pieces.
    “Occupation is not simply a military paradigm that leaves boot marks,” Aishwary reminds us. “It is a bearer, as W. E. B. Du Bois would say, of our double consciousness, as if we were moving freely, earning our livelihoods and performing our duties freely, right in the middle of a colonial disaster. A hesitation that hangs on my skin and in the air around me like a militarized punctuation.”
    Occupation is someone’s control given the indifferent masquerade of skill. Occupation teaches the occupied subject the skills to live and earn and survive, they say. Occupation is thus like caste, which in turn—and not by chance—is the oldest theory of occupation. “Even though caste looks simply like a practice of occupations,” Aishwary suggests, “caste is a nodal theory of occupation, because caste occupies and steals time itself. Where colonial occupation is a question of breadth and expanse, caste occupation is a question of depth and verticality, stretching generations. Where colonial occupation is a question of territoriality, caste occupation is a function of temporality.”
    Our episode on Occupation is perhaps Mutant’s most primal: rather than approaching occupation as a military concept, we deconstruct its strange political stability. We ask not what makes occupying forces so barbaric but instead what makes occupation so immovable? And what might become possible were it to be harnessed as a democratic strategy, an anchor for encampment, a new politics of immovability?

    • 1 hr 5 min
    R | RIGHT & RESENTMENT

    R | RIGHT & RESENTMENT

    Mutant’s first episode was an archaeology of democratic anger, and as we publish our 13th, almost midway through the Roman alphabet, we return to our beginnings; to a concept that silently saturates our political condition, bubbling corrosively in the shadow of that which it is too often conflated with, even though they belong to two fundamentally different orders.Resentment.Silence clouds our understanding of resentment no more and no less than it defines it. Because silence is endemic to the seething, destructive force of political and civic resentment.If anger has democratic potential, it is because, Aishwary reminds us, “anger has a language, and therefore a certain kind of epistemic clarity to it.” Resentment, on the other hand, is a concentration of an entire moral and psychological universe into the self, “where only the self and its injuries, its defeats — real or imagined, medieval or modern — matter to oneself.”“We cannot decipher or even fully discern resentment because it does not speak in its own language. It insinuates itself into languages of dignity, into languages of merit, into languages of self-made world-making.And from there on, indignant violence is merely a step away, including violence against one's own and one's self.” To understand resentment, then, is to probe the ambiguous place of self-injury, of self-knowledge, and thus of dignity in politics. “There's a moral impasse between the dignity of selfhood and the logic of resentment,” says Aishwary. “There’s no history of dignity without some resentful sense of defeatism in it.”We excavate the miasmic political and civic resentments lurking under the modern social contract worldwide, and explore how the Civil Rights tradition has so powerfully forced these resentments out into the open, made them speak, forced their rage into presence, and shined a light on their seething, dark view of the future.
    Art: Cain Slaying Abel by Jacopo Palma il Giovane

    • 1 hr 11 min
    H | HOPE

    H | HOPE

    Few words in our political lexicon are as fragile and as paradoxical as hope. Is hope a privilege of the smug? Or is it the helpless, last resort of the inconsolable? Whatever we might think of it, hope is easy to dismiss and yet impossible to fully leave. In fact, hope acquires its greatest gravity, or what B R Ambedkar might call its greatest force, precisely when the circumstances for its existence seem bleakest. This paradox reveals a fundamental truth about the human condition: that while hope may carry an air of smug power, or exemplify the cheap talk of the disengaged charlatan, real (and material) hope is embodied in those we consider weak, those who live at the threshold of the unlivable, those we have deemed most disposable. Hope is, to quote Ambedkar again, a “weak force.”“Hope seems like a thread you can hang by rather than change your existence with and through,” says Aishwary Kumar. “But precisely because it is a thread one hangs by, precisely because one refuses to let go of it, precisely because there is always hope even when there is not, hope becomes the oxygen of politics.” Its very fragility makes it, arguably, our greatest political and social commitment. 'Commitment' because hoping takes arduous, virtuous work; it requires the tilling of desolate lands.“Hope is not transcendent, it does not belong to the order of the miracle. It is a political virtue, perhaps the most human, most immanent one, divorced from any sense or solace that help will come from elsewhere,” says Aishwary. “Such hope cannot be individualistic. Hope becomes political, and politics becomes hopeful, only when there is a collective commitment to changing the world, and sometimes to simply surviving the world as we find it.”To think the Human, as we did in our last episode, means to think of—and with—hope, that we can bring another world into existence. “Surrounded by desolation, confronted with our greatest barbarisms, to have hope is to commit ourselves to movement, to getting back up again without being apologetic about our disappointment with humanity itself.”

    • 1 hr 2 min
    H | HUMAN

    H | HUMAN

    What does it mean to be human? This is a question at once timeless, yet often posited as an abstraction: as though being human and living as humans in the world can be disentangled from each other. But man's humanity is not something that exists in isolation from other species, from other human beings. “In that sense, the idea of the human rests fundamentally on the belief that to be human is to both be political and social,” says Aishwary Kumar. “If you were to be marooned in the middle of an island with absolutely no one, it would not matter whether you are human or not. In fact such a shipwreck of a solitude might blur the very boundary between the human and nonhuman, or starker still, between the human and inhuman.”In this age of desire to transcend the human — whether through the fetishistic pursuit of artificial intelligence or extravagant plans to leave earth in pursuit of life on a new planet — the question of what it means to be human returns to us not only with powerful moral urgency but as one that inflects our planetary future.Is there more to being human, Mutant asks, than the fact of being born human? Or have we surrendered our imagination to the idea of the human as a bare biological fact, subject to infinite mutations and yet capable of very finite morality? Enamored by artificial intelligence and dismissive of moral judgment? How do we today think about the abandonment of humans by other humans, in which technologies bring back the archaic with a new zeal — archaic because we have been here before — and yet are unprecedented in how they are fuelling a mutation of our political life, our moral capacities, and of the human itself?This is a dialogue foundational to the very idea of Mutant. “What is more irretrievably mutant, after all, than the human condition?”“At stake in this question,” says Aishwary, “is not only the mutating shape of our humanity — and our responsibility to it — but the forms of our coming barbarism too.”Art: Guernica, by Pablo Picasso
     

    • 1 hr 2 min
    P | PURITY & PUNISHMENT

    P | PURITY & PUNISHMENT

    Nothing frames our thinking at Mutant — the very name we have given this dictionary of concepts — more fundamentally than the human drive for purity. After all, by its very constitution, the figure of the mutant — the bearer of our mutations, our mixing, our transgressions, our struggle with finitude — is an antidote to the violence unleashed by political and moral purists. As we begin a decisive year for democracy worldwide, Mutant turns to this pernicious antithesis of our democratic faith: purity and its army of antipolitical high priests who today ransack the corridors and seats of democratic hope.Always sought in the abstract yet waged through sacrificial, sometimes silent practice on the body, purity is, in the words of Aishwary Kumar, “the great conceptual unsaid of the modern political tradition.” It is also, arguably, its most malevolent. Feverishly seeking a return to a past it imagines to be pure, the drive for purity is a steady, persistent, and predatory delusion that defaces everything it touches, including the future.This delirium for purity is not new. Instead, purity is the site of a timeless, archaic convergence between religion (which brings a theological charge to politics through its imagining of a human world that never existed and will never come to be), on the one hand, and technology, on the other, as we search for new planets on which to begin the human enterprise afresh, uncontaminated, pure. On earth meanwhile, we succumb to punishing obsessions with detoxification and purification of blood and nations, the desire to rid our bodies and our societies of ‘impurities’ brought by others. "Purity is the refusal of mutation, which is the only truth that marks our biological existence. Mutant — this dialogue at the end of democracy — is both our ode to human mutation and a task we must undertake in order to ask why theologians and demagogues of purity — those who love purity tests — are so afraid of it," says Aishwary.Photo: Sunderwala Mahal, 16th century mausoleum at Sunder Nursery, New Delhi, India by Payal Puri
     

    • 1 hr 5 min
    B | BABRI & BODY

    B | BABRI & BODY

    “There is nothing mere about symbols”, says the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. And “there is nothing mere about the struggle for architecture, about the strife over monuments. They are arenas of war over memory itself,” says Aishwary Kumar, as we undertake an unflinching examination of the event that marked the beginning of an irreversible torsion in the world’s largest democracy: the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India, on December 6, 1992. It was not just a matter of a medieval relic or a place of worship. It was the matter of political faith and its slow end. "Two defacements came in one stroke with the demolition,” Aishwary reminds us, “they desecrated the site and the date.” For December 6 is also the death anniversary of India’s majisterial constitutional architect and moral philosopher BR Ambedkar.
    To think about the demolition of the Babri Masjid today is to think about the use and abuse of bodies and memory. It is to think about democracy’s symbolic and real suicides. It is to think about our pact with Brutalism. At once a name for an architectural technique and a mode of total bodily domination, Brutalism today is the very language in which majorities worldwide deface the faith in democracy.
    In the unfolding history of that brutal defacement, Babri is not mere event. It is a political paradigm and parable of our time.
    An urgent and timeless dialogue continues.

    • 55 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
1 Rating

1 Rating

Top Podcasts In Education

The Ranveer Show
BeerBiceps aka Ranveer Allahbadia
20 Minute Books
20 Minute Books
Raj Shamani's Figuring Out
Raj Shamani
The Ranveer Show हिंदी
BeerBiceps
TED Talks Daily
TED
The Mel Robbins Podcast
Mel Robbins