The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire


This is a book of essays by Booker Prize winning author Arundhati Roy.

Some of the essays are spoken about in The Chequebook and the Cruise Missile, the book of interviews addressed in my previous post.

Roy’s views are both insightful and scathing. She pulls no punches when writing about the effects of the political ideologies driving the United States and other western governments.

As she starts one of the essays (first presented as a speech to the Riverside Church in Harlem), she says:

Some of you will think it bad manners for a person like me, officially entered into the Big Book of Modern Nations as an ‘Indian citizen’, to come here and criticise the US government. Speaking for myself, I’m no flag-waver, no patriot, and I’m fully aware that venality, brutality, and hypocrisy are imprinted on the leaden soul of every state. But when a country ceases to be merely a country and becomes an empire, then the scale of operations changes dramatically. So may I clarify that tonight I speak as a subject of the American Empire? I speak as a slave who presumes to criticise her king.

I’ve enjoyed both of Roy’s books that have marked the beginning of my reading for this year, however this one would be my personal preference, being an example of Roy’s own writings, where her observations and ideas are considered and crafted in a way that the book of interviews could not be.

I’d recommend both, but if it came to choosing between the two I’d go for The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire.

Below are links to:

1) an hour long video of Arundhati Roy’s speech: “Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy”, included as an essay in the book. (note, patience may be needed, the video can be slow to load)

And also the title essay can be found here, as a magazine article:


17 thoughts on “The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire

  1. I want to add that the imperialism extends to an unexpected realm. I think it’s true that war is perpetuated to keep arms manufactures in business or at the least to clear out inventory. It is also true that people are displaced from their homes and their livelihoods (WHICH DOESN’T HAVE TO BE JOBS) for development projects and businesses. By the way, that happens to a less extreme extent here in the U.S.A. Eminent Domain has been used, in recent years and not prior, to take away private property for other private uses rather than the intended reason for eminent domain provision (communal purposes like damns or highways for the general welfare) in the Constitution. At least the rank-and-file people here get some kind of compensation (even if they are forced I to it). Indigenous peoples are often completely ignored. But here is the worrisome addition I want to bring up: the concept of offsetting… I think that’s the right word. Polluters can offset their pollution by investing money in something that is considered green. This can be good or bad, but what I want to convey is that “green” things aren’t always good for people. Corporations can take over tracts of land [anywhere on the planet, not necessarily related to where they are in operation] so they can claim they are doing good things (owning grass and trees) for the environment that “balance” the icky things they do. So, when this happens, indigenous populations can be displaced for a corporation’s interests even if the corporation doesn’t build something on the land. This might not be seen as a clear problem because no one with a title [which “Indians” of any sort never had] lost land, and no one with a “job” lost a job.


    From the sixth comment at the above-linked article:


    If you look at the major achievements that have happened in, say, Brazil, in terms of getting indigenous territories under legal protection (proven to be the best form of forest conservation), as well as improvements in reducing deforestation, these have all happened through government action and regulation, and without a cent of carbon market money having been required. If you can’t draw any obvious conclusions from that, well, maybe your own position is purely ideological and not evidential.

    “I don’t know how many times it has had to be said on this web-site, but anyone with any knowledge of the history of environmental protection (in the widest sense) will know that everything has been achieved through government regulation, with one or two very minor exceptions.”

    {I don’t know, absolutely, if that conclusion is fully correct. I do tend to think it’s at least largely the most import aspect of making a difference in reality.}

  3. Thank you for linking to this author/speaker, Arundhati Roy, speaking at the Riverside Church [I will also look into the church]. Her speech is chilling. She’s so eloquent. It made me cry to hear logic and sense. We hear less logic and sense day by day. Even in my personal life, the strongman thinks like the “old imperialists” of which she speaks. The narcissism is permeating every pore… well, not every…

    I lost my connection a little over halfway through. I will go back to it. But I will make a comment now on one subject I become concerned about every time it comes up. The media (or independent press). It is true that a lot of the independent press is not independent. It does rightly fit in her flow of thought to say “independent” ironically. I worry, though, that those who manipulate the press also love for us to hate the press.

    It is possible to get useful true news. I’m glad you have access to DEMOCRACY NOW. I would also suggest people find both Rachel Maddow* and Chris Hayes on MSNBC. Its too easy and wrong and harmful to conclude we can’t get enough information for proper perspective. However… in the time period she’s addressing, back in 2003, it is probably close to exactly true that the news presenter she is being aired by was “it” (almost).

    I think, also though, that one can SEE that things are off if one is paying attention in the propagandist-leaning outlets. For instance, I remember watching FOX when the invasion of Iraq started. And the American influx into Afghanistan. I’d been a conservative for decades, all my adult and even late childhood life (I wasn’t of political mind as an infant or toddler or elementary school student… although it was starting in elementary school). I saw that proper steps were not happening. This is because I had understanding to go on, from a long-term attention span. I’m saddened that evangelical Christians get farmed into a political steamroller that has no context of principle and truth. They believe what they’re told.

    * It can be hard to have to think about a particular topic that sometimes comes up here, but that’s like the fly in the ointment (a non-infected fly that’s icky while the ointment is still good). The “right” has USED abortion for decades to repel people from other venues.

    1. I understand that the Riverside Church had some connection with Martin Luther King. I’m sure I read that he spoke there, but I don’t recall whether it was a one-off event or he spoke there regularly.

      Today we do have access to more independent news sources, but how many would take the time to find them and to refer to them? I have only recently started accessing Democracy Now, after trying to find information about Naomi Klein.

      How many still rely on the more well-known “news” sources, those controlled by Murdoch and others with similar big business interests.

  4. How many would take the time…

    Republicans NEED to take the time.

    We have found out from the email exposure (he let out two of three relevant years) of the governor of Michigan that he apparently didn’t know Flint was being run by an imposed emergency manager (which meant ultimately that the governor was in charge). He said to someone in a message that he didn’t understand why Flint’s water was the state’s responsibility. I had wondered why, I think yesterday, he made a public statement that included the “local” government (as in county and city) as supposedly responsible. But if he could get information from outside the party echo chamber, he would have known. Instead, everything done to save money has to be good and right.

    Then reality hits.

    I have to give him credit; what I heard him say on CBS Overnight News is now giving the impression he “gets” the gravity of it all.

  5. Okay, here it is [typed out by me]: “You know, with all the talk about ‘socialism’ among Democrats on the campaign trail lately, there are actually a lot of people on the right looking at how resources and capital are distributed, in this country of ours, and thinking: You know, there’s gotta be a better way.

    “….Right to Rise raised more than a hundred million dollars last year on the belief that a Jeb Bush candidacy was a safe bet. But as both the NY Times and Politico report today, as Bush continues to flounder on the campaign trail, backers are placing some of the blame on Right to Rise and its inability to sell their candidate. At issue, concern over spending… on things like this: a video mailer that plays a fifteen-minute Jeb Bush documentary sent to supporters and potential donors. And, as Politico reports, multiple advisors to the Right to Rise superpac concede privately that the forty million spent on positive ads aimed at telling Bush’s story yielded no tangible dividends.

    “Tens of millions of dollars spent, all meant to get Jeb Bush elected president. He currently is polling on average at around five percent. As one Bush supporter told Politico, ‘You might as well light all this money on fire.’ Meanwhile, in Michigan, lawmakers have approved tens of millions of dollars in emergency funds to help address the crisis in Flint. Today, the EPA issued an emergency order announcing the resignation of its regional manager. As emails released by Governor Rick Sneider’s office revealed, the city under the control of a state-appointed ’emergency manager’ switched its water source to save money. And they switched to that water source without corrosion control treatment [often called a hundred dollars a day], which is what prevents lead from leeching into the system. The result of them doing that is that tens of thousands of people were exposed to lead poisoning, including nearly nine thousand children under the age of six.

    “The city is still coming to realize the human and financial cost of that decision. It certainly outweighs the money they were going to save… which the emails this week showed amounted to one million to two million dollars a year. Yes. Just 1-2 million dollars per year could have prevented this human catastrophe.

    “I’m not sure how many video mailable videos that buys, but to put this in some sort of perspective, imagine if the donors to Jeb Bush’s superpac — instead of lighting their money on fire — had been approached about doing something useful with it. They could have kept Flint on its original water source for up to a century. That was never going to happen in the first place, and it’s too late to go back in time and prevent what happened in Flint, but maybe there’s a lesson for the deep-pocketed plutocrats who’ve allowed their money to be burned by Jeb Bush and his allies: Please, for the love if God, find something actually socially useful to do with your money. Because, if you don’t, socialism’s gonna start looking a lot better to a whole lotta’ people.

  6. Hmm, I apologize. I thought I had shared a link to a video and said I wished I could find a transcript. Maybe I mistakenly posted that in a different thread. I know you haven’t been able to see videos from msnbc, Tim. I said I might make a transcript myself on another day.

    Here is the video link I thought I had posted (transcript now in previous post): <a href="http://” target=”_blank”>
    It’s called “You might as well light all this money on fire.” From the 21st of this month.

    Here’s a different video link, from the 25th. I have to take back my wish to give the governor “credit.” He’s most interested in blaming other people and hiring a pr firm for himself. And Jeb Bush is clueless as usual. This one’s not important enough to type up.
    <a href="<a href="http://” target=”_blank”><a href="http://

  7. Hi Marleen, you did share a link in a previous comment, but the link didn’t seem to work. I tried to find the video for myself, but couldn’t find it.

  8. I really wish the links would work for you. They do work for me…
    and, I would guess, other people in the U.S.and maybe other places.

    1. Hi Marleen, The two recent links you gave work ok – the link you gave earlier didn’t bring up anything. When I copied and pasted the link, it just brought up a google list of potential sites that were clearly had nothing to do with any video you would have posted. Therefore I didn’t release the link through moderation.

  9. Well, it was the first time I had gotten a link from that site in the manner I had just discovered. So, there’s a good chance I did it wrong that time.

    Glad I now got it right.

  10. Referring back to my January 22nd post: as it turns out, people are wanting two more more years of emails rather than one more year of email so, the (R) governor of Michigan has released half, not two-thirds of the relevant email communications. His process of deciding beforehand is at issue.


    Year-old document shows Snyder admin knew…

    01/29/16 09:20 AM—UPDATED 01/29/16 12:58 PM
    [See full article at link at the very top of this post.]


    So, let me get this straight. In January of last year, the Snyder administration told Flint residents their water was safe to drink. Two weeks earlier, the Snyder administration told its own employees in Flint – in writing – that “the public water does not meet treatment requirements.”

    Rachel asked on the show, “If you lived in Flint, would you trust the state government to fix the problem there?”

    As for the national focus on the crisis, Flint came up in a Republican presidential debate for the first time last night, when one of the moderators asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), “Your colleague, Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan is under fire – he and his administration – for the Flint, Michigan water crisis and the botched response to it. How would you have handled that?”

    The GOP candidate responded, “Well, you’ve got to be on top of it right away. And, you know, I don’t know all the details of what Rick Snyder has done.” His answer went on to talk about problem-solving in general, without mentioning any Flint-related specifics.

    Kasich isn’t alone, of course. Marco Rubio recently seemed to have no idea that the Flint story even existed.

    ….* [This link is specifically to a video, not an article.]
    Now it looks like there will be a hearing in the Republican-dominated-and-led U.S. House of Representatives. The Republican governor isn’t being called in to testify. [This is another video.]
    The mayor (who the law of Michigan says has no authority — just because — because the governor arbitrarily said this officially as to any mayor for Flint) has researched a workable plan based on what goes on elsewhere in Michigan.

  12. I don’t know if you’ve seen “The Big Short” (a movie that makes some understanding of monetary/financial [I might not have exactly the right words there] maneuvering more accessible), but the guy who ruminated and crunched numbers in the office and listened to music is now investing in water (not sure since when). Water has been a concern for at least a decade. The greedy class is trying to figure out how to own it.

    1. I haven’t seen it yet, but would like to see it when I get the opportunity. I might consider reading the book though, which hopefully will give a more genuine picture of the events, without the Hollywood tailoring.

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