Capitalism: a ghost story

This is another book of essays by Arundhati Roy.

While alot of the issues she addresses are focused on Indian politics, it is clear that the Indian examples she writes about are symptoms of what’s happening globally. While my knowledge of those Indian cases is limited to what I’ve read in her work, the general principles shown through those cases are very familiar – even if their “Western” manifestation is different.

I’ve read a lot of Roy’s work this year and it probably seems dismissive to say this is more of the same – but it would be wrong to interpret that “sameness” in a negative way. Instead I see it as an indication that the problems she raises continue and they aren’t limited to familiar places involving familiar people.

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:

The Chequebook & the Cruise-Missile

chqbook cruise

A collection of interviews with Arundhati Roy, conducted by David Barsamian between 2001 and 2003.

Topics discussed include the political influence of big business; the uncompensated displacement of 1000s due to the building of dams in India; the continuing effects and influences of Imperialism in its multiple forms; and the role played by the media.

A few excerpts:

I’m still taken aback at the extent of indoctrination and propaganda in the United States. It is as if people there are being reared in a sort of altered reality…

Osama Bin Laden and George Bush are both terrorists. They are both building international networks that perpetrate terror and devastate people’s lives. Bush with the Pentagon, the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank. Bin Laden with Al Qaeda. The difference is that nobody elected Bin Laden. Bush was elected ( in a manner of speaking), so U.S. citizens are more responsible for his actions than Iraqis are for the actions of Saddam Hussein or Afghans are for the Taliban. And yet hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been killed, either by economic sanctions or cruise missiles, and we are told that these deaths are the result of “just wars”.

Terrorism has become te excuse for states to do just what they please in the name of protecting citizens against terrorism. Hundreds of people are being held in prisons under the antiterrorism law in India. Many of them are poor people, Dalits and Adivasis, who are protesting against “development projects” that deprive them of their lands and livelihoods. Poverty and protest are being conflated with terrorism.

Referring to the timing of the Iraq war, a Bush administration spokesperson said, “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August”. They were asking themselves, what’s the best season to introduce this new product? When should you start the ad campaign? When should you actually launch it? Today, the crossover between Hollywood and the U.S. military is getting more and more promiscuous.

War is also an economic necessity now. A significant section of the U.S. economy depends on the sale and manufacture of weapons. There has to be a turnover. You can’t have cruise missiles lying around on the factory floor. The economies of Europe and the United States depend on the sale and manufacture of weapons. This is a huge imperative to go to war.