Cunningham: Do you feel that writers have a moral responsibility, a political responsibility, and if so how does it manifest itself in our work?
Ulitskaya: I have had quite a long journey, and from carefree and joyful writing I gradually began to notice that my words matter and that this moral responsibility does exist. With years it becomes an even heavier load for me but it has to be said that I have accepted it. I have accepted this challenge. It is very hard.
Cunningham: Yes. Could you talk about how your sense of moral responsibility is in your mind, as you and I know, it is mostly just the days and the days and the days. How does your sense of moral responsibility live with your need to write a sentence and another sentence, and another sentence?
Ulitskaya: You know, during the last ten years, I have had to constantly step out of my writing to do journalism. To have a conversation with the public, to have a conversation with my contemporaries and I cannot say that I consider this my purpose, and I do not even think that I do it well.
Nevertheless, circumstances force me to make statements that are far removed from my own literature about the moral, social, and political matters. This does not give me joy.
Cunningham: Yeah. I understand. If this is not too personal, could you talk a little bit about what you find most difficult to write about? If it is too personal, just slap me and I go away.
Ulitskaya: You know, no, no. This is a very good question. And I, of course, think about it constantly. The thing is that each of us, not just the people who write, but every person, has a limit where they stop. Stop in their thoughts, stop in conversations. And for me it is very important to constantly think about it, and strive towards it, broaden those limits, and to walk at the edge of what is possible, possible for me.
Cunningham: Yeah. Yeah. I understand that.
Ulitskaya: And for me this is always difficult, and pretty torturous, and I think that I constantly am expanding those limits.
From Japan and Philippines to the UK and the US, nationalism is on the rise. This is transforming politics by enabling the rise of the right and, more alarmingly, of the far-right.
Before we carry on, what do we mean by the right and the far-right? To understand this, we have to go back to the heady days of the French Revolution. In the French parliament, supporters of l'Ancien Régime sat on the right while those who wanted a secular republic with equality for all sat on the left. Those who sat on the right believed in hierarchy, tradition and clericalism. Inequality and social stratification were the natural order of the universe.
Over time, the justification for some being more equal than others has changed from noble birth to ability and hard work. Those who win in a competitive free market deserve greater rewards for their ingenuity and industriousness. The right broadly believes that markets produce better outcomes than governments and that inequality is a price worth paying for efficiency, choice and greater wealth for all.
The far-right takes ideas of inequality and stratification to absurd levels. It often ascribes an entire nation or race as superior. The Nazi Party famously deemed Germans belonging to the Aryan race as the master race. In contrast, Jews, Slavs and many others were mere untermenschen. The Nazis were part of a long European tradition of such extreme ideas. The British believed they were superior to the yellow opium addicts in China and the brown idol worshippers in India. Belgian King Leopold II believed that his countrymen had a divine right to slaughter, torture and pillage the half-humans who inhabited the heart of darkness in Congo.
After decades of relative obscurity and quiescence, the far-right finds itself back in the fray. In Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is urging people to kill drug addicts. Austria faces another election where a Glock 9mm pistol-packing Norbert Hofer has a fair shot at the presidency. In France, Marine Le Pen is the respectable face of the immigrant-bashing far-right. The UK has just voted for Brexit thanks in no small part to the exhortations of xenophobes like Nigel Farage. In the US, the rise of Donald Trump, a tacky billionaire and reality television star, is confounding political analysts and sending shivers down spines of minorities such as Muslims and Mexicans.
As this speaker wrote not too long ago, this is an age of fear, anger, hate and terror. The scale and pace of change is faster than ever. Inequality is rising incessantly not only in terms of income and wealth but also in terms of education and opportunity. Social mobility has taken a battering. Institutions are increasingly crumbling around the world. There is a growing dichotomy between global aspiration and local impoverishment. This puts collective identities in question. Is it nation, region, ethnicity, race or religion?
Far-right leaders are touching upon deep seated fears and providing simplistic solutions to complex problems. They are rising to the fore because elites are empty and exhausted. These elites have been narrow and technocratic. They have tried to kick the can down the road and dodged big questions. Most importantly, they have failed to articulate a vision with a compelling collective narrative and people feel lost. It is a most dangerous time for the planet as temperatures increase, sea levels rise and people turn to demagogues for quick fixes.
Atul Singh Bio:
Atul Singh is the Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Fair Observer. He teaches Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley and at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar where he also teaches World History. He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford on the Radhakrishnan Scholarship and did an MBA with a triple major in finance, strategy and entrepreneurship at the Wharton School. Singh worked as a corporate lawyer in London and led special operations as an elite officer in India’s volatile border areas where he had many near-death experiences. He has also been a poet, playwright, sportsman, mountaineer and a founder of many organizations. Singh’s knowledge is eclectic, and his friends often joke that it comes in handy when access to Google is limited.
Michael Ian Black, comedian and author of books for adults, children, and those in between, turns his quizzical eye on the confounding phenomenon that stalks the political scene with 'A Child’s First Book of Trump,' illustrated in classically whimsical style by Marc Rosenthal.
The Trump is a curious creature, very often spotted in the wild, but confounding to our youngest citizens. A business mogul, reality TV host, and now…political candidate? Kids (and, let’s be honest, many adults) might have difficulty discerning just what this thing that’s been dominating news coverage this election cycle is. Could he actually be real? Are those…words coming out of his mouth? Why are his hands so tiny? And perhaps most importantly, what on earth do you do when you encounter an American Trump?
In the Strand Rare Book Room, Black reads and discusses 'A Child’s First Book of Trump' with former literary collaborator, blogger and Fox News host Meghan McCain.