Notes From A Placard

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Twitter and its cluelessness on how to deal with what it has thrown open

TWITTER, THE COMPANY, is not unused to the perils of virtue signalling. Whatever it does to salvage its reputation as a vehicle of nasty politics only gets it despise. The controversy that Jack Dorsey, its founder, finds himself in because he was photographed holding a placard that said, ‘Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy’ is the latest instance, and it is entirely of his own making.

Who can refute that India’s dominant culture is historically Brahminical? But whether there is something called ‘Brahminical patriarchy’ is entirely dependent on an ideological position. Patriarchy is a phenomenon across the world. In The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution , Francis Fukuyama writes that even in societies where descent and inheritance are traced through the mother, the system is still patriarchal. ‘Matrilineal societies are not the same as matriarchal ones, in which women hold power and dominate men; there does not seem to be any evidence that a true matriarchal society has ever existed. Matriliny simply means that it is the husband who leaves his descent group upon marriage and joins that of his wife. Power and resources are still largely controlled by men; the authority figure in the family is often the wife’s brother rather than the child’s biological father.’

Patriarchy is thus not exclusive to Brahminism, as against caste, which is unique to India. ‘Brahminical casteism’ is true by itself but ‘Brahminical patriarchy’ is an activist adding a political position. And Dorsey, the usual naïve Silicon Valley billionaire trying to win every shade of the Indian market, unknowingly makes it his own position by unwittingly flaunting it in a photo op.

Twitter’s response has made it worse for him. ‘Brahminical’ has little to do with Brahmins who live in India today in a considerably politically unempowered manner. It is the sum total of the imprint this caste group has left because of its stranglehold on knowledge, which at least after the arrival of the British has got whittled down with every passing era. When ‘Brahminical’ was conflated with ‘Brahmin’, ironically on the very medium Dorsey controls, Twitter, to fan an online agitation, all the company had to do was explain the difference. Instead, its representatives apologised, giving legitimacy to the conjoining of the two terms. They then made it worse by saying that the photo was private, when the medium exists to make precisely such moments public. And when the invited participants said that they had not been told anything about maintaining privacy for the photo, the insinuation became that Twitter was now flat out lying.

Twitter has a public relations problem because it is constantly defending a particularly ugly side of social networking unique to it. Short of shutting itself down, its best course is to remain a mute spectator. Every time it jumps into a debate, advertently or inadvertently, it does nothing but damage itself.