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A Book that Challenges Everyone

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

‘Things that Can and Cannot be said’: A book that explores the role of politics and society

By Nilou Nezhad

Credit to Gerald Geronimo

In 2014, John Cusack, American actor, producer, screenwriter, and a board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation brought together three of the most controversial people in one room, whistle-blowers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg as well as the writer and global justice activist, Arundhati Roy. These four significant thinkers engage in a series of sharp conversations discussing the most critical social, political and moral topics of our time. Packed between the conversations are political essays written by Roy, which offer further insights on topics such as state violence and U.S. imperialism. Since the book is structured in the form of conversations, I believe it makes the book highly intimate and accessible.

The book examines world issues which will make you never think of the government in the same way and offers a new way of thinking. In my mind, the issues raised are constantly relevant and thought-provoking as it puts these events into the broader context of American capitalism, with its need for mass surveillance and propaganda.

The book exposes suppressed genocides, challenges the status quo and brings forth important issues that the world needs to address. This includes how exceptionalism takes form in US and India, how we are consistently managed without knowing, how capitalism, democracy and the free market operate, how the wealthy and powerful derive benefit from the thirst for war and the profanity of the wealthy controlling the world through philanthropy.

“All we seem to be left with now is paranoid gibberish about a War on Terror whose whole purpose is to expand the War, increase the Terror, and obfuscate the fact that the wars of today are not aberrations but systemic, logical exercises to preserve a way of life whose delicate pleasures and exquisite comforts can only be delivered to the chosen few by a continuous, protracted war for hegemony – Lifestyle Wars.” – Arundhati Roy

'The Things That Can and Cannot Be Said’ discusses public discourse, explaining how states have drawn contours of what is and is not acceptable. I believe this book will challenge people’s perspective as questions arise such as to what is the meaning of normal, who defines it and who characterises what can be said? The relevance of this across the social sciences is striking.

In my judgement, Cusack and Roy push you to dwell on your own perception of patriotism, along with democracy, capitalism and communism.

“What sort of love is this love that we have for this country? What sort of country is it that will ever live up to our dreams? What sort of dreams were these that have been broken? Isn’t the greatness of great nations directly proportionate to their ability to be ruthless, genocidal? Doesn’t the height of a country’s ‘success’ usually also mark the depth of its moral failure?” – Arundhati Roy

“Cage the People, Free the Money. The only thing that is allowed to move freely – unimpeded – around the world today is money, capital.” – Arundhati Roy

The conversations also explore the issues of state surveillance, civil resilience and civil society’s role in the defence of civil liberties and more with questions raised about NGOs and other liberal aid organisations.

“The bigger game is keeping the world safe for the Free Market. Structural Adjustment, Privatization, Free Market fundamentalist – all masquerading as Democracy and the Rule of Law. Many corporate foundation-funded NGOs – not all, but many – become the missionaries of the ‘new economy’” – Arundhati Roy

Also, if this were not sufficient, the book also explores whistleblowing and surveillance. By becoming whistle-blowers, Snowden and Ellsberg risked not only their freedom but their lives by disclosing information to the public about the wrongdoings of the US government, by speaking up of what is right and what is wrong. Snowden who revealed information on the mass surveillance programs operating outside of the US constitution without public knowledge raises questions including the loss of distinction between the police and military.

“…police forces…– .. being trained to behave like armies to quell internal insurrections” – Edward Snowden

“If we do nothing, we sort of sleepwalk into a total surveillance state where we have both a super-state that has unlimited capacity to apply force with an unlimited ability to know (about the people it is targeting)- and that’s a very dangerous combination..” – Edward Snowden

In my opinion, the richness of the book deserves close attention, raising political and moral questions and why it is important for each of us to be concerned about how America impacts the world, what your government is doing and why you should fight for transparency.


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