The Difference between Difference and Preference

Dipesh Chakravarty argues that Capitalism converts difference into preference. We usually think that capitalism erases difference. We all share the anxiety about this loss and erasure. This anxiety is affecting the global communities. The global community seems to be converting their frontiers into borders. The Brexit in London or even the growth of Hindutva in our country seem to indicate the deep sense of loss being generated by the neoliberal economic policies that we have introduced since the 1990s. These anxieties over the loss or erasure of difference have produced cultural imperialisms that are milked politically in different parts of the globe. As against this thesis, Dipesh Chakravarty points out that capitalism does not work so much by erasing difference but by converting difference into preference. This means capitalism converts differences into preferences or tastes. This means our likes and dislikes come very much into play. Hence, it is easy to market difference as a commodity or even politicise difference as the demonized other. It is when difference becomes our preference that we begin the erasure of difference. This is how we are co-opted by the capitalist neoliberal projects in the construction of a homogenized society. The fact that difference becomes a preferred choice, we eliminate and even exterminate difference to enjoy the commoditized or politicized symbolic difference.

It seems to be because of the conversion of difference into preference that hate politics wins. This is why we may have to think about the difference between difference and preference. When the difference is transformed into preference, the difference simply becomes a matter of benign consumable choice. This conversion of difference into tastes has come to haunts our political engagement. Political engagement has become a matter of choice of consumable symbolic difference. We have come full circle into the corporatization of politics in our country. We have also seen how difference has been politically positioned by the BJP when it claimed that it is a party with a difference. This is how difference is made to become a political index that measures the rival in the political arena. This may be the reason why India suddenly appears to become politically a Hindu majoritarian singularity by consuming difference.

By making the choice to be different, we have cancelled difference and installed sameness. Consumerism consumes difference and installs monopolies. Corporatized politics consumes otherness and installs sameness. The fact that tastes are insatiable and cannot be fully satisfied, gives us hope to await for a better and fuller satisfaction in the days to come. This perhaps is the reason why BJP at the centre was electorally rewarded even when its non-performance as well sheer incompetence on economic policy was glaringly clear. We consume difference and consume our votes. This is why we might ask the inventible question: will this marketing and politicking of difference come to haunt the ruling BJP when the consumerist voter in us will want to consume the political diet of difference may find the other political alternatives as a consumable difference to satisfy his/her growing thirst to consume difference. This need for consumption of difference does produce a surplus that can become a symbolic exchange while the voter chooses to go away from the ruling BJP. When we reduce the act of voting into an act of consumption of difference then the difference can come back to haunt what is deemed as a difference that will then begin to look familiar.

But we cannot like Karl Marx wait for the realization of dialectical fulfilment. Nor do we have to do a Leninist act of socio-political engineering of the arrival of the dialectical fulfilment as we can see being done by the positioning of my Hindutva is better than your Hindutva or by showing the difference between Hindutva and Hinduism. The opposition instead of becoming the Other has become the same (other in degree) and has been devoured by the choice that Hindutva of the BJP as the better other. Just like we may have to choose between Coke, Pepsi and Thumps up, we will tend to go for the habituated coke to consume the difference that we are used to. But we may also give a try for a Pepsi or a Thumps up in order to satiate our hunger to consume difference. Hence, to get out of the trap of consuming difference and thus installing the same homogenous structure, we have the challenge to investigate the difference between difference and preference.

When the difference is merely a matter of preference, we walk into capitalo-centric world and our politics also becomes infected by the order of the market as well as our democracy becomes corporatized. Hence, it is a tremendous challenge for us to walk away from the temptation of making our vote into an act of consumption of difference. What is needed is that we make an effort to draw on our critical resources and convert ourselves into the act of voting into the act that will construct difference. This means we have to install difference that will usher in peace, justice and welfare of all. Hence, the challenge is not to consume difference but to construct difference. let’s make our vote an act that will construct difference and make that difference to our society.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao