Fear of small numbers

Title: Fear of small numbers
Author: Arjun Appadurai
Publishing house: Duke University Press

The author analyzes how globalization acts on what he calls the “geography of anger”, that is, violence in a wide sense, including terrorism but including also ethnic cleansing, or violence of “big numbers” on “small numbers”.

I think there are many good insights in the book that help understand these volatile topics. The author claims that there are two “worlds” competing with each other: the vertebrate world of nation-states and the new cellular world where there are no boundaries, where communication, information, or money-transfers are extremely easy due to globalization and technology. And the cellular world is made of NGO’s but also of other, quite different, non-governmental organizations such as Al-Qaeda.

Since the author, Arjun Appadurai, has served as a consultant for some US organizations, one may think (in fact, I did!) that he would just talk about the plague of terrorism, but his view is much wider, and tries to capture the deep reasons in, for instance, the facts of 9/11, or some culturally-motivated ethnocides (Rwanda or India in recent times). The book has, by the way, a few interesting examples from Indian politics.

Talking with a friend about the book, he argued that violence (both state or anti-state violence) has always been here, from the Roman Empire and much before. And, of course, nothing totally new is under the sun, but times are a-changing (as Bob used to say), and the “geography of anger” changes accordingly. Isn’t it a good thing trying to understand what’s new in this old subject?


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