Dominant narrative is a set of values, practises and norms that most in that society believe to be true and important. It is ideology that shapes the telling of history, the creation of heroes, and the maintenance of certain roles within society.
It defines relationships, power structures and the nature of society and tends to be reinforced by the State, organised religion, school curriculum and so on. There are views both for and against such a dominant ideology. Those for it say that it maintains the fabric of society and prevents it from slipping into anarchy. Those against it believe that it maintains the status quo and the power of the ruling elite.
Various ‘truths’ at various points of time have been the dominant ideology. For example, in India, caste system was part of the dominant ideology for millennia; In Europe, the dominant ideology was that the Monarch had a divine right to rule, and there could be no question of getting rid of an unjust King – because God would be displeased; in science, the dominant ideology in Europe all the way till Galileo was that the Earth was at the centre of the universe; another dominant ideology was that women were chattel to be dealt with like property by their father, brother, husband or son.
But the world moves on. Elites are challenged; their views discredited and new elites take over. New ideologies become the focal points of society.
Challenging the dominant ideology has been dangerous. Galileo had to face the inquisition and recant for suggesting that the Earth moved around the Sun; people who challenged the hegemony of kings were put to death; those who challenged organised religion were excommunicated. But they prevailed. In the past centuries there have been many elites but most of them came from similar backgrounds: Born in privilege – caste or class.
And they have enabled change. Be it equality, scientific rationalism or ways of seeing the world – they have shouldered an enormous burden. These new elites championed a new dominant narrative.
But, the last 60-odd years – that coincides with Indian Independence and the end of the Second World War – have seen the world change more than ever before. And this change is in the nature of social structures and society itself. And, the reason for that is universal franchise: and the right for every individual to be termed a citizen – with equal rights and duties. People who were disadvantaged, discriminated against through history suddenly had a chance at the main table.
And, that is possibly what is wrong with conservative movements across the world. For over half a century they have had, as their main target group – those who put forth and subscribe to the dominant narrative of our times. That narrative being – the Family is paramount and all other rights of family members secondary; cultural values matter more than individual rights; the ‘greater good’ was more important than the good of minority or ethnic groups; that women should be seen, heard but know their place; that we all should be grateful to the elites for the slow and gradual change that is benefitting us.
But, freedom is a strange feeling. It takes a bit of time to get used to it, but when we do we embrace it and demand more. What you saw in the USA – rejection of the Republicans — is a manifestation of the need for freedoms. And freedom is defined as more than voting: It is the freedom to have control over your body, to work for a living, to choose a lifestyle, to not believe in religion. It is a lot of different freedoms, and is no longer one size fits all. It is no longer about slogans for the mass and agenda for the elite – it has become the agenda of the many niches that constitute society.
The time for one single Dominant Narrative is over. And, right wing movements need to understand this. For conservative movements worldwide, it is too late to put the genie of equality back into the bottle: You can neither rescind freedoms nor can social change be turned back. The old elite are so few and new would be elites so many, that it is a losing game. The Right needs to stop crying and accept it is never coming back. If they don’t, they will be consigned to the dustbin of history, taking a place right next to the old style Communists.
The writer is a media entrepreneur, writer, blogger, teacher, & the main slave to an imperious hound.She blogs at calamur.org/gargi and @calamur on Twitter