What should we take away from the tragic events of 2022, just when we thought with a sigh of relief that we had turned the page after the turbulent pandemic years?

I was surfing for answers to that very question when, all of a sudden, my attention was drawn to a brief conversation from the Raisina Dialogue, an Indian geopolitical and geoeconomics forum held every year in New Delhi by the Observer Research Foundation, which examines the major issues facing the international community. India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was answering questions from moderator Samir Saran, president of the Foundation, in front of an audience. This was in 2018.

I’ve transcribed the discussion starting at the eight-minute mark (Link to discussion):

  • Samir Saran: Let me ask you (about) Russia, and if you were to now make similar predictions for the next year (2019), when you’re speaking with us again and I question you on those. What will those be, so Russia and the next changes that 2019 could see as something that people we would all to content with?
  • Subrahmanyam Jaishankar: Well, you know, to be very honest, if there’s one thing which baffles me about American thinking currently and to some extent European thinking, it is the obsession with Russia. You know, I think it’s so emotional, it’s so visceral…
  • SS: Like India with Pakistan?
  • SJ: You know, (…) in a way mostly.
  • SS: Laugh
  • SJ: We haven’t yet passed laws of sanctions against Pakistan. (…) I’ll tell you why (…) I mean, it’s interesting you make that comparison, because in our own part of the world, we get advice from other people saying: “you know, be practical, be rational, you cannot talk to the other guy… Okay, they might be doing bad things but you’ve got to live with it, you’ve got to get them into the tent.” (emphasis is mine) For people who give you all this advice in running our lives (…).  
  • SS: When it comes to (inaudible).
  • SJ: I’m honestly… the extreme to which this has gone and I’m not sure it’s even smart, because I think it’s actually giving Russia less and less incentives…
  • SS: To be a stable actor?
  • SJ: No, I mean obviously then Russia will be angular, to assert itself, makes its point. So, I think this is an issue on which, it’s not an ideological issue at least for us, but I think we have a very clear sort of difference in perspective with the Western world broadly.

I won’t spend my time expounding on Mr. Jaishankar’s precognitive gifts, though he seems to have skills that surpass those of our constellations of experts, including our foreign affairs ministers. That is beyond the scope of this article.

Let’s get back to our title, then, so that the readers can recall that clever turn of language that came out of the 2000s, mansplaining. A portmanteau of “man” and “explaining,” it is used to describe a situation in which a man explains something to a woman who already knows it, or even a woman who is already an expert on the topic, often using a patronizing or condescending tone. Though the word is newly coined, the act is one as old as time.

This sociological phenomenon is well known—the dominated talking and thinking about the dominator, while the great overlord enjoys his position thinking only of himself. The one holding the rod feels no need to understand others, because, looking at his situation, he has no problem to be solved. He has other problems that seem unnecessary, even trivial, in the eyes of the dominated. This dynamic produces a feeling of superiority that, with a prescriptive influence, creates a sociological environment of which mansplaining is a symptom.

I will venture a twist, one held back for centuries that crystallized the moment I heard this discussion. I only needed a few snippets before the thought struck me to replace “man” with “West.”

The concept of “West” expresses one aspect of the complex relationship between former colonizers and those they colonized. Staining the historical record like the thick, slimy trail of a snail, it reflects the enduring nature and patronizing tone of this relationship. At best, the former overlord would need a little time to get used to the new normal, time during which his servant would still be obliged to endure his moods, which, while declining, are still degrading. Of course, time is perceived differently for those living in thrall to the history of man.

But be careful—although the concept of -splaining is being used in a geopolitical context, the symptoms of its gender-based manifestation remain the same. This means the agents, whether men or women, can find themselves in similar situations in the formerly colonized world. Because although our former colonizers are champions of Westsplaining, this doesn’t mean those men who were formally colonized are immune from taking a patronizing tone with their beloved, thus reviving the grand tradition…

So, we have two concepts—mansplaining and Westsplaining—and two agents—man and woman—for a total of four combinations that we will explore.

Westsplaining is a broader vehicle, since it also includes ladies who undoubtedly adopt the same patronizing tone their husbands do when talking to people from the “other world.” But I would add some perspective. Since these women are actually on the receiving end of this condescension from their men, they are closer to their neighbours, those living in the formerly colonized world. Since their reality is not quite so far off, theoretically, they can be more understanding, developing a certain empathy toward the natives, because they share this experience of hyper mansplaining with them. Our women of this world, who are supposed to have internalized this pressure, act on differences, which creates this effect of relative closeness with the native population. Meanwhile, the colonizing man remains in his mythical haze of total dominion.

Wishful thinking or psychological reality? As is often the case, material and venal comforts have this extraordinary ability to modify speech and, through a feedback loop, drive the colonizer woman into her husband’s arms, and in so doing, make her as contemptuous as he is. She actually does double duty, because she also asserts herself as a woman with authority, making the locals serve as “vintage service boys” to provide our bourgeois matrons with intellectual decor. So, this should be put into perspective while staying somewhat open to this distinction.

The other pair comes from the populations that are the targets of Westsplaining: formerly colonized people, those through whom this humble commentary emerges.

To tie it all together, imagine a scale, representing the imbalanced relationship between our four individuals, centred on an ideal—no tension, no contempt. Our Western rooster, to no one’s surprise, sits on one far side of the scale. With this position, the result of history of intellectual and material conquests is solidified into a whole. Then, between him and this ideal is his lady, who doubtless benefits from the same discoveries, but not quite as much as he does. Of course, our two characters are a symbol both geopolitical and fantastical, so great are the disparities within this world—I’ll get back to that. Continuing in the same direction, and passing over the midpoint, the next person we encounter is the man from the formerly colonized world whose position mirrors that of the first lady, which pushes his own female counterpart all the way to the opposite end of the rooster. She is the one who, symbolically, is on the receiving end of both explanations, by the West and by the man. The pattern goes man-woman, then man-woman again. As we move across, so does the targeting increase; the closer we move towards the woman in the nonaligned world, the greater the pressure on the target, identified by the -splaining suffix. Now the stage is finally set to integrate both mansplaining and Westsplaining.

This concept of –splaining can be found within a single civilization, a single culture, a single country, and so on. It can extend even more broadly, since it is the result of a sociology of power, which, in this case, takes both a social and geopolitical form.

Looking in the mirror?

What should be made of Mr. Jaishankar’s observations? Who am I to advise a minister with a wealth of experience in politics and diplomacy, observing this appalling reaction from the West?

But I would venture a helpful remedy that, by turning a mirror on it, might cast a light on the appalling behaviour of our Western diplomats, a behaviour which cultivates self-centeredness and ignorance of others. Use the same language, observe our inability to foresee and manage the 2022 crisis. What would our Western minister think if an ambassador from a nonaligned country had the nerve to address him in such a patronizing, condescending tone, pointing out that he clearly does not know how to manage the affairs of his own world? That he, the former colonizer, should show composure, analysis and circumspection? That they know better than he what is good for him? I can already hear him moaning about his innocence, pointing the finger of responsibility at those who never asked for it, and swearing that he won’t be taken in again! A mirror full of malice where stupidity and bad faith go hand in hand.

The master cries,
The slave buys his tears,
The master laughs,
And sells him his happiness.