Saturday, October 27, 2007

India must have its own unfettered freedom based on Vedanta

A saint and martyr the statesman Saturday, 27 October 2007
Upadhyaya Brahmabandhab (1861-1907) was an outstanding personality of the Swadeshi movement of 1905 and died on 27 October 1907 as a saint and martyr of the new faith. He had close resemblance to Swami Vivekananda in many respects. Both were dedicated sanyasis wearing ochre dress of traditional Hindu ascetics. Both possessed a good deal of go in their character. Both were passionately committed to the cause of India’s liberation from foreign shackles, although their methods were different. In another respect too, Brahmabandhab was a worthy match of Vivekananda, and that was regarding their sturdy physique and physical strength. Of athletic build, Brahmabandhab was adept at swimming, boxing, lathi-play and wrestling.
He also earned reputation as a cricketer, equally splendid in both bowling and batting. Endowed with a keen intellect, well-versed in Sanskrit lore, equally well-versed in Christian theology, Brahmabandhab was an embodiment of virile manliness and physical strength. Like Vivekananda, Upadhyaya too was a passionate lover of the country. While Vivekananda did not take part in direct politics, Upadhyaya did with all the emotional fervour of his character, giving a militant tone to India’s freedom movement.
In spite of his deep Catholic loyalty, he remained a true Bengali Hindu in his social behaviour and lived the life of an ochre dressed Hindu sannyasin. Towards the end of his life even more important than religion was his passion for the country. He dreamt of its redemption and the flowering of its individuality as a nation. Even Christianity he sought to preach through Hindu garb.
But with all his criticism of British rule, Upadhyaya was not a political extremist before 1905. In the pre-Swadeshi period his conception of Indian nationalism was not basically incompatible with the continued existence of British rule in India. Like other moderate political leaders of the Congress, he pinned his faith in British imperialism which he regarded as a divine blessing for India. He founded the Bengali evening daily, Sandhya, in 1904.
While emphasising the need for acquiring mleccha language and mleccha learning (that is the language and learning of the Europeans) he advised his bewildered countrymen always to bear in mind that they were, above all, Bengalees. The paper was written in a most colloquial language, avoiding the chaste of Vidyasagar, even of Bankim. Commonplace words were picked up from the street to produce a new form of prose writing comparable to Vivekananda’s prose style - simple, terse and vigorous. Articles were generally written in a bantering tone directed against the feringhees.
Determined to expose the exotic culture of the feringhees, he was equally vehement, often harsh, in his attack on the English-trained Bengalee babus sunk in tamas, sloth or inertia. He was bent on demolishing the hypnotic feringhee spell over our people. He found the whole country sunk in torpor and tamas, pretending to be swattik. He wanted to demolish this hypocritical stand. His object was to stimulate in the people powerful rajas by which they could fight the feringhees on equal terms. This mental revolution in the thoughts and feelings of his countrymen was an imperative, in his view, for national reawakening. And in this he was at one with Vivekananda. Bipin Pal observed in New India in 1907:
“It was this sturdy patriot, whose almost unaided exertion has brought the people of Bengal to a practically resistful attitude today. Of all men it was he who had imparted a militant character to our Swadeshi movement.”
The beginning of the Swadeshi movement in August 1905 set the stage for a new act. Upadhyaya rapidly moved towards radicalism. He emerged on the scene as the symbol and type of the new Swaraj spirit. He came to believe that India as part of the British Empire had no future. India must have its own unfettered freedom based on Vedanta. India could not rest content with political freedom alone. This must be accompanied by spiritual emancipation. This aspiration central to the Swadeshi movement was symbolised as much by Bipin Pal-Aurobindo as by Satis Mukherjee.
The emerging new party rejected mendicant politics of the moderates and urged the people to enter into a grim battle with the bureaucracy with the powerful weapon of boycott or passive resistance and sought to reduce the bureaucracy to a mere skeleton of its former self by organised refusal of cooperation. Its complete philosophy and programme were sketched with the greatest fidelity by Aurobindo in his Bande Mataram daily.
The forcible break-up of the Barisal conference (14-15 April 1906) added a new impetus to the extremist movement of which a high priest was Upadhyaya whose Sandhya now became a mighty vehicle for the propagation of his political extremism. Upadhyaya’s next journalistic venture was the founding of a Bengali weekly, Swaraj, dedicated to the stimulation of the Swaraj spirit among the people. Its central message was to expose the hollowness of feringhee rule, and to encourage the people in inflammatory language to kick the feringhees out of India. The language of Swaraj was more violent and vituperative than that of Sandhya.
His greatest service was to strike at the roots of Indian tamastic imbecility at the sight of the Feringhees, that, the Europeans. Alarmed by the vituperative language of the Swaraj, the British bureaucracy soon made an attack on the paper, arrested the editor, manager and printer of the Press. Proceedings were drawn up against them on charges of sedition. Barrister CR Das stood as counsel for the editor Upadhyaya. Upadhyaya submitted a written statement to the court containing his historic declaration:
“I accept the entire responsibility of the publication, management and conduct of the newspaper Sandhya... But I do not want to take any part in this trial because I do not believe that in carrying out my humble share of the God-appointed mission of Swaraj, I am in any way accountable to the alien people, who happen to rule over us and whose interest is and must necessarily be in the way of our true national development.”
This statement was read out before the court on 23 September 1907. The boldness of the language in which the statement was issued and the spirit of total defiance of the alien authority shown by him as an undertrial prisoner have made it a classic declaration of the enfranchisement of the human soul. When asked to make a statement in the court whether he would plead guilty or not guilty of the charge of sedition against the government constituted by law in India, Upadhyaya stoutly told the trying magistrate, Kingsford: “I have already made a statement. I don’t want to say anything more.”
In course of the trial he fell ill with hernia and was admitted to Campbell Hospital where he was operated upon on 22 October 1907. His condition, after an initial improvement, suddenly became worse. He died at 9 in the morning on 27 October 1907 in the midst of an unfinished sedition trial eluding the grasp of the bureaucracy. His death was on a par with his historic declaration of defiance, which he had flung at the alien bureaucracy. He had fulfilled the pledge of not answering in the court of the aliens for his God-ordained work of Swaraj.
Upadhyaya was a stormy personality full of dare-devil energy. In his experiments with truth he was unbending and uncompromising. The reported story of his private oral communication to Rabindranath Tagore in 1907 at Jorasanko to the effect that he had suffered a fall or degradation as recorded in Tagore’s Char Adhyay (Four Chapters) has already been rejected as a fable. He loved his country so intensely, so passionately that he was often misunderstood by many as a crank, only because he refused to toe the beaten track. The tribute which Sri Aurobindo paid to his memory after his death is the most authentic testimony to his greatness as a saint and martyr of nationalism:
“The work of Nationalism is therefore twofold. It has to win Swaraj for India... and it has to ensure that the Swaraj it brings about shall be a Swadeshi Swaraj and not an importation of the European article... If there were some irrational features in the revolt of the people against foreign things, it was the violence of the malady which necessitated the violence of the reaction. The late Upadhyaya was the type and champion of this feature of the National movement. He was never weary of harping on the necessity of stripping from ourselves every rag of borrowed European thought and habits and becoming intensely uncompromisingly Indian. When we put aside all the mannerisms of that strong personality and seek its kernel, we find that this was his message and the meaning of his life. After himself going through all the phases of Europeanised thought and religion, he returned like his country with a violent rebound to the religion, the thoughts, the habits and the speech of his forefathers. It is the spirit of old Bengal which incarnated itself in him, with the strength, courage, passionate adherence to conviction which was the temperament of old Bengal and which modern Bengal had for a period lost. His declaration in court and his death put a seal upon the meaning of his life and left his name stamped indelibly on the pages of history, as a saint and martyr of the new faith.”
In these words uttered by Sri Aurobindo in 1908 were epitomised the whole philosophy of Indian nationalism of which Upadhyaya Brahmabandhab ~ a Hindu Catholic or Catholic Vedantist ~ was a redoubtable champion. (The author is former Professor and Head of the Department of History, Presidency College and Maulana Azad College, Kolkata)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Talleyrand's apparent treasons can be seen as the products of a higher loyalty

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand
The French statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, Duc de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838), remains the classic case of a successful turncoat in politics. For half a century he served every French regime except that of the Revolutionary "Terror."
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand was a masterful diplomat of the old school as ambassador and foreign minister. Admired and often distrusted, sometimes even feared by those he served, he was not easily replaced as a negotiator of infinite wiles. Talleyrand has been an extraordinarily difficult figure for historians to understand and appraise. His moral corruption is beyond question: he was an unabashed liar and deceiver; he not only took but sought bribes from those with whom he was negotiating; and he lived with a niece as his mistress for decades. He repeatedly shifted political allegiance without visible compunction and possessed no political principle on which he would stand firm to the last; and he was also at least technically guilty of treason, engaging in secret negotiations with the public enemies of his country while in its service.
Yet closer scrutiny of what Talleyrand did shows an apparent steady purpose beneath the crust of arrogant contempt for the ordinary standards of mankind's judgment, expressed in the comment attributed to him on the kidnaping and execution of the Duc d'Enghien at Napoleon's command: "It was worse than a crime, it was a mistake."
Talleyrand had his own vision of the interests of France, which lay in making the transition from the Old Regime to the new as painless as possible, at the same time preserving the territorial interests of the French nation. His fidelity to whichever persons happened to be at the head of the French state lasted at best only as long as their power, but this matchless cynic seems to have possessed genuine devotion for France as a country, and his apparent treasons can be seen as the products of a higher loyalty. Yet this picture of him may be false, for Talleyrand destroyed many of the records by which the truth regarding his career could have been more closely reached. It is easier to decide his guilt than to specify what he was guilty of, easier to affirm his deeper innocence than to prove it. The problem lies both in the man himself and in the eye of the beholder. Home > Library > People > Biographies

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) is the most original philosopher of modern India

Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) most original philosopher of modern India. Education in England gave him a wide introduction to the culture of ancient, or mediaeval and of modern Europe. He was described by Romain Rolland as 'the completest synthesis of the East and the West.' He was a brilliant scholar in Greek and Latin. He had learned French from his childhood in Manchester and studied for himself German and Italian sufficiently to study Goethe and Dante in the original tongues. He passed the Tripos in Cambridge in the first class and obtained record marks in Greek and Latin in the examination for the Indian Civil Service. This is what Aurobindo said in his book, India's Rebirth (ISBN 2-902776-32-2) p 139-140.
"Hinduism.....gave itself no name, because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the God ward endeavor of the human spirit. An immense many-sided and many staged provision for a spiritual self-building and self-finding, it had some right to speak of itself by the only name it knew, the eternal religion, Santana Dharma...." " The people of India, even the "ignorant masses" are by centuries of training are nearer to the inner realities, than even the cultured elite anywhere else"
“The Gita is the greatest gospel of spiritual works ever yet given to the race." In his famous Essays on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo summed up the whole problem in these words: We will use only soul-force and never destroy by war or any even defensive employment of physical violence ? Good, though until soul-force is effective, the Asuric force in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence. Strength founded on the Truth and the dharmic use of force are thus the Gita’s answer to pacifism and non-violence. Rooted in the ancient Indian genius, this third way can only be practised by those who have risen above egoism, above asuric ambition or greed. The Gita certainly does not advocate war ; what it advocates is the active and selfless defence of dharma. If sincerely followed, its teaching could have altered the course of human history. It can yet alter the course of Indian history."
The Gita is, in Sri Aurobindo’s words, “our chief national heritage, our hope for the future.” ...Posted by sooryan at 11:02 PM Labels:

Across history, the prosperity of a nation has gone hand in hand with increasing urbanization

The Population Myth
from The India Uncut Blog by Amit Varma
This is the 37th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.
Eberstadt concludes that while the natural resources of our planet might be limited, we are “now experiencing a monumental expansion of a different type of resource: human resources. Unlike natural resources, human resources are in practice always renewable and in theory entirely inexhaustible.”
Indeed, these human resources are the most valuable of all. All human beings, if allowed to express their creativity, add more value to the world than they consume. When two people exchange goods or services, both benefit, and more people means more trade. More people also means more specialization and division of labour —one theory holds that England’s industrial revolution was enabled by this.
Economist Julian Simon, in his book The Ultimate Resource, points out that historically, spurts in world population have coincided with leaps in productivity. The first one happened at around a million BC, at the time of the tool-making revolution. The next spurt came at about 10,000 BC, when we began to cultivate the earth. The latest one began about three centuries ago, and continues today, as the growth of technology has led to vastly higher standards of living, and longer lifespans than ever before.
If population growth was undesirable, why would people migrate to cities in such large numbers? In cities, we become part of economic networks that are larger than what we would get in smaller places, with more opportunities, and a greater chance to specialize. Across history, the prosperity of a nation has gone hand in hand with increasing urbanization. India’s cities may have much that is wrong with them—they are congested, polluted and lack all sorts of infrastructure—but still people flood in every day.
Government authorities insult us when they say that India’s problem is too many people. On the contrary, India’s problem is an inept and bloated state. It does not allow free markets that would enable the entrepreneurship and creativity natural to all humans. It has a monopoly on building infrastructure, and has failed utterly, leading to the crises we see in all our major cities, and the absence of roads in the hinterlands that would allow more urban centres to come up. In areas essential to unleashing our “ultimate resource”, such as education and health care, it has constrained private enterprise while itself being incompetent. In short, the cause of India’s poverty is not its people, but its system of government. But look where the sanctimony comes from! * * * You can browse through all my columns for Mint in my Thinking it Through archives.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

To this day, the kings of Thailand are only crowned in the presence of Brahmin priests

Let's promote the great Indic civilisation SHASHI THAROOR 21 Oct 2007 times of india
‘‘You Indians have allowed yourself to forget that there is such a thing as Indic civilisation. And we are its last outpost.’’ The words were spoken to me 25 years ago by the Khmer nationalist politician and one-time prime minister Son Sann, lamenting India’s support for Vietnam in its conquest of Cambodia in 1979...
But Son Sann’s words stayed with me. They came back to mind during a recent visit to Angkor Wat, perhaps the greatest Hindu temple ever built anywhere in the world — and in Cambodia, not India. To walk past those exquisite sculptures recounting tales from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, to have the Cambodian guide explain the significance of the symbols protecting the shrine — the naga, the simha and the garuda, corresponding, he said earnestly, to today’s navy, army and air force! — and to marvel at the epic scale of a Hindu temple as impressive as the finest cathedral or mosque anywhere in the world, was also to marvel at the extraordinary reach of our culture beyond its own shores. Hinduism was brought to Cambodia by merchants and travellers more than a millennium ago, and it has long since disappeared, supplanted by a Buddhism that was also an Indian export. But at its peak it profoundly influenced the culture, music, dance and mythology of the Cambodian people.
Even today my Cambodian guide at Bayon, a few minutes’ drive from Angkor Wat, speaks with admiration of a sensibility which, in the 16th century, saw Hindus and Buddhists worship side-by-side in adjoining shrines within the same temple complex. (If only we could do that at Ayodhya, i found myself thinking.)
Perhaps Son Sann was right, and Cambodia is indeed the last outpost of Indic civilisation in a world increasingly Sinified. But what exactly does that mean? At a time when the north of India was reeling under waves of conquest and cultural stagnation, our forefathers in the south were exporting Indianness to South-east Asia. It was an anonymous task, carried out not by warrior heroes blazing across the land bearing swords of conquest, but by individuals who had come in peace, to trade, to teach and to persuade. Their impact was profound. To this day, the kings of Thailand are only crowned in the presence of Brahmin priests; the Muslims of Java still sport Sanskritic names, despite their conversion to Islam, a faith whose adherents normally bear names originating in Arabia; Garuda is Indonesia’s national airline and Ramayana its best-selling brand of clove cigars; even the Philippines has produced a pop-dance ballet about Rama’s quest for his kidnapped queen. But contemporary international politics has rendered all this much less significant than the modern indices of strategic thinking, economic interests and geopolitical affinities. India is far less important to the countries that still bear the stamp of ‘Indic’ influence than, say, China, whose significance is contemporary, rather than civilisational.
  • Should we care, and is there anything we can do about it?
  • Of course we should care: no great civilisation can afford to be indifferent to the way in which it is perceived by others. But what, today, is Indic civilisation?
  • Can we afford to anchor ourselves in a purely atavistic view of ourselves, hailing the religious and cultural heritage of our forebears without recognising the extent to which we ourselves have changed?
  • Isn’t Indian civilisation today an evolved hybrid, that draws as much from the influence of Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, not to mention two centuries of British colonial rule?
  • Can we speak of Indian culture today without qawwali, the poetry of Ghalib, or for that matter the game of cricket, our de facto national sport?

When an Indian dons ‘national dress’ for a formal event, he wears a variant of the sherwani, which did not exist before the Muslim invasions of India. When Indian Hindus voted recently in the cynical and contrived competition to select the ‘new seven wonders’ of the modern world, they voted for the Taj Mahal constructed by a Mughal king, not for Angkor Wat, the most magnificent architectural product of their religion.

  • So, doesn’t Indianness come ahead of the classically Indic?
  • I would argue in the affirmative, which brings me to the second part of the question: what can we do about it?

It seems to me that we ought to be pouring far more resources into our cultural diplomacy, to project the richness of our composite culture into lands which already have a predisposition for it. I’m not a fan of propaganda, which most people tend to see for what it is: i believe the message that will really get through is of who we are, not what we want to show. But just as, in economic terms, the government must provide the basic infrastructure and let the private sector get on with actual ventures, so, too, in the field of cultural promotion, the government has to create the showcases which individual Indians can then proceed to fill.

The Nehru Centre in London is a great asset for India, but why on earth is there only one such centre? We should have them in Cambodia, in Indonesia, in Thailand, in Malaysia, and for that matter in South Africa, in Nigeria, in Brazil, in Canada. Once they exist, they can serve as a catalyst for locals and visiting Indians to perform, speak, sing, argue and screen their work, thus enabling others to see the products of our civilisation, the multi-religious identities of our people, our linguistic diversity, the myriad manifestations of our creative energies. Then we can speak of a civilisation that is ‘Indic’ in its heritage, Indian in its contemporary relevance.

Yechuri’s appeal that faith must be a tool to promote scientific enquiry is deceptive

Organiser Home From Patanjali to Vivekananda and Yogi Aurobindo evolution theory has been explained as the progressive manifestation of the spirit or consciousness. The advanced physical dimension of evolution is in fact one aspect of evolution. October 28, 2007 Page: 36/39 Home > 2007 Issues > October 28, 2007
Hindus built bridges of culture to connect continents By P. Parameswaran
According to all the Hindu philosophers, evolutionary progress of life was a well-understood proposition. We find it in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. But, according to the Hindu approach, evolution cannot be explained in terms of ‘historical materialism’. It is essentially ‘evolution of consciousness’, physical organism inevitably responding to the demands of the evolving spirit. Swami Vivekananda, while commenting on Patanjali’s yoga sutra, explains in very lucid terms the entire concept of evolution as understood by the Hindus and contrasts it with the modern western theories.
“Today the evolution theory of the ancient yogis will be better understood in the light of modern research. And yet the theory of the yogis is a better explanation. The two causes of evolution advanced by the moderns, viz sexual selection and survival of the fittest, are inadequate… But the great ancient evolutionist, Patanjali, declares that the true secret of evolution is the manifestation of the perfection which is already in every being; that this perfection has been barred and the infinite tide behind is struggling to express itself. These struggles and competitions are but the results of our ignorance, because we do not know the proper way to unlock the gate and let the water in. This infinite tide behind must express itself; it is the cause of all manifestation.” (Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, page 292)
Thus from Patanjali to Vivekananda and Yogi Aurobindo evolution theory has been explained as the progressive manifestation of the spirit or consciousness. The advanced physical dimension of evolution is in fact one aspect of evolution. It is the outcome of a demand from the spirits within and not the cause of it.
However, this is not to deny the importance of the physical or the material dimension. Nor did Hindu sages and philosophers spurn it. They only said that there are more important dimensions also. In fact, according to the Vedic Vision every phenomenon has three graded dimensions, which together constitute the totality of the Reality. They are, the physical (adhi bhoutic), psychological (adhi deivic) and spiritual (adhyatmic). The material is the grossest and the other two subtler and the subtlest. The spiritual is the essential reality, which subsequently manifests in the two grosser forms. If Sitaram Yechury takes the Marxian view that evolution has to be explained in terms of historical materialism, we have no quarrel with him. But, we expect him to understand and appreciate the other two dimensions as well. The three are inclusive and not exclusive, deserving mutual respect. The problem arises when the materialist wants to denigrate and destroy the other points of view, albeit cunningly.
To give an illustration, thousands of people come to Kanyakumari eager to watch the sunrise. We all know that sunrise is a physical phenomenon occurring everyday governed by cosmic laws. But, what attracts people from all over, literate and illiterate alike is not merely the physical aspect. Much more important to them is the aesthetic and the spiritual aspect of such phenomena. The moment the disc of the sun emerges in the horizon, people start chanting Gayatri Mantra. Some meditate with closed eyes, as if in dismay of a cosmic event of deep mystical significance. The whole atmosphere fills with the fervour of devotion. The vision of the rising sun, in all its splendour, enthralls everyone and fills their hearts with indescribable joy. They treasure it as a living experience all their life. “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.” Can the materialist deny the aesthetic and spiritual experiences are unreal and irrational? The fact of the matter is that truth is integral though many sided.
So, Comrade Sitaram, if he is honest in his generous and gratuitous advice (to which I would refer later on) that “a hundred flowers should be allowed to blossom”, he should show it by accepting the psychological and spiritual dimensions also as true as the physical and the material, and should not advocate anything which is prejudicial to them. Practice is better than percept. But what is their actual track record towards divergent approaches to truth? The way Sitaram Yechuri concludes his article is not really conclusive. Look at the statement:
“The das avatars can, thus, be seen as a remarkable recording of the evolution of human life and its civilisational advance till the Aryan mastered the horse and majestically moved across lands.
“Thus, without entering into any disputes on matters of faith, this remarkable materialist interpretation of the das avatars, surely, merits attention. Faith in its quintessential form must facilitate the pursuit of truth and acquiring the ability to recognise the truth. Chinese civilisational wisdom, as equally old and ancient as ours in India, tells us to let a hundred flowers bloom, a thousand thoughts contend, so that finally we can seek truth from the facts. While truth is a fact, all facts are not whole truths. This is the difference between philosophy and theology.”
If “this remarkable materialistic interpretation of the das avatars, surely, merits attention”, then can it not be said with equal force that the spiritual interpretation of the das avatars also merits attention? After all, the philosophy of Communism with its foundation of historical materialism which claimed to be invincible because it is scientific has totally collapsed while the whole world is turning towards the spiritual philosophy for its very survival. Yechuri’s generous advice to follow the Chinese civilisational wisdom that a hundred flowers should be allowed to bloom should be applied to the party and the ideology that he stands by, if he is really sincere and honest. And, what is their track record? Isn’t the promise of the “hundred flowers” the closest to Henry Ford’s offer that any customer can have a T52 car painted “any colour that he wants so long as it is black”?
Yechuri’s appeal that faith must be a tool to promote scientific enquiry is deceptive. As we have seen, science has been continuously shifting grounds from one position to another and finds itself in deep waters where matters of faith are concerned. Why not ask science to be a tool to seek the heart of faith? Faith is not merely a set of assumptions or empty beliefs. It is the very soul of a person or a people. It is not like a loose garment, casually thrown over one’s shoulders, only to be rejected at will, without a second thought. It is part and parcel of one’s own personality. People live or die by their faith. Faith cannot be the exclusive possession of each person as some rationalists argue. Neither religious faith nor ideological faith. Communism was not treated as a personal affair, either in Russia or in China. It was collective. When the faith failed, Soviet Union collapsed. China is struggling the hard way to retain faith and also adapt to changes. They call it famously “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”. So are, Sri Ram and Ram Sethu. That is nationalism with Indian characteristics. If you undermine it, the nation will perish, as Soviet Union did when people lost faith in Communism. Bhagavad Gita says, “A person is what his faith (shraddha) is. Do not destroy it”. Because faith once destroyed cannot be restored. The damage once done is done forever. Economics and individual gains and losses are temporary and could be restored.
With great faith in themselves our forefathers built bridges of culture to connect continents. If you cannot build new ones, at least, do not destroy the existing ones. (The writer is Director of Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari and Bharatiya Vichar Kendram, Tiruvananthapuram.) Previous Page (35/39) - Next Page (37/39)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fallacious dreams have reappeared in other garbs. Propagation of democracy, or capitalism belongs to the same mindset

God pent in the mire and Technocapitalism
RY Deshpande Mon 22 Oct 2007 04:26 PM PDT Permanent Link
Can technocapitalism be an opportunity for shaping the future in any decisive way? I wonder. Such a claim by the protagonists of science in moulding society is not all that new; it has been made in its arrogance at every stage after the Industrial Revolution. It was not very long ago, just a century ago, and it happens all along, that the top physicists and savants were saying that they were at the finis line of the discovery and what would remain to be done would be only tying up the loose ends. Materialism in its strident days was very sure of it. However, it didn’t happen. In fact, cannot happen? Came quantum mechanics and shattered the old dreams. But the unforgiving thing is, those very fallacious dreams have reappeared in other garbs. The theory-of-everything today forebodes nothing much different from the earlier cozy feeling of understanding all that has to be understood, man the master of nature and builder of humanity. That itself makes one suspicious of science coming to the aid of ailing we. This is in physics, the prince of science, and the problem of social issues, and deeply more of social transformation, of shaping the destinies is far more complex than can even be conceptualised.
What happened to Socrates? and to Christ to whom we offered the flower of suffering? to Priscillian of Avilla in 385? to Giordano Bruno in 1600 who became a martyr in the cause of free thought? And so on. When in 313 Constantine hoped to unite the Empire, there also grew heresies in the Church itself. In the process, the king imposed decisions. This went on increasing afterwards. The fallacy was the use of Religion for the consolidation of the State. The false start was already made. Today we won’t be enacting much of a different drama in imposing Reason on the soul of mankind. Propagation of democracy, or capitalism, more or less belongs to the same mindset. And then Reason itself is sacrificed at the altar of Religion. Science has brought rewards no doubt, but rewards are always there, everywhere. But can rewards in a certain domain justify the methodology of that domain in every other domain, in other human occupations? One might like it to be so, but one’s insistence will amount to another kind of dogmatism. The basic human psychological factors, be they individual or collective, have to be scrutinised and handled by going into their sources rather than probe them by external means such as the much-vaunted scientific methodology which belongs to just one particular province. It will be fatal to make a fetish of technocapitalism as the guide of human destinies...
The situation is so daunting that it looks to be totally beyond man’s best effort to succeed in it. Man can be a conscious helper in the process, and that is what is expected of him, but the radical transformation is beyond his capacity and capability. If it were so, it would make the coming of the Avatar superfluous. And yet we have our work to do. If we can consciously prepare ourselves to receive what is being given, then we would have fulfilled ourselves. Among a thousand aspects, technocapitalism could be just a small minor aspect. While we should feel proud about it, it cannot be glorified in the context of the great things awaiting us. Spiritual truths belong to a different order and howsoever powerful the mental conceptions be they cannot lead us to the spiritual truhts, though the spiritual truths might slip in them in some way. The Mother spoke of the mantra that has the power of immortality, immortality in the, and of the, physical itself. If we recognize such to be the evolutionary destiny as the next future, then we must prepare ourselves for it. That is the expectation, the desideratum. Will we recognise it? RYD

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Justice is the main pillar of commercial society

Adam Smith was always clear that justice is the main pillar of commercial society. Pollution is not left as an option (any more than child labour is) in modern capitalist societies. It may be in early capitalist societies such as India, China and some other Asian countries, but not in the richer countries.
The reviewer or the author, recognizes that Adam Smith was aware, and said so, 50 plus times in fact, that self interest and selfishness lead to social worsening and not social betterment, and correctly points out that ‘modern disciples’ (mostly self proclaimed) of Adam Smith assert to the contrary, though we can rest assured that they have never read Wealth Of Nations beyond a few second-hand quotations.
Competition is not the root of ‘social ills’; it is their cure. Non-competitive societies, which are usually dictatorships, are always awash with social ills. Russia, China and the socialist countries are the worst polluters and resource wasters. Poverty itself is the worst social ill...
For 18th-century readers of Wealth Of Nations (Book IV.ii.9: p456), who were not economists – more likely to be legislators and people who influence them – he summed this process after clearly explaining it by using a common 17th-18th-century literary metaphor of the invisible hand (see Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, Defoe’s ‘Moll Flanders’ or ‘Colonel Jack’, or Voltaire’s Oedipe: 'Tremble, unfortunate King, an invisible hand suspends above your head’; and ‘an invisible hand pushed away my presents’, etc.,).
The fable of the invisible hand has passed through the string of tenuous development, first as a ‘concept’, then as a ‘theory’, and finally, and banally, a ‘paradigm’! Its origins are located in the environs of 51st Street, Chicago, and which has been propagated all over American academe, via its graduates and the media, until the fable is now regarded as the reality in all expositions of neoclassical general equilibrium theory (after Samuelson and Debreu) and sanctified by Nobel Prize winners from the Bank of Sweden. Is David Kennedy 'the Stupidist Man Alive'? by Gavin Kennedy

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sunni Islam has already experienced something akin to a Reformation

Fred Siegel Anti- and Anti-Anti-Islamists
The West and the challenge of Islamic fanaticism19 October 2007
The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, by Mark Lilla (Knopf, 352 pp., $26) The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West, by Lee Harris (Basic, 290 pp., $26) Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, by Matthias Kuntzel (Telos, 174 pp., $29.95)
Hobbes, Lilla writes, “was the first thinker to suggest that religious conflict and political conflict are essentially the same conflict . . . because they share identical roots in human nature.” Caught up in the religiously driven English Civil War, Hobbes “did the most revolutionary thing a thinker can ever do—he changed the subject, from God and his commands to man and his beliefs.” A man of science, Hobbes argued for what Lilla calls “the great separation,” in which political matters would be organized around man’s need for order, not his need to satisfy an unknowable God’s commands. “The truth is,” Lilla concludes, “that the way modern liberal democracies approach religion and politics is unimaginable without the decisive break made by Thomas Hobbes.”
Some historians will grimace at the overstated claims that Lilla makes for Hobbes’s singular and decisive role in separating religion from politics. And Lilla’s tendency to leap from generalization to generalization is not the only problem with his arguments. Moving to a discussion of Rousseau’s, Kant’s, and Hegel’s religious themes, he blames those thinkers for having reintroduced religion into politics by making romantic sentiment a respectable part of national religious identities. But religion had never left the political arena; rather, a shift occurred from European theology-as-politics—which persisted prior to the French Revolution—to politics-as-theology, which took hold afterward.
Lilla bypasses, for instance, the most politically influential writings of these three philosophers. He says nothing about Rousseau’s idea of “general will” and its influence on the Jacobins, Napoleon, and the Bolsheviks. Nor does he mention Kant’s unintended influence—through Johann Gottlieb Fichte—on the growth of Volkish German nationalism, or the influence of Hegelianism on Marxist dialectics and twentieth-century statism.
Instead, he projects the influence of Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel forward, focusing on what he acknowledges in his introduction “was a minor intellectual episode, a sideshow”: the revival of redemptive theology in the writings of the noted 1920s religious liberals Karl Barth, a Protestant, and Franz Rosenzweig, a Jew. Here Lilla completely loses the reader. Neither Rosenzweig nor Barth, he acknowledges, “recognized the connection between the rhetoric of their theological messianism and the apocalyptic rhetoric that was beginning to engulf German society. . . . but they did unwittingly help to shape a new and noxious form of political argument, which was the theological celebration of modern tyranny.” The Stillborn God’s nearly 300 pages then culminate in this sentence: “Eschatological language,” referring to Barth’s and Rosenzweig’s writing, “breeds eschatological politics.”
Lilla seems to imply that these men were a significant philosophical source for National Socialism. The reader is left puzzled. What “eschatological language” today could plunge us into the millenarian revival that Lilla fears? Christianity is dying in Europe, and The Stillborn God barely mentions Islam. But summarizing his book in an article in The New York Times Magazine, Lilla added a revealing coda. Referring to the supposed damage done by Barth and Rosenzweig, he wrote, “The dynamics of political theology seem to dictate that when liberalizing reformers try to conform to the present, they inspire a countervailing and far more passionate longing for redemption in the messianic future. That is what happened in Weimar Germany and is happening again in contemporary Islam.” Here again the reader is likely to rub his eyes. When exactly did this liberalizing tendency in Islam take hold?
Further, having written a book that decries the Protestant Reformation’s plunging Europe into a century of religious war, Lilla does a 180-degree turn in the Times Magazine, inexplicably praising the Reformation as a model for Muslims. “The complacent liberalism and revolutionary messianism we’ve encountered,” he writes, “are not the only theological options. There is another kind of transformation possible in biblical faiths, and that is the renewal of traditional political theology from within. If liberalizers are apologists for religion at the court of modern life, renovators stand firmly within their faith and reinterpret political theology so believers can adapt without feeling themselves to be apostates. Luther and Calvin were renovators in this sense, not liberalizers. They called Christians back to the fundamentals of their faith, but in a way that made it easier, not harder, to enjoy the fruits of temporal existence.”
Lilla ignores the fact that Sunni Islam has already experienced something akin to a Reformation, in the form of eighteenth-century Wahhabism, which called Muslims back to the unadorned faith first preached by Mohammed. But while the Western liberal tradition stands on the two legs of Athens and Jerusalem, the singular focus on submission to God’s word in Islam—preached nowhere more intensely than in Wahhabi Islam—leaves no room for a second leavening tradition. What Islam has missed is not a Reformation, but an Enlightenment.
And whom does Lilla nominate to lead a renovated Islam? None other than Tariq Ramadan, the grandson and intellectual heir of Hasan al-Banna (about whom more later), the founder of the fascist-influenced Muslim Brotherhood, from which both the PLO and al-Qaida descend. Lilla explains: “If we cannot expect mass conversion to the principles of the Great Separation—and we cannot—we had better learn to welcome transformations in Muslim political theology that ease coexistence.” But he does not explain how the Salafist Ramadan, who has close ties with Islamic extremists, is to be the bearer of good news.
My puzzlement grew as I stumbled upon another recent article of Lilla’s for the New York Times, this one about his experiences as a Roman Catholic who became an evangelical Christian and now rejects both faiths. Lilla is still on a mission, albeit a very different one. He writes of a slight acquaintance who is hoping to be born again: “I wanted to warn him against the anti-intellectualism of American religion today and the political abuses to which it is subject. I wanted to cast doubt on the step he was about to take, to help him see there are other ways to live, other ways to seek knowledge, love, perhaps even self-transformation. I wanted to convince him that his dignity depended on maintaining a free, skeptical attitude toward doctrine. I wanted . . . to save him.”
Lilla the Hobbesian has not explained, as far as I’m aware, how he squares secularism with his embrace of Tariq Ramadan’s Islamism as the hope for the future. Perhaps it’s the other Lilla—the one who wishes that Christianity had openly recognized its nature as a political religion—who has moved in Ramadan’s direction. But either way, his sentiments reveal the underlying logic of his book. In effect, he thinks it better to encourage Islam than to allow the malign fruits of Christianity to continue blooming. Given the choice between Hobbes and Christianity, he prefers Hobbes. Given the choice between Hobbes and Ramadan’s Islam, he’ll reluctantly take Islam. What he can never countenance is Christianity, which he seems to view as our most urgent threat.
For Lee Harris, Hobbes’s hopes for a society of rational individualists, impervious to all but self-interest, have been so successfully realized as to make it almost impossible for us to comprehend the tribal fanaticism that still defines much of the world. “Instead of grasping that the creation of a society of rational actors was the work of a tradition,” he says, “we have come to think that all men are born rational actors.” Sheltered by success and wide oceans, we assume that reason is “a universal endowment of mankind,” which only needs to “be liberated from the shackles of oppression by an enlightened elite.” It is the Westerners, and not the Islamists, Harris writes, who have been the exception over the course of history, as episodes like the Iraq War demonstrate.
Harris, a man of wide reading, shows us what a solemn, and not just a tactical, multiculturalism looks like. Westerners mistakenly assume, he says, that “modernity is to cultures what old age is to the individual, an inevitable stage of development.” Darwin, for instance, who had witnessed the barbarism of the Tierra del Fuego Indians firsthand, assumed that as men moved beyond tribal loyalties, their sympathies would eventually expand to encompass all of humanity. But, asks Harris, what if tribalism, and an accompanying fanaticism of the sort that inspired past religious wars, are far more functional, far more effective modes of organization than we realize? When an Islamic terrorist insists that “we will win in the end because we are willing to die,” we should take him at his word. Islamic fanaticism is not a relic of the past. It is, argues Harris, “a formidable weapon in the struggle for cultural survival . . . it has served as a powerful defense mechanism that has successfully thwarted all attempts by rival cultures to conquer, dominate, or even influence Islam.” Nor can we take comfort in the assumption that the jihadists are outside the Islamic mainstream. On the contrary, Harris points out, a considerable body of orthodox Muslim jurisprudence buttresses them.
Accurate though he is in his sense of Islam’s capacity to resist modernity, Harris’s pessimism pushes him in an untenable direction. “The only cultures that have succeeded in driving back the inroads of Islam,” he notes, “have been those cultures that have adopted the Muslim principle of fanaticism to serve their own purpose. The Catholic reconquest of Spain, for example, could have only been achieved by a religion that adopted the same ethos that had animated Islam.” This is exactly the argument of those who, during World War II and the cold war, insisted that we could only win by becoming much more like our enemies. They were wrong then, and Harris, and Lilla in a different way, are mistaken now; we are far less fragile than such pessimists assume.
Matthias Kuntzel’s Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 effectively brings together the political theology central to Lilla’s book and the tribalism and fanaticism central to Harris’s. The small, independent Telos Press deserves kudos for publishing this book by a German historian little known in America. Better than anyone before him, Kuntzel makes sense of the deep and entangling historical ties between European National Socialism and the Muslim Brotherhood. “The idea of using suicide pilots to obliterate the skyscrapers of Manhattan originated in 1940s Berlin,” he notes. “Hitler envisioned having kamikaze pilots fly light aircraft packed with explosives and with no landing gear into Manhattan skyscrapers.” Like the 9/11 bombers, Hitler wanted “not merely to fight a military adversary, but to kill all Jews everywhere.”
Tariq Ramadan’s grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate. The Brotherhood became to Islamism what the Bolsheviks were to Communism: “the ideological reference point and organization” for future radical movements. Al-Banna’s famous article, “The Industry of Death,” argued that “to a nation that perfects the industry of death and which knows how to die nobly, God gives proud life in this world and eternal grace in the life to come.”
Al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood were a profound influence on the founder of the Palestinian political movement—Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who, drawing on the underworld-come-to-the-surface that Cohn described, was “the first to translate European anti-Semitism into an Islamic context.” Kuntzel explains that “although Islamism is an independent, anti-Semitic, anti-modern mass movement, its main early promoters—the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Mufti. . . . in Palestine—were supported financially and ideologically by agencies of the German National Socialist government.”
The Mufti, who spent the Second World War in Berlin broadcasting propaganda for the Nazis while recruiting Bosnian Muslims for the SS, translated Palestinian political interests into an extension of Hitler’s intentions to wipe out the Jews. The Mufti pointed to passages in the Koran referring to Jews as dangerous and inferior, as well as to Mohammed’s own behavior in beheading the entire male population of a Jewish tribe and expelling the other Jewish tribes from Medina. The Mufti and al-Banna exemplify the fanaticism that Harris writes about. Kuntzel describes how they relentlessly killed off liberals and moderates who might impede their Islamic agenda. Their success has been the tragedy of the modern Middle East.
Apologists for Islamism argue that, if only we can resolve the conflicts in Chechnya, Palestine, Kashmir, Nigeria, Southern Thailand, the southern Philippines, East Timor, and the cities of Europe for that matter, all will be well. But what’s at the heart of the Islamic conflict with modernity is the unvarnished political theology of Islam, which assumes that Muslims are destined to rule the earth. Hassan Butt, a former British Islamist, explains in his memoirs: “When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network . . . I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings, and 7/7 was Western foreign policy . . . they also helped draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.”
Of these three writers, only Kuntzel takes Islamic theology seriously, which is why his book is so deeply informative. Lee Harris is right to argue that we are unlikely to make serious progress in opening the culturally autarkic Arab and Islamic worlds to the pleasures of modernity, given their ferocious and time-tested defense mechanisms. That’s why it’s all the more important for Europeans unambiguously to defend Western values on their own terrain, rather than abasing themselves before the likes of Ramadan—who, like the Nazis, is a reactionary modernist, and who hopes not to modernize Islam but to Islamicize modernity. But maybe that’s all right for the Mark Lillas of the world. Fred Siegel is a professor of history at the Cooper Union for Science and Art.

We have the potential to grow our own beautiful flowers and organic words

Africa: Civil Society in an Uncivil World Fahamu (Oxford) OPINION18 October 2007 Posted to the web 19 October 2007 John Samuel
"One of the key predicaments of the ongoing social and political transition in the world today is the subversion of language and ideas to create political smoke screen or delusion or to give a semblance of social and political legitimacy for the hegemonic discourse." John Samuel argues that the use of the term Civil Society is being used as a smokescreen to give "social and political legitimacy for the hegemonic discourse".
Words are like flowers. Flowers have their own colour, texture and smell. Not every kind of flower blooms in every climate or soil. It's the same with words. Their colour, texture, smell and meaning arise organically from a particular socio-historical and cultural milieu. When demand exceeds the supply of flowers, there arises a market for manufactured flowers. Plastic flowers need neither soil nor climate; they transcend space and time. They may sometimes look like the real thing. But they can never feel like the real thing.
So it is with words in the postmodern condition. There are all too many plastic words, good for decoration and intellectual pleasantries, and little else. One of the key predicaments of the ongoing social and political transition in the world today is the subversion of language and ideas to create political smoke screen or delusion or to give a semblance of social and political legitimacy for the hegemonic discourse. Often progressive-sounding words and phrases are used to conceal the reality on the ground or to create a virtual or projected sense of select images and discourse. The reshuffling of meanings and the subversion of political semantics has become the order of the day. This has become a part of process of creating the new pornography of politics. The very term Civil Society is major protagonist in the post-modern politics of delusive power-plays and elusive semantics. They together often create political and policy mirages.
The term 'Civil Society' is contested terrain. Over the last fifteen years it has been used to denote everything from citizens' groups and activist formations to highly institutionalized non-governmental organisations and foundations. There is another dimension to this process of subversive politics of words from the point of view of the history ideas and the political economy of knowledge.
Civil society as a concept originated in 18th-century Western Europe. It was a theoretical construct useful in analyzing and understanding the emerging socio-political economy of the industrialized west in the 18th and 19th centuries. The concept was resurrected in the late-'80s amidst the ruins of the authoritarian regimes of Eastern Europe. It was born-again in the manufacturing shops neo-democratization ventures in the North. During the second coming of the concept, more stress was laid on producing and marketing the civil society in different colours and shapes, rather than on reflecting the very validity of the idea in relation to real-life situations and experiences. The civil society is being paraded as the new panacea for issues such as poverty, human rights, gender equity and 'good governance'.

What is this civil society all about? Whose civil society are we talking about? There is no one answer or even set of answers. The colour and smell of the term will change according to the convenience of the various proponents. As a result of such ambivalence, the second coming of the civil society conceals more than it reveals. Civil society, we are told, is synchronous with democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of choice, good governance and opportunity for economic growth. But what do all these goodies entail? Whose democracy? Whose freedom of expression and choice are we talking about?
The new holy trinity of the State, Market and Civil Society can be capable of concealing the structural inequalities, marginalization and patriarchy, and reduces complex reality into neat spaces. There is an underlying tendency to homogenize the world according to an idealized notion of governance that skips the entire historical process of marginalization and unequal distribution of power in the socio-economic and political arena. The problem with such an ahistorical theorization is that anything and everything outside the market and the State can be considered civil society. So the Islamic Taliban, Sangh Parivar in India and all such fundamentalist formations as well as small self-help groups, neighborhood associations or professional groups can be considered part of civil society. A mega-million non-profit organisation with huge corporate structures and tens of thousand of staff or a mega billion Foundation is as much part of civil society as a small NGO or a small community organisation. This is an interesting logic wherein sharks, sardines and shrimps all say we are fish, though the sharks would like the freedom to swallow sardines and other small fish.
This nebulous concept had its origin in western political theory. The pre-18th century concept emerged in the tradition of Aristotle, Cicero and modern natural law. Till the 18th century, civil society was considered "a type of political association which placed its members under the influence of laws and ensured peaceful order and good government". The discourse on civil society took a critical turn in the 18th century, as a corollary to the discourse on emerging capitalism as well as liberal democratic movements. The ambivalence of this concept is partly because it was an analytical tool used by both the proponents and critics of modern capitalism. On the one hand it served as a convenient tool to legitimize the market outside the sphere of an authoritarian and mercantile State and on the other; it was a tool to rationalize the sphere of individuals and associations to assert their freedom and rights.
One can see three broad varieties of definitions and interpretations of this term. There is a tradition that can be traced back to John Locke, Thomas Paine and De Tocqueville -- the liberal tradition. Though there are differing nuances within this tradition, one of the significant aspects is that civil society is considered a 'natural condition' for freedom, and a legitimate area of association, individual action and human rights. Thus the notion of civil society came to be seen in opposition to the State: it allowed space for democracy and the growth of markets.
The classical political economy tradition of civil society emanated from the works of Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith and J S Mill. This stream of thinking perceived civil society as a sphere for the satisfaction of individual interests and private wants. This perspective stressed the primacy of individualism, property and the market.
The third stream of civil society discourse can be traced back to Hegel, Marx, Gramsci and Habermass. This stream can be seen as a critique of the liberal and classical political economy tradition. This perspective interpreted civil society as a historically-produced sphere of life rather than the natural condition of freedom. This tradition questioned the notion of an idealized civil society and recognized the internal contradictions and conflict of interests within civil society. For Hegel, civil society was sandwiched between a patriarchal family and the universal State. Though Hegel questioned the idealized notion of civil society, he tended to idealize a universal State. By challenging the idealization of both State and civil society, Marx argued that the contradictions within civil society are reproduced within the State. For Marx, the State is not merely an external force that confronts civil society, but the reflection of it, wherein different interest groups penetrate the State to rule. Both Hegel and Marx pointed out the role of the elite in defining the character of civil society. Gramsci emphasized civil society as the realm of public opinion and culture. It is the public sphere where hegemony is created through consent and coercion.
In the second coming of the civil society in the late-'80s and through the '90s, the predominant trend has been a resurrection of the tradition of Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith, with a doze of De Tocqueville's liberalism. The new civil society discourse is often misused as a poaching ground by the New Right to rationalise and legitimize the privatization of the public services and to reduce the State as a support mechanism to the market.
The other part of the story is that the Civil Society is also being used to denote new democratization, grassroots politics and new way for citizens' participation and engagement in the process of governance and affairs of the state. While the term Civil Society has broader social and political connotations, the tendency is often to equate the Civil Society with NGOs. The very world of NGOs themselves are very heterogeneous and with multiple institutional, social and funding power relations at play. The NGO world is increasingly looking like an Orwellian Animal Farm, wherein everyone is supposed to be equal but some are more equal than others. This becomes all the more problematic given that many of the new-generation NGOs are more like private enterprises in the public domain. The problem occurs when such groups or entities develop a universalistic claim based on an imagined or assumed legitimacy.
The various political and knowledge traditions behind the term Civil Society co-exit w and often intermingle to create new sense and meaning to the term civil society. This often makes the concept fluid and ambivalent.
The new civil society discourse is also a symptom of the crisis in social theorization. Instead of looking for fresh theories to address the profound socio-political and economic transition, the tendency is to resurrect concepts and theoretical frameworks from the residue of the Enlightenment in the 18th century...
We are in the transitory phase of a new epoch. The notions of nation-state, market, civil society, reason and progress that emerged during the Enlightenment are beginning to get transformed. In the new paradigm shift, we once again go back to the lived experiences of communities and individuals to search for new ways of looking at the transition of the world. We need a new language, a new set of insights and a fresh sense of humility to look at our past, present and future. What we need is to rediscover ethical communities within our societies and the world. We can still question injustice or rights violations based on the whole range of humanizing ethical traditions. When we have the potential to grow our own beautiful flowers and organic words, why must we be deluded by plastic flowers and words? John Samuel is a human rights activist and is currently International Director of Actionaid, based in Bangkok. Relevant Links Conflict, Peace and Security Sustainable Development

Keeping supercapitalism from spilling over into democracy is the only constructive agenda for change

By ROBERT FRANK NYT: October 21, 2007
In “Supercapitalism,” Robert B. Reich argues that the current political debate in the United States is drowning in misdirected moral outrage. We cannot hope to solve our problems, he says, without first understanding the forces that have caused them. Reich, a public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and formerly President Clinton’s secretary of labor, is quick to concede that rising inequality, environmental degradation and a dysfunctional health care system are problems worth worrying about. But he argues that social critics are wrong to attribute them to increased greed and corruption. Today’s corporate and political leaders are no different, he says, from their earlier counterparts. What has changed is that new technology has made the economic environment dramatically more competitive.
As Adam Smith first described clearly, individuals who pursue only their own narrow interests in a competitive system often inadvertently create widespread social gains. But not always. Unlike many of his modern disciples, Smith was keenly aware of the invisible hand’s limitations. Individual and social interests often diverge, he realized, and in such cases, greater competition makes matters worse. If a firm can cut costs by removing the filter from its smokestack, for example, it will feel greater pressure to do so when competition intensifies. If our social ills are indeed rooted in increased competition, our only recourse, Reich argues, is to change the rules. Denouncing greed is simply wasted energy. If we want less inequality, we must make taxes more progressive. If we want cleaner air and water, we must adopt more stringent environmental laws.
Reich’s narrative begins with his account of the “not quite golden age” — roughly, the three decades following World War II — in which limited competition enabled large companies to earn high profits. High profits, in turn, enabled unions to bargain for high wages and benefits. Legislators, who were less influenced by corporate cash in those days, passed laws in the public interest. Things changed when the Internet and other new communications and transportation technologies enabled the economy’s most able producers to extend their reach. Many established firms were swept away. At about the same time, financial deregulation increased the influence of capital markets on corporate behavior. Wall Street’s message to chief executives was “Slash your payrolls or we’ll buy your company and hire someone who will.”...
“Supercapitalism” is a grand debunking of the conventional wisdom in the style of John Kenneth Galbraith. Like Galbraith, Reich will draw fire from economists for some of the details of his argument. I think he misses the mark, for example, in saying that economies of scale are less important than in the 1950s. Now, as then, giving consumers more product variety means smaller production runs with higher unit costs. And because wealthier customers demand greater variety, production runs are indeed often smaller than before. But firms can still cut their unit costs by expanding their markets, just as in the 1950s, and heightened competition creates more pressure than ever to do so... Robert Frank, an economics professor at Cornell University, is the author, most recently, of “Falling Behind.”

We need to find sources of prophecy appropriate for our own times

Mobilizing the Religious Left By ALAN WOLFE NYT: October 21, 2007 Walter Rauschenbusch, the leader of the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century, did just that in “Christianity and the Social Crisis,” published 100 years ago this year
The first half of “Christianity and the Social Crisis” offers an interpretation of who Jesus was and what he taught. Jesus, Rauschenbusch argues, was a revolutionary: “It is an essential doctrine of Christianity that the world is fundamentally good and practically bad, for it was made by God, but is now controlled by sin. If a man wants to be a Christian, he must stand over against things as they are and condemn them in the name of that higher conception of life which Jesus revealed.” It is therefore incorrect to view Christianity, as conservatives of his time did, as a purely ascetic spiritual retreat from the world. The church founded in Jesus’ name has not always lived up to the savior’s spirit, but the promise of social transformation is always there, offering the possibility for the Church “to act as the tribune of the people.”
The other half of Rauschenbusch’s book provides an analysis of the “present crisis” facing the United States. The brutal realities of unregulated industrial capitalism, he argued, were destroying the family and degrading the person. Commerce “exalts selfishness to the dignity of a moral principle.” Democracy was being corrupted by money. “Nations do not die by wealth, but by injustice,” Rauschenbusch proclaimed. The country needed “statesmen, prophets and apostles who set truth and justice above selfish advancement” so that “the stifled energy of the people will leap forward ... and a regenerate nation will look with the eyes of youth across the fields of the future.”
A clergyman, Rauschenbusch wrote, should “be the master of politics by creating the issues which parties will have to espouse.” It is unlikely that Jerry Falwell ever read Rauschenbusch, and he certainly would have disagreed with his political views. But he would have liked that part about creating issues. In a democracy, the people choose the questions they want to discuss, and in our time more of them want the religious spirit to concern itself with abortion and homosexuality rather than race relations or a just wage. By opening the door for the one, Rauschenbusch inadvertently gave freedom of entry to the other.
Jim Wallis, an evangelical minister and antipoverty activist whose 2005 book, “God’s Politics,” was much discussed in Democratic circles, recognizes that Rauschenbusch’s call for “Christianizing” society is inappropriate for one as religiously diverse as our own...
The late Richard Rorty, a grandson of Rauschenbusch, is also heard from in this book; he points out, quite correctly, that until roughly the 1970s, his grandfather helped inspire whatever minimal welfare state the United States developed. Today, he writes, sounding a note little heard in the rest of the commentaries, “the likelihood that religion will play a significant role in the struggle for social justice seems smaller now than at any time since ‘Christianity and the Social Crisis’ was published.” Indeed, Rorty himself, a thoroughly secular philosopher and public intellectual, had more in common with Niebuhr than with Rauschenbusch. Both he and Niebuhr made the concept of irony central to their work. For the theologian, an ironic temperament should sensitize us to the fact that even if we long for the good, we may still commit the sin of pride, whereas for the philosopher, irony helps us understand that even if we want to be liberals, we cannot ground our liberal commitments on any firm foundations.
A century ago, the case for the inevitability of inequality was made by secular thinkers strongly influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution, while those who argued on behalf of social justice took their Bible reading seriously. Nowadays it is the reverse, and the republication of “Christianity and the Social Crisis” could help restore the balance. Rauschenbusch may have been too steeped in his own vision of Christianity and too unwary of the dangers of blending religion and politics, but he was right that society needs powerful and prophetic voices. It is just that we need to find sources of prophecy appropriate for our own times, rather than borrowing them from the earnest but limited thinkers and activists of 100 years ago. Alan Wolfe is the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hegel finished the process of secularizing theology

For America to live, Europe must die
The following speech was given by Russell Means in July 1980
Newton , for example, "revolutionized" physics and the so-called natural sciences by reducing the physical universe to a linear mathematical equation. Descartes did the same thing with culture. John Locke did it with politics, and Adam Smith did it with economics. Each one of these "thinkers" took a piece of the spirituality of human existence and converted it into code, an abstraction. They picked up where Christianity ended: they "secularized" Christian religion, as the "scholars" like to say- and in doing so they made Europe more able and ready to act as an expansionist culture. Each of these intellectual revolutions served to abstract the European mentality even further, to remove the wonderful complexity and spirituality from the universe and replace it with a logical sequence: one, two, three. Answer!
This is what has come to be termed "efficiency" in the European mind. Whatever is mechanical is perfect; whatever seems to work at the moment- that is, proves the mechanical model to be the right one- is considered correct, even when it is clearly untrue. This is why "truth" changes so fast in the European mind; the answers which result from such a process are only stopgaps, only temporary, and must be continuously discarded in favor of new stopgaps which support the mechanical models and keep them (the models) alive.
Hegel and Marx were heirs to the thinking of Newton , Descartes, Locke and Smith. Hegel finished the process of secularizing theology- and that is put in his own terms- he secularized the religious thinking through which Europe understood the universe. Then Marx put Hegel's philosophy in terms of "materialism, " which is to say that Marx despiritualized Hegel's work altogether. Again, this is in Marx' own terms. And this is now seen as the future revolutionary potential of Europe . Europeans may see this as revolutionary, but American Indians see it simply as still more of that same old European conflict between being and gaining. The intellectual roots of a new Marxist form of European imperialism lie in Marx'- and his followers'- links to the tradition of Newton , Hegel and the others. Being is a spiritual proposition.
Gaining is a material act. Traditionally, American Indians have always attempted to be the best people they could. Part of that spiritual process was and is to give away wealth, to discard wealth in order not to gain. Material gain is an indicator of false status among traditional people, while it is "proof that the system works" to Europeans. Clearly, there are two completely opposing views at issue here, and Marxism is very far over to the other side from the American Indian view. But let's look at a major implication of this; it is not merely an intellectual debate.
The European materialist tradition of despiritualizing the universe is very similar to the mental process which goes into dehumanizing another person. And who seems most expert at dehumanizing other people? And why? Soldiers who have seen a lot of combat learn to do this to the enemy before going back into combat. Murderers do it before going out to commit murder. Nazi SS guards did it to concentration camp inmates. Cops do it. Corporation leaders do it to the workers they send into uranium mines and steel mills. Politicians do it to everyone in sight. And what the process has in common for each group doing the dehumanizing is that it makes it all right to kill and otherwise destroy other people.
One of the Christian commandments says, "Thou shalt not kill," at least not humans, so the trick is to mentally convert the victims into nonhumans. Then you can proclaim violation of your own commandment as a virtue. In terms of the despiritualization of the universe, the mental process works so that it becomes virtuous to destroy the planet. Terms like progress and development are used as cover words here, the way victory and freedom are to justify butchery in the dehumanization process. For example, a real-estate speculator may refer to "developing" a parcel of ground by opening a gravel quarry; development here means total, permanent destruction, with the earth itself removed.
But European logic has gained a few tons of gravel with which more land can be "developed" through the construction of road beds. Ultimately, the whole universe is open- in the European view- to this sort of insanity. Most important here, perhaps, is the fact that Europeans feel no sense of loss in all this. After all, their philosophers have despiritualized reality, so there is no satisfaction (for them) to be gained in simply observing the wonder of a mountain or a lake or a people in being. No, satisfaction is measured in terms of gaining material. So the mountain becomes gravel, and the lake becomes coolant for a factory, and the people are rounded up for processing through the indoctrination mills Europeans like to call schools. But each new piece of that "progress" ups the ante out in the real world.
Take fuel for the industrial machine as an example. Little more than two centuries ago, nearly everyone used wood- a replenishable, natural item- as fuel for the very human needs of cooking and staying warm. Along came the Industrial Revolution and coal became the dominant fuel, as production became the social imperative for Europe . Pollution began to become a problem in the cities, and the earth was ripped open to provide coal whereas wood had always simply been gathered or harvested at no great expense to the environment. Later, oil became the major fuel, as the technology of production was perfected through a series of scientific "revolutions." Pollution increased dramatically, and nobody yet knows what the environmental costs of pumping all that oil out of the ground will really be in the long run.
Now there's an "energy crisis," and uranium is becoming the dominant fuel. Capitalists, at least, can be relied upon to develop uranium as fuel only at the rate which they can show a good profit. That's there ethic, and maybe they will buy some time. Marxists, on the other hand, can be relied upon to develop uranium fuel as rapidly as possible simply because it's the most "efficient" production fuel available. That's their ethic, and I fail to see where it's preferable. Like I said, Marxism is right smack in the middle of European tradition. It's the same old song.
There's a rule of thumb which can be applied here. You cannot judge the real nature of a European revolutionary doctrine on the basis of the changes it proposes to make within the European power structure and society. You can only judge it by the effects it will have on non-European peoples. This is because every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe 's tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself. I defy anyone to point out an example where this is not true.

Wealth Of Nations was written to persuade legislators to replace the policies of mercantile political economy

Adrian Cho in ScienceNOW Daily News (15 October) writes, ‘The Economics Nobel: Giving Adam Smith a Helping Hand’,(here): “Scottish philosopher Adam Smith asserted that when everyone acts out of self-interest, everyone will eventually benefit, as if a benevolent "invisible hand" molds the economy. Economists now know that view is naive: They can prove that in some situations, rational people will act in ways that leave everybody a loser. But such dreary outcomes can sometimes be avoided, thanks to work that today earned three Americans the Nobel Prize in economics.”
Comment The fact is that Adam Smith did not assert ‘that when everyone acts out of self-interest, everyone will eventually benefit, as if a benevolent "invisible hand" molds the economy.’ This outrageous calumny is a fabrication by neoclassical economists, including winners of the prestigious economics version of the Nobel prize awarded by the Bank of Sweden each year, who by a tenuous slide of meaning use the assertion to give historical credibility to general equilibrium mathematical equations that do not correspond to the world we live in (and never have!).
For Adrian Cho to assert that ‘Economists now know that view is naïve’ exposes a consequential ignorance of what Adam Smith actually wrote about his use of the metaphor of the invisible hand. There are numerous postings on Lost Legacy that make this point and I refer readers to them.
The fact is that Adam Smith’s Wealth Of Nations is literally littered with his examples of significant instances of people ‘act[ing] out of self interest’ to the detriment of everyone else, and from Smith’s historical account it is clear that this has always been so. In Wealth Of Nations , Books I and II, which analyse how markets work in the world he lived in, how they have always worked, and still work, he provides 51 specific examples of the self-interests leading to results far short of them ‘benefiting’ anybody other than themselves. This contrasts with the single use of the metaphor that has been interpreted variously by some classical and all neoclassical economists as a ‘concept’, a ‘theory’, and even a ‘paradigm’!
Hence, this month’s winners of the Nobel prize for ‘economics science’ were not showing Adam Smith’s naivety for believing such assertions about self interest leading ‘always’, or ‘eventually’ to society benefiting. They were correcting the neoclassical error believed with all the conviction of a religious belief beyond human understanding, as it must be because the role of self interest is well explained as a very human behaviour in both Moral Sentiments and Wealth Of Nations without the intervention of invisible body parts.
That some economists have found in the invisible hand the intervention of a god or a divine spirit in the literary metaphor that was common enough in the 17th and 18th centuries, and long before back into Greek and Roman times, reveals a most unscientific notion totally unexplained or explainable by them or other neoclassical economists.
The negative aspects of self interest when exercised by powerful rulers and monopolists (and polluters!) is indeed ‘dreary’, but it is also normal. Adam Smith's realisation of the prevalence of these historical norms led him to suggest measures, that would curtail them.
Necessarily, this implied legislative intervention - it wasn't going to happen otherwise - and that is why Wealth Of Nations was written to persuade legislators, and those who influenced them, to replace, slowly and gradually, the policies of mercantile political economy, to improve the progress towards opulence, which would reduce absolute poverty, partricularly among the majority of the population.

Marketing Christian fundamentalism with all the savvy of the most sophisticated Western corporation

Fifth Annual Human Empowerment Conference (HEC) Explores Key Hindu Issues
The evening sessions were focused around the life's work of Sita Ram Goel, one of the great Hindu thinkers and activists of the 20th century. The main lecture of the evening was by Dr. Valerie Tarico, a Seattle psychologist specially invited by the organizers to speak on Christian fundamentalism and evangelism. Her talk was riveting, as she herself came from a family of evangelists and early in life was a "true believer." She explained that it is these evangelists, the fundamentalists of Christianity, who are trying to convert the people of India. They are driven in their attempts by a belief in the Great Commiss ion, the idea in the New Testament that Christians are obliged to preach and convert all the peoples of the world.
Dr. Tarico did a scathing analysis of evangelical beliefs, beginning with the monotheism/Trinity of God conundrum and ending with their belief in Biblical inerrancy, that every single word of the Bible is true, even the most horrible punishments and genocide ordered by God. "These beliefs are not rational, not coherent," she boldly asserted. She warned Hindus that evangelicals have the power of American innovation behind them, marketing their product, Christian fundamentalism, with all the savvy of the most sophisticated Western corporation.
She said Hindus should regard the belief system of these fundamentalists as a force as deadly as drugs. In her conclusion, Dr. Tarico urged Hindus to "be more evangelical about what you do and know, especially your religious pluralism." "Right now, Hinduism is thought of as an antiquated bunch of people who think statues are God. But I think Hinduism offers a path, a power to sow the seeds of wisdom that we need. You need to evang elize the ideal of dharma to counteract the existing stereotypes of Hindu belief." # posted by nizhal yoddha @ 12:06 AM