Monday, 14 May 2012

Gabriel Tarde & Dr.Ambedkar

This is Dr Ambedkar quoting Gabriel Tarde to explain the Hindu taboo on beef

Coming to Manu there is no doubt that he too did. not prohibit the slaughter of the cow. On the other hand he made the eating of cow's flesh on certain occasions obligatory.
Why then did the non-Brahmins give up eating beef? There appears to be no apparent reason for this departure on their part. But there must be some reason behind it. The reason I like to suggest is that it was due to their desire to imitate the Brahmins that the non-Brahmins gave up beef-eating. This may be a novel theory but it is not an impossible theory. As the French author, Gabriel Tarde has explained that culture within a society spreads by imitation of the ways and manners of the superior classes by the inferior classes. This imitation is so regular in its flow that its working is as mechanical as the working of a natural law. Gabriel Tarde speaks of the laws of imitation. One of these laws is that the lower classes always imitate the higher classes. This is a matter of such common knowledge that hardly any individual can be found to question its validity.
That the spread of the cow-worship among and cessation of beef-eating by the non-Brahmins has taken place by reason of the habit of the non-Brahmins to imitate the Brahmins who were undoubtedly their superiors is beyond dispute. Of course there was an extensive propaganda in favour of cow-worship by the Brahmins. The Gayatri Purana is a piece of this propaganda. But initially it is the result of the natural law of imitation. This, of course, raises another question: Why did the Brahmins give up beef-eating? 

I must admit that I can make no sort of sense out of this. The killing of four legged animals, including cows, was prohibited in Buddhist countries like Japan. There were no Brahmins in Japan but there was Untouchability.
Gabriel Tarde's law of imitation cuts both ways. If the Brahmins practiced animal sacrifice then they could not be the originator of the custom. Rather, they must have adopted it from some class or sect they held superior to themselves. The Sramanic Religions, especially Jainism, are an obvious candidate for this superior class. Even to day we find the adoption of 'Jain-Vegetarianism' - i.e. rejection of root vegetables, tubers, honey, etc- as a method of one-upmanship within Hindu sub-castes. 
Brahminical animal sacrifice was a costly affair and was connected to a metaphysical theory such that the sacrificed animal gained the realm of the gods. Poor Brahmins would have the strongest incentive to adopt vegetarianism since they could not afford to host a 'potlatch' animal-sacrifice.

Dr.Ambedkar, however, sees something sinister in the Brahmin espousal of vegetarianism.
'That the object of the Brahmins in giving up beef-eating was to snatch away from the Buddhist Bhikshus the supremacy they had acquired is evidenced by the adoption of vegetarianism by Brahmins. Why did the Brahmins become vegetarian? The answer is that without becoming vegetarian the Brahmins could not have recovered the ground they had lost to their rival namely Buddhism. In this connection it must be remembered that there was one aspect in which Brahmanism suffered in public esteem as compared to Buddhism. That was the practice of animal sacrifice which was the essence of Brahmanism and to which Buddhism was deadly opposed. That in an agricultural population there should be respect for Buddhism and revulsion against Brahmanism which involved slaughter of animals including cows and bullocks is only natural. What could the Brahmins do to recover the lost ground? To go one better than the Buddhist Bhikshus not only to give up meat-eating but to become vegetarians- which they did. That this was the object of the Brahmins in becoming vegetarians can be proved in various ways.'
Why does Dr. Ambedkar think it only natural that there should be 'revulsion in an agricultural population for the slaughter of animals'? The reverse is the case. In Europe, when animals were slaughtered with the onset of winter, it was an occasion of public rejoicing. At least some of the meat was roasted and enjoyed while the remainder was salted and dried and put away for the lean months of winter.  Animal sacrifice is generally a joyous occasion. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem, on Festival days, presented an awesome sight as the blood of thousands of kine ran through its stone channels and conduits.
Ambedkar invokes Garbiel Tarde but, blinded by his suspicion and resentment of the Brahmins, he comes up with a conspiracy theory for Brahmin vegetarianism.
Tarde's Laws of imitation, as is increasingly becoming clear from the work of Latour, Deleuze  and Actor network Theory, have far greater explanatory and prescriptive power than Dr. Ambedkar allows in his polemical work. 
The truth is simpler. 
Buddhism was the religion par excellence of mega-power, mega-money, mega-magic and of course, karma-as-caste. 
Vegetarianism, Poverty, and Stupidity were and are the best defense against Buddhism. Live well, spend money with a free hand, speak in a cultured fashion and what is the upshot? Various shady monks and nuns will start turning up at your door pretending to be terribly humble while also claiming incredible magical powers.
As Ambedkar notices, everybody in India is untouchable to everybody else. Why? Because a stupid Religion came along saying 'the World is a vale of tears' and everybody has to become a monk, in not in this life, then the next life, because otherwise everybody will burn in Hell. 
When Emperor's decide to adopt this sort of crazy and fraudulent Religion, Tarde's Law of Imitation comes into play. Everybody should act like an untouchable to everybody else because the 'fountain of Honor' has been poisoned at source. Social mimesis is now a fool's game. Everyone needs to go into quarantine. 
Ambedkar, of course, became a Buddhist and is now a Boddhisattva. That's one up on being a Mahatma. So Gabriel Tarde was right. There is something in Society which corresponds to his Law of imitation. But, Gresham discovered it first- bad money drives out good.


Anonymous said...

You are completely missing the point. The pure morality of the Buddhist doctrine inculcated feeling of revulsion towards the killing of living beings as part of so called Yagnya (Vedic Sacrifice)
The Brahmin priests lost their power and position because of the spread of Buddhism. They consulted together and made a plan to recover their prestige in the eyes of the population by adopting vegetarian diet. At the same time, they also espoused devotional religion (bhakti) stressing supernatural miracles performed by God for the benefit of humble devotees. In this way they weaned away the people from Buddhism.
This is the substance of Dr. Ambedkar's thesis.

windwheel said...

Either Buddhism condemned killing animals for food or it did not. If it did, then the decline in Buddhism, by Dr. Ambekar's argument, arose because the monks no longer observed the precepts of the Buddha in as much as they ate meat. In this case,Buddhism would have fallen into disrepute by itself. hatred and contempt for Buddhism would be quite justified by reason of the failure of the Buddhist monks to follow their own religion.
If, on the other hand, Buddhism never prohibited the killing of animals for meat then Buddhism could not have inculcated a feeling of revulsion towards the killing of living beings for food.
There was another Religion- Jainism- which did in fact forbid monks from eating meat and castigated the killing of living beings. In this case, the people would naturally consider Jainism superior to Buddhism.
Dr.Ambedkar does not mention Jainism at all. Yet Jain monks did exist and were vegetarian. Thus, the proper argument here is that the Brahmins imitated the Jains because they were superior according Gabriel Tarde's law.
The Jains themselves explain the decline of their religion not by blaming Brahmins but by saying that the quality and quantity of 'shravaks' declined. Buddhism itself, as opposed to Ambedkar's conspiracy theory, holds this view. Lord Buddha predicted the decline of the Sangha.
The lunatic element in Ambedkar's argument- his stupidity in mentioning Tarde in this context- is that he thinks a conspiracy can just come about by itself. This is not Sociology, it is hate-mongering Casteist polemics.
However, Amebedkar was merely obeying Tarde's Law of Imitation. After all, if Gandhi could turn into a Mahatma by talking paranoid nonsense, why should he not turn into a Boddhisatva?
What was the alternative, in any case? There was scarcely any constituency in India at the time for Liberal Economic policies. The left didn't trust him, people like Jagjivan Ram thought him a running dog of the British, while the right wingers may well have been prejudiced against him by reason of the accident of his birth.
As a politician he served himself as well as any of his contemporaries. He has his reward. Who can grudge him that? In any case, no one now is actually losing money by worshiping him. Still, it would be a pity if Gabriel Tarde's ideas are taken as supporting Dr. Ambedkar's assertions in this context.

Anonymous said...

You are accusing Ambedkar of sloppy thinking or of not understanding Gabriel Tarde. What you fail to understand is that Ambedkar was a practical politician determined to raise the status of his own community.
Buddhism in the 50's showed a tremendous potential for ethnic cleansing and caste based chauvinism. It was a great hate ideology and as such a reliable vehicle to caste power. Ambedkar put in his community's bid to leadership, in India, of a broader upsurge.
The three great attractions of Buddhism to the Chauvinist hate monger are
1) Extreme supernatural claims, exceeding even that of the Catholic clergy, made by monks. Buddhist theocracies were far more cruel and irrational than any other. At least in Islam or Christianity, there is space for lawyers and merchants. Not so, in Tibet of Mongolia under the Bogdh Khan.
2) Moral nihilism and an epistemology based on reckless disregard for the truth. Buddhism's faux 'relationism' means that you can say what you like, do what you like, because some people- high placed Buddhist monks- have omniscience and are correcting a karmic injustice.The Muslim or Christian has to at least make some show of justification on the basis of Religious Law. Buddhists can do what they like.
3) Casteism- As the Sri Lankar anthropologist-
Gananath Obeyesekere- reincarnation binds small communities yet closer together. The capture of Buddhism by Ambedkar's own caste would bind them closer together and let them function as the power behind the throne, controlling everything under a Buddhist facade to which all sorts of stupid 'scholars' and 'social entrepreneurs' would pledge allegiance.

If Burma and Sri Lanka could destroy themselves by adherence to chauvinistic Buddhism, why should not Ambedkar's own caste gain a corrupt, nihilistic, and hate-mongering vehicle to class power for themselves by invoking the same religion?
Ambedkar can scarcely be blamed for making a far-sighted decision which would benefit his own adherents, especially those of his own caste. If this hurt the country, so what? What did Jinnah or Gandhi or Nehru do that was different?
There is no point in treating Ambedkar as though he was a fool who didn't understand Gabriel Tarde. He was a brilliant man. He had learned from history and was providing his own people an indigenous means to rise to the top of the pile and lord it over others.