Thursday, 8 August 2013

Akeel Bilgrami on Secularism

As one of West London's most vituperative, albeit least widely read, Hindutva bloggers, I feel it my duty to take Prof. Akeel Bilgrami to task for his view that Secularism 'is not a general political truth, suited to all historical contexts, but rather apt only in some contexts, such as, for instance, when there is an implicit and pervasive threat of "majoritarianism". And second, for the conclusion that any justification and implementation of secularism in contexts which are not fully modernist - in a sense of "modern" that was articulated first in western Europe - must turn on an appeal to the conceptual vernacular.
It so happens that we know in advance- coz it's the Evolutionarily Stable Strategy- that the heterosexuals will always be a majority-  which raises the question,- how is 'Secularism'- as opposed to Legalistic pragmatics, which sublates the 'conceptual vernacular', coz that's in its job description- at all 'apt' in the context of Philistine heteros buggering with the happiness of Philosophical homos? 
Perhaps, Bilgrami might answer, the Homos could set up Religions of their own in which sexual acts become sacraments and thus gain protection for those practices that way. But, this is an odd type of Secularism. 

What about Bilgrami's notion that Secularism is only relevant in contexts which are 'modernist'- that too in some supposedly univocal Western European sense? The problem is, for Legalistic pragmatics- i.e. that which acts as a check and balance on the power of the Secular- be it Statist or Contractarian- those contexts have disappeared or never existed in the first place. Once again, Bilgrami's notion of Secularism is just too fucking bizarre to have any salience in Public Discourse because while the Law is a Social reality and obligatory passage point, Academic Philosophy is a Solipsistic oubliette.

Perhaps, as a matter of full disclosure and uttermost good faith, I ought to have prefaced my analysis of Bilgrami's thesis by pointing out that 17 trillion of my Hindu ancestors were ruthlessly slaughtered by Muslims, yet Bilgrami- a self confessed Muslim- won't even kill just 3 or 4 of my cousins in America living close to him despite being in receipt of several peremptory Emails from me reminding him of his ancestral duty in this regard. What further proof is needed that the 'Sickular' Muslim created by Congress tyranny is like totally faltu yaar?

You may argue that Bilgrami has been brainwashed by Bernard Williams (husband of the egregious Shirley) into rejecting 'externalism' and holding that only 'internal' motivations count as providing a reason for action. Thus, you may say to me- "Vivek, you gave Bilgrami only an external reason to kill your cousin not an inner motivation. Suppose you had said- 'these three or four Hindus in your vicinity are calling you a great big gandu and saying yore Momma so fat and like they gonna git you in a drive-by so you gotta kill them first, see?'- that's an internal reason. But you didn't do that did you?. You just wrote- 'Bilgrami, Sir, as a Muslim it is second nature for you to kill Hindus; please be advised, the following Hindus are conveniently located, for killing purposes, by your good self ; kindly do the needful ;  have a nice day.' While the wording of your Email was impeccable and any true Muslim would recognize the skilful means whereby you have presented a 'farz e kifaayah' within the courteous context of 'adab', the fact remains that Bilgrami's Iman has been totally ass raped by Shirley Williams' ex-husband and so he rejects external reasons.

My answer to you is- 'I will eat your children and burn down your house. Fuck off. You are probably a Niyogi Telugu Brahmin and consequently totally gay and spend all your time jerking off to the video of Rahul Gandhi's speech to the Indian Federation of Industry.
'Bilgrami can't possibly be so stupid as to reject externalism- more especially for farz e kifaayah type duties. Everybody knows that there are some actions required for the Community to continue to exist in a manner such that our own lives and property are protected. If someone else discharges those duties, well and good. If no one does, then an external reason exists for oneself dispassionately completing that task. More generally, it is of the essence of voluntary human interaction in a repeated game that the momentary absence or incapacity of the other is compensated for by the rule of culpa levis in concreto- i.e. to maintain a relationship, sometimes we have to do things the other party would have done had they been capable and this is a reciprocal obligation.'

Your may reply...really? That's your reply? You expect me to print that? This is a respectable blog, Madam. Mind it kindly.

Getting back to Bilgrami- he writes
Charles Taylor has convincingly argued that in a religiously plural society, secularism should be adopted on the basis of what Rawls called an ‘overlapping consensus.’ An overlapping consensus, in Rawls’s understanding of that term, is a consensus on some policy that is arrived at by people with very different moral and religious and political commitments, who sign on to the policy from within their differing points of view, and therefore on possibly very different grounds from each other. It contrasts with the idea that when one converges on a policy one must all do so for the same reason.'
Is Bilgrami speaking of different doxastic systems generating the same Rule-set or Policy prescription by sheer coincidence? Obviously not. Clearly there is a Co-ordination problem for the different doxastic systems such that they occupy the perceived  Moral high ground. But, there is an alethic and computational aspect, wholly unconnected to the imperative, involved in identifying 'focal points', which is 'external' to any given doxastic system and which involves some action which can't be discharged save in concert or on behalf of the concerned Faith community. But, this means that 'overlapping consensus' exists within heterogenous doxastic communities. Clearly, if the 'overlapping consensus' is about a collectively necessary action that can be discharged by some subset of agents AND if each agent agrees that there is some circumstance where they would themselves, however reluctantly, join this subset, then an 'external reason' exists on which all converge and this 'external reason' trumps internal reasons even though subjectively agents may experience repugnance or cognitive dissonance or ontological dysphoria or a real bad case of the shits.
Once this is admitted and acted upon- i.e. a situation arises where all are compelled to discharge at one time or another the collective necessary action (e.g. jury duty)- the 'external/internal' distinction disappears because, on the one hand, dispassionate actions gain an idionomic emotional colouring and qualia, while, on the other hand, hedonic or instrumental actions acquire new and powerful valency of a repugnancy or thymotic type.
Collectively necessary actions can be of two sorts- Sacred (where God or some Omniscient or Transcendent Being has substantive knowledge of what is required and thus humans have only defeasible procedural rationality absent Revelation or Divine Inspiration of a Charismatic kind) and Secular (where the State gets the ultimate say as to what is obligatory, what is punishable, and what lies between.)
Bilgrami's central claim re. Secularism is-  'there are no external reasons that would establish the truth of secularism. If secularism were to carry conviction, it would have to be on grounds that persuaded people by appealing to the specific and substantive values that figured in their specific moral psychological economies. Such a view might cause alarm in those who would wish for secularism a more universal basis. Internal reasons, by their nature, do not provide such a basis. As, I said, internal reasons for some conclusion that will persuade some people, may not persuade others of that conclusion, since those others may not hold the particular substantive values to which those reasons appeal and on which those reasons depend. Only external reasons could persuade everyone since all they require is a minimal rationality possessed by all (undamaged, adult) human minds and make no appeal to substantive values that may be variably held by human minds and psychologies. Alarming thought it might seem to some, there is no help for this. There are no more secure universal grounds on which one can base one’s argument for secularism.'

Let us think about this for a moment.  Bilgrami lives in the United States. That State can conscript him for some purpose of its own- he can be called up for Jury duty, he can be drafted into the Army, he can be interned or quarantined, he can be killed and his vital organs removed for some medical purpose.
Is it really the case that Secularism- not that poncey word but the power of the State- has no 'external reason' that could establish its truth? How about getting ass raped in Gitmo till you acknowledge my truth, bitch?
Is not American Secularism- I'm now referring to the poncey word- inextricably tied to the founding Fathers' notion of what was necessary to the State? Jefferson, writing to a Rabbi, said 'in matters or Religion, divided we stand, united we fall.'  This is overlapping consensus as an external reason which has the most secure possible universal ground for acceptance behind it- viz. if you don't the State will fuck you up. Sure you can pretend and pose and posture, but- bottom line- only so long as aint being hanged by the neck. 
The Secular sphere can kill you if you're the wrong sort of secular or not secular enough. Any 'external reason' not grounded in this truth must, by definition, be a trespass on the Sacred.
In the same way that Bilgrami proudly said 'I'm a Muslim' to the Hindu landlord in a lower middle class Hindu majority area, so too might Bilgrami, at the end of the day, say 'Because there is no God but God' when required to explain why he should not commit a crime demanded by the State even though he himself, and his loved ones, are killed for it.

You may say- Vivek, you are a rabid Islamophobe and also have a  very small dick. Moreover, you are as ignorant as shit. You don't understand the very subtle point Bilgrami makes in what follows-
'I have been a little wary of this use of the notion of overlapping consensus since in Rawls it has always been a notion embedded in the framework of his celebrated idea of the ‘original position,’ i.e., the idea that one contracts into policies to live by without knowledge of one’s substantive position in society. I find myself completely baffled by why the idea of the original position is not made entirely redundant by the notion of an overlapping consensus. If one did not know what one’s substantive position in society is, one presumably does not know what one’s substantive values are. If so, the very idea of internal reasons can have no play in the original position. It follows that if one were to adopt an overlapping consensus on the basis of divergent internal reasons that contractors may have for signing onto a policy, then the original position becomes altogether irrelevant to the contractual scenario. Of course, if one were to completely divorce the idea of an overlapping consensus from Rawls’s conceptual apparatus within which it has always been formulated (even in his last published work, The Law of Peoples), then it would be exactly right to say, as Taylor does, that secularism should be adopted in pluralistic society on the basis of an overlapping consensus. But now, the only apparatus one has to burden the contractors with is the capacity for internal reasoning, that is, with psychological economies with substantive values that yield internal reasons. Rawls would not be recognizable in this form of contractualist doctrine. Indeed one would be hard pressed to say that one was any longer theorizing within the contractualist tradition at all, which is a tradition in which serious constraints of an ‘original position’ or a ‘state of nature’… were always placed as methodological starting points in the making of a compact. Shorn of all this, one is left with something that is the merest common sense, which it would be bombastic to call ‘a social contract.’ We now need only say this: assuming no more than our capacity for internal reasoning, i.e., our capacity to invoke some substantive values we hold (whatever they may differentially be in all the different individuals or groups in society), we can proceed to justify on its basis another substantive value or policy—for example, secularism—and so proceed to adopt it for the polity. If this path of adoption by consensus, invoking this internalist notion of justification, works in a religiously pluralist society, it will be just as Taylor presents it, an overlapping consensus, with none of Rawls’s theoretical framework.'

My reply is- 'Mum, I've warned you about harping on about my tiny dick on this blog. Nobody is interested, okay? As for your quotation from Bilgrami- listen, Rawls was stoooopid. He didn't know that the courses in  Econ 101, Pol Sci 101, Ethics 101, Jurisprudence 101 etc which his contractors were supposed to have completed before making their choice WERE NOT AT ALL Amartya Sen type sententious shite but, on the contrary, high powered, discrete Math, Game theoretic & Muth Rational- i.e. the sort of stuff the Mahabharata shows Yuddhishtra as having to learn to conquer his Vishada and rule as a Just King.
Since the Mahabharata was written for 'women, drunkards, slaves'- i.e the privileged class of the Vyadha Gita-  it follows that everybody, except Ivy League fuckwits,  knows that the Muth rational reflective equilibrium is a mixed strategy- i.e. has a stochastic component. But that's cool. What we all choose behind the veil of ignorance is this lottery in Babylon in whose well (chaah-e-baabil) Hindu or Muslim, Harut or Marut, we all lie suspended repenting our seduction by the Zohra of English- Enid Blyton- but for whom I might have turned into a less ignorant Iyer whose American cousins Prof. Bilgrami would feel compelled to butcher coz I'd, like, know the lingo them Muslims talk- y'know- berka, berka jihad, I command you to kill those fucking cousins of mine already- berka berka..
What? That's not racist.
Ask Shah Rukh Khan. He used to be known as Sheshadri Ramaswami Kaddalooraiiyah till he got tired of my stealing his tiffin (he was a couple of years junior to me at St. Columba's) and invented this tough guy persona for himself.  Secret message of Chennai Express is simbly that aaall theeze so called Muslims are actually thair shadam eating Tambrams like Kamal Hasan.
Mind it kindly.


  1. 'Collectively necessary actions can be of two sorts- Sacred or Secular'- I think this is a little black and white. Most sacred duties have a 'secular' element and the reverse also holds true.
    But that is not my main objection- I think the voluntary sphere is of the highest importance. When people come together voluntarily they can have very different values and 'internal reasons'.
    Surely, unlike the 'sacred' and the 'secular', it is the voluntary sphere in which Reason and Public Discourse finds its proper role.

    1. Fair cop, Guv.
      It would be nice to equate voluntary actions with actions dictated by 'internal reasons'- i.e. they are not manipulative or strategic- because then the folk theorem of Game theory gains purchase- but, this does not mean that preference revelation problems disappear. Yes, you can have a mechanism design such that any coercive outcome can be generated on a purely voluntary basis. However, this does not mean that only internal reasons have bearing. In any case, internal reasons can have eusocial content though we imagine them to be more deeply founded on mimetic rivalry.
      Still, it is true that only in the voluntary sector does Public discourse turn totally tonto or toxic or Teesta Setalvad.