Sunday, 22 May 2016

Prof. Santosh Saha's countervailing unveiling of Amartya Sen as a closet Hindu Supremacist

Prof. Santosh C Saha- a distinguished Historian and old school bhadralok polymath like his friend from College days, Amiya Kumar Bagchi- has presented a defense of Amartya Sen's Idea of Justice on the basis 'that although subjective theories of instrumental reasoning have their attractions in social scientific explanation, almost all attempts to develop the idea of rational action seek to justify some constraints on what constitutes reasonable beliefs that underlie an instrumental choice in keeping the promise of human rights.'

Clearly, Saha is making a claim about doxastic commitment- i.e. willingness to act on one's belief- and its relationship to 'instrumental reason'- i.e. a rational calculus concerned with finding the most efficient means to an end which is not itself evaluated.

Saha is not saying there is any necessary connection between the two. Rather he suggests that there is a 'co-ordination game' for decent people who believe in Human Rights to interact in a beneficial way. The Schelling focal solution to the game may not be known, or be fiercely contested, but, surely, we can all good-faith agree that there is a benefit in looking for a separate 'inter-subjective' set of doxastic commitments which is derivable, subject to some constraints, from what lies behind the veil of individual subjectivity.

Under the rubric of Rawlsian 'overlapping consensus', this seems a perfectly reasonable proposition.

 However, in his paper, Saha focuses on Sen's invocation of the 'countervailing power' thesis familiar to Economists from J.K Galbraith. Essentially, Galbraith envisaged a dis-coordination game wherein workers lose by interacting with managers, consumers lose by exercising (Hirschman) 'voice' with respect to producers, wives lose by talking to husbands, and thus all potentially adversarial parties should separate from each other so as to form opposite poles from which to engage in collective bargaining. Thus workers should join a Union, Consumers should line up behind Ralph Nader, Wives should join a Woman's Group which would teach them how to  resist Patriarchy's attempt to control their minds and make them iron hubby's underpants.
In at least one case, as Saha notes, viz in the field of industrial relations, Galbraith's thesis did make sense at the time. This was because under diminishing returns, and assuming workers, the weaker party, had permanently lower elasticity of supply or demand, collective bargaining, modeled as a monopsony dealing with a monopoly, looked like a better 'steady state' or (if your maths was up to it) even a 'golden path'.

Still, for the Philosophy of Justice, an obvious problem remained in that countervailing power involves turning every potentially adversarial situation into two separate dis-coordination games whereas, for Instrumental Reason, 'good faith' constrained inter-subjective doxastic commitment is the solution of an all-synthesizing co-ordination game. 
Now, it could be argued that dis-coordination based normative 'overlapping consensus' can converge on this sort of inter-subjective Instrumental Reason. However, Conley & Nielsen (2012) have shown that 'cultural market makers'- i.e. arbitrageurs between the two polar representative agents- can gain a rent. This means there will be contestation of 'obligatory passage point' status. But this means that there is now a new countervailing power dis-coordination game and the process can go on ad infinitum. Thus, first we have a 'rainbow coalition' of the oppressed demanding countervailing power. Then the rainbow unravels to create a new dingier spectrum of those of the oppressed who have been swindled by their representatives. This is a recipe for not Maoist 'total revolution' or Jayprakash Narayan's 'sampoorna kranti' or Venezuelan Chavezismo, because these are not economically sustainable- people starve or stop listening to their supposed champions- but, rather, the irremediably factionalist politics of the Kaleckian intermediate class- e.g. Sen and Saha's native Bengal.

It might appear that there is a 'Levinasian' workaround for this. We could say 'Human doxastic ipseity arises only in meeting the needs of its alterity'- which only registers itself as such if it organizes itself under the rubric of countervailing power.
However this is only feasible if  there is some universal symbolic currency- in other words, dis-coordination games and countervailing power are abandoned and their arbitrageurs erased- such that the problem of 'double coincidence of wants' is overcome and the rich man can give away his material wealth and gain the spiritual wealth of the poor in a manner satisfactory to inter-subjective Instrumental Reason.
Where this happens, we could say Society has implemented an Alan Gibbard type semantic normativity- i.e.  a 'good faith' inter-subjective doxastic commitment has been turned into a simple procedural rule based on ubiquitous 'zero knowledge authentication' or acceptance . As a matter of fact, there is a General Equilibrium model based on the credo of the Japanese Sage Sontoku Ninomiya, which, for all I know, could get rid of all the 'anything goes' (Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu) and hedging (Alan Kirman) and preference revelation or increasing returns (Greenwald Stiglitz) or other problems in that branch of Economic Theory.

In any case, if there can be 'Aumann agreement' re. constrained inter-subjective doxastic commitment for Instrumental Reason', then there can certainly be an Aumann signaler motivating a co-ordination game to reach an otherwise infeasible correlated equilibrium.

Even if, for reasons of computational complexity, inter-subjective Instrumental Reason can't arise as something like the above by any algorithmic or 'Publicly Justifiable' process, still, there is no theoretical reason to dismiss what I have called the 'Levinasian workaround' or 'Ninomiya General Equilibrium. Indeed, since the Levinasian workaround is founded upon the simple 'Mussar' rule in Judaism, and Ninomiya showed how his principle of conduct was independently derivable from both Confucian and Buddhist texts regulating behavior, and, furthermore, Ninomiya's gospel was taken up by Irenic Christians and Progressive Gandhians, and finds echoes in people like Mao's old comrade Liang Shu Ming- it therefore follows that the burden of proof re. the reasonableness of the claim I attribute to Saha has in fact been discharged.

However, this creates a more serious problem for Saha's larger thesis regarding Sen's contribution. The fact is, Mussar ethics or Ninomiya type economics are deontological and use all relevant information in a purely rule-based and transactional manner. In Amartya Sen's terminology- they are 'niti' not 'nyaya'. There is no substantivist 'nyaya' type information available outside the system- every externality has already been internalized; Gibbard's 'Revelation Principle' holds sway sans cavil.

Suppose there is a change in the information set at time t. One agent alone possesses this information. Well, invoking the relevant 'niti' rule, thus gaining prescriptivity, he engages in 'parrhesia'- he reveals this information and there is an immediate cascading movement to the new 'Muth' rational equilibrium. Small hysteresis effects may be observed but vanish quickly, restoring ergodicity and by that very action, returning Economics, to paraphrase Samuelson, to the service of a truly inter-subjective Instrumental Reason.
Notice that in this instance, there is some coalition which functions like a Turing Oracle or Aumann signaler and so, for Doxastic systems which believe in 'avatar' type repeated incarnation- more especially 'partial incarnation' such that the coalition is deified as the 'Sangha' of Refuge- no scandal can arise by any ratocinative process of Public Justification.

There is a counter-argument to what I have suggested in the paragraph above. In essence, it is that conflict is desirable, nay vital, to our species-being, perhaps even to the continued existence of the Cosmos itself. This was Mao's theory of class conflict so poignantly repudiated by Liang Shu Ming who had actually worked with the peasants to raise them up- not first use them as canon fodder and then steal their land and leave them to starve.

However, if we grant this counter-argument, we have to abandon both Galbraith's notion of the beneficent nature of countervailing power as well as the notion that intersubjective constraints on doxastic commitment can serve Instrumental Reason, as opposed to Paranoid Purges or Moral Panics.

Prof. Saha is no Maoist. He represents Sen as critical of existing power structures, including Trade Unions, Leftist Parties, Farmer's lobbies etc, and as promoting the panacea of 'building “countervailing” agency on the part of the disadvantaged. Here, both “solidarity” and “assertion” form intrinsic and instrumental values.'
In other words, Saha's Sen recognizes that there is an Agent-Principal Hazard in Collective action such that Trade Unions end up hurting their members; Mutual Funds end up serving not their Stakeholders but Hedge Fund managers; Leftist parties end up impoverishing their vote banks etc. Yet, instead of trying to fix the Agent-Principal problem with 'mechanism design'- i.e. doing some actual Economics- Saha's Sen won't even mention 'curtailment of Agency Power'- though that's a problem that can be fixed and should be fixed- preferring instead to demand more of the disease and less of the cure!
I say this because, if 'disadvantaged' people unite under the banner of 'countervailing power', then a doxastic commitment to 'solidarity' and 'assertion' cashes out as the weakest going to the wall so as to secure a rent for the strongest- just as happened with Trade Unions and Mutual Societies and Leftist Parties and so on.

Why does Saha's Sen behave like this?
Well, it turns out, he hasn't read David Lewis on Conventions, and, in consequence, believes silly things. Saha tell us that Sen 'in his essay about Asian values and human rights, follows Wend and others to argue that collective cognition regarding rules and norms constitute identities and are in turn constituted by them.'
This is foolish. Coasian 'Law and Economics' might be called 'collective cognition regarding rules and norms'. It does not constitute any identity whatsoever. On the contrary it continually decomposes such legal personalities as obtain, to permit the reallocation of resources so as to 'internalize' externalities.
Perhaps the reader will feel I am being unfair to Sen. He surely couldn't have been living in cloud cuckoo land all these years. Yet this is what he has to say about countervailing power in his masterwork-
Why does Sen think that a decrease in 'countervailing power' (e.g. weaker Unions, less interest in 70's style Feminism or Ralph Nader type 'Consumer Advocacy' etc.) in the U.S has resulted in the Executive seeking to 'exercise more power' than the Constitution intended?
The facts are known to all. 9/11 was a game-changer. How would the Teamsters, or the Bra-burners, or Ralph Nader banging on about how the new Ford model is 'unsafe at any speed', have changed anything? The fact is the American people wanted to get tough on the bastards who had attacked them. In the short run, the Judiciary and the Media 'Liberals' and so on could drag their feet on this matter. Longer term, some opportunist- like Trump- was bound to come along and throw a scare into 'the Establishment' thus changing 'Conventional Wisdom' in a manner that would reduce bureaucratic and judicial inertia in this respect.
Even crazier is Sen's invocation of countervailing power in the context of the Soviet Union. Does he not get that the Bolsehviks were a bunch of crazy genocidal gangsters? They killed large classes of people on bare suspicion of future disloyalty. Stalin, like Mao, decimated his own Party repeatedly.
Sen is writing as though Stalin and Beria and so on were Undergrads designing a Social Democracy for extra Credit. They got high the day before their Term Paper was due and so omitted to put in a provision for countervailing power. In other words, they failed to ensure that the people they shot had enough guns and artillery to shoot back thus preventing their own massacre. This was not because they were sociopathic gangsters but because they didn't attend the right lecture or have a good enough Tutor for Poli Sci 101.
Okay, maybe Sen is just a very polite guy who doesn't want to rub the Commies collective nose in their own shit. Surely, when it comes to a 'plural Democracy', he must be right? Don't we need the countervailing power of a powerful Trade Union movement with which the Govt. can strike a deal 'over beer and sandwiches'? The answer is no- Britain in the Seventies was held to ransom by the Unions. Nary a tear was shed for the mighty Union Barons- like Arthur Scargil who was the subject of universal revulsion at his last public appearance- whom Mrs. Thatcher was able to crush because the Electorate was behind her. Indeed, higher skilled Union members voted for her in '79 because the 'countervailing power' equilibrium- known as Prices and Incomes Policy- was unimplementable since Rule of Law Democracies can't shoot Union leaders, or rogue Industrialists, in the head pour encourager les autres. Keynes knew this very well. The German edition of his General Theory admits as much.
Similarly, the way to resolve the Terrorist threat is not for Govt. Ministers to sit with bearded nut-jobs drinking kahva & munching halwa and uttering the obligatory 'Death to Israel!'. No. The answer is to get tough with those bastards. Failure to do so could lead to a 'countervailing' extremist movement taking on the job themselves.
Won't killing a few nutjobs with drone strikes turn every member of their community into a terrorist?
Nope. It will embolden the majority to beat and chase away the nutjobs. Unless, of course, a countervailing bunch of nutjobs from a different community have been given a free hand. In that case the Govt. is disintermediated and loses salience. That is what happened in Iraq and Syria and Libya.
What about Tunisia, you might ask? Wasn't it the case that the strong Union movement there was a countervailing power to the nutjobs?
The simple answer is- no. If the Unions were doing such a good job at being a countervailing power there would have been no Tunisian spark for the Arab Spring in the first place. The fact is Tunisia doesn't have oil which can be captured and sold by a faction which assumes an extremist mantle so as to recruit from the veteran jihadi community.
Countervailing power is a thesis with no explanatory force. If a country is a democracy, under the rule of law, and if agents face a monopoly or monopsony then Galbraithian countervailing power will be a feature of the system. However, since market power tends to fall and elasticity of supply and demand tends to rise over time, such countervailing power has a diminishing horizon of salience.
One corollary is that one can have quite rapid non-coercive changes in perceived 'identity' in any given area or field without any trigger or tipping point such that a violent war to the knife erupts.
The answer is that, in general, collective cognition will only generate 'cheap talk' signals for the majority. There may be a minority- ten percent perhaps- for whom the Evolutionarily Stable Strategy is to turn a given doxastic commitment into a costly signal and shed blood over it. However, under scarcity, there must be a situationally rational reinforcer, otherwise no lasting hysteresis will be observed.

This brings us to the question, what is the situationally rational reinforcer at work here such that Prof. Saha's  reading of Sen is canonical?

One clue can be found in what our distinguished Historian says about Emperor Akbar- 'Western humanist such as Grotius was not different from the Mogul Emperor Akbar ( 1556-1605), who was not a democrat, but did put various human rights, including freedom of worship and religious practice, at the heart of his program in a way that could not be have been found in Europe of that time. Akbar, a Muslim, with deep interest not only in Hindu philosophy and culture but also in Christianity, Jainism and the Parsi religion in India, presided over an imperial system that provided elementary human rights.'

What sort of Muslim demands that other Muslims perform 'sajda' (worshipful prostration) to the throne? It violates Islamic law. This isn't 'religious freedom', it is naked tyranny.

Okay, Sen and Saha and yours truly are non-Muslim but we are Indian and all Indians know the truth about Akbar. What many Indians do not know is that Grotius's De Indis provides a moral and theological defense of predatory Multi National Companies like the Dutch VOC which enslaved Indian Tamils and shipped them to Ceylon to work on their plantations on such miserable rations that few survived longer than six months. This was fine because the VOC- which Grotius had shown (against Mennonite objection) to be fully justified by both 'Natural Law' and Holy Scripture- could just send out more slave-ships across the Palk Straits.

Oho! I get it now! Saha's Sen talks up Akbar and Grotius because both brought shame upon their own Religions- not our 'Sanaatan Dharma' (which means 'eternal religion'- because, pace Pascal, there will always be more prattling Pundits than the puja of Poverty Alleviation)

More generally, the Sen-Saha strategy- though appearing to bear some relation to actual Social processes- consists of taking anything non-Hindu that is valorized in the context of some more or less moribund academo-bureaucratic availability cascade and pretending that ancient Hindus were even more addicted to that nostrum than any one else. Thus two purposes are served- one, that moribund academic availability cascades can continue to trundle on yet more meaninglessly, and two, that Hindus get paid the same as Whites to talk worthless rubbish about India and its suffering millions.

Full disclosure
Professor Saha, in his essay, takes notice of this humble blog, in the following paragraph-
'It is alleged that Nyaya in Sen’s formulation is something that cannot be known and cannot be acted upon in a reliable manner. If so, then Sen’s idea of Nyaya is meaningless for practical purposes in human rights and duties. It is further alleged that Sen includes that philosophy of Nyaya ethics in his concept of freedom and development that can be prerequisite for human rights in education and health. “This particular silliness of Sen’s interpretation worked out well for him because interpersonal comparisons” of utility, freedom, development, and exclusion “screw things up” in the case of rights.'

What I was saying was that Sen invokes 'substantivist' Nyaya- i.e. the solution hit upon by an omniscient Benthamite planner- so as to side-step the problems Economics and Philosophy have found regarding 'preference revelation', information asymmetry, inconsistent doxastic commitment (e.g. Kavka's toxin), reversal of the arrow of time in evidential decision theory etc, etc. Essentially, Sen thinks he has found a way to resurrect interpersonal comparisons of Utility under the rubric of Public Discourse theory. The problem here is that if Public Discourse is mostly 'cheap talk'- and it is bound to be so because of contested rent seeking- then no semantic normativity can arise. There will be no 'conceptual tie' to action. People will just talk high minded shite till everybody else loses interest and goes home.
Clearly, something better than Public Discourse exists. We don't go to the market to demand the human right to toilet paper, we use money to buy the stuff. Similarly, if we suffer an injustice, we don't go to the court to denounce all human inequity and demand the reconstruction of Society on a truly humane basis, rather we present a sort of demand draft which only receives acceptation if a robust inter-subjective vinculum juris obtains and thus every right we successfully assert has, in fact, an extant remedy. In other words, both in the market place and the Law Court, we use a symbolic currency according to narrowly defined, highly context specific, procedural rationality- or Niti.

Suppose you go to the Market, but it is in Venezuela, and so though you have money in your pocket your demand for toilet paper isn't effective. In that case, you are welcome to go burn buses or whatever, to protest against the injustice but you are now simply a mindless thug.
Similarly, suppose you get a judgment from a Court condemning Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Baba for Genocide in 1984 on the basis of the testimony of a bereaved grandmother who saw them on Doordarshan TV running amok along with Amitabh Bacchan and Dumbo the flying elephant. Suppose that Court was not Indian, then nothing will happen. No country will enforce the judgment and the Law will quietly be changed so that future nuisance suits of this type are barred. Nothing at all is gained, even for Roscoe Pound's 'science of law' by asserting a right absent an actionable- i.e. incentive compatible- vinculum juris.

The creation of Universal Rights may appear an example of 'countervailing power' being exercised against the Leviathan State. However, the problem here is that the State has a perverse incentive to accept that it has the Remedy, constitutive of such Rights, even when the thing is incompossible, with its own existence. This is because the State can extract a rent for appearing to provide something which it can't actually do. The Nazis gained a rent by pretending that Germany could conquer Europe and the German people would be materially better off as a result. The thing couldn't be done. Similarly Professors can gain a rent by pretending their worthless prattle is actually helping the poor and oppressed.

Clearly, 'Instrumental Reason' is nowhere in this picture, yet Prof. Saha says- 'Criticism of this type misses the arguments of Sen, who has worked out the appropriate paths to both interpretation and substantive human rights.'
This isn't true. Sen hasn't 'worked out the appropriate path' to anything except talking worthless shite. His every policy prescription has been disastrous and his theoretical work is a senile stringing together of non sequiturs.
In Economics there is such a thing as 'Samaritan's Dilemma'. If you don't know the future and aren't actually omnipotent you ought not to do things which cause other people to become fatally reliant on you. It is fraud, not philanthropy, you are practicing. Sen-tentious economics is a fraud. His theory of famines killed Africans. His recommendations re. Education in India would kill off his own ancestral bildungsburgertum class and reduce them to an equal state of moral imbecility as the Syndicate thugs who now rule in Calcutta.

Saha admits that Sen is wrong about what Nyaya/Niti means for emic Indians.
He says 'Critics are correct in arguing that the Nyaya/Niti ethic is not conducive to the recognition of individual rights, although the feeling for the other is constant (2005: 139). Indeed the Indian worldview of ethics has never accorded individual rights as an absolute category, or that a person’s reality must be recognized unconditionally and necessarily.'
Obviously, Indians weren't so stupid as to create rights without remedies- adhyatmic entitlements without vyavaharika obligations- and, more pointedly yet, agreed that most 'collective cognition' was merely conventional and delusionary- including 'Nyaya-Vaisesika itself- for reasons Pyrrho learnt in Punjab and which nobody, except rent seeking Professors, doesn't already know deep down in their bones.
 But then Saha is a Professor- an erudite one because he is old school Calcutta- and so it is entirely right and proper and part of his vyavaharika duty to say 'What critics dot not realize is that the moralistic world-view provides the necessary tools for the realization of an ethic of human rights as it necessarily implies one’s relation with the others. The Nyaya doctrine, which is ingrained with limited tolerance, promotes and actualizes the possibilities for a dignified life. Pointing to Indian psyche, Sen incisively submits that Emperor Asoka (1556-1605) allowed his counselors to speculate about knowledge, whereas Europe was burning (1600 A.D.) Giordano Bruno at the stake for his heretical views on astronomy. These examples refutes the argument that Sen is “banging the drum of justice and Human Rights,” creating uncertainty (“Poetry as Socio-proctology,” July 27, 2010).'

That last parapraxis, by which the Buddhist Ashoka is turned into a Muslim Emperor, gives the game away. Santosh Saha's countervailing power has unveiled Sen as a closet Hindu Supremacist!

It now becomes clear why Sen got involved with Nalanda Univeristy. Since it had once flourished as a purely Buddhist institution, he wanted to retroactively prove it was worthless. Clearly, had Kalam, a Tamil Muslim, been made Nalanda's Chancellor, that task would have proved difficult.

1 comment:

  1. Prof. Saha has given a detailed philosophical defense of his position in a different article re. 'Asian Values and Human Rights'
    The abstract is as follows 'his study argues that the vexing methodological problem in analyzing cultural relativity, connected to the practice and discourse about human rights, may conveniently be presented as indexicality, which enables us to use knowledge as evidence, arguing that once the standard for epistemic accessibility of evidence is reasonably set, knowledge meets the set standard. It allows the analysts to be free from anthropocentrism, which has little selfconsciousness about the issue of territorial space. In his examination of methodological deficiencies in the cultural relativity theory, Amartya Sen considers both the level of actual and philosophical concepts, capturing the local meaning of cultural variations. His discourse about relativity in human rights is about a structure of constitutive rules in which people are not fully conscious of these dormant but influential rules, although they are in reality governed by the social and conceptual rules and beliefs that arise from the broad areas of philosophical traditions in normative social values. An economist turned philosopher by necessity, Sen considers typological knowledge a scale of forms that mirrors what already exists there, but is discovered now. The process of knowing in the scale actively participates in producing and transforming the worldview that the process constructs conceptually. Because epistemological cultural relativism argues that differences cannot ideally be resolved, I would argue that epistemological discourse could effectively maintain that some beliefs, including Indian Nyaya ethics, are better or worse in terms of justifiability. A prime argument of my essay is that the Western perspective contention that feeling and intuition are actually forms of reason can also be observed in Indian Nyaya (2nd B.C. to 14th centuries) philosophy as well. The Nyaya argues that evidence-based critical inquiry forms the basis of practical reason