Friday, 14 May 2021

Saumya Santosh vs Pratap Bhanu Metha.

Saumya Santosh, a 32 year old nurse from Kerala, was killed by a Hamas rocket. The Chief Minister and other senior figures condoled with her family- which includes a 9 year old son. Hers is a death we grieve for. 

Meanwhile the always ridiculous Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote in the Indian Express- 

The deadly riots in Israel and the war in Gaza,

Saumya was killed in Ashkelon. Clearly war is being waged against Israel. Hamas gave a deadline by which Israel had to withdraw its forces from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. After the deadline passed, Hamas started firing rockets even though those rockets might kill innocent civilians in Israel. 

triggered by yet another chapter in the Israeli drive to dispossess and oppress the Palestinians,

or yet another chapter in the Muslim and Christian drive to kill Jews or Muslims trying to kill anybody within range of their bombs or rockets.

is likely to evoke three kinds of responses: The indifferent, the imperial, the humanitarian. And alas, it looks like the imperial response, which has brought the region to this impasse, will triumph.

Which Indian's response will be imperial? None. We have no power in that part of the world. A nurse of ours may be killed by a Hamas rocket but the C.M of her state will have to back down from condemning that action otherwise local Muslims may run amok.

The dominant response is going to be a moral indifference.

Actually our dominant response is to wonder why Hamas is trying to keep Netanyahu in power. The moment they fired their rockets, Knesset member Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Ra’am party which is affiliated with Hamas, had to pull out of the coalition cobbled together by Bennett & Lapid which would have allowed them to take power from Bibi. 

This is like Imran Khan & the Pakistani Army helping Modi increase his majority in our last election. Doing evil shit may be habit forming, but surely it doesn't have to involve utter stupidity?
The Palestinian cause has been forgotten or more or less abandoned. Instead of becoming the symbol of the unfinished tasks of decolonisation,

Israel is not a colonial power. It is similar to Pakistan- an ex colony founded upon religion. Hamas is not a 'post-colonial' society- it is a failed quasi-state busy exporting terrorism in between being bombed back to the stone age.

and a human rights catastrophe,

Israel is the best state in the region when it comes to human rights and the rule of law 

the Palestinian question is now mostly an occasion to vent cynicism.

What Mehta is venting is very smelly.  

We all avoid the moral questions the oppression of Palestinians

because their worst oppressors are Muslim or even Palestinian 

poses by comforting ourselves that in this conflict we can distribute rights and wrongs equally.

No we don't. We avoid the moral question by admitting that we have no power to alter the outcome. Israel, like Pakistan, was set up on the basis of religion. In Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs got short shrift. In Israel it was Muslims and Christians. But in Iraq and elsewhere in the MENA, Jews were chased away.  

There is Israeli terrorism,

No. Israel is under the rule of law. Its military actions may sow terror but they are not 'terroristic'.  

and there is Hamas terrorism.

which kills not just Jews but also Muslim gays and some Christians as well as PLO supporters 

There is the spectacle of civilians on both sides living in terror. Missiles raining down on Israeli cities on the one hand, and the sheer brutality of Israeli defence forces operations on the other.

by contrast, those killing Jews aren't brutal at all. Good to know.  

There is the fanaticism of the Israeli right wing

which is compatible with running a knowledge economy in a democratic manner under the rule of law 

and there is the fanaticism of Hamas and Fatah

which isn't compatible with doing anything helpful for Palestinians. Did Netanyahu bribe Hamas to sink Bennett's power bid? Maybe he didn't have to. He could just rely on Hamas's instinct to fuck up the Palestinian cause.

, with bumbling politicians on both sides.

either Bibi is very very lucky or he isn't bumbling at all 

There is the sheer geo-political opportunism about the Palestine issue.

Mehta is taking this opportunity to virtue signals because he has nothing better to do.  

Both the Arab states and the United States have used the Palestinians as a pretext;

as Mehta is using them as a pretext 

the Palestinians themselves have been marginalised.

So what? Plenty of Hindus and Sikhs got 'marginalized' in Pakistan. There wasn't a lot we could do about it.  

This attitude, that one must look beyond simple oppositions, or a black-and-white world, could have been the source of a morally productive conversation.

But morally productive conversations aren't productive of any thing morally worthwhile. Why indulge in them? 

Instead, it produces an aestheticised indifference:

Then why bother with it? If we are indifferent to a thing, putting lipstick on it is pointless

This is all simply grist for more exciting television like Fauda.

or boring shite like this article 

It gets worse. In country after country, even a modest sympathy for the Palestinian cause is immediately seized on as a sign of some kind of obdurate Leftism, out of touch with the stern demands of our time.

No. Sympathy for Palestinians is considered to be hollow virtue signaling.  Lapid has 3 weeks to cobble together a coalition. This 'conflict' may last exactly that long. Those are the 'stern demands' of the time Bibi has left to stay in power.

This “a plague on all your houses” also whitewashes the fact that there is a monumental injustice to the Palestinians at the heart of the problem.

So what? Who cared about 'monumental injustices' to Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan?  

We simply look for excuses to skirt around the core issue.

We are completely unconnected to the core issue- which has to do with military power.  

This is the continuation of what Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University has described as the “Hundred Year War on Palestine.”

Or the over two thousand year old war on Jews.  

Khalidi rightly points out that the Israel-Palestine conflict has both aspects: It is a conflict of two peoples who recognise themselves as peoples.

as opposed to what- cats? potted plants? Khalidi's dad was a Mayor of Jerusalem and, briefly, Prime Minister of Jordan. He has locus standi in this matter. Mehta doesn't. 

But it is also part of a long history of settler colonialism in which “indigenous” populations are displaced.

Why the scare quotes? Were Palestinians not indigenous? Did they come from Norway? 

Israel, like Pakistan, gained freedom from Britain. In both countries, indigenous people were displaced by settlers belonging to the State religion. If we don't get excited by the plight of Hindus and Sikhs and Christians in Pakistan, why should be bother with the fate of Palestinians?  

This is why Israel’s actions have the characteristic of imperial modes of governance:

Imperial modes of governance involve a Viceroy or Governor answering to a Cabinet Minister back home. Israel's actions are like those of Pakistan's. There is no distant Cabinet to which the Governor has to report back to.  

Dispossession of property, creation of second-class citizens, maintenance of oppressively governed enclaves and licence for state impunity.

So Israel is like Pakistan. It is not like the country which ruled over both Palestine and India.

The events leading up to the recent clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque can be seen as part of a long pattern of pushing out Palestinians from territory Israel wants to claim.

So what? Why bother with the thing? Worse things happened and are happening closer to home.  

A few courageous voices like Peter Beinart

who was raped and beaten by Israelis yet who continued to raise his voice because those Israelis were completely imaginary 

have seen the recent events as part of a long chain that began with the Nakba in 1947 (the catastrophe, as Palestinians called it), when more than half a million Palestinians were evicted. While a 19th century-style total ethnic expulsion may not be possible,

why not? It happened in Pakistan in living memory.  

Israel has been using a thousand cuts to dispossess Palestinians of their homes. It is also important to remember that this project could not have been sustained without the support of imperial powers, Britain in the early 20th century and the US now.

Why is it important to remember this? How does it change anything? The fact is the current crisis helps Israel- or if not Israel, then Bibi. Biden has had to pick a side. It would have been better for Iran and Hamas if the conflict had been postponed till when Israel's leader was weaker and Biden was ready to revive the Obama approach. 

Donald Trump may have had the virtue of making the nature of this project explicit.

and now this senseless violence may force Biden to back Trumpian policies while Netanyahu may get a reprieve or even emerge stronger than before. 

But in substance, no American administration has been able to significantly roll back this project of pushing the Palestinians out.

Nor could they roll back the Jordanian or Kuwaiti or now Saudi project of pushing the Palestinians out of their countries 

Reducing Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem is likely to be the next objective. Palestine will once again be the site where the Biden administration’s liberal internationalism will die a quiet death.

So far there has been no 'liberal internationalism'. Biden's strategy is to focus on domestic issues so as to get a bigger majority in the Legislature. Then he can afford to revive Obama type diplomacy. 


The third response will be to take a humanitarian tack.

Coz India is very rich and can send lots of money to the region.  

This is to dig beneath the politics and find bridges in shared humanity and suffering. This can be expressed powerfully in literature, as most recently in Colum McCann’s Apeirogon, centred around two characters who have both lost children in the conflict.

So, some guy got to make a little money out of this shit-show. Good for him.  

This is also the tack of the peace movements that use culture and a history of shared suffering to build bridges.

Shared? Reciprocally inflicted, more like. True a couple of mourning dads may bond but plenty of others will want revenge.  

They emphasise that dispossession and exile is something both communities share;

with Hindus and Sikhs expelled from Pakistan 

they, of all the people, should be able to understand each other.

and kill each other 

These are important interventions at a human and cultural level.

but only important in the sense that they don't matter at all.  

But relocating the conversation to culture and humanity, without serious political solutions on the table, has always yielded very modest dividends in protracted conflict.

Then why mention the matter?  

Humanity and culture, even when deeply internalised, collapse quickly when subject to fear.

because they weren't deeply internalized at all. 

And they always fall short of acknowledging the core issue at stake: Political equality between two peoples.

The core issue is that Israel is a successful knowledge economy. The Palestinians are divided and have failed at state formation or even rising above the level of a Mafia gang. The world needs stuff Israel produces. There was a time when the Palestinians would train you to be a successful terrorist. But Pakistan took that market from them. Sad.  

This is a dangerous impasse.

No it isn't. Crazy ISIS types may be dangerous. The Palestinians aren't a threat to anybody but themselves.  

The indifferent and the humanitarian response will not be sufficient to stop the imperial Israeli response in its tracks.

by 'imperial' Mehta just means 'sophisticated military response'.  

The imperial violence of Israel will beget more terrorist violence of Hamas and Fatah, with every world power from Russia to Iran fishing in the chaos.

Which helps Israel. They get to sell more and more sophisticated anti missile defenses and anti-terrorist tech so as to advance yet further in military power. The Palestinians waste money getting uneducated folk to kill Jews and then subsidizing the families of these 'martyrs'. In contrast, the Israelis have turned their Army into a tech incubator.  

Israeli politics is dominated by a right wing will to power immune to the slightest considerations of justice and human rights, when it comes to the Palestinians.

A 'will to power' is always immune to such considerations. Mehta doesn't seem to know that. His expensive education was wasted on him.  

Palestinian politics has been broken for a while, with no political vehicle that can credibly craft an imaginative political movement.

Imagination is not their problem. It is how to stop acting like a bunch of Mafia dons who might as easily murder each other as extort money from all and sundry. 

The sense of political hopelessness is profound.

because their politicians are hopelessly corrupt or incompetent or both corrupt and incompetent and criminalized. 

Why did Britain not create a Palestinian State alongside Israel? The answer is because by the end of the Thirties, they realized a Palestinian State would not be economically viable. So in 1948, the Palestinians were divided between the Jordanians and the Egyptians. But both countries later turned against them as did every other Arab country which let them in. There's a pattern here which it is difficult to ignore. Grand Mufti Husseini & Arafat both achieved international prominence. Husseini screwed up by backing Hitler. Arafat screwed up by being Arafat- i.e. a cartoonish goon. What the Palestinians haven't done is what the Israelis did- viz. learn to get along with each other rather than bump off their rivals. 

Israel discovered that the British system of Justice it inherited was superior to gangs assassinating each other and competing in perpetrating terroristic outrages. Though the Israeli economy was a shambles till the Eighties, it was a country under the rule of law. That's where the Palestinians failed.  

The Zionist project has, it has to be acknowledged, become a project for the occupation of three million people.

Why should this be acknowledged? There must be Zionists who would rather kill or expel those unfortunates.  

It has no space for either acknowledging equal rights for all citizens, or a workable two-state solution, or for recognising the most basic truth that Israel cannot be safe unless the Palestinians are safe.

But Israel keeps getting safer even if Palestinians run amok.  Why? Israel is a knowledge economy. It finds smarter and cheaper ways to defend itself. There was a time when Israelis were worse off than Jordanians. Diplomats cursed their fate if they were posted to Tel Aviv rather than Beirut. Now, the situation is reversed. The vast wealth of the Gulf wants to invest in Israel while Lebanese savers have taken a massive hair-cut and are staring at complete Civic collapse. 

It is important for those of us who are true friends of Israel

if this man was a 'true friend of Israel' some nice local jihadi would have cut off his hands long ago 

to not confuse the interests of Israel with the designs of the Netanyahu government to continue with Israel’s imperial project.

Very true! It is in the interests of Israel to quietly evacuate all the Jews from the area while giving suitcases full of cash, as well as blowjobs, to all the Palestinians.  

We will have to remind Israel of the blowback of imperial politics: The ultimate consequence of trying to dominate a people is that you end up destroying the moral legitimacy of your own claims.

Sadly, the reverse is the case. The Americans and the Australians and so forth got up on their moral high horse after they had wiped out indigenous rivals to their hegemony.  

No amount of military capacity can compensate for the images of lynching, rioting, and provocations that we have seen this week.

Netanyahu has been more than compensated by Biden's hand having been forced by these images. If Hezbollah unleashes more rockets, Biden will have to sanction Israeli strikes on Iran. 

And it is important for the world to remember that we continually risk conflict if the Palestinian question is simply treated as an object of geo-political opportunism, not as a question of basic dignity and justice.

We don't risk shit when we recognize reality and tell virtue signaling cretins to go fuck themselves. Basic dignity and justice are basically bullshit. Getting rich endows you with dignity in plenty. Fucking over anybody who tries to fuck with you ensures that you suffer no injustice. Alternatively you could just keep resigning from Ashoka University. That way people will think you are real smart. Netanyahu will hang on your every word. Biden will ask Camela to read out Mehta's latest column in an appropriately comic accent. What? That's not cultural appropriation. Camela is half-Indian though, obviously, it was the other half which got her on Biden's ticket. 

Simon Beard, Derek Parfit & the Queen's queef

What does the term 'welfare' mean? The dictionary meaning is straightforward ' the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group.' We feel confident that given enough information we can- if members of a jury- decide if a particular person's, or people's, welfare has risen or fallen. We may even feel we have a means of specifying such things in money terms. Can we do this for our whole species? Sure. Why not? It seems clear that finding a cure for COVID or cancer would enhance Human Welfare though no doubt some particular group may be adversely affected. Still, we feel there is a 'Hicks-Kaldor improvement'- i.e we could compensate such people from the surplus we gain. 

Simon Beard, an expert on 'Existential Risk' writes-

If you have ever studied moral philosophy, and especially utilitarian moral philosophy, chances are that you have come across the ‘Repugnant Conclusion'. This is a commonly cited objection to the view that we should maximise the total amount of happiness in the world. If that were true, the objection runs, then compared with the existence of many people who would all have some very high quality of life, there would be some much larger number of people whose existence would be better, even though these people would all have lives that were barely worth living.

This is clearly a specious argument. Maximizing Welfare now means doing stuff which results in 'Hicks Kaldor' improvements for the existing population. That is all we are concerned with. We don't need to talk about some other population which doesn't really exist. 

One possible reply is- 'but surely by adopting pro-natalist policies Welfare increases'? The problem here is that babies can't compensate anyone so long as they are babies. They are consumption goods, not productive resources. They can't make even a notional Hicks Kaldor improvement. No doubt, the parents' welfare is enhanced coz they have a bundle of joy. But this merely means they substituted one type of good for another. Since neighbors and friends, not to mention family members, also gain pleasure from seeing the baby, it is possible that there is a 'Hicks Kaldor' improvement for Society as a whole. However, there are diminishing returns to the joy an additional baby brings. One or two kids are enough for most people. Having a tenth child who is doomed to an impoverished existence isn't necessarily welfare enhancing. 

Though seemingly rather innocuous, the Repugnant Conclusion has formed the basis for an increasingly intractable tangle of debates in moral philosophy.

This is because moral philosophy should be using sequent calculi or directed graphs rather than comparing possible worlds which have no causal link to each other.  

Like a mathematical fractal, as philosophers have examined it in greater and greater detail, it has seemed to grow in its complexity, and its repugnance. One widely discussed manuscript on the subject, by the Swedish philosopher Gustaf Arrhenius, considers 400 pages of detailed formal arguments on the subject before concluding that the only way out of this mess is to give up on the idea that we can talk about objective ethical truths at all.

It is enough to adopt a notion of oikeiosis- i.e. to say ethics is grounded in what actually exists- and a regret minimizing strategy for objective (for protocol bound in a particular manner which gets rid of hysteresis) ethical judgments (which are buckstopped, whereas truths may be infinitely sublatable) to continue to play a role in solving coordination and discoordination games in the manner they always have.  

Another colleague once told me that, as far as he was concerned, it was the greatest proof ever devised for the non-existence of God!

The problem is that it would also disprove the existence of cats. Imagine a world in which cats don't exist. Now ask why it shouldn't exist in a more existential way than a world where cats exist but existence doesn't. Then give up and say 'OMG! Cats don't exist any more than existence exists in a more existential way than non-existence!' 


Yet, despite this, the Repugnant Conclusion has become one of the most popular and famous results of modern moral philosophy.

Which is why modern moral philosophy is popular only with credentialized cretins.  

What seems to be much less well known is the story of how it came to be, how philosophers have wrestled with it since and how Derek Parfit, who first came up with the conclusion half a century ago, apparently arrived at a solution shortly before he died on New Year's day, 2017. I want to tell you that story.

I want to listen to that story because I still don't get why Parfit wasn't immediately condemned as a cretin.  

​Derek Parfit was, by all accounts, one of the most brilliant history students of his generation. Having won a scholarship to Eton in 1955, he sailed through the school at the top of every class (except, perhaps, mathematics)

There it is! If Parfit had known from Math, he'd have known about sequent calculi and Graph theory and so on.  

before winning another scholarship to Balliol College Oxford. Not only did he excel academically, but he would edit Isis, the leading Oxford student magazine, play Jazz trumpet, write poetry, get involved in student politics and generally be everything a 1960's Oxford student was supposed to be. A close friend, and fellow editor of Isis, Stephen Fry (no, not THAT Stephen Fry) tells of how Derek once dictated a blistering editorial against the hypocrisy of colleges locking out their students at night, having injured himself climbing back into Baliol after a happy evening spent at Somerville. "I mean," he argued, "they put the spikes there a) to stop you climbing in and b) so you can use them as a foothold!".

This is not hypocrisy. The College acted rationally in creating a visible sign to discourage an activity which, however, it didn't want to see punished by a horrible death.  

​All this was about to change.


Derek's first real taste of failure came when, after graduating with a first in 1964, he was denied a history fellowship at All Souls, Oxford's only college without any students and one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. So he went to America, taught himself a new subject and came back, three years later, to successfully retry for a fellowship, this time in Philosophy.

So the guy wasn't smart enough to be a Historian- not exactly a high I.Q business- and thus found refuge in a department specially dedicated to the feeble minded.  

In 1968, the year of the Paris uprising, the assassination of Martin Luther King and the publication of the Population Bomb, Derek worked with two other young philosophers, Jonathan Glover and James Griffin, to establish a new seminar in the Oxford Philosophy department. This aimed, in keeping with the spirit of the times,

which were kray kray 

to consider the application of ethical principles to real-world problems.

Apparently, these guys were unaware that ethics is only ethical if it applies to the real world- not worlds where there are no cats which may nevertheless exist in a more existential way than our own cat infested reality.  

The original idea was to call it ‘life, happiness and morality.' However, Derek insisted that this wasn't interesting enough and changed its name to ‘death, misery and morality.' It was immensely popular with fellows and students alike.

because Oxbridge at that time had gone totes Monty Python.  

Jonathan Glover tells the story of what happened next:

"Each week, one of us would speak, and one of us would open the discussion. At the end of one class, the one who would speak next week would hand over their paper to the one who would reply. One week Derek was to speak on a topic, not yet named, and the idea was that I would reply to him. Derek, always polite, made profuse apologies, but he would not be able to hand over the paper – he had a point that was not quite yet settled, but he would send the paper very soon."

After a week of apologetic phone calls, Derek still hadn’t handed over the paper and asked that Jonathan just listen and reply off the cuff. "Not having the faintest idea of what was coming I cheerfully agreed. It was the first outing of the Population Paradoxes and the Repugnant Conclusion. He covered the board with complicated diagrams representing different possible worlds, with named principles and the objections to them. I sat there aghast. It was as though, with no prior knowledge of Quantum Theory, I had gone to some lecture by Niels Bohr and found myself expected to reply to it. I felt I had been in at the birth of something really important, but at the same time had blundered into playing chess with a grandmaster."

Perhaps, if Parfit had actually handed over his paper, the flaw in his argument would have been immediately detected. In nuce, it is this. We know the world we live in is a possible world. We don't know that any other world we might stipulate is genuinely compossible. Ethical actions are concerned with actions and their consequences in compossible realities knit together by an arrow of causation. They feature comparable trajectories or directed graphs of a particular type.  

While Derek would eventually publish that paper, in 1982, his conviction that he still had ‘a point that was not quite yet settled' would remain...

The poor fellow was barking up an imaginary tree.  

The Reverend Thomas Malthus was a man with a problem. People’s lustful natures, he believed, were leading them into terrible danger and the world, as he knew it, was coming to an end. Unfortunately for Malthus, while many people, and especially many Christian ministers, had believed this sort of thing for a long time Malthus concluded that these disasters would befall humanity as a result of the laws of nature, rather than the will of God. As he put it

"The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must, in some shape or other, visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world."

This view is to be found in the Biblical story of the Flood and its many analogues in the Scriptures of other sects- e.g. the Zoroastrian tale of Yima.  


Yes, the Bible did extol Adam and Eve to ‘be fruitful and multiply,' but Malthus was convinced that we should take this commandment with a pinch of salt. It could not be right for people to have children if they had no care for how these children were to live, and what their quality of life would be. Instead, what was needed was to self-consciously limit our reproduction as a species to keep the population size in line with our ability to feed and care for ourselves. Having too many children meant subjecting them "to distress” and squandering the “great permanent amelioration of their condition" that human and technological progress might otherwise bring. If people refused to see this, and to act accordingly, then the state should not step in and save them, or their children, from the ultimate consequences of their actions, since this would only spread the costs to others, encouraging this behaviour and ultimately making the problem worse.

This was perfectly sensible. Of course, what Malthus was not saying was that kids as young as 5 could make themselves useful in coal mines. Adam Smith was a great believer in the earning power of wee bairns. He was jealous of England's superior ability to exploit its kiddies.  

Yet, not all of Malthus's critics were religious. Jeremy Bentham, his contemporary and the founder of modern utilitarianism, believed that population growth was the result of injustice, not of nature. As a utilitarian, Bentham believed that one should seek to maximize the amount of pleasure in the world, and minimize the amount of pain. What is more, he believed that this fact was self-evident and that people only failed to act accordingly because of the conditions in which they lived. Social reforms, such as improving labouring conditions, economic growth, educational provision and criminal justice, would lead to moral reform and allow people to choose what was best.

As a matter of fact, when the lives of working people get better, they stop having babies like crazy. One or two little nippers will suffice. Parents enjoy spending money on them instead of sending them up chimneys or down coal mines.  

Bentham was therefore critical of any claim that the poor should be punished for having children by the removal of financial benefits, as Malthus had suggested. Such a policy would not only be unnecessary he believed, but would be actively harmful by increasing the suffering of those who were already burdened by family responsibilities.

Educating kids turned out to be very good for the economy because it enabled endogenous growth of a technological type. But this meant that family size fell. It turned out that babies were a 'Giffen good'- i.e. you have less as your Income rises. 


Another critic of Malthus’s proposals was the Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill. Like Bentham, Mill was a utilitarian and opposed the imposition of sanctions on those with large families because this would do them more harm than good. However, Mill spent much more of his time worrying about the effects of population growth and how it kept people in poverty and suffering, unable to fully benefit from the economic growth of his age. His solution was to be an activist for the availability of contraception, something that neither Bentham nor Malthus dared to propose publicly and which lead to his imprisonment at the age of 17. 

This did not prevent him going to work for the East India Company in that year.  

Mill also famously disagreed with Bentham, whilst partially agreeing with Malthus, on one key point. What should concern utilitarians, he argued, was not the mere quantity of pleasures and pains that individuals experienced, but their overall quality of life. Furthermore, he went on, some pleasures had such “a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.” This, for Mill, was part of the real benefits that contraception and population control might bring. Not only would it generally reduce the amount of poverty and suffering in the world, but it would also give more people, and especially more women, the opportunity to enjoy a higher quality of life.

Mill was influenced by his early exposure to French thought. But contraception meant France's population growth fell behind that of Germany. It seems higher liberty and welfare today may have a terrible price in subsequent years.  

However, other utilitarians took a fundamentally different approach. Far from being a mere burden, they argued, population growth would mean more people and hence more happiness. Chief amongst these was Henry Sidgwick, a Cambridge philosopher and late Victorian radical who helped to found Newnham College Cambridge (for the education of women) and the Society of Psychical Research (for the scientific investigation of Christian beliefs). Sidgwick argued that "the point up to which, on utilitarian principles, population ought to be encouraged to increase, is not that at which the average happiness is the greatest possible - as appears to be often assumed by political economists of the school of Malthus - but that at which the happiness reaches its maximum."

i.e. where the marginal utility of the newest addition to the race is zero. But, because the marginal cost of child bearing is quite high- this point would never be reached. In any case, because of Knightian Uncertainty re. future states of the world, the regret minimizing strategy would be somewhat pro-natalist. 


Malthus, Bentham, Sidgwick and Mill laid the groundwork for most 20th and 21st century thinking about the ethics of population, and of how we should treat future generations.

Nonsense! Only a few eggheads spoke in those terms. Everybody else had perfectly sensible ideas on this issue.  

However, their writings seem to pose a great many more questions than they answer. When we consider population policies,

we immediately realize that they are not formulated on the basis of our suggestions. Indeed, sensible people won't talk to us unless well lubricated and in the hope of having a story about this crazy pedant they bumped into who talked utter bollocks.  

should we focus on the wellbeing of future generations or on how these policies will affect people here and now?

Why focus on anything if everybody thinks you are a moron?  

And, to the extent that we do care about future generations, should we be concerned about their total sum of happiness or wellbeing, the average wellbeing level of the population as a whole or something else, like each individual's quality of life? These questions would remain largely unaddressed for the next century.

Because smart people were doing useful things. Then there was the G.I bill and high income elasticity for Higher Education meant there were lots of adolescents who were willing to waste their time getting a more or less bogus credential and so some stupid pedants could cash in on this type of availability cascade or Ponzi scheme. 

Throughout his life, Derek Parfit was a passionately perfectionist photographer. There are many stories of him travelling to Venice and St Petersburg (the only places he thought worth photographing) and standing around on some street corner for hours with his camera ready and waiting for just the right light. He would then spend days touching up these photographs at home until he was satisfied that they were as good as possible.


​Yet, for him, the best photograph ever taken was one that was taken on the fly and in far from perfect conditions. ‘Earthrise' was snapped by Bill Anders aboard the Apollo 8 moon orbiter on Christmas Eve 1968. "Oh my God!" Anders was recording saying "Look at that picture over there ... hand me that roll of colour quick, would you."

Parfit argued that this photograph was best because it gives everyone who sees it the sense that we are there, floating in space far from the place we call home. This could not be explained only by the image itself, no mere artist’s impression however accurate or compelling, would have been so worthwhile. It is said that Earthrise divides the earth’s population into two groups, those who were already alive before it was taken, and who can remember seeing it for the first time, and those who have grown up in a world where there this photograph already exists. It changed the world.

No it didn't. Still, it was famous in its day. 


One of the things that resulted from the publication of Earthrise was a renewal in thinking about the problems described by Malthus.

Nonsense! The business magnate, Hugh Moore, coined the term 'Population Bomb' in a pamphlet published in 1954. But that type of thinking was already widespread in the Thirties. Evelyn Waugh satirizes it in 'Black Mischief.  

In the 30 years following the Second World War the combination of the demographic Baby Boom and the post-war Economic Miracle lead to a huge increase in the size of humanity’s impact on the planet with some pollutants increasing by 900%. Faced with the reality of a single finite planet floating in a black abyss, the unsustainability of this trend began to hit home. This helped to turbocharge the nascent environmental movement of the time and radically altered people's notions of what it meant to live an ethical life.

Clearly, it did no such thing. Gas continued to be guzzled till the Scientific evidence for Global Warming became irrefutable- if that is what has happened.  

​This new thinking reached its zenith in 1972 with the publication of the influential report ‘Limits to Growth' by the Club of Rome. Its conclusions were stark "If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years." As it happened, global population growth had peaked at 2% per year in the late 1960s, while the years of high economic growth were almost at an end. However, for a time at least the need for a coherent global population policy seemed extremely urgent. All of a sudden the 19th century's unanswered questions about how we would treat future generations felt a lot more urgent.

China did take draconian action which appears to have paid off. But, it appears, rising Income and opportunities for women to work lead to demographic transition in any case.  

Two of the first philosophers to take up this challenge were Jan Narveson and Peter Singer. Both were deeply unconvinced by Sidgwick's argument that we should have more children because these would increase the overall sum of happiness, even if this meant each individual was worse off. For Narveson, this was conclusive proof that utilitarians were getting something badly wrong in how they viewed the world. We should not care about people because they might experience happiness, he argued, rather we should only care about happiness because it is, in fact, good for people. This he summarized in his infamous philosophical slogan ‘we are in favour of making people happy, but neutral about making happy people'.

But nobody sensible was in favor of listening to the fool.  

Singer, who was to become one of the most influential, if controversial, philosophers of our times, did not quite share this view though he also rejected Sidgwick's conclusion. For him, it was vital that humanity continued, but not that the population of humans grew any larger. His initial proposal was that we should seek to divide future generations into two separate groups, consisting of those people “who would exist anyway, i.e. independently of whatever choice or policy was under consideration” and those “whose existence would be contingent upon our actions.”

Like making sure your daughter has enough money to have a baby rather than get an abortion. Speaking generally, our ethical intuition is that a rich man should help his grandchild flourish and thrive. We would also feel that a wealthy man who refuses to impregnate his wife because he doesn't want to get stuck with bills for diapers and baby formula is a selfish pig.  

We should then treat this ‘core' of people whose existence was guaranteed in the same way that we might treat anyone who already exists, and should promote their welfare as much as possible. However, we should care much less about those whose existence depended on our actions and should not be concerned if we caused them never to be born, so long as this was in the interest of everyone else.

The problem here is that people who teach worthless shite aren't causing anything- except that at the margin a few more cretins get a credential which enables them to believe they aren't cretins at all. But then Madoff's investors thought they'd be rich in their old age. But this sort of fraud we will always have with us. It is perfectly ethical to only focus on stuff where we have an impact. But it is even more ethical to study stuff which allows us to have a bigger impact. If what you are doing more than pays for itself then, by all means, suggest 'Hicks Kaldor' improvements. But if what you are doing is just a wank, everybody will dismiss you as a virtue signaling cretin. 

For Derek however, both of these views were incorrect. While he raised many complex objections against both of them, one that he continually returned to is that sometimes a person's life may be so full of suffering and other bad things that we would be forced to accept that this person was harmed by coming into existence.

Nonsense! We aren't forced to accept anything unless someone literally has a gun to our head. Still, at the margin, tax-payers may decide they want to shut down publicly funded medical care which keeps people alive but very miserable. 

Given that this is so, it would be wrong to overlook the value of these people's lives, even if they are in the far future or if their existence depended on our actions.

It is not wrong at all to overlook meaningless shite spouted by stupid pedants. 

Hence, neither Singer nor Narveson give us excuses for ignoring the harm we might bring to future people, even if it is sometimes compelling to believe that we do not need to worry about the benefits we might give them instead.

Singer & his ilk give you an excuse for wasting your time studying worthless shite even though this harms future people- including your own future kin- because you haven't gotten yourself a useful occupation.  

However, he went on to argue, if we only considered the harms we brought to future generations this would have highly counterintuitive results. For instance, it would imply that, even if we believed it was good that the world exists with its current population, because whilst some people suffer most people's lives are worth living, it could be wrong for us to have children who would live in a world that was like our own, or even much better, because that future world might still contain some suffering. Derek labelled this an ‘Absurd Conclusion'.

Yet it is the conclusion many monks and nuns and other celibates have come to. It is perfectly rational to refuse to procreate because you don't want people whom you will love to live in this world.  

While there is more than one way to avoid this conclusion, he argued that the route we should take is to accept, right from the start, that every life that is worth living must be in some way good and make the universe better for its existence.

We can avoid any conclusion whatsoever by pointing to a flaw in the logic used to arrive at it. We don't need to accept an even more nonsensical doctrine.

He called this the ‘Simple View'. This view was nothing like a strong as Sidgwick's utilitarianism. However, Parfit realized that it would still face significant problems of its own.

A life dedicated to getting you to suck its cock by torturing you may make the universe better for its existence. But it makes your existence worse. Smash its fucking head in- if it is safe to do so. 


"Like my cat, I often simply do what I want to do."

Sadly, humans, like cats, are creatures of habit. They do things they don't really want to do because that is the only way they know to pass the time. 

This was the opening sentence of Derek Parfit's philosophical masterpiece, Reasons and Persons. He believed that it was the best way to begin his book because it showed something important about people. Often we are not as special as we think we are. For instance, when people simply do what they want to do they appear to be utilizing no ability that only people have.

If what they want to do is a human activity, the ability to do it is restricted to species of a certain type. 

On the other hand, when we respond to reasons, we are doing something uniquely human, because only people can act in this way.

We don't know that. It is more likely than not that the Universe contains species whose reasoning we would currently find unfathomable. But then this may be true of certain species on our own world. 

Cats are notorious for doing what they want to do, and the sense of proximity between a cat and its owner pleasingly heightens our sense of their similarity. Hence, there could be no better way for this book to begin.


However, there was a problem. Derek did not, in fact, own a cat. Nor did he wish to become a cat owner, as he would rather spend his time taking photographs and doing philosophy. On the other hand, the sentence would clearly be better if it was true. To resolve this problem Derek drew up a legal agreement with his sister, who did own a cat, to the effect that he would take legal possession of the cat while she would continue living with it.

This was foolish. Oikeiosis is about a natural type of connection. If the cat didn't think it was linked to Derek then it wasn't his cat all. In any case Derek had not in fact gained 'possession' of the cat. All he had got was a residuary control right contingent on his sister dying before the cat did. 


Reasons and Persons was far from being Derek's final word on the philosophical problems that had consumed him for the previous 17 years. Indeed, it has been said that Derek only agreed to publish it under pressure from All Souls College who were threatening not to renew his fellowship, and he insisted the publisher accept it in 154 individual instalments so that he could submit each one at the last possible moment, mere days before the book went to press. Yet, the book has become one of the most influential, and heavily cited, works of philosophy published since the Second World War.

But it is only cited by cretins. 

It consists of four sections, each of which considers a different set of arguments for why people matter less than we might suppose,

iff we were cretins 

and why our reasons for action might be otherwise than they seem.

coz we are as stupid as shit. 

In the first part, Derek corrects what he sees as some important errors in moral mathematics.

There is no such beastie. 

For instance, he spends considerable time showing how individuals can be said to make a significant moral difference, even when they are only working as part of a much larger group and would achieve nothing on their own.

Talk about the bleeding obvious! Who really believes that Rambo can win a war all by himself?  

More importantly, he begins a long argument, which he would continue in his later work, to the effect that many apparently large differences between ethical theories are much less deep than commonly assumed.

Because shite is shite is shite. 

For instance, Some moral theories claim that people have special duties to help their own children, even to the detriment of the children of others.

No. There is a duty to help your own kids. There is no duty to harm other kids. 

However, he argued, because everyone's children would expect to benefit if parents were more concerned about the wellbeing of children in general,

No. Parents know their own kids. They don't know about all children. The wellbeing of children in general should be left to those who have studied and contributed to that field. Sensible parents defer to the opinion of experts in such matters. They may be told 'your concern for the general wellbeing of children is misconceived. You think they will collectively benefit if we get rid of competitive games and exams and so forth. You are wrong. Studies show... etc.'  

rather than always prioritizing their own children even if they could do more to help other people's,

You must 'prioritize' your kids. You must not invade my house to tuck my kiddies into bed.  

such theories were ‘collectively self-defeating' if strictly interpreted, and should instead be revised to make them more utilitarian.

What would be more useful would be to declare the entire subject to be a waste of time.  


In the second part, Derek attacked the notion that one had decisive reasons to place one's own, long run, self-interest over the wellbeing of others.

There is an information asymmetry. You know yourself better than you know what contributes to the wellbeing of others. Oikeiosis is 'natural' because it allows game theoretic solutions based on uncorrelated asymmetries which in turn support 'separating equilibria' based on public signals.  

He did this by proposing a third possible position one might take, recklessly seeking present pleasures at the expense of one's long-run self-interest. Whilst accepting that all three positions might be, in some sense, rational, Derek conclusively showed how any argument for why one should be concerned with what would make one’s life go best overall, rather than merely right now, could be turned to imply that one should instead be concerned with everyone’s wellbeing, not just one’s own.

This could only happen if it ignored information asymmetry and the existence of uncorrelated asymmetries. The only valid reason to do so would be if people could actually practice complete 'antidosis' by swapping bodies.  

In the third Part, Derek moved on to the concept of what constitutes a person, and in particular what makes someone the same person today, tomorrow and for their whole life.

This is what Kurt Lewin called 'genidentity'. 

He showed how while our concept of what it means to be a person is adequate for dealing with ordinary, everyday cases, there were other cases, which are not hard to imagine and that may well occur one day, in which it breaks down.

So what? Why cross that bridge before we come to it?  

For instance, if people underwent the total separation of their two brain hemispheres or were replicated by a Star Trek style matter transporter into two separate individuals in different locations, who both believed themselves to be the original person.

Split-brain patients seem to be able to function quite well because one hemisphere dominates. Similarly, 'replicants' may be able to work together in a useful enough manner. 

Other philosophers have devised sophisticated theories about personhood that tell us how we should react to these cases. However, Derek argued that our concept of a person simply cannot deal with them at all. He thus concluded that personhood is a ‘reductive' concept that, whilst tracking certain physical and psychological facts about an individual over time, implies no substantial further fact about the world.

This is foolish. Personhood is a 'Tarskian primitive'. It is undefined. We've all seen plenty of films where clones or replicants or future selves and past selves work well enough together.  


​In the final part, Derek tackled the problem of how we should ethically think about future generations of people, and deal with the problems of population ethics.

Did he say- 'look around you. Spot the guy similar to yourself doing most for future generations. Emulate him.?' That is the commonsense view. We improve as ethical beings in the same way that we improve as intellectual beings. We find a mimetic target of a superior sort and work hard to be just as good.  

Of all the wild and ambitious arguments in Reasons and Persons, this section has proven the most controversial. On consideration, Parfit concludes that one must reject the view suggested by Henry Sidgwick about what a Utilitarian should do - i.e. seek to maximise the total quantity of future happiness. This view, he argued, would imply the Repugnant Conclusion, that enough people who each had a life ‘barely worth living' would be ethically better than some very large number of people who each enjoyed a very high quality of life, and ‘this would be very hard to accept'. Even if we had to accept that this was, collectively, better for all the people who would exist with lives worth living, it would still be a worse outcome, because these people would have a much lower Quality of Life.

The problem here is that we don't know what the future holds. It may be that some lethal virus will be unleashed in the year 2177. Only the descendants of some very poor woman living in a slum or a rain forest survive. Thankfully, she had ten kids before dying of exhaustion. They in turn had babies like crazy. This meant there was a big enough human population to 'bounce back'- though it might take several thousand years. But for these 'Sidgwickians', Humanity would have been wiped out.  

Regret minimizing strategies take account of catastrophic risk. We 'hedge our bets' and are content that there is an evolutionarily stable mixture of reproductive strategies. 


​However, Derek also realized that this was not the end of the story because Sidgwick's utilitarian argument was not the only chain of reasoning that lead to this Repugnant Conclusion. Furthermore, all the other views one might hold, though they might not imply the Repugnant Conclusion, had their own problematic conclusions (including the Absurd Conclusion, which I mentioned earlier, the Sadistic Conclusion, the Ridiculous Conclusion and the Elitist Conclusion).

Pretending that deontic logic can be expressed in other than sequent calculi or directed graphs is what leads to this nonsense. Stop it.  

​The many technical arguments of this part of the book are hard to summarize - so I will consider just one. A common first move people are tempted to take upon learning about the Repugnant Conclusion is to take the view Sidgwick (probably falsely) attributed to Malthus, according to which it is not the total quantity of wellbeing that we are trying to maximize but rather the average level of wellbeing of people in general. Parfit suggested many counter arguments to this view; however, his most convincing invited the reader to consider two possible worlds, Hell 1 and Hell 2. In Hell 1, very many people all live lives of unendurable suffering, yet they are forced to endure it for many years. They experience no pleasure or other good things, and their lives are full of pain. If any lives are ‘not worth living' it is surely these. In Hell 2, these same people will all live and have lives that are even worse, for instance, they will be just as bad but twice as long. Many other people will also live in this world and their lives will be very nearly, but not quite, as bad as that of the people in Hell 1. They will still suffer, but their agony will be slightly less. If there are enough of these people in Hell 2, then the average wellbeing level of the population will be slightly higher than in Hell 1, but surely we would not take the view that Hell 2 is, therefore, better than Hell 1? Clearly, it is worse.

Why would we take any view whatsoever? We don't live in a steady state equilibrium. We evolved under Uncertainty. We have no experience of or method of evaluating, or reason for evaluating, worlds very different from our own. In any case, suicide would thin out both worlds pretty quickly. 

Eventually, Parfit came to the conclusion that the best way of avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion would be to revive the argument put forward by John Stuart Mill, that some changes in a person's ‘Quality of Life' might be so important that they would render any change in the mere quantity of wellbeing in the world morally insignificant.

The same may be said for 'Quality of Death' or 'Quality of queef'. You can't tell me that all the evils of the world would not be greatly ameliorated if the Queen had made a practice of queefing vigorously while addressing Parliament.

In 1986 Derek published a paper proposing this view, which he called ‘Perfectionism', but at the same time concluding that it was ‘crazy'. He would not publish anything more about his Repugnant Conclusion for another 30 years.

As the years passed, Derek Parfit's philosophical inquiries became his obsessions, and gradually drove out all of the other interests of that brilliant young student of the 1960's. By the time Reasons and Persons was published, he seemed to do nothing except philosophy and photography. In his own words, he had become a duomaniac. After publishing Reasons and Persons he met his future wife Janet and bought what he felt was the perfect house, deep in the wilds of Wiltshire, before promptly returning to his duomania and spending his time either in his study or abroad, teaching and taking photographs. Gradually a legend built up around him. ‘Derek only eats meals he can consume with one hand so he can read and eat at the same time'. ‘’Derek drinks instant coffee made with hot water from the tap, so he doesn't have to wait for the kettle to boil'. ‘Derek always wears the same clothes, even in the St Petersburg winter, to spare him from having to think about what to put on in the morning'. Unusually for such legends, this was all completely true. 

If only someone had sat down with him and taught him the rudiments of mathematical logic and graph theory, his life would not have been wasted. 

Eventually, he would become a monomaniac; devoting his entire life to philosophical problems and nothing else.

He himself was the problem with philosophy. 


One of the problems that concerned him greatly was the ‘non-identity problem'. As we have already seen, Derek believed that future people mattered a great deal and that any future person's life would make the world better if their life was ‘worth living', to say otherwise would be absurd. He also believed that it would be better if future people lived better lives, and worse if they lived worse lives. However, he could not get rid of the nagging doubt that this view was more problematic than it might, at first, seem. 

Because suicide is easy, 'worth living' just means 'not topping oneself the moment the guards are distracted'

To appreciate this, we need to realise just how unique everyone is. I am not simply ‘Simon Beard' or ‘My parents' second son', I am an individual who is defined, at the very least, by a complex genetic code and a precise set of environmental conditions. These were themselves determined by a wide range of circumstances, not only who my parents were but the precise time and manner in which they conceived me, not only the exact sperm and egg the fused at that time, but the complex process by which the genetic material from each interacted in producing my own, unique, genetic code. Had any of these things been other than they were, I would never have existed.

We don't know that. It is likely that we will be routinely changing our genetic code without worrying too much about how this would alter our haecceity. Moreover, as evolutionary biology improves, we are likely to see that there are all sorts of epigenetic factors which tend to reduce 'uniqueness' or hysteresis effects. 


This is a problem because it follows that somebody contemplating an act or choice that might affect ‘me' may also have some influence upon the conditions in which I come into being, and hence who I am.

But we don't know there is any such problem. One may as well say 'hearing the Queen queef may change me into something rich and strange. Yet any action by any person may cause the Queen to queef through some complicated chain of events. Thus my haecceity is imperiled by every choice everybody else makes! Could you guys just stop making choices?' 

If they do, then their choices cannot be said to benefit, or harm, me, because had they acted differently then I would not have existed.

Surely that is 'harm'? The Terminator, in the original movie, is trying to prevent the future savior of the Human Race from being born. He is considered a villain. Only when he tries to prevent this outcome, in the sequels, does he become a hero.  

However, if that is so, and philosophers generally agree that it is, then why should they be concerned about my welfare at all? Yes, they affect whether I exist at all, but even that cannot be said to benefit me, because had I not existed, then there would be no me who was harmed by this.

But you do exist. You object to people trying to stop you existing by kicking your head in. You also object to time travelling robots who want to kill your Mummy and Daddy before you were born.  


It is natural to assume that when we say

stupid virtue signaling 

things like ‘anyone's life is good, and makes the world better, if that person's life is 'worth living' then this is good because it benefits the person who gets to live that good life. However, the non-identity problem suggests that this is not so. Either we must say that the lives of future people do not matter, or we must say that they are good, but not because they benefit the people who live them.

No. If we are sensible we should only say 'lives of future generations matter to x because we see x taking such and such actions to benefit people who will only be born 20 years from now.' Thus Nelson, ensuring that England was planting oaks which would mature in a hundred years, was credited with great care for the defense of his country even in the distant future. Obviously, Nelson did not know that the Royal Navy would abandon oak for steel to build its ships.  

For most of his life, Derek believed that we must say the latter. He labelled this the ‘No Difference View' because it implied that it made no difference whether a person is actually benefited by living a good life or not, but only that this good life exists.

How foolish! Living a good life is beneficial because good means 'of benefit'.  

However, he was deeply dissatisfied by this conclusion.


Then, over 30 years after the publication of Reasons and Persons he finally saw what he believed to be a fundamental mistake he had been making all of these years. In October 2016, he announced during a lecture in Oxford "I want to try and undo some of the damage I did" before setting out where he felt that he, and by extension many of the most eminent philosophers of the day, had been going wrong.

​In the end, the problem seems almost trivial.

It wasn't a problem at all. It was sheer stupidity. 

Derek was convinced that it had been incorrect to say that my life’s being good only benefits me if it makes the world better for me, i.e. if it is better for me than my non-existence. Instead, my life might be good for me simply because it was good in absolute terms, even though it could not be said to be better or worse for me relative to non-existence.

Why stop there? Why not say my death, or my farting, or the Queen's queefing, are all good in absolute terms? But so is just bashing the keyboard at random- .q2ejhif1qfqihrtw!  

To put this another way, for more than 30 years he had been working on the problem of how to assign a value to my absence from the world for me.

If you are paying a lot of money to a hitman to shoot you in the head- that assignment is easy to make.  

However, he now realized that one should not conflate the value of absence with the absence of value. The world in which I exist has value for me, the world in which I do not exist has no value for me.

This is silly. The world where my great-grand nephews and nieces flourish, but I do not, may be of considerable value to me. I might work hard so as to leave them a tidy fortune.  

Hence, though it may not be ‘better' for me, my coming into existence can still be said to be ‘good for me'.

But anything at all- including the Queen queefing in your face- could be said to good for you.  


With this simple move, Derek concluded that we might escape this problem without implying the No-Difference View. This would not mean that that coming into existence with a good life was a benefit of the same kind as already existing and having our lives improved in some way (he thought it wasn’t), but we do have a way to coherently argue that good lives are good because they are good for the people living them.

If this is coherence what is cretinism? 

Derek wrote up his arguments into a lengthy paper ‘Future People, the Non-Identity Problem and Person Affecting Principles' which he submitted to the prestigious journal Philosophy and Public Affairs along with a note saying that the submitted draft was missing a conclusion and that he hoped to improve the article further with the aid of reviewer comments. The paper ended on a rather downbeat note, stating that while it resolved the Non-Identity problem, the principles it contained would still imply the Repugnant Conclusion. He was nevertheless consoled by the fact that these principles "would be only one of our beliefs" and that we might justifiably accept other principles that could yet avoid this conclusion.

Philosophy needs something like a 'Reverse Mathematics project'. Cut down the axioms (or principles) to the bare minimum by using a better system of logic.  

Derek submitted the paper on January 1st, 2017 and sent copies of it to a few colleagues for their comments and feedback. Then, quite suddenly and without prior warning, he died. One of those colleagues says that the e-mail in which Derek had sent him this paper and the e-mail informing him of Derek's death sat one above the other when he opened his computer the following morning.

So, he ceased existing just when he thought he had an argument for why existence is a benefit. Sad.  

Derek Parfit was famously a fast and creative thinker.

In a shite field. 

He used to advise students and colleagues to set up autocomplete shortcuts on MS Word for their most commonly used phrases to boost their productivity, unaware that very few other philosophers felt that their productivity was being restricted by their typing speed.

Productivity? 

Despite this, he published sparingly. He hated to commit himself to arguments unless he was certain of them. What he did produce however were numerous, and lengthy, drafts of papers and books (at least two of which never saw the light of day) that were widely circulated amongst the philosophical community and even more voluminous comments and responses to other philosophers on how they could improve their arguments. Likening Derek to an iceberg would be mistaken. Up to 10% of an iceberg is above the waterline, whereas I doubt if even 1% of Derek's work has ever been published. As one of his obituaries noted ‘When Derek Parfit published, it mattered!'

but only to people who didn't matter at all.  

Thus, while Derek died before he could definitively set out how he thought we should avoid the Repugnant Conclusion; his thinking on the subject was already becoming clear.

In 2014, Derek was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy, perhaps the most prestigious award for philosophers and the closest thing we have to a Nobel Prize.

Everybody has heard of the Nobel and the Fields Medal. This is the first time I've come across this Schock dude. Apparently he was rich but failed to make his mark as an academic. Then he died. 

As part of this, a symposium was held in his honour at the Swedish Academy of Sciences at which Derek gave a lecture. The organizers of that symposium insisted that the text of that lecture was published in the journal Theoria, and this gives us the only conclusive statement of Derek's final views about his Repugnant Conclusion.


In it, Derek asks us to imagine that ‘there would be no art, or science, no deep loves or friendships, no other achievements, such as that of bringing up our children well, and no morally good people', how could that be anything other than a moral tragedy, even if there was also ‘much more welfare in total?'

It may be the moral comedy we actually live- at least in affluent areas. Art and Science and passionate relationships may be the delusions we need only when times are very very bad. If we are rich and secure, it may be wise to laugh at our pretense of passionate commitment when the truth is we are just going through the motions. 

Duke Vincentio says in 'Measure for Measure'-

Be absolute for death; either death or life
Shall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with life:
If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing
That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art,
Servile to all the skyey influences,
That dost this habitation, where thou keep’st,
Hourly afflict: merely, thou art death’s fool;
For him thou labour’st by thy flight to shun
And yet runn’st toward him still. Thou art not noble;
For all the accommodations that thou bear’st
Are nursed by baseness. Thou’rt by no means valiant;
For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork
Of a poor worm. Thy best of rest is sleep,
And that thou oft provokest; yet grossly fear’st
Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself;
For thou exist’st on many a thousand grains
That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not;
For what thou hast not, still thou strivest to get,
And what thou hast, forget’st. Thou art not certain;
For thy complexion shifts to strange effects,
After the moon. If thou art rich, thou’rt poor;
For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bear’s thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloads thee. Friend hast thou none;
For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire,
The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,
For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But, as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep,
Dreaming on both; for all thy blessed youth
Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
To make thy riches pleasant. What’s yet in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid moe thousand deaths: yet death we fear,
That makes these odds all even.

People used to talk like that because they didn't have Netflix. Sad. 

Derek concluded that it could not. However, this did not mean we should abandon Utilitarianism, or Derek’s Simple View. Instead, he suggested ‘another, better view', we should accept utilitarian principles and other principles as well. Specifically, he believed that we should all accept the following claim ‘If many people exist who would all have some high quality of life, that would be better than the non-existence of any number of people whose lives, though worth living, would be, in certain ways, much less good.'

Why accept any sort of claim from which you don't gain some tangible benefit? Why not say- 'go away and come back with a better claim. This time, try to avoid talking bollocks.'  

Yet, was this not the view he had dismissed as crazy 30 years before?

I think the wording is different- but I can't say I greatly care.  


The solution Parfit proposed was that art, science, love, friendship and the other ‘best things in life' must not be valuable simply because they were preferred by the people who enjoyed them, as Mill had proposed, but that they must be valuable in ways that other kinds of good thing are not. Controversially, it would follow from this that different values cannot always be measured on a single scale, either narrowly, in terms of pleasure and pain as Bentham had suggested, or even using the broadest possible conception of wellbeing, what makes someone's life good or bad for them.

So Parfit had merely rediscovered the aggregation problem for posets of a certain type. But this does not matter greatly. There is always some multiplicative weighting update algorithm which is ethically regret minimizing (and thus may not be on the 'Pareto front'). That's all we need to gain Schelling focal solutions to coordination and discoordination problems of a practical type.  


Derek begins his argument for this conclusion at the relatively small scale:

“There can be fairly precise truths about the relative value of some things.

No. There can be fairly precise judgments in this regard. But a judgment is not necessarily a truth. The former is buckstopped. The latter may be infinitely sublatable. 

One of two painful ordeals, for example, might be twice as bad as the other,

in the judgment of some person or group 

by involving pain of the same intensity for twice as long. But in most important cases relative value does not depend only on any such single, measurable property.

Value is a judgment, not a truth.  

When two painful ordeals differ greatly in both their length and their intensity, there are no precise truths about whether, and by how much, one of these pains would be worse.

There are judgments. We would pay x to avoid the one but only y to avoid the other. That gives us a 'relative value'.  

There is no scale on which we could weigh the relative importance of intensity and length.

Yes there is. We all make such judgments all the time.  

Nor could five minutes of ecstasy be precisely 7.6 times better than ten hours of amusement.”

If you are indifferent between spending 7.6 times as much on the former as the latter then this is indeed the case. 

However, he believed that it had its fullest, and most profound, implications when applied at the the scale of of human history as a whole. When we consider such profound changes as the loss of science, art, love or friendship then this is not merely ‘roughly comparable' with a gain in the total quantity of wellbeing, but incomparability. As he argued, ‘This great qualitative loss would, I believe, make [this] in itself a worse world".

So, Parfit was as stupid as Sen. The fact is no 'qualitative loss' would be suffered by us if their oeuvre had never existed. Still, by showing that their particular branches of the Academy are rotten, we help lower the prestige of Higher Education and, at the margin, may save young people from that Moloch.  


Amongst the many reasons why Derek was initially sceptical about this kind of philosophical move is that it might be elitist.

Why not simply add twerking and queefing as items of a qualitatively superior kind essential for human flourishing? That would satisfy the hoi polloi.  

If we argued that ‘the best things in life' were incomparably better than mere wellbeing would we not be lead to the conclusion that we should only really care about the best-off people, who actually enjoyed these things, and not about the great mass of humanity who did not? Furthermore, would we not be claiming that those things that happened to matter most to philosophers happen to be the most important things in life, and worthy of any amount of sacrifice by others to achieve. In the end, however, Derek concluded that this was not so, "if we care greatly about the quality of life, being in this sense perfectionists, that would not make us elitists, who care most about the well-being of the best-off people." Some may feel this is yet to be proven


In fact, Derek Parfit cared deeply about the wellbeing of the worst off, and in particular about the alleviation of suffering. Along with a small group of other philosophers he helped to inspire the Effective Altruism movement, which encouraged people to do the most good that they can do, by

not talking bollocks and getting useful jobs? No such luck. 

thinking more about how they use their time, giving considerably more than they currently do to charity, and being more critical about the ultimate effects of their actions in the world.

The problem with doing 'second order good' is that 'first order good' gets crowded out. You end up with hysterical virtue signaling and toxic wokeness.  

Perhaps Derek's deepest held belief was that, contrary to much of popular opinion, there are objective facts about what we ought to do. This is what he meant when he talked about ‘reasons', and it was the recognition of these facts, either intellectually or merely by the application of common sense, that he saw as setting people apart. A cat cannot help its carnivorous ways, and it cannot help but follow its instincts to hunt and to kill, even if it no longer needs to.

I suppose cats will soon be genetically modified to supply a more 'woke' market. 

However, people understand that our actions can produce suffering. Once we become aware of this we seem to face a choice. Either we make a conscious attempt to dismiss this fact (animals don't really suffer, nothing we can do could reduce the amount of suffering in the world) or we feel we ought to change our behaviour, for instance by becoming vegetarian or giving money to charity.

But we may do so even if we don't believe our actions produce suffering.

One of Derek's driving passions, therefore, was the concern that legitimate disagreements about the nature of morality would disguise these facts and give people the impression that there were no moral truths.

It is enough for moral judgments to exist- which they clearly do- to avoid nihilism.  

Scientists have disagreed about the ultimate nature of things for thousands of years, but few have doubted that they are studying the same empirical reality.

No. They may agree that certain observations are empirical and 'objective' in the sense that everybody doing the same thing would get the same result but they don't agree at all that any of their own mathematical models are the same as each other or necessarily the same as that used by a colleague.  

Similarly, Derek argued, moral philosophers might disagree about the nature of morality, but they should all accept that they are ultimately searching for the same morality truth, ‘climbing the same mountain’ as he put it.

This is nonsense. Moral philosophers- like the rest of us- think most other moral philosophers are concerned with mole hills they have themselves thrown up by their blind burrowings. They regard each other- truth be told- as a nuisance.  

Disagreements about the value of future generations formed an essential part of this problem.

Simply using a discounting rule for Cost Benefit Analysis solves the problem.  

However, they were by no means the most significant part. Hence Derek felt compelled to move further and further away from these issues as he explored the nature of disagreement in ethics (what we ought to do) and eventually meta-ethics (what it even means to say ‘what we ought to do'). However, ultimately, and unlike many of his contemporaries in these fields, Derek desperately wanted to make a difference in the world, and not only in moral philosophy.

He could have done this by actually doing it- setting up an OXFAM or Amnesty or something of that sort. A guy who is very effective in doing first-order good soon has imitators and acolytes. Mimetics makes the world better. Maiuetics is the couvade of pedants.  

Hence, all his books ended with a peroration concerning what most needs doing, and the importance of doing it. Though he focused on moral philosophy to the exclusion of all else for much of his life, one shouldn’t overlook the fact that Derek did this because he was convinced that it was the most he could contribute to ensuring that what most needed doing was done.

The same could be said of David Icke- except lots of people actually read David Icke.  

Derek had hoped to write a 5th book, On What Matters Volume 4, in which he would present the theories that he had been working on concerning the ethics of future generations and in which he could finally achieve the goal he had set out to achieve back in 1968, of applying the principles of moral philosophy to real-world problems. He would never complete it. However, by inspiring others to work in Effective Altruism, and giving them sound arguments to support their convictions that people can, and should, do a lot more good than they currently do, this does not seem to matter so much. His work was, ultimately, worthwhile.

But Effective Altruism is worthless. It has found a reason to prefer second order good to doing actual first order good. So now all you have is every crooked Corporation pretending it is actually saving the planet.  

​By the time that I, and indeed most people who worked with him, met Derek, the brilliant student of 1968 was hardly recognisable in the monomaniacal moral philosopher we knew. Yet in a way, and one in which Derek himself would have surely approved, it lived on as Derek supplied what he felt he was best at, good philosophical arguments, to a community that was able to achieve what he alone could not.

Fuck have these guys achieved? A cult of the techie billionaire who is impatient of elected politicians? But Donald Trump was once thought of as a smart guy. Do we really want a President Musk?  

“What now matters most” Derek argued on the final page of his final book, published a few weeks after his death “is how we respond to various risks to the survival of humanity.”

STEM subjects- or even the proper practice of Law & Accountancy & Marketing & Plumbing- may help here. Moral Philosophy is useless.  


​However, in line with his controversial views about the value of future generations, Derek did not simply take the line, suggested by other philosophers, that that badness of human extinction lay solely in the many future people who would no longer come into existence, most of whom would have lives worth living. Rather he saw the real tragedy in human extinction as something greater:

“Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine … Some of our successors might live lives and create worlds that, though failing to justify past suffering, would have given us all, including those who suffered most, reasons to be glad that the Universe exists.”

Or that Queens can queef.  

Arguments about the Repugnant Conclusion have not ceased because Derek Parfit is no longer here to contribute to them, and it seems unlikely that everyone will accept his solutions to the problems they raise. However, what mattered to Derek was not just getting moral philosophers to agree, but ensuring that their arguments could help us to understand the reasons we have to do what needs doing, to ensure the survival of humanity, reduce global poverty and fulfil our potential as a species, and, through this understanding, lead us to achieve these goals.

The problem here is 'ensuring the survival of humanity' is stuff Sciencey guys can actually do. If an asteroid is hurtling towards the earth we don't round up the world's best philosophers. We want rocket scientists and guys who know about quantum bombs and stuff of that sort. 

We already have reasons to do stuff based on our natural interests or 'oikeiosis'. We don't need anybody to come along to give us reasons to have those reasons. Why? It is obvious that Queenji won't queef unless we are all nice, not naughty. David Icke will explain this in his next book. Then Humanity will become very nice. As soon as Naughtiness disappears the Queen's speech will be replaced by the Queen's queef. That will redeem all the suffering and misery set in motion by the Big Bang.  

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Shashi Tharoor blaming Brits for his Brahmin dynasty's dying nasty

Shashi Tharoor's 'An Era of Darkness' makes two remarkable claims

1) Brahmins got control of the Raj and this created the obnoxious aspects of the caste system.

He writes-

The Brahmins enjoyed British patronage

This isn't true. The Brits were Christians and had no use for Hindu priests. The Brahmins enjoyed patronage from Hindus alone. Tharoor's Nair community did give Nambudris a pretty enviable position but over most of Hindu India, Brahmins remained poor in proportion to their piety.  

over other groups and began considering themselves above all other castes, whom the British, internalizing Brahmin prejudice, thought of as lower castes.

This is crazy shit. Nairs may have 'internalized Brahmin prejudices' but the Brits thought Brahmins were shit because all Indians were shit.  

The result was a remarkable preponderance of Brahmins in positions of importance in the British Raj. Brahmins, who were no more than a tenth of the population, occupied over 90 per cent of the positions available to Indians in government service, except the most menial ones; they dominated the professions open to Indians, especially lawyering and medicine; and they entered journalism and academia, so it was their voices that were heard loudest as the voices of Indian opinion.

So, under a foreign government, Brahmins came to the fore purely on the basis of merit. How wicked of them!

India had arguably been a far more meritocratic society before the British Raj settled down to enshrine the Brahmins in such a position of dominance.

 The reverse must be the case. The British had no racial, cultural or religious reason to favor any particular type of Indian.

Tharoor himself is a member of a party of a dynastic type. Since Rahul claims to be a Saivite Brahmin, it follows it is a Brahmin dynasty. Interestingly, this dynasty is descended from a 'vakil' or legal representative of the British East India Company. Nehru described himself as the last Englishman to rule India. The current President of Tharoor's party is of Italian heritage.

By Tharoor's logic, Independent India remained an 'Area of Darkness' so long as this anglophone Brahmin dynasty ruled the country.

2) Tharoor also believes that the British used, not their Navy and Army, but  Knowledge based strategies to control India. This was very wicked of them. India should be ruled by ignorance. There shouldn't be any laws. This begs the question as to why independent India has continued to use knowledge based instruments to improve policy making and governance. 

Tharoor makes his case by the simple but effective strategy of telling obvious lies. Thus he writes- 

The Indian Penal Code is no easier on straight women than on gays. Section 497,criminalizing adultery, punishes extramarital relationships involving married women but not married men. A husband can prosecute his wife for adultery, and a man having sexual relations with his wife, but a woman cannot sue her husband for having an extramarital relationship, provided his partner is not underage or married.

This was not true.  There was a presumption that the wife had been coerced. A husband could not prosecute his wife for adultery, nor could she bring a criminal action against him. However, a man who seduced a married woman could be prosecuted. This conformed to Indian, not British, morality because Indians believe that women, by nature, are more pure than men. That's why India's Parliament did not change this law.  The Bench struck it down because it conflicted with the basic structure of the constitution which requires gender equality. 

Why does Tharoor pretend that a law which clearly says a woman can't be prosecuted for adultery actually says she can be so prosecuted? The wording of the law is clear. If someone abducts or seduces your wife, the police can jail the guy and liberate her. You don't have to go running to some gangster to get revenge. Of course, if the guy is a cop or a big time gangster you are shit out of luck.

497. Adultery.—Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.

Tharoor appears to be unaware that some American states continue to criminalize adultery. 

This double standard, exposed in a series of recent cases, again reflects Victorian values rather than twenty-first century ideas of morality.

Whose twenty-first century ideas? That of Muslims? That of Syrian Christians? That of Hindus? Tharoor represents Muslims, Christians and Hindus from Kerala- not Canada.  

Ironically, in all three cases, the British have revised their own laws, so none of the offences they criminalized in India are illegal in Britain.

But six American States retain laws against 'criminal conversation' and 'alienation of affection'.  

One of the worst legacies of colonialism is that its ill effects outlasted the Empire.

India changed all sorts of laws. It got rid of polygamy for Hindus but it retained laws against sodomy and adultery. Why? The answer has nothing to do with some supposed colonial legacy. It has to do with the socially and religiously conservative nature of Indian society. 

I do not mean to blame the British alone for the persistence of these injustices.

Indian legislators could have changed the laws in those respects from the Nineteen Thirties onward. They chose not to do so. From 1937 onward there were elected Governments in the Provinces. But the new rulers were more conservative than their predecessors.  

But the British enshrined these laws that have proved so difficult to amend.

Lots of laws have been amended. There is nothing difficult about it at all. Why pretend that Indian Society isn't much more conservative than that of advanced Western countries? It is no accident that only Fiji, of all the former 'New Commonwealth' countries had decriminalized sodomy- that too, as happened in India, by an action of the Bench. 

Strikingly, no less an eminence than India’s head of state, President Pranab Mukherjee, chose the 155th anniversary of the Indian Penal Code to underscore the need for its thorough revision. Our criminal law, he declared, was largely ‘enacted by the British to meet their colonial needs’.

But those 'colonial needs' were the same as the needs of the State, no matter who runs it.  

It needed to be revised to reflect our ‘contemporary social consciousness’ so that it could be a ‘faithful mirror of a civilization underlining the fundamental values on which it rests’.

Sadly, that 'civilization' is severely missing in India. 

That Indians have not done this so far is, of course, hardly Britain’s fault, but by placing iniquitous laws on the books, Britain has left behind an oppressive legacy.

But Indians, by reason of being utterly shit at fighting, caused the British to rule over them. Thus the fact that India was 'oppressed' was a legacy of Indians being shit. Remarkably, after Independence, India became more, not less, shit. It turned into one vast begging bowl unable to feed or defend itself. It is this Nehruvian legacy- along with the cretin Rahul- which India is struggling to repudiate.  

It is time for twenty-first-century India to get the government out of the bedroom, where the British were unembarrassed to intrude.

The Brits were not interested in Indian bedrooms. They were interested in securing the rule of law and putting down vigilantism and vendettas. It made sense to throw guys who fucked other people's wives or sons in jail. The alternative was to leave it to the aggrieved party to stick a knife in that fucker's back.  

It is also past time to realize that the range of political opinion permissible in a lively and contentious democracy cannot be reconciled with the existence of a pernicious sedition law.

But India is a country where there has been massive extra-judicial killing to deal with genuine sedition. It makes sense to throw troublemakers into jail- or at least drag them through the courts for the next ten years- rather than wait for an insurrection which has to be put down by para-military forces sweeping through districts shooting anyone they think looks suspicious. 

Tharoor, in his book blaming the Brits for all Ind's ills, quotes plenty of European scholars. What he is odd is that he comes from a part of India which was not ruled by the Brits and where the Indian Penal Code did not apply. Tharoor's own community had no problem with adultery etc but by the 1920's this had begun to change. Interestingly, it was the Travancore Legislative Council which took the lead in abolishing matriliny with the 1925 Nair Regulation Act and other similar acts for other communities. The Government of Madras followed this example to get rid of matriliny in 1933 while Cochin followed suit in 1938. In other words, the move to democracy in Tharoor's part of the world involved 'heteronormativity' and reduced female autonomy. 

A similar point may be made about male homosexuality. In India and China, it was seen as 'pre-modern'. The thing needed to be stigmatized otherwise our lads in the Army would be constantly mounting each other rather than goose stepping on the parade ground. The Communists decided that adultery and sodomy represented 'bourgeois individualism'.

Kerala, of course, was a 'madhouse of caste'. Tharoor, who belongs to the dominant caste, knows this very well. Yet he pretends that casteism too was Britain's fault. 

In his seminal book Castes of Mind, Dirks has explained in detail how it was, under the British, that ‘caste’ became a single term ‘capable of expressing, organizing, and above all “systematizing” India’s diverse forms of social identity, community, and organization.[A]s the result of a concrete encounter with colonial modernity during two hundred years of British domination…colonialism made caste what it is today.’

Nepal wasn't conquered by the Brits. Yet its caste system is similar to what obtains across the border. Clearly, this Dirks dude- who used to visit South India some fifty or sixty years ago- is as stupid as shit.  

Dirks is critical of the British imperial role in the reification of caste, using their colonial power to affirm caste as the measure of all social things.

This 'reification' started happening because of pressure from Caste Associations in the late Victorian period and picked up pace with the transition to representative government from the 1920s onward. It increased greatly from the late Eighties in independent India.  

In fact, caste, he says, ‘was just one category among many others, one way of organizing and representing identity. Moreover, caste was not a single category or even a single logic of categorization, even for Brahmins, who were the primary beneficiaries of the caste idea. Regional, village, or residential communities, kinship groups, factional parties, chiefly contingents, political affiliations, and so on could both supersede caste as a rubric for identity and reconstitute the ways caste was organized…

But, representative government has been associated with caste becoming the be all and end all of electioneering and democratic politics.  

Under colonialism, caste was thus made out to be far more pervasive, far more totalizing, and far more uniform than it had ever been before.’

Only to the extent that the administration had to accommodate caste based countervailing power. But it is 'post-Mandal' politics which has turned caste into the most pervasive and totalizing force in Indian politics. The only silver lining is that Religion can trump caste- but only once ethnic cleansing starts.  

This Dirks sees as a core feature of the colonial power to shape knowledge of Indian society.

When Dirks first came to India- in 1963- it was plausible to say that the wily Brahmins had got the Brits to impose caste and heteronormativity and homophobia on an innocent hippy population which was wholly preoccupied with gender bending orgies regardless of caste and creed. Once the Dravidian parties came to power, caste would disappear and great conga-lines of buggery would form across the length and breadth of the State. But caste in Tamil Nadu is now more important than ever- though, it must be said, Stalin has won on a less casteist, more pro-growth, platform than his opponents. But how long will this last?  

Quite deliberately, he suggests, caste ‘became the colonial form of civil society’,

This is mad. There is no 'civil society' in a Colony unless it is progressing to self-governing status in which case it is ceasing to be a Colony. Caste only gained salience as this began to happen.

or, in Partha Chatterjee’s terms, the colonial argument for why civil society could not grow in India; it justified the denial of political rights to Indians who were, after all, subjects, not citizens and explained the unavoidable necessity of colonial rule.

Sinn Fein created a parallel legal system. Gandhi failed to do so. A society has to want to become 'Civil'. The thing can't be done by fiat.  

Scholars who have studied precolonial caste relations dismiss the idea that varna—the classification of all castes into four hierarchical groups, with the Brahmins on top and even kings and warriors a notch beneath them—could conceivably represent a complete picture of reality (Kshatriya kings, for example, were never in practical terms subordinate to Brahmins, whom they employed, paid, patronized, heeded or dismissed as they found appropriate at different times).

Everybody dismisses varna, but then everybody also dismisses 'scholars'. 

Nor could such a simplistic categorization reasonably organize the social identities and relations of all Indians across the vast subcontinent; alternative identities, sub-castes, clans and other formulations also existed and flourished in different ways at different places. The idea of the four-fold caste order stretching across all of India and embracing its complex civilizational expanse was only developed, modern scholars assert with considerable evidence, under the peculiar circumstances of British colonial rule. The British either did not understand, or preferred to ignore, the basic fact that the system need not have worked as described in theory.

This is deeply silly. The Brits did not admit the existence of varna. There was equality before the law- though, no doubt, the rich or those of higher status were let off lightly. The fact is much of India had been under Islamic rule before it came under the British. The vocabulary of the law and of the administration was Persianate. Hindu rulers themselves employed Muslim Dewants. Kayasths and Niyogi administrators prided themselves on their knowledge of Persian. 

However, the transition to self-rule saw the rise of Sanskritic vocabulary and traditional Hindu ideas of how Society should be regulated. Thus Caste returns in Hindu majority parts of the Raj because Hindus- but nobody else- think in that shitty manner. 

It is a separate matter that different endogamous communities may have their own inheritance laws. If a person dies intestate in a particular jurisdiction, a Judge may be obliged to inquire into what customary rules apply even if that jurisdiction has statute law in this respect.

Since Justice is a service industry, it makes sense for jurisdictions to promulgate codes applicable to particular sects so as to attract this type of , often very lucrative, legal work. 

 In the late eighteenth century, when the East India Company was establishing its stranglehold on India and its senior officials included some with a genuine interest in understanding the country, the British began to study the shastras, so they could develop a set of legal principles to help them adjudicate disputes in Indian civil society. Governor General Warren Hastings hired eleven pandits to create what became known as the Code of Gentoo Laws or the Ordinations of the Pandits. As the British could not read or interpret the ancient Sanskrit texts, they asked their Brahmin advisers to create the code based on religious Indian texts and their knowledge of Indian customs. The resulting output was an ‘Anglo-Brahminical’ text that arguably violated in both letter and spirit the actual practice: in letter, because it was imprecise in regard to the originals, and in spirit, because the pandits proceeded to take advantage of the assignment to favour their own caste, by interpreting and even creating sacrosanct ‘customs’ that in fact had no shastric authority. This served to magnify the problem of caste hierarchy in the country.

The Brits were looking for a Hindu equivalent to Auragazeb's al-Hidaya and Fatawa-i Alamgiri. Since the Judges were British, not Hindus or Muslims, they were free to reject inequitable suggestions made by Court Pundits or Maulvis. Thus British courts attracted custom precisely because the Pundit and Maulvi's authority was circumscribed though, the appearance was, the rules of Religion were being complied with.

Prior to this, scholars argue, disputes in Indian civil society were settled by jati or biradri, i.e. a person’s fate was decided within a community or clan by his own peers in accordance with their local traditions and values and without needing approval from any higher caste authority.

People were welcome to stick with this sort of collective decision making. However, there had always been a right of appeal to the ruler.  

The pandits, instead of reflecting this widespread practice, cited doctrinal justifications from long-neglected texts to enshrine their status as the only authority figures, and most of the British took them at their word. (Some had their doubts. The most learned of British Orientalists, William Jones, who in 1797 founded the Asiatic Society in Calcutta and served in the Supreme Court of Judicature, remarked, ‘I can no longer bear to be at the Mercy of our pandits who deal out Hindu Law as they please, and make it at reasonable rates, when they cannot find it ready made’. But Jones died tragically young and his wisdom was not replicated in his successors.) It was evident from a cursory look at Indian society that actual social practices did not necessarily follow the official or ‘shastric’ code, but the ancient texts were now cited, and given an inflexibility they did not in fact possess, essentially to restrict the autonomy of society and so control it more easily in the name of religious authority. This served the interests of British policy, which explicitly sought to ‘enumerate, categorize and assess their [colonial] populations and resources’ for administrative purposes.

What is remarkable about the Brits is that they themselves unearthed forgotten texts and gained a reputation for superior scholarship and ratiocinative skill. Thus the revival of  Mitakshara law was due to the efforts of firstly Colebrooke and then Macnaghten. One result was that traditional Hindu Mimamsakas couldn't take the competition and were reconciled to Legislative codification on a non-Shastric kind. 

It is in the interest of any Government to have smart scholarly judges. The Brits were good at this. Why? Law attracted, and still attracts, the brightest and the best. A lawyer consider elevation to the Bench to be a great privilege. In India, 'barristocrats' preferred to go into politics. 

Ethnic, social, caste and racial classifications were conducted as part of an imperial strategy more effectively to impose and maintain British control over the colonized Indian population.

Nonsense! Killing people and taxing them heavily is how you control them. Once British bureaucrats started conducting Censuses, their power began to collapse.  

The process also reaffirmed their initial conviction that the Brahmins, with their knowledge of the Vedas, were the most qualified and best suited as their intermediaries to rule India.

The British ruled India through Princes, very few of whom were Brahmins, and zamindars some of whom may have been. However, traditional administrative castes- e.g Kayasthas, Niyogis, Khattris etc continued to have salience.  

The Brahmins enjoyed British patronage

No. They enjoyed patronage from Hindus alone. Tharoor's Nair community did give Nambudris a pretty enviable position but over most of Hindu India, Brahmins remained poor in proportion to their piety.  

over other groups and began considering themselves above all other castes, whom the British, internalizing Brahmin prejudice, thought of as lower castes.

This is crazy shit. Nairs may have 'internalized Brahmin prejudices' but the Brits thought Brahmins were shit because all Indians were shit.  

The result was a remarkable preponderance of Brahmins in positions of importance in the British Raj. Brahmins, who were no more than a tenth of the population, occupied over 90 per cent of the positions available to Indians in government service, except the most menial ones; they dominated the professions open to Indians, especially lawyering and medicine; and they entered journalism and academia, so it was their voices that were heard loudest as the voices of Indian opinion.

So, under a foreign government, Brahmins came to the fore purely on the basis of merit. How wicked of them!

India had arguably been a far more meritocratic society before the British Raj settled down to enshrine the Brahmins in such a position of dominance.

The reverse must be the case. The British had no racial, cultural or religious reason to favor any particular type of Indian.

Nineteenth-century ideas of race also got into the mix. The American scholar Thomas Metcalfe has shown how race ideology in that era defined European civilization as being at the peak of human attainment, while the darker-skinned races were portrayed as being primitive, weak and dependent on European tutelage in order to develop. Indians internalized many of these prejudices, instilled in them by two centuries of the white man’s dominance and the drumming into them of the cult of British superiority.

Tharoor is darker than Rahul whose Mum is White. Unlike Tharoor, Rahul finished his education in Britain. Rahul can't get elected by Hindi speakers. He is now an MP from Kerala. Yet Tharoor must remain eternally under the thumb of either Sonia, who is of European heritage, or Rahul who is of Brahmin caste. Sad.  

I recall reading, as a child, the account of an early Indian visitor to England, astonished that even the shoeshine boys there were British, so completely had the mystique of English lordliness been internalized in India.

People were astonished when Sonia nominated Pratibha Patil- who was accused of shielding her brother in a murder case- for the Presidency. Then the story went around that Pratibhaji was humbly bringing fooding for Indiraji and so it was right and proper she should get Presidency. Obviously, if shoe-shining had been required, some more robust person would have been chosen.

The young prince, and later cricket star, Ranji, arriving in England as a student, was taken aback by ‘the sight of Britishers engaging in low-caste work’ (he was assured the stevedores were ‘only Irishmen’).

Actually, there already were Indians doing low-caste work in London during the Regency. Sadly, during the Mutiny, many such crossing sweepers were beaten or even killed by furious mobs. By the late Seventies, Indian visitors were taken aback to see the toilets at Heathrow being cleaned by ladies wearing salwar kameez. 


British cartography defined spaces the better to rule them; the map became an instrument of colonial control.

All rulers- unless they are completely shit- use maps and other instruments to control territory. Tharoor does not understand this. Why? It is because he used to work for the UN- i.e. he is a useless tosser. The cretin believes in voodoo. If you have a little wax doll of someone, you can make that person do what you like. 

Even the valuable British legacy, the museum,

which was a legacy from Greece to Rome to Britain 

was devised in furtherance of the imperial project because here objects, artefacts and symbols could be appropriated, named, labelled, arranged, ordered, classified and thus controlled, exactly as the people could be.

No wonder UPA is unelectable. It believes in voodoo. 

Just as ‘Brahmin’ became a sought-after designation enshrining social standing, the census definition of an individual’s caste tended to seal the fate of any ‘Shudra’, by fixing his identity across the entire country.

That had already happened many centuries ago. I suppose it could be said that certain communities  only gained an identity as Muslim or as Hindu at this period. But, when we look a little closer this wasn't really the case. Nizari Ismailis may have had Hindu names at one time but there was nothing Hindu about their beliefs. Muslim Rajputs who had Hindu marriage ceremonies weren't any the less Muslim for that reason. On the other hand, prior to the British census most Indians moved freely between genders. 

Whereas prior to British rule the Shudra had only to leave his village and try his fortunes in a different princely state in India where his caste would not have followed him, colonialism made him a Shudra for life, wherever he was.

Would a Nair who moved to Maharashtra or Bengal have been able to change his caste from Shudra to Kshatriya? Perhaps. But only if he was prepared to go through the sacred thread ceremony and enroll with a family purohit and so forth. He may also have felt obliged to give up non-veg food. Who in their right mind would take that deal? 

The British belief in the fighting qualities of the ‘martial races’ also restricted the career possibilities of those not so classified, since British army recruitment policies were usually based on caste classifications.

This was certainly true of the oldest regiment in the Indian Army- the Nair regiment which only admitted non-Nairs in 1954. I've read British accounts of a 'quinsap' caste- Queen Victoria's own sappers- Madras sappers who according to some British officers who had served with them, had formed their own endogamous caste. 

The whole point about 'martial races' is that they were not castes at all, though- no doubt- agriculturists from the North West- where the Brits faced a military threat- or people from higher altitudes were given preference. 

In the old days, any individual with the height and musculature required could make a livelihood as a warrior, whatever his caste background.

No. Only those trained in the use of weapons could make a livelihood in this way. What changed under the Raj was that the Army would give you all the training you needed. Thus, when demand for soldiers exceeded supply- e.g. during the two World Wars- the Army would even take Gujaratis. However, height did not matter. Short Gurkas tend to be the best fighters. Tall Gurkha soldiers tend to be in support roles. At any rate, this is what a British Gurkha officer told me many years ago.  

In British India, this was far more difficult, if not impossible, since entire regiments were constructed on the basis of caste identities.

No. The Nair brigade, formed by Tharoor's ancestors,  was indeed constructed on the basis of caste identity but that was because it wasn't created by Britishers. All regiments formed by the Brits had a territorial, not caste, identity- though sometimes this was bogus ; e.g there were few Baloch in supposedly Baloch regiments. Only the so called 'Mahar regiment'- which however recruits from all communities in India- is identified with a caste but it was only raised in 1946.

Census-taking in British India differed significantly from the conduct of the census in Britain, since unlike in the home country, the census in India was led by British anthropologists seeking to anatomize Indian society, the better to control and govern it.

Tharoor may be astonished to hear that the British census has always been led by British civil servants. They want to anatomize British society the better to govern it. Incidentally, governing a country involves controlling stuff within it.  In 1881 the Brits decided to do a census of their entire Empire. Why? They wanted to know what human resources were available for Imperial defense. This was also the reason they had their first census during the Napoleonic wars. 

As I have mentioned earlier, Indians in precolonial times lived in imprecisely-defined ‘fuzzy’ communities

and they had fuzzy gender identities 

with overlapping cultural practices,

British people had and have 'overlapping cultural practices'- indeed, everybody does.  

minimal self-awareness

like rocks and the less intelligent type of plant 

and non-existent consciousness of the details of their differences from other communities, except in the most general terms.

It may well be that a villager knew little about the wider world. But that villager, in India, belonged to an endogamous jati. His marriage and his children's marriages would be arranged within that jati. Very precise information was available under this rubric. That is why Indian DNA has such marked caste characteristics. 

This is underscored by the scholar Sudipta Kaviraj, who observes that precolonial communities had imprecise (‘fuzzy’) boundaries because some collective identities are not territorially based, and because ‘part of this fuzziness of social mapping would arise because traditional communities, unlike modern ones, are not enumerated’.

Modern communities have very fuzzy boundaries. Premodern communities have sharp boundaries. Shamima Begum would be recognized by people from her parent's home district as definitely one of their own. But she was born and bred in London. She travelled to Syria on a British, not a Bangladeshi, passport. Is she still British? The Government says- 'no. She has been 'denaturalized'. Perhaps the Supreme Court will disagree with the Government. Perhaps not. Even if the law is clarified, the thing will remain fuzzy politically. If she is returned to Bangladesh she faces the death penalty. Would a future Labour Home Secretary (assuming such a thing is possible) really abandon her to her fate? 

Traditional communities may not be able to count higher than 3 but they have a very precise notion of oikeiosis- or belonging. You may, like Richard Harris in 'A man called horse', get accepted into an indigenous tribe- but you first have to go through a pretty thorough initiation. The nice thing about being modern is that we can have an identity without having any detailed knowledge about what constitutes that identity. What matters is whether we are good at our job- which lots of other people all over the world might be doing just as well. Thus Mr. Khan or Mr. Sharma or Miss Jones or Mrs. Yi may all know very much more about dentistry than they know about their ancestral culture or language. This does not mean they aren't proud of their identity. But that identity gets fuzzier and fuzzier as the decades roll on. In retirement, one may return to it- but the thing is now wholly ersatz. 

The census, of course, changed that, as did the more stable territorial lines drawn by the colonists on their new, and very precise, maps.

Sadly, those maps weren't precise enough- which is why Nehru's final days were such an anti-climax. 

In the precolonial era, community boundaries were far more blurred, and as a result these communities were not self-conscious in the way they became under colonial rule.

The opposite is the case. Tharoor's great-great grandparents had a very precise and self-conscious notion of their identity which in fact was more variegated then. From the 1920s these start to blur. By the 70's even the difference between North Indian and South Indian was eroding. Nobody thought there was anything unusual about Tharoor, a South Indian Shudra, marrying a Kashmiri Pundit. On the other hand, charges of abetment to suicide are still hanging over Tharoor's head in that connection. That's about as fuzzy as such things can get. 

In the absence of the ‘focused and intense allegiances’ of the modern era, precolonial groups were less likely to be antagonistic to each other over perceived community or communal differences.

The reverse is the case. Modernity is about specialization and the division of labor. Collective duties are discharged by professionals- they are not incumbent on all members of the sept. If someone from another community kills or rapes one of our own we call the police. We don't rush out to find one of theirs to kill or rape. One may harbor great prejudice or hostility against another group but, during office hours, this may not at all be evident. One reason, the Indian village might have seemed harmonious was because of caste based occupational specialization. But increased monetization and technological change made it untenable. Still, caste couldn't tear India apart because

1) there were too many castes and too much variation within castes. In any case, the thing only survives as a solution to the stable marriage problem.

2) Religion trumps Caste.  

They have become so only as a consequence of their ‘definition’ by the British in mutually exclusive terms.

Islam made a sharp distinction between Muslims and infidels. It has been suggested that Hinduism did not have such distinctions before Islam arrived. But, for 'caste' (i.e. sacred thread wearing) Hindus, such a distinction already existed.  

The British could find no one to tell them authoritatively where or in what number any particular community was;

This is because only God can say 'authoritatively' where or in what number any community may be.

the census commissioners discovered that boundary lines among Hindus, Sikhs and Jains barely existed,

This is the 'Hindutva' view.  

and that several Hindu and Muslim groups in different parts of the country shared similar social and cultural practices with regard to marriage, festivals, food, and worship.

This was a strong argument for the creation of a separate Muslim nation. The danger was that Muslims living in a largely infidel nation would sooner or later turn idolatrous.  

This went against the colonial assumption that communities must be mutually exclusive

There was no such colonial assumption. There were claims made by colonized people to have pre-existing mutually exclusive collective identities. In Tharoor's native Kerala, Princely States started to face push back from lower caste Associations from the 1870s precisely because they were reforming their administration along the lines of British administered territory. 

and that a person had to belong to one community or another. The British then simply superimposed their assumptions on the Indian reality, classifying people by religion, caste or tribe on the basis of imprecise answers to the census commissioners’ questions.

By 1881 the Brits had accumulated more information about India than any group of Indians possessed. The Census was an example of the Brits increasing their epistemic lead over Indians. The problem was that the guys collecting Census or other such information were barely literate cretins. This is still a problem with  Indian statistics. Modi is hoping to get better answers by forcing respondents to choose from a list rather than self-declare. But the British Census too has to do something similar coz there are cretins like me who are likely to tick Irish, under ethnicity, on the grounds that Iyers are originally from Iyerland. 

The British approach inevitably suffered from the prejudices and limitations of the age: thus, the ICS’s Herbert Risley, census commissioner for the 1901 census and author of the compendious
The People of India, took an anthropological and eugenicist approach, making physical measurements of Indian skulls and noses on the then-fashionable assumption that such physical qualities reflected racial stereotypes. (It was he who announced that 1901’s would be an ethnographic census, and led it personally.)

So what? Mahalanobis too initially dabbled in what had once appeared to be cutting edge science.  

Backed up by extensive photographs of facial features and social practices, Risley’s work helped the British use such classification both to affirm their own convictions about European biological superiority over Indians, and to construct racial, social and ‘tribal’ differences between different segments of India’s people which served to reshape and substantiate ‘the dominant paradigms of social knowledge’.

What was the upshot? After 1905, progressive intellectuals- like Sidney Olivier- thought India's progress to self-government would be more, not less, rapid. By the time Olivier became Secretary of State for India, he had changed his mind. But that was Gandhi's fault. This had nothing to do with 'racial' differences. It had to do with the fact that the Indian Nationalists were a bunch of cretins. Thus India didn't get what Ireland and Egypt and Afghanistan got. The British Umpire was necessary because even the nicest Indians tended to go a bit crazy from time to time and thus had to be sent to the penalty box to cool down. I

Indians questioned by Risley’s team predictably asserted both their caste identities and their entitlement to special privileges over other castes, accentuating the very differences the British wanted to see and had brought to the fore.

Tharoor has clearly never met a Census official. They sit with you and tick boxes. If you try to explain to them that you are actually a very superior type of leprechaun from Iyerland, they wear you down till you finally admit you fit into the British of Indian origin box.  

There has been a bit of an academic availability cascade about Risley. This is because stupid academics are trying to impose a Foucauldian 'bio-politics' framework on a country which is nothing like France. Only a fool, like Tharoor, would repeat this garbage.

By so doing they sought benefits for their group—admission to certain military regiments, for instance, or scholarships to some educational institutions—at the expense of, or equal to, others.

They had been doing that before there was any Census. Indeed, the thing was visible under the Mughals and even before that. Why? Traditionally, in agricultural Empires, groups which offered some service to the State got to pay less in tax. 

Such caste competition had been largely unknown in pre-British days; caste consciousness had never been made so explicit as in the late nineteenth century.

Where competition takes the form of killing people, guys who are good at killing people get rewarded. The British Raj had created a profound peace at the price of economic stagnation over large parts of India. Competition for jobs and status became more intense but the game was scarcely worth the candle.  

All these classifications

had not been necessary to conquer the country and its neighbors or to use its soldiers to further increase the Empire in the MENA and elsewhere. 

in turn served the interests of the colonizers by providing them with a tool to create perceptions of difference between groups to prevent unity amongst them, and justifying British overlordship—which alone could be seen as transcending these differences and guiding the Indians to a higher, more civilized, plane of being, under the benign tutelage of the well-meaning Empire.

Or the benign tutelage of the Gandhi dynasty. 

The British made these divisions such an article of faith that even a writer seen as broadly sympathetic to Indians, E. M. Forster, has his Indian protagonist, Aziz, say in, ‘Nothing embraces the whole of India, nothing, nothing ’.

While Bahaguna said 'India is Indira and Indira is India'. Aziz, as Forster well knew, was on the path to Iqbal's idea of Pakistan. Indira and Rajiv were killed by people who harbored separatist ideas. Perhaps the reason Rahul refuses to step up to the plate is that he doesn't want to be the one who 'embraces the whole of India' and thus ends up getting shot or blown up. 

This colonial process of identity-creation in British India occurred even in the formation of linguistic identities. Both David Washbrook and David Lelyveld believe that territorially-defined linguistic populations came into being out of the British colonial project to categorize, count and classify—in order to control—Indian society.

The British project was to rule India. That is now the project of Indians. The sensible way to do it is by using the mother tongue as the language of administration. That is why the linguistic reconstitution of the States accelerated after Independence. But there are non-linguistic reasons to carve up big Provinces into more cohesive and manageable States or Union Territories.  

The very notion of linguistic identities, they suggest, emerged from the nineteenth-century belief in language as the cementing bond of social relations, and the implicit conviction that ‘races’or ‘nations’ spoke a common language and lived within defined territorial locations.

This is a foolish academic availability cascade. Nations were always defined linguistically. A King might hold more the Crown of more than one Nation- e.g. the British Monarch whose son, as Prince of Wales, learned Welsh. Monarchs, like Queen Victoria, might turn into Emperors with lots of Kings and Princes under them. But though Empires might be centralized, they were decomposable into Nations which had existed previously on linguistic grounds. 

Incidentally, in their zeal for classification, the British even subsumed ancient, and not dishonorable, professions like devadasis (temple dancers) or baijis (court musicians),who in some respects served functions akin to the geishas of Japan, into a rough-and-ready category of ‘prostitutes’, thus casting them out for the first time from respectable society.
Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act (also called the Tamil Nadu Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act or the Madras Devadasi Act) is a law that was enacted on 9 October 1947 just after India became independent. The truth is, as middle class Indians gained in power and influence, a more puritanical moral code became normative and this was reflected in the law. 

Tharoor next shows that Congress still does not understand either the DMK or Dalit ideologies and aspirations- 
However, the British attempt to separate the Depressed Classes was of a different order, since it was the first time that separate electorates were being proposed within a religious community, and the strategy of fragmenting Indian nationalism and breaking the incipient unity of the Indian masses was clearly apparent to Congress leaders.

Muslims had got separate electorates from the get go. Given that there was a restricted franchise, 'depressed' classes - more particularly if they believed, as Tharoor appears to do, that Brahmins were very cunning and were monopolizing all offices of profit- were entitled to demand something similar. Since Gandhi had broken the Hindu Muslim compact by unilaterally surrendering, it was inevitable that the next group to repudiate the INC would be the non-Brahmins in the South and Dalits elsewhere.  

Gandhi demanded that the representatives of the Depressed Classes should be elected by the general electorate under a wide, and if possible universal, common franchise, and undertook a fast unto death in 1932 that riveted the nation and compelled the British and the Dalit leadership to give in.

The British never needed to give in to Gandhi's fasts. The Dalits, who might have been slaughtered if Gandhi died, had to back down. Congress got its Uncle Tom MPs but, for a while, Ambedkar and JN Mandal and so forth could fight on. Incidentally, in 1937, Dalit Muslims became eligible for affirmative action. Needless to say, after Independence this was taken away. Only Hindu Dalits secured reservations. Later Sikhs were included and later still, Buddhists. But Christians and Muslims are still excluded.  

Under a political compromise, known as the Poona Pact, that year separate electorates for the Depressed Classes were abandoned but additional seats were reserved for them in the provincial and central legislatures—an increase from71 to 147 in the former and to 18 per cent of the Central Legislature. (Interestingly enough, the leader of the Dalits who clashed with Gandhi over the issue,Dr B. R. Ambedkar, went on to serve after Independence as chairman of the DraftingCommittee for India’s Constitution, and ensured that his country would have the world’s first and farthest-reaching affirmative action programme for his community.

But not Sikhs or Muslims or Christian Dalits. Incidentally, Ambedkar's ally- J.N Mandal, who had foolishly opted for Pakistan, was Jinnah's first Law Minister. Then the poor man, along with many of his people, had to flee to India. Caste, it seemed, was nothing compared to Religion. Those who dream of a Dalit-Muslim combine build but Castles in Spain. Power has passed to dominant agricultural castes who are ceasing to be agricultural and are forging ahead in every field. They can see with their own eyes that they are just as good as traditionally 'educationally forward' groups. Congress's big mistake- at least as far as Tamil Nadu was concerned- was to back Gandhi's crackpot 'Basic Education'- which meant that if you came from an educationally backward caste, educationally backward you would remain.

In 1937, when Congress ministries were elected in eight provinces and for the first time enjoyed control over education, Gandhi put forward a plan called the Wardha Scheme for Education, which envisaged seven years of basic education for rural children, including vocational training in village handicrafts.

In other words, the only thing they'd be taught which their parents couldn't teach them would be Hindi- which is why Tamils hate Hindi to this day.  

It was never fully implemented, but it would certainly have imparted the basics, including literacy in the mother tongue, mathematics, science, history, and physical culture and hygiene, in addition to crafts. It is difficult to argue against the proposition that the Wardha scheme would have been a vast improvement on what little colonial education was available in rural India.

It would have been worse. If you can't go to school, at least you know you are missing out on education. If you go to school and learn nothing, you don't know you've missed out. All that has happened is that your time has been wasted. 

The true significance of the Wardha scheme- apart from pissing off the Madrasis- was that it alerted Muslims to their likely fate in independent India- denied Urdu & forced to sing Vande Mataram in 'Vidya Mandirs'.

Tharoor cobbles together his books by lazily copy and pasting stuff he has written at different times. The man has literally learned nothing and forgotten nothing. As such he is typical of a dynastic party now dying nasty.

Tharoor may be forgiven for knowing little about India. His career was in international diplomacy- working for the UN. Perhaps the conclusion to his book, where he looks at the global picture, may be less fatuous-

CAST A LONG SHADOW: RESIDUAL PROBLEMS OF COLONIALISM

The colonial era is over. And yet, residual problems from the end of the earlier era of colonization, usually the result of untidy departures by the colonial power, still remain dangerously stalemated.

The break up of Empires- whether in Europe or elsewhere- did indeed leave certain territories which remain bitterly contested. 

The prolonged state of chronic hostility between India andPakistan, punctuated by four bloody wars and the repeated infliction of cross-border terrorism as a Pakistani tactic against India, is the most obvious example.

Yet India has a peaceful border with Bangladesh. It is notable that Pakistan is also meddling with Afghanistan in a similarly mischievous way. 

But there are others. The dramatic events in East Timor in 1999 led to the last major transfer of power to an independence movement.

There are other areas in that part of the world where Christian Muslim tensions, or tensions between more orthodox and less orthodox Islamic peoples continue to flare up. 

Yet at least closure has occurred there, unlike in Western Sahara or in those old stand bys of Cyprus and Palestine, all messy legacies of European colonialism.

But conflict between Greek and Turk or between Turk and Egyptian in Libya etc would have existed in any case. Similarly, even if America had been the mandatory power in Palestine, there would be a problem re. Zionism.  

Fuses lit in the colonial era could ignite again,

but those 'fuses' pre-existed the colonial era. 

as they have done, much toe veryone’s surprise, in the Horn of Africa, between Ethiopia and Eritrea, where war broke out over a colonial border that the Italians of an earlier era of occupation had failed to define with enough precision and where peace simmers today amidst much uncertainty.

But such conflicts would have occurred in any case as we currently see in Yemen.  

The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which the British and the French agreed to carve up the former Ottoman territories between themselves and which set the boundaries between independent Syria and Iraq, is another relic of colonial history that haunts us today.

But this would have been solved by the creation of a United Arab Republic. It was Saddam who put an end to this dream. 

For when ISIS (‘Daesh’) advanced ruthlessly in those countries, it railed against the iniquities of that Anglo-French agreement and avowed its determination to reverse the Sykes-Picot legacy—making the imperial era compellingly current once more.

Daesh represented Sunni supremacy. The roots of its ideology go back to the early days of Islam. 

But it’s not just the direct results of colonialism that remain relevant: there are the indirect ones as well. The intellectual history of colonialism is littered with many a wilful cause of more recent conflict. One is, quite simply, careless anthropology: the Belgian classification of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi, which solidified a distinction that had not existed before, continues to haunt the region of the African Great Lakes.

Yet tribal conflict is pervasive in that part of Africa. Conflicts tend to spill over borders because tribes expand and contract on the basis of conflict. Had Museveni not been from a tribe linked to the Tutsis, it may be that there would have been no genocide.  

A related problem is that of motivated sociology: how much bloodshed do we owe, for instance, to the British invention of ‘martial races’ in India, which skewed recruitment into the armed forces and saddled some communities with the onerous burden of militarism?

Perhaps Tharoor is thinking of India's problem with Khalistanis. However there were plenty of other martial races- Nairs, Coorgis, Garwhalis, Gurkhas etc- who haven't shed any blood.

The point about Sociology is that it has to pick out actually existing social groupings. It can't invent them out of thin air. Still, it must be said, Sociologists are useless. 

And one can never overlook the old colonial administrative habit of ‘divide and rule’, exemplified, again, by British policy in the subcontinent after 1857, systematically promoting political divisions between Hindus and Muslims, which led almost inexorably to the tragedy of Partition.

The INC continued these divisive policies. It promoted vote banks rather than focusing on good governance. 

Such colonial-era distinctions were not just pernicious; they were often accompanied by an unequal distribution of the resources of the state within the colonial society.

But this inequality was pre-existing. There is some DNA evidence to suggest that Tutsis are of Nilotic paternal origin. 

Wikipedia states- Kigeli IV Rwabugiri (1840 - November 1895) was the king (mwami) of the Kingdom of Rwanda in the late 19th century. He was among the last Nyiginya kings in a ruling dynasty that had traced their lineage back four centuries to Gihanga, the first 'historical' king of Rwanda whose exploits are celebrated in oral chronicles.[3] He was a Tutsi[4] with the birth name Rwabugiri. He was the first king in Rwanda's history to come into contact with Europeans. He established an army equipped with guns he obtained from Germans and prohibited most foreigners, especially Arabs, from entering his kingdom.

By the end of Rwabugiri's rule, Rwanda was divided into a standardized structure of provinces, districts, hills, and neighborhoods, administered by a hierarchy of chiefs. 

The chiefs were predominantly Tutsi at the higher levels and with a greater degree of mutual participation by Hutus.The redistribution of land, enacted between 1860 and 1895, resulted in an imposed patronage system, under which appointed Tutsi chiefs demanded manual labor in return for the right of Hutus to occupy their land. This system left Hutus in a serf-like status with Tutsi chiefs as their feudal masters.

Under Mwami Rwabugiri, Rwanda became an expansionist state. Rwabugiri did not bother to assess the ethnic identities of conquered peoples and simply labeled all of them “Hutu”. The title “Hutu”, therefore, came to be a trans-ethnic identity associated with subjugation. While further disenfranchising Hutus socially and politically, this helped to solidify the idea that “Hutu” and “Tutsi” were socioeconomic, not ethnic, distinctions. In fact, one could kwihutura, or “shed Hutuness”, by accumulating wealth and rising through the social hierarchy.

Tharoor rejects the evidence in favor of a just-so story about evil Belgians.

Belgian colonialists favoured Tutsis, leading to Hutu rejection of them as alien interlopers; Sinhalese resentment of privileges enjoyed by the Tamils in the colonial era in Sri Lanka prompted the discriminatory policies after Independence that in turn fuelled the Tamil revolt.

It was Buddhist nationalism- the idea that Sri Lanka is specially dedicated to protect the Buddhist creed- which  set the conflict in motion. It is no accident that Solomon Bandarnaike and U Nu in Burma started backing Buddhist polices at around the same time thus sealing their own doom.

India still lives with the domestic legacy of divide and rule, with a Muslim population almost as large as Pakistan’s, conscious of itself as a minority striving to find its place in the Indian sun.

The Muslims always had this feeling. Consider the famous Reza Khan. He refused a land grant and demanded money payment precisely because Bengal was 'dar ul harb'- even though the ruler was Muslim. This ideology predates the arrival of the British.

A ‘mixed’ colonial history within one modern state is also a potential source of danger.

Only if pre-existing tensions between populations existed. India faced no great difficulty in incorporating Portuguese or French possessions.  

When a state has more than one colonial past, its future is vulnerable.

e.g. the USA where we see areas which were once under the Spanish or French or Russian Emperors have never accepted incorporation into a Union founded by ex-British colonies. 

Secessionism, after all, can be prompted by a variety of factors, historical, geographical and cultural as well as ‘ethnic’. Ethnicity or language hardly seem to be a factor in the secessions (one recognized, the other not) of Eritrea from Ethiopia and the ‘Republic of Somaliland’ from Somalia. Rather, it was different colonial experiences (Italian rule in Eritrea and British rule in Somaliland) that set them off, at least in their own self-perceptions, from the rest of their ethnic compatriots.

This is silly. Both Somalia and Ethiopia had terrible Governments. This is 'State failure'- perhaps with a Cold War component. 

A similar case can be made in respect of the former Yugoslavia, where parts of the country that had been under Austro-Hungarian rule for 800 years had been joined to parts that spent almost as long under Ottoman suzerainty. The war that erupted in 1991 was in no small measure a war that pitted those parts of Yugoslavia that had been ruled by German-speaking empires against those that had not (or had resisted such colonization).

There is an obvious problem here- namely that territories ruled entirely by German speaking Emperors too had their irredentist or other territorial claims against each other. After the Second World War, some traditionally German territory was seded to Poland and Russia and Czechoslavakia etc. Hungary lost a lot of territory. In view of the carnage and shifting borders of Central Europe in the Twentieth Century, what happened in the Balkans appears just par for the course.  

Boundaries drawn in colonial times, even if unchanged after independence, still create enormous problems of national unity.

All contested boundaries create problems. But this true of European countries which were never colonized and is also true of China and Thailand which were never colonized. 

We have been reminded of this in Iraq, whose creation from the ruins of the Ottoman empire welded various incompatibilities into a single state.

But those 'incompatibilities' existed a thousand years ago! Had Saddam not prevented the union of Syria and Iraq, who is to say that whether the situation would have been worse or better?  

But the issue is much more evident in Africa, where civil conflict along ethnic or regional lines can arise when the challenge of nation building within colonially drawn boundaries becomes insurmountable.

These problems become 'insurmountable' when good governance itself appears an impossible dream. 

Where colonial constructions force disparate peoples together by the arbitrariness of a colonial mapmaker’s pen,

those people can agree to go their own way. The Czechs and the Slovaks have parted company without any bloodshed. Norway and Sweden parted amicably over a century ago. The maps of colonists have no magic power.  

nationhood becomes an elusive notion. Older tribal and clan loyalties in Africa were mangled by the boundaries drawn, in such distant cities as Berlin, for colonially created states whose post-independence leaders had to invent new traditions and national identities out of whole cloth.

So what? Kenya and Tanzania get along just fine. Uganda, sadly, was ruled by cretins and so Tanzania had to intervene.  

The result was the manufacture of unconvincing political myths, as artificial as the countries they mythologize, which all too often cannot command genuine patriotic allegiance from the citizenry they aim to unite.

This is nonsense. If people can see that the State is trying to improve their lives then they don't need 'mythologies'.  

Civil war is made that much easier for local leaders challenging a ‘national’ leader whose nationalism fails to resonate across his country.

Civil wars happen when the National Army appears too weak to crush an insurrection. 'Resonating' does not matter. Good governance does.  

Rebellion against such a leader is, after all, merely the reassertion of history over ‘his’ story.

No. Rebellions happen if rebels think they can win by killing soldiers sent against them.  

State failure in the wake of colonialism is another evident source of conflict,

It is the only source of conflict. So long as the state monopolizes the means of coercion- i.e. kills anyone who tries to kill its soldiers- there will be no conflict. There will simply be nutters who get shot the moment they try to wag their tail.  

as the by-product of an unprepared newly independent state’s inability to govern. The crisis of governance in many African countries is a real and abiding cause for concern in world affairs today. The collapse of effective central governments—as manifest in Darfur, South Sudan and eastern Congo today, and in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Somalia yesterday (and who knows where tomorrow?)—could unleash a torrent of alarming possibilities: a number of ‘weak states’, particularly in Africa, seem vulnerable to collapsing in a welter of conflict.

This may worry some UN officials. But who else greatly cares? 

Underdevelopment in postcolonial societies is itself a cause of conflict.

The ability to get your hands on weapons is a cause of conflict. 

The uneven development of infrastructure in a poor country, as a result of priorities skewed for the benefit of the colonialists,

is what permits those countries to have a modern nation state. The colonists created infrastructure so that the colony could export stuff so as to buy stuff which would enable the bureaucracy and the military and the police etc. to do their job. 

can lead to resources being distributed unevenly, which in turn leads to increasing fissures in a society between those from ‘neglected regions’ and those who are better served by roads, railways, power stations, telecommunications, bridges and canals.

Such inequalities exist even in Europe, Japan and America. People respond by relocating. 

Advancing underdevelopment in many countries of the South, which are faring poorly in their desperate struggle to remain players in the game of global capitalism, has created conditions of desperate poverty, ecological collapse and rootless, unemployed populations beyond the control of atrophying state systems—a portrait vividly painted by Robert Kaplan in his book

Having lots of babies would have the same result even if underdevelopment was retreating- as indeed it was during the Sixties.  


The Coming Anarchy , which suggests the real danger of perpetual violence on the peripheries of our global village.

Kaplan did not predict China's rise as an exporter of infrastructure. The rest of the world need not bother about parts of the world where the motor of development will be in Chinese hands. Once the virtue signalers and UN bureaucrats have been disintermediated, pragmatic solutions will be found- if it is worth finding them. 

As we embark upon the twenty-first century, it seems ironically clear that tomorrow’s anarchy might still be due, in no small part, to yesterday’s colonial attempts at order.

Clearly Tharoor is copy and pasting something he wrote twenty years ago. This book of his came out in 2016. Before the rise of China became obvious, it was plausible to gas on as if there was a 'rules based' world order presided over by the West. Now Biden is saying only that China won't overtake America on his watch- but that watch may only last four years. 

I have no wish to give those politicians in postcolonial countries whose leadership has been found wanting in the present, any reason to find excuses for their failures in the past.

Who cares what Tharoor gives to anybody? He is a cretin. 

But in looking to understand the forces that have made us and nearly unmade us, and in hoping to recognize possible future sources of conflict in the new millennium, we have to realize that sometimes the best crystal ball is a rear-view mirror.

Nonsense! Crystal balls are just balls made of crystal. To understand what will happen requires us to understand what is happening. But that is a subject Tharoor is blissfully ignorant about.