Saturday 30 April 2011

Beyond demographic transition- demographic senility.

India's prospects this century hinge upon it's having a normal as opposed to ageing demographics- the notion is that it will have more young people than China and roar ahead on that basis. However, there is another model- we might call it the Anna Hazare model based on his Utopian village- of the senile getting the kids to all have vasectomies, give up booze, meat, watching TV and simply hang around doing what they're told.
This represents a far more environmentally sustainable and cultural and bio-diversity preserving solution to India's problems. That and Shodh Yatras. Vasectomies first, then Shodh Yatras.  You heard it here first. India will boldly stride beyond demographic transition to utter and ubiquitous senility. Gandhi would be so proud.

Friday 29 April 2011

Karna and Moses.

Both Karna and Moses were cast off into rivers by their mothers and it was their brothers- Arjuna in the case of Karna and Aaron in the case of Moses whose lineages were consecrated as Kings in the Indian tradition and High Priests (kohainim) in the Judaic.
It has been speculated that the motif of the baby cast away in a reed basket is a very ancient one- perhaps one with some historical precedent in the case of Sargon of Akkad- and that it might have been used to disguise the genealogical identity of a usurper or a person of different ethnic or class background. Freud's notion that Moses might have been an Egyptian follower of Akhenaton is a famous example of this sort of Euhemerism.
In the case of the Mahabharata, it is tempting to look at Karna- whose dominating quality is unbounded generosity arising from an overmastering thymotic (rajsic) drive- as a foil to Yuddhishtra  whose predominating quality is forbearance and respect for the rights of others. Perhaps, Karna represents an older conception of the chivalrous Hero-King which was ceasing to be prescriptive  in a materially more prosperous age when the important thing was to develop trade-routes, commercial networks and secure the possessions of the productive classes by establish an indefeasible code of Law  as opposed to the Justice-as-patronage model of the early Iron Age.
The pathos of Karna, as one who prefers that the great warriors get one last chance to gain heaven in a battle to end all battles, is the pathos of the Gloaming of the Age of Heroes which will leave Epic Poetry forever widowed.
In contrast, the pathos of Moses- taking his last look from Pisgah upon the Promised Land he is forbidden to enter; his own seed fated to receive no special recognition though that of his brother Aaron remains distinguished to this day by the title Cohen, or Kahane- marks something new in the world of letters- it is the raising of Prophesy to the level of Prose, it is the birth of a Bibliolatry which will hunt down bards, it is the final withdrawal of the heimat of human belonging from what henceforth will be merely land.

Karna is not vanquished any more than the Winter Sun is vanquished by hoar frost. Moses, on the other hand, never enters the Promised Land. A book binds him. Black ink stronger than that Red Sea he vainly parted.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Sheldon Pollock's heteronomous Rama.

Sheldon Pollock views the Rama of the Ayodhya Kanda as a totally heteronomous being, with less agency than the dasi Manthara. Indeed, he believes the Ramayana to be the principal source of a 'hieratic' Hindu conception of  monarchy as something worse than absolute despotism in that the subject is absolutely infantilzed and has no means of reaching Kantian autonomy..

Comparing Valmiki's epic to the Iliad, Pollock remarks the powerlessness of the Indians, their bondage to a fate they can neither contest nor comprehend and whose blighting effect proceeds from causes that are ethically heteronomous- i.e. punishment does not follow intention or action except in the sense of it being a 'treading the weird'- i.e. some karmic krapolla.
Thus Pollock says 'the characters of the Ramayana believe themselves to be denied all freedom of choice.'  and 'Choice is replaced by Chance, and action is nothing more than reaction.'

Is he correct?

Let us start with Kaikeyi. Did she think she had no freedom of choice? It appears, on the contrary, that she had received two boons from the King and chooses to use them in a manner that was not predetermined or fated in any way. Her maidservant, Manthara, persuaded her that Rama, once King, might mistrust or mistreat her son Bharata. Rather than bewailing her fate, Kaikeyi takes action. What of King Dasharatha? When Kaikeyi demands Ram's exile and Bharata's enthronement, does he exclaim 'Woe is me, all this was fated! I am powerless!'. No he gets angry, curses both Kaikeyi and her son and pointedly remains silent when Rama arrives before him..
Why is the King silent? The answer is that he had already promised the Crown to Rama. The point was moot as to whether Kaikeyi's boons were time-barred, already treasonous, or involved an impossible act.
Even if Lord Rama considered himself bound to obey the King, Kaikeyi had no locus standi to demand his departure. The King's silence gave Lord Rama a choice. It raised him from the abject heteronomous state that Pollock imagines him to occupy. What's more, Lord Rama was not a muscle-bound meat-head, he understood the defeasible nature of the Queen's demand very well. He pointedly states that it is not his Father but his (step) Mother he is obeying. Lord Rama acts with alacrity. He makes a momentous choice- one whose tragic consequences for his beloved father he fully realizes- and, as befitting a King and leader of Men, he makes it quickly, without wasted words. It is this supererogatory quality, this ethical surplus, which defines not Kantian autonomy (worthless shite fit only for Professors) but vatsalya as a Universal principle.

One might argue that after his father's death and his brother's renunciation of the throne, Lord Rama should, as duty bound, find some way of keeping his vow while still discharging his Kingly duties- for example, by residing in a forest, but regularly meeting Ministers and other officials. However, Bharata is fit to discharge this duty himself. So, it is only in order to keep faith with himself, to honor his own commitment, that Lord Ram chooses the more arduous path. This is the opposite of heteronomy.  To bind oneself to what one believes to be the right course, absent any other inducement or coercion, is the hall mark of moral autonomy.
Interestingly, Rama only so bound himself, by his own choice, so that the choice made by his (step) mother might be validated and take effect. That choice too- i.e. Kaikeyi's choice of boons from her husband- arose from a free and unrestrained choice made by his father. Rama does not say to Bharata- you must be King because that was Kaikeyi's wish. After all, Bharata too gets a choice. Only he can decide whether or not to take the throne. Rama does not seek to coerce or intimidate him into going against his own choice. In other words, Rama's ethical autonomy arises and expresses itself in the context of affirming the free choice of other people- one elder to him, his (step) mother, and the other younger to him, his brother Bharata. Notice that Kaikeyi's choice was not unethical as such. She was genuinely concerned about her own flesh and blood. She had a 'veto' if you like and was entitled to use it by reason of a not unnatural apprehension. Choice becomes meaningless unless its free exercise in one's own rational self-interest is accorded moral legitimacy. Otherwise, Choice becomes meaningless pi-jaw.
Pollock considers Lord Rama to represent a sort of inhuman ideal of perfection and thus devoid of all real-life human complexity. Unfortunately, real-life humans, to emerge from heteronomy, to lead families and Nations from moral heteronomy to ethical autonomy, HAVE to pay a great deal of attention to CHOICES.  Lord Ram's own choices become mere caprices, or ethical grandstanding, or perhaps some shite to do with karma, UNLESS he uses his choices to affirm and valorize the choices of others. Pollock uses the word heteronomy readily enough. Is he really ignorant of the vast literature on this topic? Perhaps, because he's writing about India- a poor and backward nations inhabited by nig-nogs- it is a mark of his greatness that he makes this graceful gesture of dissimulation.

Still, the question remains, why does Pollock think it okay to say 'the characters of the Ramayana conceive of themselves as being denied all freedom of choice?" Does he not understand that the readers of his translation will immediately be forced to the conclusion that the Ramayana can have no ethical value at all? If Rama had no choice but to go into exile, what moral greatness attaches to him? Why would Hindus revere him?
Pollock's bizarre thesis soon yields perhaps the most foolish sentence ever written about the Ramayana- viz.  'Rama's 'true feelings' will remain secret, properly so, for they are quite irrelevant to the poem's purposes.' 
Wow! You couldn't make it up if you tried! Do we really not know Rama's true feelings for his Mum, his Dad, his wife, his brothers and so on? Even if we hadn't read Valmiki's poem, is it at all rational or reasonable to think that a poem about a man called Rama would consider the true feelings of that same Rama to be 'quite irrelevant to its purpose?'
Pollock is not ignorant. Just stupid. If, as he claims, philology of his sort is really dying out in India, let us get down on our knees and thank God for it.

Saturday 23 April 2011

The Gita as a guide to life.

How can the Bhagvad Gita help guide our lives?
Before we can answer this question, let us look at what happens in the Mahabharata. Essentially, for some reason or other, God or some other such abstraction has decided to kill off lots of warriors. A few are fated, for some reason or other, not to be killed. They are called the 'victors'. Everybody else dies.

At the start of the Gita, Arjuna is depressed because he foresees being one of the survivors. He decides not to fight. Krishna explains to him that refusal to fight would be to go against his own nature- he is a warrior- and won't change anything anyway. Eventually, Krishna shows Arjuna that he himself is actually God almighty so, like, everything's cool, don't sweat it bro.

The Gita is a very important guide to Life because of the large number of shit-heads we have swarming around who claim to be God Almighty or possessed of some higher Moral authority or Magical power and they want us to go kill lots of people, or hand over lots of money, or give them a blow-job or something. JUST SAY NO.  They will then tell you that they don't really need your help, it's all going to happen for them anyway, except you don't get to go to Heaven. PISS ON THEIR FACE.. Unless there's an actual job with a good pension and dental plan in which case don't piss on their face but remember ALL BOSSES ARE ASSHOLES.  Take the job if you have to and dunno, like maybe do Yoga or something when you ought to be stock-taking and remember to steal as much office stationery as you can lay your hands on.

So that's the Gita as a guide to life. Tomorrow we do the Bible on how crucifying unmarried Jewish carpenters is  the best thing you can do for Humanity.

(Why am I wrong? Can philology, can hermeneutics, give better answers to this question?)

Tuesday 19 April 2011

credentialism and failed programs

Why do failed programs- political or research- continue to clutter up Gesture politics and Post Graduate studies? It is now possible to do a structured PhD in Gandhian Economics at Hyderabad. They actually have a center of Gandhian Economics Thought! This is hilarious. But then we also have Hazare supposedly fasting to death for some silly sop to the sort of people who think NDTV isn't a pile of shite. 

Why is this happening?

The old answer would have been cognitive dissonance. It's like what happens when Christ says he's coming back from the Grave and the Apocalypse goin' down reel soon y'all. (This was Radhakrishnan's theory). The early Xtians are holed up in their caves waiting for the shit storm and... nothing happens. So some quit the Church and get jobs and stuff. The others, because of cognitive dissonance, go to the other extreme. The now think Christ is actually God almighty, except no God ever before had been quite so Mighty,  and so the thing to do was grovel down before him while being careful to chow down regular on his flesh and blood- comfort eating, it's what got me through the last Supernatural hiatus.

Like I said, that was the old answer. It don't work anymore. Why? Coz nobody doing a PhD in Gandhian Shite believes it aint a pile of crap. No body watching Hazare thought the guy was really gonna starve himself. And yeah passing some silly Lokpal law is gonna get rid of corruption. That will definitely happen.

So if it's not cognitive dissonance driving these failed programs what is? Credentialism. That worthless Gandhian Econ PhD gonna get you 'patrimonial credentials'- i.e. a cushy berth on some fraudulent Microfinance outfit or corrupt NGO. It's like Swami Agnivesh horning in on Hazare's shtick. The guy did child labor to get a credential but he abandoned it for sexier stuff once he'd milked that for all it was worth.

We live in a society where credentials have lost all meaning. There is a full blown 'credentialist crisis'. It is in this context that failed research programs and failed political strategies remain on the curriculum or contribute to the Media sound-bite culture.

I personally have got all my credentials- I fasted to death on the 'Hang Modi for Godhra' issue as well as 'Hang Bush and Blair for Iraq' and 'Hang all non-Naxals to save them the bother' and of course the Lok Pal Bill.
As such I am a shaheed. The word means martyr and therefore 'witness'. Since I am a shaheed I am an unimpeachable witness. Thus you must accept that I have given my life, fasting to death, several thousand times in the last twenty minutes. It was my fast-to-death which retrospectively caused British to quit India.

Why are my credentials not accepted in the same way as Hazare's and Agnivesh? I'm just too damn sexy is why. Darn it, Mom warned me not to get that boob job after my wife left me. Still, I had the last laugh on that flat chested bitch. Mind you, I do get some funny looks in the locker room. So, kids, don't try this at home is what I'm saying.

Monday 18 April 2011

Justice Sawant commission on Anna Hazare's 'corruption'

After the publication of Narendra Modi's emotional letter to Anna Hazare last week, this is his follow up- "It is not that only Anna Hazare is being targeted for talking about me. Today, many feel that whoever signs an MoU with the Gujarat government is sure to be raided by the Income Tax sleuths. I am saying this fearlessly. This is disgusting." 
This put me in mind of the Justice Sawant Commission report, in which the name of a clean and pious philanthropist I happen to know was featured. However, the account given in that document might be considered to raise questions  regarding the probity of, or indeed to defame, that worthy and his family. I won't give you specifics but the link is here.

Hazare has already been put through the mill- and, whether we like it or not, found unclean. Yet he persists with his campaign- that too at the national level. Why? From the Commission's findings, it becomes clear that he and his trusted associates did not comply with mandatory procedures laid down for the voluntary sector. However, the question must be asked- can an honest unbiased person, with experience of the voluntary sector in rural areas- really read the Sawant Commission Report as holding Hazare to have acted mala fide and purely for his own fiduciary gain? Incompetence, arrogance and stupidity are scarcely out of place in a grass-roots activist- especially a self-professed Gandhian. The very word 'brashtachar', or corruption, points to a falling away from a previous high standard. Mad dogs pointlessly biting each other and barking are not examples of 'corruption'.

The other problem- viz. how a voluntary grass-roots movement can prevent 'entryism' by tainted people- is more serious and must be addressed by Civil Society. Clearly anti-corruption Crusades, as well as the proposed office of Lok Pal, are a great way to extort money and build a political base. Billions of 'bahiskrit samaj' (excluded Society) people in village areas are wholly reliant on subsistence Anti-Corruption campaigning.  The question that naturally arises in this context, bearing in mind recent very promising developments in for-profit Microfinance, is whether astute Venture Capitalists like Vinod Khosla, working perhaps with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, can pro-actively engage with and catalyse the vast market for, and potential capital gains from, for-profit Anti-Corruption Campaigning, properly benchmarked for Environmental Sustainability, Emotional Subsidiarity and Incontinent Transparency.

The bottom line, however, remains-and this is the National Tragedy in which Anna Hazare is playing the part of Hamlet- is that we have a model of rural Development and Empowerment which institutionalises corruption, stupidity and availability cascades of the silliest sort. Thus, if there is a way forward, it is to be found in Modi's Gurjerat, not Hazare's Maharashtra. Otherwise, yet more momentum will be given to the great rural past-time of everybody forming his own Brashatachar Andolan and filing f.i.r's against everybody else in the village for assault, battery, anal rape, abetment to suttee, being pissed on from a great height, having one's land encroached on, not washing hands after doing tatti etc, etc.
The greatness of Anna Hazare is he finally ran away from the village and came to Jantar Mantar and sat down and declared a tatti bandh and  humbly fasted till he got something or the other which would keep him out of the mad-house of N.G.O overpopulated Indian villages and their tremendous moral integrity and pure Gandhian values.
The extract from the Comission's report given below features a complaint by an aggrieved bus-conductor who started up his own Brashtachar Virodh outfit. Truly, we so called 'liberal' middle-class Indians have much to learn from Hazare and his ilk about the real meaning of 'Hind Swaraj'.