Monday 31 December 2012

Requiem for Phillipos

Ire, thy Ashvamitra- horse-friend- is yet Hippolytus
Whom, Iyer, imprecation defend, thou Thersites
Ashwatthama, hoarse voiced thus Hari choiced
& Philosophy's Phaedra in Buridan rejoiced.

Did Buddhism fuck up Burma?

No. Buddhism is a perfectly okay religion and Lord Buddha even said some nice things about the Merchant class. The problem for the Burmese was that their language was so saturated with Buddhism that Communist ideas, translated into Burmese, became ethical or soteriological rather than historicist or strategic. For example, when Thakin Soe and Than Tun (Aung San's brother in law) wrote the first book on Marxism,  the term they used for the Marxist dialectic was 'anya-manya' which conveyed something like 'the system of phenomenal correlation' rather than anything involving evolution by means of sublation or synthesis.

Rapid advances in Burmese higher education, as well as dramatic changes in the World Order which projected young Leftists into positions of National leadership and Global standing, meant that Thakin Soe's conceptualization of Marxism soon ceased to be productive of creative thought.
Certainly, by the time of the military coup in 1962, the Junta's official ideology of anya manya Th'baw tra (System of Correlation between Man and his Environment (SCME) based on the work of a student of Thakin Soe, U Chit Hlaing) was considered neither Buddhist nor Marxist nor other than fuckwitted by most intellectuals.
However, the Burmese Communists obsession with purity of doctrine- in particular their bizarre insistence that to gain power save by revolutionary means was illegitimate and represented the heresy of 'Browderism'- had by no means disappeared in the 20 years following Aung San's assassination. Rather it had gained in virulence and led to violent purges of Party loyalists- including, the Bengali, Ghosal who had himself denounced Browder many years previously.

It is tempting to speculate that Burmese Buddhism lays greater stress on 'proper means' and this somehow forecloses 'multiple realizability' in a manner which explains the bloody and apparently quite pointless internecine problems of the Burmese Left.  The truth is less interesting and probably has to do with getting hold of guns and canon fodder.

Monday 24 December 2012

Nussbaum, Narendra Modi and tolmema

Martha Nussabum has called Modi's election victory a black mark against Gujarat. What does black mark mean? Well, black is the color of niggers and other such filth and the voters of Gujarat by ignoring Nussbaum's views (remember Nussbaum is WASP and blonde, only having converted to Judaism after marriage) have rejected the option to Whiten themselves. Instead they have been dirtied and defiled by a black mark.
Nussbaum herself knows how to whiten things- by using tipp-ex to cover over the truth. What happened was this. Nussbaum had previously testified in an American court that the word 'tolmema' used by Plato to castigate homosexuality carried no pejorative meaning. When taken to task for this obvious lie, she obfuscated the issue by claiming that she personally used an out of date lexicon, that of Liddell & Scott from 1897, rather than the one corrected and updated by Jones. This wasn't true. When she verified her source and found she'd been caught in a lie, she simply tipp-exed out 'Jones' from the affidavit she submitted to prove she hadn't perjured herself.

'In a sworn affidavit dated October 21, Nussbaum stated that her own interpretation of tolmêma, , was borne out by "the authoritative dictionary relied on by all scholars in this area." She then proceeded to give the dictionary entry, which indeed lists no pejorative connotation of the word. But what "authoritative dictionary" did she have in mind? The answer to that question would soon land her in trouble. Nussbaum's affidavit is organized as a series of numbered paragraphs. In paragraph 10, the name of the lexicon in question appears this way:
Liddell, Scott          Lexicon of the Ancient Greek Language.
The possible significance of the blank space--a blob of liquid paper on the original document--leaped out at her opponents, Finnis and George. For the authoritative dictionary that is actually relied on by all Greek scholars is, in fact, customarily listed as "Liddell, Scott & Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon." Without the "& Jones," "Liddell and Scott" necessarily refers to an 1897 edition of this basic lexicographical reference tool--a long-superseded edition that in fact lists no pejorative meaning for the word tolmêma. The Jones edition, on the other hand, published in 1940, includes extensive revisions made under the direction of the scholar Henry Stuart Jones. Among the revisions, as both Finnis and George are quick to point out, is the inclusion of "shameless act" as a possible translation of tolmêma.'

In other words, if not a shuffler and a liar and a fuckwit of Amartya Sen like proportions, it is clear that Nussbaum has little acquaintance with ordinary standards of honesty and truth telling let alone any higher notion of Alethia.

In the case of Narendra Modi- who, within a year of taking office as Chief Minister, put an end to the cycle of politically instrumentalized communal rioting in Gujarat which began in 1969 and was rewarded at the polls for it- Nussbaum simply ignores the facts and wishes the Gujarati voters too had tipp-exed over the them. Not to do so is indeed to earn a 'black mark' in her book. Yet, most Gujaratis can't read her book. What they can do is vote according to their empirical knowledge and political convictions. If the Gujaratis wanted to go in for ethnic cleansing, no force on earth could stop them. They don't want that. They don't like riots. They don't like rape and arson and murderous mobs. There was a Congress Minister of Fisheries back in the 90's who engineered a terrorist attack in Surat so as to set off a round of communal rioting with the bombs being supplied by a prominent gangster with ties to a Karachi based Crime Lord. This gangster then killed an M.P who had blown the whistle on his activities. All three were Muslims. The gangster fled across the border because the killing of the M.P had angered the Union Home Minister. But he fell out with his Godfather there and returned to India. The Police, who had been in his pocket, bumped him off so as to prevent his testifying against them. Such was the rule of the 'Secular' Congress Party in Gujarat. It never cleaned up its act. It specialized in fielding tainted candidates- including Hindus involved in the post-Godhra riots. Congress wasn't interested in Development. That's why it got the boot. Modi had only been in office a few months when the Godhra outrage occurred. This was a couple of months after the attack on the Indian Parliament when India and Pakistan were close to war. Delhi suspected that Godhra had been orchestrated by the ISI so as to set off a chain of pogroms with the intention of paralyzing the transport network in the State by clogging it up with displaced people, thus hampering Indian troop movements. For this reason Modi and Defence Minister Fernandes had to take a strong line from the outset. This should have been enough to destroy Modi's future in the State but something unexpected happened. By lifting curfew early and emphasizing the need to get back to business as usual, Modi sent a signal which the Gujarati entrepreneurial class welcomed. The alacrity with which he got on top of the Akshardam revenge attack- coolly putting all the blame on the Pakistanis- was the final straw which broke the back of politically instrumentalised Communal rioting.
Gujaratis are to be complimented, not condemned, for finding a way to marginalize the lumpen, criminalized, political class and get rid of the periodic riots which empowered those bottom feeders.
I'm not saying Modi completely broke the nexus between the Police and land-sharks and bootleggers and so on. But he showed a way forward and the voters of his state rewarded him for it.
Nussbaum says that the Gujarati's should pay greater heed to the outcome of recent Court trials rather than rely on their own memories and common sense. This is quite foolish. Gujaratis knew how things were done but didn't want things to go on being done in that way. They voted for the man who brought about the change they desired.
Nussbaum learnt nothing from her tolmema debacle. She uses her tipp-ex on inconvenient facts and awards black marks to brown people.
Proof, as if more proof was needed, that Professors who talk Ethics are all worthless scumbags.

Sunday 23 December 2012

vyagatha, vyatirekha & meta-metamorphocity

In writing about Ghalib, I've located the topos of his meta-metaphoricity in Ibn Arabi's concept of barzakh which in turn has obvious similarities with the Tibetan 'bardo' or Skt 'antarabhaava'.  I believe the Tibetan bardo lasts 49 days whereas the barzakh, as for example in the story of the Prophet Khaled- who defeated the terrible Fire which was causing some Arabs to embrace the Magian Religion- lasts 40 days.
It is notable that though Adi Sankara is familiar with the concept earlier explicated, in the Buddhist context, by Vasubandhu- for example in Verse7 of the Annapurnashtakam- he makes no use of it similar to that of the Great Sheikh.
I suppose, antarabhava's intermediate position between Thantos & Eros- the 'maranabhava' experience of Death and the 'upapatibhava' revival of Erotic appetency- thus defining itself as pure disembodied craving- trishna for saguna Krishna- already signifies 'meaning creation's' poetic certitude of Maternally sublated viyogini yoga, yielding the surety of alms.
Thus my own instinct is to go no further but just stop here and simply link meta-metaphoricity, via artha-alamkara (poetic conceits) like vyagatha- where the effect or object achieved is undone by its own cause- or the 'inverted simile' of vyatirekha- where the lower usurps the place of the higher- to the vyatiharadhikaranam counselled by Brahma Sutra 3.3.37.
व्यतिहारो विशिंषन्ति हीतरवत्

I wonder whether the fact that the great Advaitic scholars operated under the sufferance or patronage of Royal lineages tracing their way back to Bharadwaja by way of Ashwathama meant that the Gita's 'upside down banyan' (Ashvathama) which Krishna counsels us to cut-down had the slesha property of theosis by vyatirekha such that the ritualist's methexis was sublated.
A little thought will show that the property Salman H.Bashier claims for barzakh- viz. being a 'limit' which unites what it divides- cashes out, simply as a vyagatha based vyatirekha within the shloka- i.e. meta-metamorphocity is ontologically empty- surely a good thing.
The pure nominalism of Shingon or Tulsi still lay in the future- i.e at the source- so that too is all right and tickety boo.

The other way to go- viz. following Ramanujan and letting Darpan act as the 'limit', has an attraction in terms of squaring with Adi Vigyan as throwing your evils onto your reflection in the mirror- aint so bad either not being Ontologically inflationist and giving room for such fuckwits as we will always have with us coz as Pascal said there will always be more monks than Reason.

Kalidasa as critic

King Bhoja Vikramaditya had just completed writing the Champu Ramayana. Wishing to have it corrected, prior to publication, by his Court poet, Kalidasa- who was hiding from his munificent patron in the boudoir of some slut- he composed the following line- 'What flower can yet flower upon a blossom fair?'- and promised half of his Kingdom to whoever could best complete the couplet.
The prostitute, in whose garret Kalidasa was evading his Royal pain-in-the-ass patron, having somehow divined the identity of the old lecher she was harboring, wrote the couplet on her wall and the poet, thinking it her own composition, completed the verse with 'Her cauliflower ears 'neath the weeds of her hair'- except he didn't actually write that but something stupid like 'girl, the lotus of your eyes in the lotus of your face'
The ho-bag promptly dropped Kalidas down an elevator shaft and like pushed a grand piano down on him or something and, not even stopping to check he was dead, rushed off to the King to claim her half of the Kingdom.
The King asked her (I'm not making this up) if she'd personally verified the death of her patron. The slattern admitted she'd been in too much of a hurry to personally stave in his skull or batter out his brains. The King hastened to Kalidasa's side, but it was too late, the Archpoet was on the point of death. The poet tells his glorious patron that he had now realized the impermanence and vanity of human life and would like to spend his last moments in Religious meditation. The King promptly reads out his Champu Ramayana. However, since Kalidasa did not survive long enough to hear and comment on its concluding Yuddha and Uttara Kanda chapters, the great King tore them out of his masterwork.
The moral of this story is that if you find a great poet half dead down an elevator shaft, don't miss the opportunity to read out your poetry to him. His cries of pain will be 'like nectar poured into your ears'
In this way Kalidas, as critic, gave more pleasure than ever he had as poet- at least to his Royal patron.
There is a lesson here which, as Gandhi used to say, all who run may read.
Mind it kindly.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Speaker speaks out.

Perhaps the most dignified and gracious of senior Indian politicians, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Smt. Meira Kumar has given an utterly heart wrenching interview to NDTV.  Speaking very gently, maintaining a calm and smiling visage, she made two telling points-
1) the parents of the girl so horrifically attacked had sold their land to educate their daughter- not pay for her dowry. They have two younger sons.  The mother is probably illiterate. The father is not well off. At home they eat namak roti (bread and salt). Yet they have progressive attitudes- the wanted to make their daughter a doctor- they are 'sophisticated' (i.e having true adaab, true akhlaq) in the proper meaning of the term, the humanitarian meaning. It is the hooliganism of the power elite, the rank hedonism of the comfortably off which is 'unsophisticated'- jahil, savage, bestial.
2) The father told Smt. Meira Kumar that he did not want revenge- he even used the word 'accident'- but he does not want any other girl to suffer the fate of his own daughter.  It appears this grief stricken family yet understand something about Justice as a universal value which is lost upon the law-makers.
(edit- it appears the parents have asked that the perpetrators are hanged without delay. )
Meira Kumar, who chooses her words very carefully- she was a diplomat before entering politics- took the opportunity to make two substantive points
1) that some portion of the police currently on VIP protection (30% of the total manpower) should be reassigned to make the streets safe.
2) that there is a connection between the bestial violence of the rapists and Parliamentary hooliganism once again in evidence after having reached a low point during debate on the Women's Reservations Bill.

Hopefully, this truly great Speaker will speak out more often and, more importantly, that her voice will be heard. She speaks for the dignity of the truly dignified- the masses of India.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Ghalib ghazal 83

'Ind is an Eden with no Adam in it'

  That my Death deflower me in a garden strange
Shunned orphans', All-father, Shame arrange
& that my blush for Thee never quite fade
Coiff coquette curls in ambuscade


mujh ko diyaar-e ;Gair me;N maaraa va:tan se duur
rakh lii mire ;xudaa ne mirii bekasii kii sharm
1) [you/they/he/she/it] killed me in an alien/other country/region, far from the homeland
2) my Lord upheld the pride/shame of my helplessness/friendlessness
vuh ḥalqah'hā-e zulf kamīñ meñ haiñ yā ḳhudā
rakh lījo mere daʿv;ā-e vā-rastagī ki sharm
1) those circles of curls are in ambush, oh Lord--
2) may one uphold the honor/shame of my claim of liberation

Prof Pritchett's opens her comments on this ghazal as follows-

'The first line sounds entirely like a complaint or lament. Some person or persons or thing or things-- which remain, thanks to the grammar of the ergative, entirely unspecified-- killed me, and added insult to injury by killing me in a foreign land, far from my homeland. What could be a more heartless deed? What could be a sadder fate? The dead lover himself seems to lament it from beyond the grave; for more examples of the dead-lover-speaks situation, see {57,1}.'

My reading differs by placing the poet in Ibn Arabi's barzakh which is the proper place for 'khayal'. 
Turning to the second couplet, Prof. Pritchett says- 'This is a verse in which those who maintain that the beloved can always be taken as God find the going somewhat awkward. Clearly the lover is asking God for help with the beloved; it's hard to make sense of the verse in any other way. It would really be an extraordinary casuistry that could make the lover ask God to help the lover escape His own curly tresses.'
As a matter of fact, no such infirmity obtains. Translate 'curly tresses' as prosopa and the conceit is one, if not Petrarch, then Barlaam of Calabria would have been familiar with. In any case, it is only by the blessing of the beloved that one ever finds her lips rather than falling into the Babylonian well of her dimples or getting tied up in knots by her uncoiffed hair.
We don't have to say Ghalib was 'vataniya' rather than 'Islam pasand' because, for the purpose of this ghazal, he presents as already dead and in barzakh, that eroding isthmus or bi-directional limit of both 'vatan' and 'Islam'.

Farsi doesn't have gender so I suppose the gender driven 'split egrativity' in Ghalib's rekhta makes a particular point- one connected with his return from the East.
The Monist meaning, it seems to me is cast in decidedly 'Purabi' dress.

Nightmare on Yogananda street.

Am I the only elderly Hindutva blogger to find something sinister in the fact that the latest young nerd to go postal lived on Yogananda Street? Norway, as followers of this blog will know, banned the teaching of Yoga in Prisons because it made the inmates too violent. Sadly this was too little too late to help Anders Brevik.
This is a picture of Swami Yogananda-
There is a lesson here which, as Mahatma Gandhi used to say, all who run may read.
Mind it kindly.

Friday 14 December 2012

hamartia, methexis and theosis.

What happens when a couple of guys get talking about something like Justice or Beauty or Truth or the Good? Essentially one guy says a bunch of things and the other bloke picks up on a couple of those things and says another bunch of things and things go back and forth till
a) one guy is convicted of, or confesses to, not hitting the mark
b) one guy claims to, or receives acclaim for, hitting the mark
c) both get bored and start getting gay with each other.
Call the audience going 'oooh!' when someone hits the mark, methexis, and call  a guy not hitting the mark, his hamartia, and everything in between Gadamerian hermeneutics- stuff like this
What is Gadamer doing in this passage? Two guys- lets call them Parmenides and Socrates- are engaging in 'what the world calls idle talk'. The possibility that they'll get bored and get gay with each other is precluded by the jealous presence of Zeno. Parmenides convicts Socrates of the hamratia of premature ejaculation - 'you have sought too soon to determine a particular eidos and just so you know, it's not that common, it doesn't happen to every guy and it is a big deal'. Socrates' hamartia gives rise to a sort of communal methexis such that, like Chandler in Friends, we're all going 'I knew it!'.
There are two problems with going any further than this. The first is that dialogue might be an agon and so there is a Girardian mimetic desire angle to it- there can only be One guy who gets the proper relationship between the One and the Many such that no third man argument arises. The second is that methexis could go in the direction of theosis- becoming divine- i.e. rather than dialogue coming up against the problem of chorismos such that the eidos are only known to ideal beings, humans begin to participate in that Divine third who is always present when any two are assembled in His name.

What Gadamer is doing here, it seems to me, is something which isn't interesting though I guess we all do it from time to time and perhaps 'dialogic' is the touchy feely way of excusing ourselves for participating in it. Confused thinking, or shifting the goal posts is one way of describing it. I call it meta-metaphoricity. You use a metaphor to show you understand something or that something you said is intelligible. But it isn't and you don't. So, to save face, you decide the metaphor is reality and that another metaphor you derive from it by means purely verbal is even more real and what you mean by what you say is something that exceeds what can be laid hold of by a hamartia hunting interlocutor and thus methexis is about the way the Beautiful and the Good and the True and so on are all constantly getting gay with each other.

Not that I'm homophobic myself- it's just my husband can't stand them artsy fartsy shirt-lifter types.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Abhay Chutiya, please come to reception

I never met Abhay Chutiya, though he stayed in the same Student Hostel as me back in the early 80's and I often heard his name being broadcast over the Hostel public address system starting from around 10.30 p.m when last orders were being called at the pub next door.
At that time I was trying to write horror stories in the style of Edgar Allan Poe and it occurred to me that this mysterious Abhay Chutiya, ever in demand yet never manifest, might stand in some secret relationship to my own fractured poetic soul and that, in a sense, he was my doppleganger- to meet him face to face would be to meet Death- but what is Death? Is it not mental distraction- Vikshepa- and is not that which defeats Death- Viveka?
Thus, steeled in the Vivekachudamani and fortified with a tot of Rum, by way of  Srautamani, I gradually developed the habit of running down to Reception every time I heard the call for Abhay Chutiya. In this way, the absentminded drunkards standing at Reception got used to seeing me instead of the elusive Abhay  and so, by a sort of Pavlovian conditioned response, I came to be universally known by his cognomen.
Anyway, all that was long ago.
Just recently, however, various young gentlemen who call up to inquire whether I've suffered an accident or workplace injury have taken to addressing me as 'Abhay Chutiya' even though that is not the name on their records. It seems there is some Akasic force, or quantum entanglement tugging at electrons in the ether, causing even mundane telephone calls to abruptly cross over into a parallel dimension.

Abhay of course means 'fearless'. The Chutiyas, I had learnt in History class, were a dynasty of mixed Bodo-Shan heritage which is why Chooth or Chutiya is still accounted an elite surname in the North East, but how is it that a black and timorous Tamil Brahmin like myself me keeps getting mistaken for a fair skinned aristocrat from that part of India by Hindi speaking people ?

What does it all portend?

I may mention, after I left that hostel, people stopped asking for Abhay Chutiya to come to Reception. This caused many people in the Ladies section to forget their contraception and so, in a sense, I too have done my bit for the propagation of the Race.

Friday 7 December 2012

J'accuse Salman Khurshid!

Just when my respect for Salman Khushid was restored by his suave manner of dealing with Arvind Kejriwal's allegations of moral turpitude, I find myself having to revise my opinion by his spineless climb down in the face of the utterly Fascist and Culturally biased Norwegian Child Protection Service's relentless campaign to deprive Indian couples of their babies just because they feed them by hand or smack them once in a while.
As the popular Tamil song has it- Adikkira kai thaan Anaikkum; Anaikkira kai thaan adikkum’ (only the hitting hand is nurturing, only the the loving hand hits).
This is the simple message we must get across to the Norwegians. But what is our External Affairs Minister doing? Giving them a bit of what he gave Kejriwal? Not on your nellie.
J'accuse Salman Khurshid of having betrayed Mother India. Child Beating Centers in every Indian Embassy and High Commission should be opened immediately. Being located on Indian Sovereign territory, all N.R.I and P.I.O's should be able to avail of said Beating Centers without let or hindrance so as to hit their children without fear of arrest.  Foreigners may be charged a modest fee for the use of such Center as for example if Soniaji is visiting relatives and suddenly feels need to beat Baby Rahul without fear of arrest or the little fellow being taken away from her and put into Care.
India should be pro-active and open more Consulates with Child Beating Centers in every town and village of Scandinavia. That is the only way to bring those Norwegians to their senses.  Are you aware Norway is the only country to ban Yoga in prison? They say it makes the inmates too violent. Clearly this is because those Norwegian criminals did not receive high quality beating during childhood. I tell you, India should develop 'soft power' across the spectrum. 'Child Beating centers' in Embassies is just the start. 
Khurshid Mian is saying 'Consular staff should hold hands of families and be supportive'- this is the mealy mouthed language we have come to expect from this administration signifying another craven sell-out to the sinister forces of coercive globalization as utterly brazen and shameless in its way as f.d.i in retail.
Not 'holding hands' but hitting hands is the need of the hour.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Sanskrit, Globalization & Sheldon Pollock Bollocks

'What began when Sanskrit escaped the domain of the sacred was literature'
Is there any possible world where Prof. Sheldon Pollock's dictum, quoted above, is not arrant nonsense?
Certainly there is.
A close reading of Continental theory- or just watching a lot of Horror films and TV serials, which cashes out as the same thing- suggests a possible route to rescue Pollock Bollocks for the aspirant  or academic Indologist's sacred duty of 'tatte uttana'- i.e. the reverential lifting of the unwieldy and infeasibly bloated testicles of influential Professors.
Sanskrit might be a ghost or an angel or demon of some sort which some Superior Being had penned up in a cage called 'the sacred', but then it suddenly escaped and what it did after that was what we call literature.
However, this ghost or angel or demon, called Sanskrit, would not be the sort of thing human beings can see or talk sensibly about. Thus for a human being to make a statement of this sort is to mark him out as a man talking nonsense, at least so far as the rest of humanity is concerned.
But, wait, what about the following hypothesis?
 Human beings may from time to time become possessed by a Supernatural entity and say or write certain things which other human beings recognize as language. However, those human possessed by that 'language' are not responsible for their own speech acts nor have any real insight into how or why they came about. Instead, being wholly heteronomous, they might serve as a sort of hive mind for the disembodied 'language' which possesses them.
It so happens that there is some other disembodied plane or invisible dimension where this 'language' can  find itself suddenly captured and confined to a cage of some sort. 'The sacred' is one such cage. However,  nil desperandum auspice deo, 'language' has some providential means of escaping this cage and when it does some sub-set of the humans whom it possesses and controls start doing something other human beings can recognize to be 'literature'.
Anyway, that's what happened to Sanskrit.
What is wrong with the story outlined above? It's perfectly reasonable isn't it? Far from being 'nonsense', it is highly scientific and utilitarian. It may inspire us to find a way to pen up Sanskrit once again in a cage- not 'the sacred' because we have more than enough crap of that sort- but, I know, tell you what, lets pen it up in a cage called 'Superstring Theory' so that what it henceforth does is yield us a nice Theory of Everything! That would be way cool.
However, there is nothing cool at all about what Prof. Sheldon Pollock suggests we do with his great discovery- which is to shove it up the arse of that sinister 'coercive globalization' which all right thinking academics are up in arms against.

But is this really a good way for Sanskrit to end its not entirely undistinguished career? I mean, it was smart enough to escape from the domain of the sacred and start doing literature. Seems a shame for it to end up as a suicide bomb suppository.
Still, what is the alternative?
Nothing else is possible for Sanskrit- at least, if  there is any truth to the arguments Pollock advances in his magnum opus- viz.
1) Sanskrit was a sacred language restricted to religious practice before the Common Era.
If this statement is true, then Sanskrit was never a language like any other and thus never had any secular application nor any lineal descendants used for secular purposes before some dramatic change occurred 2000 years ago. This begs the question- how could it have had the appearance of language to human beings? Well, it must have possessed and captured the minds and bodies and wills of some set of human beings during a long period when it, itself, was caged up 'in the domain of the sacred'. The alternative explanation, viz. that some bunch of guys invented it and ring-fenced it for purely sacred purposes, fails because no such bunch of guys ever had enough power, esprit de corps, and unanimity, to enforce that ring-fencing at any time or across any great geographical space. Ah! But what if they had supernatural help? Well, supernatural things, by their nature are beyond our ken. We have no way of distinguishing between Supernatural aid and Supernatural possession. Both propositions have equal though contrary truth value and thus we must term both as nonsense until such time as some guy chants a mantra and suddenly a whole bunch of smart people start talking Sanskrit and produce a theory of Everything or design a self delivering pizza to any point in the past when you really could have relished noshing down on a slice but it was like 2 A.M and so you just went to the kitchen and ate a shit-load of cereal straight out of the box.
2) It was reinvented as a code for literary and political expression after the Common Era begins.
What? The Rg Veda and the Brhamanas and the Upanishads and the Itihasas also encode 'literary and political' expression? Nonsense! Veda is uncreated. What are you a Mlecha or a Nastik or Shudra? Kindly fuck off. It is unseemly that an untouchable barbarian like you is reading these sacred words.
You bastard! Yes I know you can read Skt epigraphs on public monuments. But those were only written after Sanskrit conducted her daring escape from the Stalag of the Sacred.
This is clearly shown by the epigraphic evidence. What? Nonsense! Epigraphy was never the monopoly of a highly skilled craft guild or sub-caste, certainly not, carving stuff on granite or iron or copper plate doesn't take any special skill at all, a child could do it! Well, okay, maybe not an ordinary child, but one possessed by Sanskrit. You know what kids are like. They like scribbling on walls and caves and other such unlikely places. Okay, maybe the non-Sanskrit inscriptions were done by expert craftsmen, but later on even they were possessed or partially possessed by Sanskrit. That explains why the earliest Junagadh and Mathura inscriptions aren't pure Sanskrit- I mean it, it takes Sanskrit some time to possess non-Brahmins, several generations in fact. Kindly watch 'Supernatural- Season 2' to understand the mechanism of inter-generational possession.

3) At the end of the first millennium, local speech forms were newly dignified as literary languages and began to challenge Sanskrit for both 'the work of poetry and power'.
Local speech forms used to be very simple creatures. They too possessed people but were caged in the domain, not of the sacred (even after Sanskrit escaped) but somewhere else. Anyway, a thousand years ago, they suddenly got all dignified- don't ask me how- and then they challenged Skt. to a dance off or a showdown at the OK corral or something of that sort. What's implausible about that? Stuff like that goes down all the time.  You may not be a trained Philologist but don't tell me you are naive enough to believe that Languages are all like pure and innocent and all just wanting to get along with each other. Take a look at your bookshelf. Fuck, is that my Monier Williams trying to sodomize the Thesaurus? Better believe it buddy. It's a brutal world out there in Philology phase space.
4) At the dawn of the third millennium 'coercive globalism' is causing vernaculars to mutate if not die out completely.
Indeed, it is that very same 'coercive globalism' responsible for the meme of suicide bombers getting a fatwa to license sodomy so as to enlarge their rectums for the insertion of larger payloads. Sanskrit, verily, is highly qualified (at least from the account Pollock gives us of it) to contribute shrapnel to that payload but it is only our great Professor's logic which is wholly explosive of any Universalist Logos.

And no, before you ask, I don't care how many fatwas you have, I will not enlarge your rectum.

Mind it kindly.

Monday 3 December 2012

Are we living through a second Axial Age?

Was there ever an Axial age when great thinkers acting independently in Greece and Palestine and China and Iran and India revolutionized Human Society and invented a new form of consciousness?
No- but philology does record sudden explosions in meta-metaphoricity based preference falsification  across diverse literate cultures not all of which, unfortunately, were ever entirely purged from our collective memory by the rising up of 'slave' castes or nations, like the Gokturks or Teutons or, indeed, Tamils, who concentrated on important stuff- metallurgy, horse breeding, plain speaking and piety as opposed to self aggrandizing psilosophy & Credentialist chrematistics.
Yet here is a book- The Axial Age and Its Consequences, by Robert Bellah and Hans Joas, which makes the bold claim that 'intellectual sophistication itself was born worldwide during this critical time. Across Eurasia, a new self-reflective attitude toward human existence emerged, and with it an awakening to the concept of transcendence. From Axial Age thinkers we inherited a sense of the world as a place not just to experience but to investigate, envision, and alter through human thought and action'.

What does 'the concept of transcendence' mean? It's the notion that you can get a superior type of knowledge from thinking about the sort of stuff which other people are also thinking about but thinking about merely to some useful, productive or coherent end.  Bill Gates made a lot of money by thinking about computers and how to make them more useful. Like Gates, I too thought about computers but didn't make any money or come up with anything useful. But my transcendental theory of personal computing is far more intellectually sophisticated and self reflective than his. I am able to apodictically prove not only that the self-sodomy of the post Kristevan Chora is an emergent of virtuous stroking of the mouse such that, uniquely, all Iyengars are shown to be secretly adding garlic to their sambar and God talks to me through my neighbor's cat. Unlike Gates, who just experiences the world and gets invited to cool places whereas I've just been barred from even my local pub, I have a lot more time to investigate, envision and alter the World through my own human thoughts and actions. This is because I don't actually live on this World but just visit from time to investigate it before getting thrown out of the pub.

There is an obvious counter to my argument- viz. 'Vivek, you are a stupid drunken slob, not an intellectual. Only intellectuals get to have theories which can be considered as self- reflective or transcendent. Okay, even if you are or were a Professor, it's probably somewhere crap or in some real shite subject so just fuck off.'
The problem with this rebuttal is that it shows precisely why the Axial age availability cascade is nothing but a wank. Jaspers, and other such low brow fuckwits, fasten on pedagogic traditions and discover that from time to time they get up their own arses with transcendent shite. But wherever these shite 'intellectuals' have shown up, everybody thought and said they were worthless cunts. Aristophanes spots Socrates for a fuckwit straight off the bat. Herodotus locates the dawn of free political discourse in Iran when 'after slaughtering the Magi, the truth loving Persians' sat down to consider the proper way to order society. Israel had its moment of glory before its God became Transcendent and has been in continuous decline ever since. Confucian scholars in China helped their country most when consigned to 'oil basket graves' and, as for the Brahmin grammarians. their own Saints damn them for their 'dukring karane' because a good thought may be badly expressed but stupidity remains stupidity no matter how grammatically correct.

Since runaway Academic Credentialism is associated with Cliodynamic sclerosis, as is the hypertrophy of Transcendent Religiosity and self-reflective Narcissistic injury, some people, like Karen Armstrong, think we are living through a second Axial Age. Fortunately, enough young people are quitting school to get rich quick while plenty of post Docs are waiting tables and driving buses so- so long as College fees continue to rise faster than inflation- we've dodged that bullet at least for the time being.

Thursday 29 November 2012

The Gita as Dutch book

We've all heard of Pascal's wager- one should bet that God exists, even if that seems very improbable because there's an infinite pay-out and anyway what have you got to lose?
The problem is that in life we are making not just one bet but a series of connected or coherent bets- like an accumulator- such that Pascal's wager involves one in smaller lower fungibility or uncertain arbitrage bets with different time horizons. The intuitive idea I'm trying to get at here is that betting on God might mean your daughter, the dentist in Ireland, dies because the doctors aren't allowed to conduct a procedure that aborts her unviable foetus.

But, even in the simplistic sorts of models Economists use, two related problems inevitably arise. One is that when you offer a fair bet you are assigning a probability to an outcome. If the  price of the bet is 'to believe x' then that price does not stay constant as new information becomes available. Bayes' Law shows how that price changes over time. I'm assuming that it is more costly to believe a more improbable thing but even if we drop this assumption there's another reason why this will be the case. That has to do with your ability to 'lay-off' risk or increase the reward for risk without increasing your 'downside' exposure by running a book.
I'm not up on the literature but it seems a reasonable guess that philosophically inclined gamblers in the ancient world- like Yudhishtra, in the Mahabharata, or Ghalib, our Ghazal King- spent a lot of time considering under what circumstances it would be profitable to run a book, that is offer a bunch of bets, consistent with Pascal's wager.
The Italian Probability theorist, de Finetti formalized this notion as follows-  A person who has set prices on an array of wagers in such a way that he or she will make a net gain regardless of the outcome, is said to have made a Dutch book
Fudging things a bit, the Dutch book theorem conveys the notion that coherent betting creates Dutch books whose 'fair odds' are probabilities as estimated by the agent.
This raises the question, what is the Dutch Book such that Pascal's wager, by itself, shows us a path to find the 'best' Scripture? This notion is interesting once we admit errancy in Scripture reception as itself a determinant of its content- i.e. the signal is designed to be rationally repairable. Now, Pascal was certainly smart enough to work out whether his Jansenist reading of the Bible was indeed a Dutch Book- let alone the best possible Dutch Book. The fact that he did not make that claim- nobody is taught Probability theory in the Bible- itself tells a stupid bloke like me that it's not a profitable avenue of inquiry.. 
But what about the Gita? I read it as the 'dual' of the Just King's education in Probability theory. So am I committed to the notion that the Gita is a Dutch book ? One reason why I might indeed be maintaining this position is my belief that the Mahabharata is a series of balanced games with homothetic preferences- i.e. everybody pretty much wants the same sorts of things, has the same information or ability to get that information if they want to, and the guy offering the wager has to give the other fellow first pick.  So if I say 5 to 1 we have a White Christmas, you and I have access to the same Weather forecasts and it's your choice as to which state of the world is going to pay-out for you.

Now, assuming that new information about the world- which changes 'the price' of the Pascalian wager- arrives from totally independent sources, let's say all the causal chains involved are totally separate and identically randomly distributed- then it appears common sense to say there is no profitable Dutch book, or such a book is empty. How can you offer a bunch of people as smart as yourself a series of bets and come out ahead regardless of the outcome? Bookmakers and Casinos and Stock brokers and so on make their money on 'the spread'- the margin between the price at which they buy and sell- or else they have 'insider information' or are better at complex maths or something of that sort.
However, this might not be the case because of something inherent in the subjective way we adjust our expectations and calculate probabilities. Of course, if we had some assurance that everything that is knowable is stuff we can know, this does not pose a problem. But what if there are latent variables outside our ken? Well, in practice we know that there are lots of things we can't directly observe or measure but perhaps there's always a good enough workaround so long as things aren't hopelessly entangled.
De Fenetti introduced a distinction between 'independent sequences' which are 'exchangeable' in the sense of being just as random as each other, and exchangeable sequences arising out of dependent sequences. In other words, subjectively there is wiggle room between things being random because all causal sequences are independent and their appearing interchangable though they are in fact not independent at all. It is the 'latent' variable which introduces this wiggle-room and makes me wonder whether I haven't been confusing independence for exchangeability in broader ways.

In other words, just when I was about to say with great confidence that the Gita aint a Dutch book- sure it's  great poetry, & good for instilling shradda piety, but no way, no how does it constrain me to embrace Occultation and Occassionalism for purely Rational reasons- I come a cropper because I can't deny latent variables exist nor that Evolution is Probabilistic nor that I'm a dumb fuck knows shit from poetry or piety- i.e. maybe my response to the Gita is Rational and it's only coz I got such low bandwith Rationality that I didn't realize that was the only signal I was getting.
What makes things worse is that 'Evidential decision theory' allows for the possibility of backward causation. In other words, the claim made by Ved Vyasa or Valmiki or Tulsi or whoever, that who ever listens to their work gains salvation without any further mental effort or even volition on their part, turns out to be apodictically true- at least for genuinely stupid people like me. Why? 
Well, to quote Prof. Huw Price, the possibility now exists that 'without inconsistency, we might claim to be able to bring about past events. Dummett shows that we can accommodate a belief in backward influence, so long as we are prepared to give up the assumption that before we decide how to act, it is possible for us to find out whether the past event in question has already occurred.'
How this is relevant, is because the random question 'is the Gita a Dutch Book?' has just revealed that  I don't know what I believed about the Gita- there's a backward influence of the Dummett kind because it is impossible for me to know whether some element of what made up my 'belief'- or De Finetti 'coherent' speculation- had or indeed has already come to pass. 
As I go on to say in this previous blog postThe fact is, it is never possible, on a sufficiently fine-grained phenomenology or theory of the world, to determine that any occurrence is truly 'Past'- which also means Gibbardian 'hyperstates' and judgments made by 'hyperagents' have no road to supervenience with respect to 'prosaic factual properties'; everything is always in a sort of 'mixed inference' or else a Frege-Geachian flux till Beenakker's boundary resolves Hempel's dilemma as the Cosmic cows come home. Thus any Agency and Intentionality-based 'inwardness' we can have knowledge off must be reverse mereological and Time arrow reversed as indeed is what we would expect if our minds evolved on a stochastic fitness landscape.
So, thank You Great Hindu God, yeah, thanks ever so much- why didn't you make me something sensible, like a Mormon or a Scientologist? What? You thought I was Gay? Look I've explained all that. Yes, as a horny 16 year old,  I did put an ad in Time Out- 'gay South Indian boy wants to meet gay non-Manglik  for gay times'- but I never thought P.Chidambaram would respond. Okay, it was with a cease and desist order, coz I used his wet veshti picture, still, you can't say he doesn't look a bit like Pippa Middleton from behind.

Li Po at Nalanda

There was a long tradition in China of attributing innovations in prosody to the influence of Sanskrit. Prof. Victor Mair has written some interesting papers on this topic.
The Chinese may have developed a theory about tonality and established rules for the alternation between heavy (guru) and light (laghu) syllables and so on through contact with some other foreign language but what is interesting is that the Chinese poetic genius did not shrivel up and die after coming into contact with Brahminical  literature.
Indeed, Prof Francois Martin goes a step further and even suggests that the Chinese genius for landscape appreciation itself may have been reinforced by Sanskrit literature-
What has all this to do with Li Po?
Let us hear from an Indian Professor of Chinese descent-
'...China had two great poets, Li Bai and Bai Juyi, both belonging to the Tang Dynasty, who styled themselves as “upasakas”. Li Bai (701-762), whose poetic gems are suffused with the aroma of Chinese whiskey, has left behind a poem “who am I?” which reads:
“Blue-Lotus Upasaka is my self-styled title,
An angel from Heaven I’m banished to this world,
My fame has been buried beneath the liquor of the pubs
And I have measured thirty springs with my wine cups.
Who am I ? Why on earth should anyone thus inquire?
I am Golden-Millet Maiterya’s next life.”
(See Tan Chung, Classical Chinese Poetry in the Classics of the East series, Calcutta: The M.P. Birla Foundation, P. 143, with translation modified.)
This “Golden-Millet Maiterya” was the legendary Indian Buddhist layman, Vimalakirti whose Chinese name reads “wei-mo-jie” (the transliteration of the Sanskrit). Another famous Chinese poet, Wang Wei (701?-761) had a second name in “Wang Mojie”, i.e. he tried to demonstrate in both his names that he was “Wang Vimalakirit” -- “Wang” being his surname. Here we see Li Bai and Wang Wei vying with each other to claim themselves as the reincarnation of Vimalakirti who was the Indian symbol for a man highly enlightened (even more enlightened than the Bodisattvas) but remained married in the mundane world. I dare say that all the Chinese intellectuals who had self-styled themselves “Jushi” had cast themselves in this Vimalakiriti mould.'
(Do read this whole, magnificent, book here. The distinguished author is the son of the Most Venerable Tan Yun Shan about whom I've blogged earlier)

Li Po (Li Bai) drank a lot- he drowned drunkenly trying to rescue the reflection of the moon- how is he an upasak? The answer is provided by Vimalkirti's 'Field theory' of Buddhahood- an update on the Avatamsaka Sutra's Occassionalist monadology- whereby a relationist dynamics is added to what is otherwise reflection simply. I think this is comparable to 'adi vigyan'- the original science of throwing off your own evils onto a reflection- evolving into Shantideva's 'paratama parivartana'- whereby swopping selves saves both parties. Meditators, he tells us, dive into Hell to rescue all beings. Thus, it appears, those who are born intoxicated have no fear of intoxicants. Those destined to rescue all Hell-dwellers are joyous simply. Shantideva, who lived around the same time as Bai Juyi , is sometimes depicted as having a transgressive life-style- drinking wine and shacking up with a washer-woman- but what is unquestionable is that he and Bai Juyi shared a bottomless compassion for the common people. There is a story that the latter's mother drowned in a well, while bending down to admire the beauty of some flowers, and this led to a charge of filial impiety being made against him by his enemies because he had written a poem titled 'the new well' and another on admiring flowers. 

Sadly, Shantideva's Nalanda- ably enough served by the existing Institute there- is now connected with Amartya Sen's projected International University. What we moderns term Scholarship, it seems, is not just too leaky a vessel to cross the Ocean of Samsara, it is not even sufficiently sea worthy for a simple booze cruise to rescue the Moon's reflection and thus cast up at the Tavern at the end of the river of stars.

Yet Sen was born in the Shantiniketan of Tan Yun Shan. There is a lesson here which, as Gandhi was wont to say, all who run may read.
Mind it kindly.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Ipseity, Alterity & the conjuration of the Subaltern.

Can Critical  Philosophy, post Godhra, still be considered a Baudelairian exorcism of ipseity, rather than a Baudrillardian ethic of alterity, when answers randomly canvassed, from the most ideologically diverse theorists of the Subaltern, to the question 'where is the toilet?' all so consistently cash out as 'my mouth'?

 Take Sumit Sarkar- outside and shoot him- no, I jest, I jest- that's the job of the Naxalites- but, seriously folks, he was right to point out that Subaltern Studies stopped being about really marginalized folk- tribals and manual scavengers and so on- and turned into Foucaldian whining about Eurocentrism- so his approach to answering the question 'where is the toilet?' begins with a recognition that the disposal of 'number two' is a subaltern form of WORK. Since Subaltern studies gobshiterry should be about genuine subalterns, like manual scavengers (bhangis), the mouth of a Subaltern Studies savant is indeed the nearest toilet.
Ranajit Guha's approach is more 'roundabout' (as the Austrian Economists would say) and Spivak's is more Literary Capital intensive but both reach the same conclusion because Guha lectures in Vienna and  the word toilet comes from the French toilette and Spivak can speak French, so basically, yes, the nearest toilet is her mouth.

No change there then.
Personally, I blame David Cameron.
That boy aint right.

Is Public Justification empty?

Perhaps a truly Private Language is impossible because, as Wittgenstein argued, we would have no way to check we were using a word properly. I suppose one way round the problem is to engage an auditor to maintain a Dictionary and a Grammar and so on for your Private Language and perhaps Relationships and Communities have evolved to provide that 'external audit' function.
What about Public discourse, or what is called 'Public Reason theory'? Is there a way to be sure it will always be meaningful? If so, then it is sensible to speak of a Rawlsian 'Public Justification Principle' - whereby everybody has 'sufficient reason' to back every Law- because absent a 'well-ordering' of Social States 'sufficient reason' faces a halting problem- i.e. Public Reason theory wouldn't be meaningful in any Public sense. Applying Binmore's 'folk theorem' -whereby there is always some game theoretic mechanism to replace the need for external coercion- we can get away from some of the problems in that literature and focus on the basic question of whether, under the most benign possible circumstances, Public signals and Private signifying exhibit a symmetry relationship such that something we can all agree to call 'Meaning' is minimally conserved.
One way to prove that this can be the case is to attempt a General Equilibrium Analysis of  'externally audited' Private language and its aggregation as Public signals.
A naive way of expressing Noether's theorem, for non dissipative systems, is to say that the existence of a conserved property or Law is evidence of a Symmetry or vice versa.
Thus, for Classical or Marxist Economics, 'Labor' and 'Capital' are meaningful terms and 'Laws'- like the Iron Law of Wages- can be derived or, at a higher level of complexity, the project of a Sraffian Economics, or a Hilary Putnam/Amartya Sen type normative Economics can be sustained.
This is of general interest, because, for Neo-Classical Economics, a scandal, in the shape of the Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu theorem, has arisen such that its notion of General Equilibrium becomes empty or 'anything goes'- i.e. we have a non-dissipative system, under standard assumptions of individual rationality, or even homothetic preferences, such that no testable hypotheses arise nor is there any way of telling if the Economy is behaving pathologically.
Of course, one way out is simply to say that one wants whatever outcome one is lumbered with. All states of the Universe are gross substitutes for each other. Perhaps, in some mystic or teleological sense this is actually the case for states of the World, but, surely, Discourse isn't exclusively or even mainly about states of the World?
Sir Alfred Sherman once said 'A Bishop who stops believing in God can go in for Socialism or Sodomy but an Economist who renounces faith in his profession is unemployable' Well, we know he was wrong about Economists, they can always toss coins for Big Finance or shill for Micro Finance or  grow fins for an ornamental Think Tank or bottom feed as part of a Credentialist Academic Ponzi scheme, but surely a champion of Public Discourse can't afford a similar agnosticism with respect to whether Language itself breaks public signalling/private signifying symmetries and simply throws away information?

Is there any way forward- perhaps work being done in some discipline I haven't heard of- such that Public Discourse doesn't cash out as pathological memetics which acts as enabler for all the mischievous Preference Falsification Avalability Cascades that have plagued us over the last 20 years?
I don't know- but I'd sure to love to find out.
I wish I could be optimistic about the answer, but given the invidious nature, for Economics, of problems of aggregation- e.g. the Capital controversy between the 2 Cambridges', or the well known problems of Social Choice- the greater likelihood seems to me to be that Public Discourse is doomed to either a Procrustean bed of ideology, such that polysemy is constrained, and symmetries are artificially enforced or else to an 'anything goes' emptiness unable to gauge its own morbidity or seek for its own cure.

Thursday 22 November 2012

The fourth PhD of Dr. Fu Manchu

They have a saying in China- “Science students look down on language students; language students look down on history students; history students look down on politics students; politics students look down on their teachers.”

What about Development Studies?
Wikipedia tells us- In the 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, Fu Manchu claims to hold doctorates from four Western universities. In the 1959 novel, Emperor Fu Manchu, he reveals he attended Heidelberg, the Sorbonne, and Edinburgh.
'Yes, but isn't it true you also attended Cambridge?' Sir Denis Naylor Smith asked through clenched teeth as slippery succubi slithered all over him.
'What of it?' Dr. Fu replied, 'Good school, Cambridge, nothing wrong with it at all.'
'In Physics maybe,' Sir Denis replied, 'but, correct me if I'm wrong, your Doctorate was in Development Studies.'
'You lie, round-eyed swine!' Dr. Fu replied, his jade mask of Oriental inscrutability slipping from his slitty eyed face, 'I just got a MPhil is all. I never went all the way. I mean, I was just a mixed up kid trying to break into the Takeaway delivery business. was a confusing time. Anyway, lots of people have MPhils in Development Studies- doesn't mean they are all Gay.'
'Like Rahul Gandhi?'
'Damn you, Naylor Smith! You just had to throw that in my teeth didn't you? Why do you think I keep trying to blow up the World? Will you people never let me forget? I...I just wanted to be loved, to give something back, to make the world a better place. But you people got your hooks into me and forced me into Development Studies. Oh what's the use. Everything is spoiled. I just don't want to live anymore. Come, poisoned fingernail, lacerate the throat of the Master you have so faithfully served.'

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Steve Landsburg on debt & taxes

Landsburg's latest post has put a cat amongst the loony right, Tea Party, pigeons.
How high should taxes be? High enough to cover expected outlays going forward — but no higher. That’s because any additional revenue would be used to pay down the federal debt, which is a bad idea...Because deadweight loss (i.e. the economic damage due to the disincentive effects of taxes) is roughly proportional to the square of the tax rate, it turns out that the latter — the policy of paying interest forever without ever making a principal payment — is (at least roughly) the policy that minimizes the present value of deadweight loss.
There are two types of errors in this argument
1) During a National Emergency or a Recession, Taxes shouldn't be 'high enough to cover expected outlay'. Governments should run a deficit. Not to do so is to risk making everyone radically worse off. Thus, not borrowing during a War runs the risk of defeat and conquest, and trying to balance the budget during a recession may cause mass unemployment and a 'liquidity trap' such that Investment remains depressed though interest rates are very low. However during Peace time and/or during a boom, tax revenues should be higher than spending and the Debt should be allowed to fall so as to put the breaks on Aggregate Demand and act as an 'automatic stabilizer'.

2) That deadweight losses of taxation are the only relevant efficiency cost.  The 'crowding out' effect of Govt. spending, or the burden of servicing Govt. debt, does not matter because of 'Ricardian Equivalence'- i.e. the notion that consumers save more if they anticipate higher taxes in the future.
The problem with this line of argument is that it begs the question. It assumes the very result it sets up its equations to solve for. It's a case of garbage in, garbage out.
If consumers were the perfectly rational creatures assumed by Ricardian Equivalence, there would be no lasting deadweight loss of taxation. Elasticities of Supply and Demand would be zero in the short run and infinity in the long run. There would also be no citizens left to pay Govt. debt. They'd all have emigrated or formed a new country. 
Why does this not happen in practice? The answer is that there is uncertainty in the Economy. A fully anticipated Budget Deficit or Surplus wouldn't matter. It would tell us nothing new. But an unanticipated level of Debt does tell us something new. It tells us that we as a nation aren't as wealthy as we thought we were. We have to scale back our consumption of both private and public goods and services. We expect to see the Govt. tightening its belt same as the rest of us. During a War, or during a Depression, we may see the necessity of the Govt. running large deficits and incurring high levels of debt- but we still won't be sympathetic to measures which we consider wasteful or ostentatious. Why? Well, we may not have perfect information or rationality, but we do have some information and some rationality. If the Govt. spends money in an unproductive way, we become fearful that the productive capacity of the Economy will suffer in the long run. Our country will have lower income and worse infrastructure. To compensate, we might save more or emigrate or simply scale back our own aspirations and levels of economic engagement and interaction, preferring to be self-sufficient as far as possible or else to adopt a feckless attitude to life- indulging in more alcohol or drugs or crime than we would otherwise have done.
The problem with 'deadweight loss' type arguments is that human beings have a lot of in-built behavioral plasticity. They can side-step markets  controlled by the 'stationary bandit' of the State and find unregulated or illegal markets or types of production and exchange which they may choose to see as hedonically rewarding precisely because it frustrates what they may perceive as an inequitable or irksome State policy or practice.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Witzel, Witzelsucht & the origins of Religion.

Prof. Michael Witzel's Casaubon like magnum opus- unifying all mythology by means of comically obsolescent scholarship- is due to drop in a couple of months. Meanwhile here is a link to a paper of some interest in itself, which provides a plausibly Scientific sounding- i.e. guaranteed to be obsolescent- justification for the exercise. Essentially, two different claims are made- one is that myths are fragile, ecologically sensitive, and have low fidelity transmission, second that myths have deep genealogy. There may have been some model of memetic epigenetic effects which made this not utter moonshine- but such models have ephemeral 'half lives' and in any case are not robust. Still, it is the very ludic obsolescence of the underlying model which will make Witzel's book worth reading but that is not the topic of this post.
Instead it is the medical phenomena known as Witzelsucht- about which Wikipedia has this to say-
Witzelsucht (from the German witzeln, meaning to joke or wisecrack, and sucht, meaning addiction or yearning) is a set of rare neurological symptoms characterized by a tendency to make puns, tell inappropriate jokes or pointless stories in socially inappropriate situations. Ironically, however, the person is insensitive to humor produced by themselves or others around them. They do not understand that their behavior is unnatural, therefore are nonresponsive to others’ reactions. This disorder is most commonly seen in patients with frontal lobe damage, particularly right frontal lobe tumors or trauma.

The causal connection between Religious ideation and frontal lobe epilepsy is both ancient and widely recognized today not least thanks to Karen Armstrong's candor on the subject. What makes Theology interesting is that it is part of what Witzel has called 'a highly correlated system' which, in a sense, seeks to impose a curb or discipline upon a type of mental activity not uncommon and which would be bound to shape the Evolutionary Stable memetic endowment of any given Society.  If a lot of privileged discourse is indeed a type of  ethological 'displacement activity'- and Witzelsucht, like philosophy, is clearly a displacement activity- then there are also going to be Tardean mimetic effects which alter dynamics.

Mythologies, as opposed to Visionary ideations, if arising from Witzelsucht, are less amenable to the discipline of intensive correlation. Indeed, the distinct feature of myths as opposed to totalizing narratives is that they point to the impairment of the very faculty to which they otherwise appeal. They are the Fermat's Last Theorem of the great wits and  comedians, the shaggy dog stories which true Lords of the Ludic exchange the way Mathematicians exchange conjectures that tremble upon the verge of being transgressive to received axioms.

How does this relate to the origins of Religion? It doesn't except in the sense that if there were no noise Evolution wouldn't be Information theoretic. But that, surely, isn't saying much.

Scold the Environment not the Economy

If the Environment is misbehaving is it not because it is totally corrupt, materialistic and awards itself huge pay increases when the rest of us are having to tighten our belts? I mean look at the Amazon rain forest- it has these ridiculously tall trees some which even have their own micro-climate! Why is the Environment behaving so badly? What is the point of scolding the kids to turn down the thermostat when the Environment is recklessly warming itself on a global level and melting the ice caps? Do you know how much energy the Environment wastes every time it indulges in one of those hurricanes or cyclones? I don't but its the sort of thing you probably have an i-phone app to calculate.

For far  too long we have been taught to say nice things about the Environment- especially seeing as it is constantly getting raped in unlikely places which can't be good for its morale. However, what I say is the Environment is a damned slut! How about it learn Krav Maga, put on an extra set of underwear and take some fucking responsibility for its actions instead of spending so much time out of its gourd in seedy Third World dives or hillbilly country or other such random places? I mean,  how often do you hear about the Environment getting raped in the Home Counties? No doubt the quality of the 'raves' and the drugs and so on aren't up to its usual high standards and maybe it will actually have to work for a living to pay its Council tax but that's what we call being a grown up, dear. Try it sometime.

I'm not saying one shouldn't regularly scold the Economy & whack it on the nose with a rolled up newspaper and definitely revoke its couch privileges. But, fair's fair. How come the Environment gets a pass every time it fouls up but the Economy doesn't?

It is not enough to recover the portion of Adam Smith, actually the greater part, which consisted in saying snide things about the Economy, nor the Ricardian tradition as modified by Marx and Sraffa- which frankly was counter-productive and actually made being bourgeois kinda cool- what we have to do is go back to Aquinas and Aristotle, or even further back to the Ape-people, when scolding the Environment made up the greater part of Public discourse.

I think Kaushik Basu has written a book about this. I don't know if this is true, but next time the Environment gets high and turns into one of those hurricanes or cyclones or tsunamis, just you a toss your Game Theory textbooks into is maw. That will teach it.
Not that it isn't all David Cameron's fault.
That boy aint right.

Monday 19 November 2012

Bal Thackeray, George Fernandes and India's 'damaged modernity'

George Fernandes slept on Chowpatty beach before managing to gain a subsistence wage as a proof-reader. Bal Thackeray had to leave School in the sixth Standard because his family couldn't afford the fees. He too was barely making a living as a cartoonist with, the Leftist, Free Press Journal. R.K. Laxman (R.K. Naryan's younger brother), a colleague of his, was forced to leave because he wouldn't undertake not to make fun of Communists . Thackeray too was forced out because of his stand against South Indian immigrants. Along with Fernandes and a few others he set up a short lived magazine before finally gaining success on his own.
Both Fernandes and Thackeray were from educated families. Thackeray's father had attended Calcutta University while Fernandes's father belonged to Mangalore's educated upper middle class.  Yet Independent India offered them little. The Gandhian gerontocracy was firmly committed to the notion that the younger generation should be poorer and have worse prospects than they themselves had enjoyed. The Communist gerontocracy went a step further and dreamed of the blood of the young incarnadining not just City streets but also remote forest paths.
Independent Leftists, like Krishna Menon were either utterly mad or, like J.P & Lohia, committed to a Gadarening nativist stupidity which showed no signs of ever bottoming out.
 Fernandes, who embraced Socialism as an alternative to the Priesthood, might have had the makings of an acolyte but even that offer was no longer on the table. The sand of Chowpatty beach still clung to him and the future surely lay with Old Etonians like Kumaramangalam or Barristocrats like Jyoti Basu.  Fernandes developed into an All India leader at a young age by default not the Grace and Favor of a well entrenched Leftist Establishment. Meanwhile, Thackeray was taking  a different route, accepting Mrs. Gandhi's Emergency and concentrating on being a big fish in a small pond. The escalation of sharp practice by Industry during the Emergency, however, was bound to create a Worker backlash which the gerontocratic Communist-led Unions would be unable to capitalize on. However, Fernandes and Thackeray understood that the cards were stacked against the Mumbai textile workers and came out against Datta Samant's over-bold initiative. After the Police joined the Strike, it became clear that the Center would prefer to simply destroy the Textile industry in Mumbai rather than permit the emergence of an Independent Union movement.
The tragedy here is that India needed to follow Hong Kong and Singapore and South Korea in continually upgrading and improving conditions for workers as part of a properly thought out program of Urban planning. Querulous old people had neither the enthusiasm nor basic cognitive skills to envision or implement any such thing. People like Fernandes and Thackeray, in the Sixties and early Seventies, could have been part of this process. Perhaps their role in destroying the Indian Labor movement counts as a contribution. But, the greater fault, surely, lies with the gerontocratic nature of both Nationalist and Socialist ideologies in their various Indian incarnations.
I suppose the truth is, Thackeray and Fernandes, and the late unlamented Chandra Shekhar, had impressive political careers precisely because were incapable of changing the fundamental nature of Political Power- viz. the banding together of senile 'primal fathers' against potentially rebellious sons. This, it seems to me, is the true source of India's timeless 'damaged modernity'.