If human beings evolved by natural selection, it is likely that emotions and psychological states alter reproductive fitness.
It is unlikely that any relatively recent event in evolutionary history has fundamentally changed our genetic inheritance in this respect.
Bilgrami thinks differently-
Modern Life is beset with distinctive anxieties. That, if true, suggests that
the Early Modern period of history and intellectual history is an appropriate
focus for a genealogical diagnosis of the conditions in which and with which
we now live and cope.
There's a lot of money to be made in curing anxiety related disorders. If Bilgrami is correct, then a therapist who studies Early Modern history, or a historian with that specialisation who retrains as a psychiatrist, will be able to find a lucrative cure for a widespread ailment.
Anxiety affects productivity. Big Corporations would ensure that their high value staff receive this treatment.
Why is this not happening?
The answer is that anxiety can't have a genealogical diagnosis unless there is an actual genetic link. Thus I can't have inherited leukemia from Queen Victoria because I am not descended from her. True, I own some Victorian furniture and read a lot of Victorian literature but that can't alter this brute fact.
Bilgrami seems to think the 'Early Modern period' in History only occurred in Europe. But, in that case, non-European origin people like me and him can't have any of these 'distinctive anxieties' whose genealogical diagnosis involves Europe in the Seventeenth Century. No doubt, a scholar from India or Africa who studies in Europe might somehow be affected by a European malady. But in that case the malady would not be 'genealogical'. It would be mimetic in origin. Thus, it could be cured simply by following a different role model. Thus, if Europeans convert to Salafi Islam or Hare Krishna Vaishnavism or Shingon Buddhism, the malady would be wholly uprooted. But, to his credit, Bilgrami is not peddling some cult nor setting up as a Swami.
But, this raises the question- what is he actually doing?
It appears he is responding to a silly book by Charles Taylor who is very very old. Taylor wrote a book about Secularism a few years back which made some rather strange claims in relation to the question-
What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age?
Since the word saeculum means the normal age people live up to, this question cashes out as 'what does in mean to say we live in an age in which extends over the a sufficient span of time to qualify as an age- i.e. a period of equal duration to 'the Victorian Age' or the Age of the Sun King.' But this is a wholly tautological and meaningless question. One might as well say we live in an modern age or that we live in an age where Time is relentlessly moving forward. All people at all times have thought they have lived in a secular age- even those who believed prophesies that the End of Days was nigh. Why? Because it wasn't at all. Everything is always in the condition of having survived, perhaps with a dimmed glory or diminished romance, an era that has just passed away.
Taylor takes a different view- after all, he has a book to write.
Almost everyone would agree that in some sense we do: I mean the “we” who live in the West, or perhaps Northwest, or otherwise put, the North Atlantic world—although secularity extends also partially, and in different ways, beyond this world. And the judgment of secularity seems hard to resist when we compare these societies with anything else in human history: that is, with almost all other contemporary societies (e.g., Islamic countries, India, Africa), on one hand; and with the rest of human history, Atlantic or otherwise, on the other.
What a load of horseshit! Which Arab or Indian or Chinese or African person would deny that she is living in a secular age- in other words, one likely to stretch out till the coming of age of one's grandchildren? There may be brief periods of intense excitement when people may believe differently. But those periods don't last. The saeculum is what outlives its every millenerian delusion.
It may be that Taylor is personally acquainted only with very foolish and insular people. Still, if they all agree that we live in a secular age, then the word secular is meaningless. It serves no pragmatic function. Why bother with it?
The answer, of course, is Taylor has a book to write and there are people foolish enough to buy it and read it. However, the book is bound to be worthless shite because it begins with the premise that a meaningless question is worth asking.
There are two big candidates for (secularity's) characterization—or perhaps, better, families of candidate. The first concentrates on the common institutions and practices—most obviously, but not only, the state. The difference would then consist in this, that whereas the political organization of all pre-modern societies was in some way connected to, based on, guaranteed by some faith in, or adherence to God, or some notion of ultimate reality, the modern Western state is free from this connection.
Balderdash! The political organization of no pre-modern or modern society was connected differently to anything than any modern or post modern state. Politics may invoke unseen things- like God, or the Sacred Patria, or whatever Values are in vogue- but it is not based on such things. To assume otherwise is wholly foolish. Where is the necessity to do so?
Churches are now separate from political structures (with a couple of exceptions, in Britain and the Scandinavian countries, which are so low-key and undemanding as not really to constitute exceptions). Religion or its absence is largely a private matter. The political society is seen as that of believers (of all stripes) and non-believers alike.
So what? Political organisation is wholly irrelevant to any of the things Taylor mentions. Thus, this 'big candidate' for the characterization of Secularism is wholly empty.
Put in another way, in our “secular” societies, you can engage fully in politics without ever encountering God, that is, coming to a point where the crucial importance of the God of Abraham for this whole enterprise is brought home forcefully and unmistakably.
So what? We have different shibboleths now. One can scarcely engage fully in politics without encountering some taboos or having to engage in certain sorts of ritualistic utterances. All that Taylor is saying is that our Social Religion, so to speak, has changed. When I politely suggest that we should crucify the Deicides, I am unceremoniously ejected from the Gurudwara and told to go join the local branch of the Labour Party. Of course, it may not actually be a Gurudwara. The men I encountered there were bearded and had ringlets but they wore hats, not turbans. Still, they were a paler sort of Punjabi and thus certainly Sikhs.
The few moments of vestigial ritual or prayer barely constitute such an encounter today, but this would have been inescapable in earlier centuries in Christendom. This way of putting it allows us to see that more than the state is involved in this change.
The State is not involved at all in the manner in which a 'Social Religion' or system of shibboleths and taboos evolves or conquers or goes extinct. The reverse may be the case.
If we go back a few centuries in our civilization, we see that God was present in the above sense in a whole host of social practices
Nonsense! No God was present then anymore than Social Inclusivity and Environmental Sustainability become incarnate or otherwise present now when politicians invoke them to pay lip service.
Why is Taylor telling such a foolish lie? Does he really think the Ba'al or Brahma or Bacchus showed up whenever they were invoked? I suggest that he has been binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix. That's the only sort of universe where this man is not talking absurd nonsense.
—not just the political— and at all levels of society: for instance, when the functioning mode of local government was the parish, and the parish was still primarily a community of prayer; or when guilds maintained a ritual life that was more than pro forma; or when the only modes in which the society in all its components could display itself to itself were religious feasts, like, for instance, the Corpus Christi procession. In those societies, you couldn’t engage in any kind of public activity without “encountering God” in the above sense.
No one was encountering God anymore than Communist cadres were encountering the Spirit of Stakhonovite zeal or Gandhians were encountering the visage of Satyagraha or any other such shit.
But the situation is totally different today.
This simply isn't true. If I were transported back 200 years in time, I wouldn't be encountering God anywhere. I would still pass by some of the same Churches but I would be under no obligation to enter one. Indeed, the same was true 300 or 400 years ago when Fulham was better known for its card-sharps and gamesters than any pious observance. There may have been periods when 'Social Religion' was more intense but they did not last an entire saeculum. They burned themselves out quite quickly.
And if you go back even farther in human history, you come to archaic societies in which the whole set of distinctions we make between the religious, political, economic, social, etc., aspects of our society ceases to make sense. In these earlier societies, religion was “everywhere”, was interwoven with everything else, and in no sense constituted a separate “sphere” of its own.
Bollocks! Nothing of the sort ever occurred save spasmodically or as a merely conventional carapace for a system of economic exploitation.
Why? It takes force, it takes energy, to achieve anything of this kind. Where is that force supposed to come from? The thing has to pay for itself otherwise it crashes soon enough. One is welcome to stitch together snippets of history and make it the basis of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer storyline about the Great God Gloriana rampaging through the ages seeking to perform unspeakably vile and perverted acts upon the bodies of trembling Watchers who include a lot of South Indian men who look like me- except maybe with a six pack and thicker hair and a less high pitched voice- actually just get in Shahrukh Khan he does a very good South Indian accent- anyway, as I say, you are welcome to put together something of that sort and there could be a little money available for a Youtube Fan Film- and..urm..sorry, I've lost the thread.
Getting back to Taylor, we find him saying that Americans are not like most Indians or Pakistanis.
Nevertheless, it seems to me evident that there are big differences between these societies in what it is to believe, stemming in part from the fact that belief is an option, and in some sense an embattled option in the Christian (or “post-Christian”) society, and not (or not yet) in the Muslim ones.
In the last forty years, to my own personal knowledge, most milieus in India and Pakistan have showed fluctuations in religiosity as well as with respect to the demands of formal 'Social Religion'. Thus, currently, people like Rahul Gandhi and Shashi Tharoor are visiting Temples and posing as pious Hindus. So what? This too will pass.
But this is also true of America. What I can't understand is how there can be 'big differences in what it is to believe'. This is contrary to the teaching of every Religion.
Which God or other Supernatural agency has enabled Taylor to accept as an evident truth a proposition so wholly repugnant not merely to the Christian faith but also to those who deny essential differences between human beings of different colour or socioeconomic status?
The answer, sadly, is quite mundane. He simply has a self serving definition of what it is to believe or affirm something. No reasonable person who is aware of how quickly support for Religion can dry up or regenerate- something the history of Russia or China in the twentieth century amply demonstrates- would consider Societies which existed in the past, or which still exist far away from us, to have or have had a different type of belief from our own.
Bilgrami however thinks Taylor has made a great discovery. Early Modern Europe created a malady which though 'genealogical' can infect people from other gene-pools in some magical manner. Thus 'instincts' can broadcast themselves by mimetic means. This is perfectly reasonable- after all, we have all observed that dog owners develop an instinct to bark at visitors and to bite the post man.
Thus Bilgrami says-
This is a methodological instinct shared by thinkers
and sensibilities as diverse as Rousseau, Marx, (T.S.) Eliot, and Gandhi.
What is a 'methodological instinct?' I've heard of 'Scientific method'. But it isn't based on instinct at all. It has to do with accurate observation and statistical methods and other stuff smart people do. It now appears that computer programs can generate proofs or otherwise help solve difficult mathematical problems. They can also generate new scientific results. But computer programs have no 'instincts'.
Bilgrami mentions three influential writers with a deep connection to European literature. Gandhi, on the other hand, was not a man of letters and had little connection with European literary culture. Unlike Marx or Eliot, he didn't have a Doctorate- or even a Degree. But, Gandhi was a hugely influential politician in India who adopted a unique method of social and political engagement. One might say that Gandhi had certain political instincts- such as that of looking for common ground and winning over his adversaries by seeking to establish trust and affection. This was scarcely a trait he shared with Rousseau- who appears to have suffered a mental illness- or Marx- who considered conflict to be the essence of social and political life- or even Eliot whose High Church views were of an elitist and racist nature.
I will look to Gandhi among these for my initiating framework because the
seemingly miscellaneous themes that I want to integrate in this paper are all
present with something approximating the requisite integrity in Gandhi‘s
ideas. By comparison, Eliot‘s interests are far too narrow, Rousseau has no
real grasp of the colonial condition, and though all the conceptual elements
are certainly there in Marx, the abiding disservice done by Althusser‘s
distinction between an Early and Late Marx makes miscellaneous the very
things I want eventually to integrate.
Either Althusser was right or he was wrong. If he was right, Bilgrami is wrong but if he was wrong Bilgrami can and should ignore the fellow because he has not been considered an authority or anything for many decades now.
But I am running ahead of myself --
at this point I merely wanted to briefly motivate my interest in Gandhi‘s
ideas and the urge in him to give them some genealogical depth.
In the first decade of the last century when he wrote his remarkable work
and then later in the next few decades during which he wrote
countless substantial despatches to Young India, fortifying the ideas in that
early work, he was convinced of one thing --that modernist‘ ideological
voices (like the Hindu ideologue Savarkar‘s, for instance) were wrong to think that there was something inevitable about the idea that India must go
down the path of nationalist modernity that had been set by the post Westphalian
ideal in politics and, equally, that all the voices of the Right
and Left around him in the Congress party and beyond were wrong to think
that there was something inevitable about the path in political economy that
had been set in Europe in the late seventeenth century.
Savarkar was a disciple of Herbert Spencer via Shyamji Krishna Varma. He was a revolutionary nationalist at the time Gandhi learned of him. In Paris, his closest associate was a Parsi, not Hindu, lady. Unlike Gandhi- who read Vivekananda's commentary on the Yoga Sutras- Savarkar was not directly connected to the Hindu tantric tradition and did not lay any special emphasis on celibacy or the retention of sperm or any other such nonsense.
Savarkar did not develop his 'Hindutva' doctrine till later on when he was in Jail. However, the context was the Khilafat and Hijrat doctrine according to which Muslims owed allegiance only to a Muslim monarch or polity. Savarkar was horrified that Gandhi endorsed Khilafat. It seemed the act of a mad man. Subsequent events proved Savarkar was right. Congress had been foolish in clamouring for something which the Turks themselves did not want.
Is Hind Swaraj a 'remarkable work'? Nehru did not think so. Indeed, nobody did. It begins as a paean to the Congress moderates, repeatedly genuflecting to Hume & Wedderburn and Dadhabhai and Gokhale. However, once the question 'can India become like Japan?' is raised it turns silly and hysterical and inspired by one of Chesterton's stupider paradoxes. Gandhi, as an ultra-moderate, says India must not become like Japan because ...then it will become English. This is very very bad because...urm... 'That which you
consider to be the Mother of Parliaments is like a sterile woman and a
prostitute. Both these are harsh terms, but exactly fit the case. That
Parliament has not yet, of its own accord, done a single good thing. Hence I
have compared it to a sterile woman. The natural condition of that
Parliament is such that, without outside presdure, it can do nothing. It is like a
prostitute because it is under the control of ministers who change from time
to time. Today it is under Mr. Asquith, tomorrow it may be under Mr. Balfour.'
By 1921, Gandhi had changed his tune. In a foreword to a new edition of Hind Swaraj he wrote- 'today my corporate activity is
undoubtedly devoted to the attainment of Parliamentary Swaraj in
accordance with the wishes of the people of India. I am not aiming at
destroying railways or hospitals, though I would certainly welcome their
natural destruction. Neither railways nor hospitals are a test of a high and
pure civilization. At best they are a necessary evil. Neither adds one inch to
the moral stature of a nation. Nor am I aiming at a permanent destruction of
law courts, much as I regard it as a 'consummation devoutly to be wished'.
Still less am I trying to destroy all machinery and mills. It requires a higher
simplicity and renunciation than the people are today prepared for.
The only part of the programme which is now being carried out is that of nonviolence.
But I regret to have to confess that even that is not being carried
out in the spirit of the book. If it were, India would establish Swaraj in a day.
If India adopted the doctrine of love as an active part of her religion and
introduced it in her politics, Swaraj would descend upon India from heaven.
But I am painfully aware that that event is far off as yet I offer these
comments because I observe that much is being quoted from the booklet to
discredit the present movement. I have even seen writings suggesting that I
am playing a deep game, that I am using the present turmoil to foist my fads
on India, and am making religious experiments at India's expense. I can only
answer that Satyagraha is made of sterner stuff. There is nothing reserved
and nothing secret in it. A portion of the whole theory of life described in
Hind Swaraj is undoubtedly being carried into practice. There is no danger
attendant upon the whole of it being practised. But it is not right to scare
away people by reproducing from my writings passages that are irrelevant to
the issue before the country.'
Why does Bilgrami think writing of this sort is remarkable? Surely, it is simply the posturing of a holier than thou Godman who believes the old ways are best and all these new fangled inventions are creatures of the Devil?
The answer I think has to do Bilgrami's curious theory regarding the Peace of Westphalia. Apparently it killed a lot of fairies and caused the exile of God and scotomised the eye of Heaven or other equally reprehensible things in a similar vein.
However, this theory of Bilgrami's is unique to him alone. There is no post-Westphalian ideal in politics. The peace of Augsburg might have some importance. Westphalia had none at all. This is an outdated availability cascade which has no currency amongst actual historians.
The late seventeenth century, in Europe, did not feature any consistent or long-lived path in political economy for any country. Bilgrami must have heard the expression the 'ancien regime'
. That was what obtained. 1789 marks a watershed. 1648 does not.
India has all the trappings of a modern nation state. So does almost every viable post colonial state anywhere. The American and French Revolutions have contributed to the form of this type of state. Westphalia was completely irrelevant.
Why was Gandhi wrong about India? The answer is because he was a nutter. He thought everybody should refrain from sex. Had India followed his vision, there would be no Indians anywhere.
There was passion
in his scepticism regarding all these voices as well as a quiet desperation
about not losing his people and his country to the future they envisioned.
Very true! Indians wanted to have sex and have babies and educate those babies to become Doctors and Engineers and so on. Gandhi was against this sort of beastliness. On the other hand he did enjoy sleeping naked with young women. However, India ignored his views on sex. What mattered was his championing of village self-sufficiency on the basis of home-spun cotton. Gandhi received money for Indian mill-owners who directly profited by his campaign against imported cloth. They paid him to pretend to be helping the handloom weavers by providing them free yarn which he and his disciples made a cult out of spinning. However, the yarn spun by the Gandhians was not of sufficient quality to be any use to weavers. They wanted a quota of mill yarn at a reasonable price.
Gandhi may not have liked factories and mills but it was the owners of factories and mills who financed his quixotic campaigns. The truth is he was simply a politician- as vain and foolish as any other who gained salience by telling stupid lies.
All this makes poignant his intellectual efforts to understand the cast of
mind that made such a future seem inevitable.
What intellectual effort is involved in saying 'Sex is evil. Don't do it. Just say no. No more babies should be born. Let us all simply die out as a species rather than perpetuate this disgusting physiological process.'?
There is nothing poignant in saying stupid shit and then hypocritically sleeping naked with young girls- 'to correct their sleeping posture'.
He wished for an exorcism
of such a cast of mind, but for that to happen we would first need to come to
some genealogical understanding of it because, on his view, India in his
time stood at the sort of cusp that an accurate genealogy would trace back to
and properly identify with our term ‗Early Modernity‘, if it was not so laden
with the air of forward historical movement towards a teleological end.
Early Modern people had sex. This was very wrong of them. If they had all simply died we would not have suffered the indignity of being born.
What is the point of a 'genealogical understanding' based on affirming sex to be evil?
Were it possible to speak that term in an entirely innocuous and neutral
tone, as a pure descriptor of a time in Europe that left it entirely up for grabs
which way things would turn out to be, then Indian society was indeed
properly describable by the term in the much later chronological time in
which he lived.
Very true. If only Paracelsus had produced homunculi in his test-tubes, early modern Europeans could have given up having babies. Instead we would have Frankenstein monsters and Golems and Elementals and fairies and so forth.
It was very naughty of those early modern Europeans to give in to their baser urges rather than permit medieval science to create new types of beings.
His own approach to such a genealogy was to ask a question of profound
importance, a question whose central theme, he thought, provided the
metaphysical basis upon which his more specific economic and political
themes were to be integrated. That question was: How and when did the
concept of nature get transformed into the concept of natural resources?
The precise idiom in which I have posed this question is mine, not
Gandhi read the Yoga Sutras and had a concept of Prakriti and Purusha. He accepted the view that sexuality destroyed the ends of Purusha. Thus he held complete sexual asbstinence as well as non-possession to be the key to the proper development of Purusha and the attainment of salvation- from a certain specific Hindu point of view.
Prakriti can only become a resource if it is appropriated which violates 'aparigraha'
(non-possession, or non-attachment). Also one must deny that slut any of one's precious bodily fluids which need to be stored up so as to turn into the elixir of immortality or some such shite.
For complicated and ambitious intellectual reasons, he would ask
it differently. Like Heidegger, he preferred to talk of the 'world‘ rather than
Why? Natural Sciences existed and were a subject he himself had studied to matriculate. Gandhi frequently spoke of naturopathy and his own experiments and discoveries in the field. He genuinely thought he was a smart guy. What he had no clue about was 'Phenomenology'- a bogus Germanic research program which crashed and burned long ago.
And though, like Heidegger, he must have known that the
word 'world‘ was a term of art, he did not want it to be much more abstract
and rareified than is found in our most ordinary talk about the world. That
is to say, in a crucial commitment, perhaps more Wittgenstein‘s than
Heidegger‘s, he was drawn to the idea of --as Wittgenstein would put it--
‗leaving the world alone‘.
The world is not a 'term of art'. Gandhi could have known no such thing. Nobody can.
Why bring in Wittgenstein? Why not Tarski or Carnap? Gandhi was wholly innocent of any interest in the Foundations of Mathematics or Logic or anything else of concern to such people.
That last phrase (and thought) needs elaborate interpretation and in a way
the rest of this essay will obliquely be devoted to it. At first sight, it might
give the impression of quietism. That impression would be wrong. Quite
apart from the fact that (far from quietist) Gandhi was an activist of unique genius, his view of what the phrase might mean amounted to a wholesale
resistance to many of the admired orthodoxies of the Enlightenment.
Orthodoxies of Enlightenment are perfectly compatible with Quietism which only the Counter-Reformation considered heretical. There can be a Kantian or a Hegelian Quietism. Indeed, that is the attraction of Idealism and it has an Indian version that had a big market in the Thirties.
Let me explain.
It is well known that Gandhi showed a studied indifference to the familiar
principles and codes and rights that defined the Enlightenment.
Though, as a lawyer and political campaigner, it was the only thing he concerned himself with and the only reason he gained such salience during the Freedom Struggle.
He promised 'Swaraj' (Independence) in one year. That was what was magical and attractive about him. He later back-tracked but people understood that if only the Muslim League saw reason, the thing was do-able. Sadly, they pretended that Congress and Congress alone was the cause of all the problems and injustices the Muslims suffered and that their 'Day of Deliverance' coincided with Congress's relinquishing of ministerial office.
Commentators often ask why this was so and give a heart-sinkingly
insufficient answer, drawn from a glancing look at some of his least
interesting writings -- the answer that those things are alien to Indian
culture and society.
Which commentators are these? Smart ones? Nope. They are ignorant fools. Why mention them? Indian politicians who were Gandhi's colleagues have given a different answer. Gandhi was a crank. He got frustrated easily and then would go racing after some nostrum or hobgoblin hatched out of his own stupidity and ignorance. Mill-owners and industrialists gave him money to pursue these fads of his because they could use his aura of saintliness and his supposed love for the poverty stricken masses to make large profits for themselves.
The real grounds for his indifference went much deeper because on his view
all these principles and codes and rights stand supported by a much deeper
and more underlying commitment that is usually unspoken. Indeed I would
go so far as to say that it may be the deepest commitment of the
Enlightenment. This is the commitment that though we are capable of bad
things, the bad in us can be constrained by good politics. Gandhi simply
did not believe this. It was the scepticism, really the pessimism, of an essentially religious
person. He thought that it must be the passing of something akin to
religion, the relaxing of the rigours of devotion, that allowed us the false
optimism by which we could believe that something as shallow as the
political forms that were generated in Europe and America less than a
couple of hundred years ago could be enough to make us better; to believe,
in other words, that being good citizens would set us on a path to being
So- Bilgrami thinks Gandhi was a hypocrite. He only entered politics to show the thing was futile. The best anyone could do was abstain from sex and persuade others to do the same till the species died out.
Is this a reasonable view? Did not Gandhi see with his own eyes that people who came together to work selflessly for the welfare of the poorest did in fact become better human beings? Was it not the case that alcoholism and addiction and health problems caused by sloth and gluttony decreased amongst those who devoted themselves to doing useful work for those unable to help themselves?
Good politics means something more than good institutions and legal checks and balances. It means an active spirit of good-will and a program of good-works designed to lift up downtrodden elements in Society.
Was Gandhi lying when he said he wished to serve 'Daridra Narayan'- the God that is lonely and poor and rejected of men? If so, Bilgrami has made a remarkable discovery. Till now, Gandhi's critics have focused on his stupidity and ignorance which caused his various schemes- khaddar
, nai taleem
and so on- to back-fire or become counterproductive. Bilgrami goes one step further. He is saying Gandhi was acting in bad faith from start to finish. He thought service to the poor could not make one a better person or improve society in any way.
And it is not merely that he thought this form of politics to be
inadequate in this way, he thought its very aspiration to shape us, hitherto
merely people, into citizens of a nation-state‘s polity, is a form of intrusive
impertinence, inseparable from the intrusions we have made into nature
when we systematically transformed it in our conception into natural
resources. This penetrating conceptual linking of the metaphysical
transformation of the concept of nature and the political transformation of
the concept of humanity was vital to his understanding of the distinctiveness
Bilgrami is attributing a stupidity of his own to Gandhi. He thinks we can 'systematically transform' nature into 'natural resources'. To give an example, just now, when my electricity was cut off because I didn't pay my bill, what happened was I extracted deuterium from a jug of water I have beside my bed and used it to power a fusion reactor. I did not go and illegally attach a power cord to my neighbour's house. Perish the thought! Ever since Bilgrami gave me the power to 'systematically transform' something natural, like deuterium, into a natural resource, I can get as much free energy as I like! Will Bilgrami Sahib buy shares in my company? I don't think so. He doesn't really think some random blogger actually has the nous to turn 'nature' into a 'natural resource'.
What of the notion that 'people...can be shaped into citizen's of a nation-state's polity'? Which Indian has ever had such an absurd belief? Did any Tamil politician think Sri Lankans would be happy to join a 'Dravidistan'? Not even Telugu or Malyalam speakers would do so. There has never been any one stupid enough to think that one could draw a set of arbitrary lines on the map and then promulgate a constitution and lo! a heterogeneous mass of people would be translated into 'citizens of a nation-state's polity.'
Science and Technology and Economics and Enterprise are about turning 'nature' into 'natural resources. These are difficult and costly things requiring a lot of coordination and planning and innovation and research. One reason why people want to be part of a successful nation-state is that public good provision can better
support such research and enterprise. Look at Israel's leadership in water conservation technology. Having their own Scientific establishment meant they could tackle an existential problem for their own people. But this also has the potential of reducing conflict elsewhere.
Viable Polities are formed by a lot of difficult and costly 'mechanism design' which, however, suitably talented and morally inspired people find worthwhile and satisfying.
That is why the slogan ―'Leaving the world alone'- better
captures the refusal of these transformations and that is why he puts the
genealogical question that interested him slightly differently and more
ambitiously than I have when I asked the question, how did the concept of
nature transform itself into the concept of natural resources.
'Refusals of transformations' are what happens when an alchemist tries to turn lead into gold or a politician conjures a 'bound to fail' State- like the two winged Pakistan- out of thin air.
There is no genealogical question here. I could say, this lead is not from the same mine as the lead I used in may last alchemical experiment. We must find some lead from a brother or sister seam. I will need some more money for that. Be assured you will get back ten times your investment!
Genealogy does not matter. If it did, America blundered horribly by letting in migrants from the subcontinent. Bilgrami himself is evidence against this view. He would not have been promoted if he were not a good and decent man and an excellent pedagogue. No doubt, he writes nonsense about Gandhi but someone has to. We can't delegate that job entirely to robots.
Gandhi would have liked my question and he even implicitly sought an
answer to it, but he would have worried that talk of nature‘ would ghettoize
the issues into merely ecological ones -- the point being not to fasten on
‗nature‘ in some isolated, self-standing, sense but rather to speak with all
the force of the repository that ordinary language provides about nature in a
much broader sense that includes within its meaning something like: nature
in its whole range of relations with its inhabitants, and a tradition and
history that grows out of these relations. And to capture this much broader
phenomenon of nature he, like Heidegger, spoke of the ‗world‘ and he
wished for us to bring to the world, so conceived, an entire moral
psychology that, I believe, Wittgenstein too gestures towards in that
memorable phrase –as something to be ‗left alone‘. His genealogical
question, therefore, was not exactly the one I have posed but rather the
much larger question: ―When and by what conceptual transformation did
the world‘ cease to be a place merely to live in and become instead a place
to master and control?
Is Bilgrami for real? Every biological genera and species changes the planet, or some portion of it, in some way. None can 'master' or 'control' it. That's why, Donald Trump can't phone up the Department of Climate Control to ensure it rains on every parade save his own.
Bilgrami thinks 'conceptual transformations' matter. They don't at all- unless the people involved are smart and know from Science or Mechanism Design or other useful stuff. But, in that case, a context specific algorithm of a simple type quickly replaces the 'transformation' so ordinary people can benefit. Thus I don't know what microwaves do but I do know how to make idlis
in it- something I still can't my head round.
By contrast my own 'conceptual transformation' of the the Foucauldian biolpolitics of the post Kristevan Chora into the Nicaraguan horcruxes of my neighbour's cat hasn't improved my life- or anyone else's- in the least. Why bother with the thing?
Why, then, have I insisted on formulating the question in my narrower and
less ambitious way? Because I want now to present the genealogy that
answers this question more gradually and patiently than Gandhi did, by
situating him in a very specific tradition that illuminates his thought and
helps to expound it. In that tradition, a metaphysics about nature in the
narrower sense led up to --via very deliberate integrations-- the larger
political intrusions of making us over that made Gandhi anxious, and I
want, however briefly, to display the details of the causeway by which this
leading up was done in a way that Gandhi‘s more encapsulated treatment in
his unsystematic, instinctive remarks never really did.
So, finally: what was Gandhi‘s answer to the question, as I have posed it? In
its most immediate rhetoric the answer he gave put the blame on modern
science. Some of the rhetoric by which he did so was crude and conflated,
conflating in particular a very specific metaphysics that grew around modern
science with science itself, which he claimed had desacralized the natural
world and thereby made it prey to a technological control that was
completely alien to his Vaishnavite and ultimately Bhakti ideals in which the
human soul flourished only because the human body it suffused was quite
continuous with the spiritually suffused natural environment it inhabited.
The Bhagvad Gita speaks of us as being mounted on molecular machines- bhramayan sarva-bhutaniyantrarudhani mayaya-
and the atomistic Vaisesika school is perfectly orthodox. Vaishnavs don't believe 'the human body is suffused with the soul which in turn is continuous with any 'natural environment'. If they did, how could the Lord cause a person to be reborn in a wholly different 'Vaikunta' type planet, or- in the case of sinners- a Hell dimension? The fact is the soul can be completely excised from the body. Moreover, in the case of advanced beings, it can exist simultaneously in several bodies without suffering any influx of karma binding particles.
Why is Bilgrami ignoring the texts Gandhi actually read? What sort of 'genealogical investigation' is this? Why write such nonsense about Vaishnavism when the Hare Krishna people have ensured every city has their own translation of the Gita and other texts? Why put words in their mouths when they can speak for themselves?
I want to now rotate the angle of this thought to a quite distant place and
intellectual history of which Gandhi had no detailed knowledge but with
which he had extraordinarily detailed affinities. I make this shift because
my eventual theme in this paper will be the democratic culture of the West,
in particular the implications for democracy of the religiosity in the
American heartland of the last several decades. To come to that subject, one needs a genealogical excavation at another site than India in the early
twentieth century when (and where) Gandhi wrote.
You said you'd do genealogical excavation of India but you didn't at all. You just mentioned Savarkar who did not espouse Hindutva till much later than Gandhi's 'Hind Swaraj'. You have made no mention of the Yoga Sutras which we know were important for Gandhi, nor of the Gita which he claimed, more than any other contemporary, to lived in accordance to.
We need to turn to Early
Modernity in Europe that Gandhi thought was in fundamentals not dissimilar
in its mentality and its materiality to Indian life around him, providing its
people with the same crucial choices for their future as the choices that
confronted his own people in his own time.
Gandhi did not have any such thought. He believed, as he had been taught, that life in 'early modern' Europe was nasty brutish and short. As a law student, he reviewed the barbaric punishments inflicted upon quite minor crimes till the great Victorian age of reform. He was aware that unlike in India, blasphemy was heavily punished in England- the last sentence of penal servitude for that crime occurring after the Great War.
By contrast, Gandhi believed India to have been peaceful, prosperous and essentially self-governing at the local level. This prosperity, however, had attracted the rapacious European who had spread such diseases as characterised his own continent, early modern or late modern or whatever, to Ind's coral strand.
For the sake of focus, I will restrict myself to mid and late seventeenth
Why? That period had no importance at all for either India or Gandhi. Macaulay, it is true, had a bee in his bonnet about William of Orange but that Prince was reviled by the Irish who were close friends of the Indian students in London.
I repeat that on his lips and pen, the question and the anxiety about the
transformation of the concept of nature into the concept of natural resources
was an essentially religious person‘s question and anxiety.
Why does Bilgrami keep repeating this lie for which he has no evidence whatsoever? What is wrong with him?
But my claims in
this paper will aim for something more general in aspiration since I think it
is a question that any of us might ask with no particular sympathy for the
notion that religious people alone can feel a sense of anxious loss in that
transformation. With this aim of generality in place, let me, then, turn to
saying something to situate the very issues that Gandhi was raising in a more
secular idiom and philosophy than his, stressing more the notion of value in
nature than the notion of the sacred or the spiritual in nature, which was the
dominant theme for Gandhi as well as his antecedents in seventeenth century
English dissent in which I will situate him.
Gandhi saw nothing spiritual in nature. He did not worship trees or even the sacred Tulsi plant. Nor did any seventeenth century English dissenters.
To motivate the more secular version of Gandhi‘s ideas about nature, I will
appeal to a more abstract form of philosophical argument than anything
found in Gandhi.
There is an acute philosophical insight --to be found more or less explicitly
in Spinoza-- that one cannot both intend to do something and predict that
one will do it at the same time.
This is not an insight, it is a defect of a particular theory reliant upon a silly Cartesian notion of 'conatus' as opposed to a robust biological developmental path or epigenetic 'creode' . We can and do predict that we will carry out our intentions. That's why Civil Society works. However, as biological creatures, it is in our interest to hide intentions or change them so as to baffle a predator or parasite or Kavka toxin type dilemma. The developmental notion of creode captures this. Spinoza's sham Euclideanism isn't up to the task.
This insight generates, in its turn, a very
basic philosophical distinction between two points of view. When one
predicts that one will do something, one steps outside of oneself and looks at
oneself in a detached way as the object of causal and motivational histories,
just as someone else might look at one, and so this might be called a ‗third‘
person point of view.
Rubbish. One imagines a scenario and says, with conviction, that's what I'll do. Why? Because certain emotions well up which one knows from experience will be linked to certain habitual action schemata.
If one actually detached oneself as Bilgrami suggests, one will not make any prediction at all unless it is both regret minimizing and Muth rational to do so. Why? Detachment means acting as if having availed of best advice. Legally, this tends to be- shut the fuck up. Say nothing which might be used against you.
One can always say that words said in the heat of the moment were merely an expression of irritation. The moment one admits one made a detached prediction, in cold blood so to speak, the legal consequences could be quite different.
Why is Bilgrami mentioning a philosophical lens grinder in connection with a Theistic barrister?
But when one intends to do something, one is not a
detached observer of oneself, one is asking and responding to the question
‗what should I do?‘, one is an agent, in the ‗first‘ person point of view.
Oh dear. Bilgrami hasn't heard about the Unconsciousness. He doesn't know that we can intend to go to the brothel without thinking that is where we will end up or making any conscious plan to do so.
this is so, then it is an implication of Spinoza‘s point that one cannot both
intend and predict at the same time, that one cannot both take the first person same time. We can occupy both points of view but we cannot occupy both
points of view at once.
Spinoza‘s interest in this distinction is in how it holds as two contrasting
perspectives on ourselves. But I want to argue, by extension, that there is an
exactly similar distinction that can be made, not on our perspective on
ourselves, but on our perspective on the world. We can have a detached
perspective on it, a perspective of study as is found in natural science, and
we can have a perspective of agency on the world, one of responding to it
with practical engagement rather than with detached observation and
explanatory purpose. (The point is not that we are not agents when we are
studying the world in a detached way, but that we are taking a perspective of
detachment on it rather than one of practical engagement.)
An absolutely crucial question arises, then: what would the world have to be
like for it to not merely be the object of detached study but something that
prompts our practical engagement?
This is not a crucial question at all if we believe we evolved by natural selection. Rather this is an extremely stupid question. The answer is the world would have to be my inclusive fitness landscape in order for it to prompt me to some action.
What must the world contain such that it
moves us to such engagement? One obvious answer is that it contains
values and when we perceive them, we respond with our practical agency.
The world can't contain values. It can contain minerals and stuff which tastes good when cooked properly.
Why should values prompt such a response rather than a response of
Please Sir! I know the answer! It is because values discover other values which respond to them and then like all these values get married and have babies but then it turns out one of these values was actually a fairy and it flew away and so all the other values cried their little eyes out. Happy now?
Because values, by the sorts of things they are, make
normative demands on our agency, demanding not explanation from us but
Yes, yes- very true. Values, being the sorts of things they are, are constantly making normative demands of our Modelling Agency. I explained to those Values that we are running a respectable Mathematical Modelling Agency not some cheap knocking shop but those Values, you know what they are like, they insisted I stop with the explanations and start acting like a cheap slut already. Also could I kindly put on a blonde wig?
So, this perceiving of evaluative properties in the world, given the sort of things they are, is always and necessarily perception from the first
person perspective, not just as in Spinoza, where that is a perspective on
ourselves, but a first person perspective on the world.
Yes, yes. It is very 'first person'. Masturbation always is. That's why Values keep phoning up our Estate Agency and complaining that it isn't an Escort Agency.
Thus, if we extend the implications of Spinoza‘s insight as I have, we get a
picture of values in which values are not merely something we create and project‘ onto the world (a favourite metaphor of David Hume‘s, implied
also by the views of Adam Smith on the subject of values) but they are (or at
any rate often are) things that are found in the world ---as I said earlier, a
world of nature, of others who inhabit nature with us, and of a history and
tradition that accumulates in the relations among these, and within which
value is understood as being ‗in the world‘.
Bilgrami is saying that if we misuse language we can get a false picture of the world such that impossible things happen- like in a fairy story.
But why tell such silly stories?
Such an extension of Spinoza‘s view gives an argument for a somewhat
sanitized Aristotelian ethical picture as it is read by interesting recent
scholars such as John McDowell, and it allows one to finesse the
interminable dispute of the last few centuries between the followers of
Kantian conceptions of morality on the one hand and those of Adam Smith
and Hume on the other, taking a stand against the former by placing values and agency squarely in the ordinary perceptible world of phenomena‘
(rather than ‗noumena‘) which we inhabit and perceive, and against the latter
by insisting that values are not merely a matter of our desires and moral
sentiments but are part of the world around us to which our desires and
moral sentiments are formed as responses.
So fairy stories are needed to get students to digest this tedious drivel. What does it amount to? Some eighteenth century professors were wrong. But we all already knew that. Dead White Males where shite. D'uh.
And, if values are part of the
world, including nature, it follows that the world, including nature, contains
things that are not countenanced and explained by natural science --a
secular re-articulation of the sacralization of nature that Gandhi thought
essential to resisting the universal reach and sway of the outlook of science
upon nature and the world.
WTF? Values are not part of the world. If they were, Fairies too would exist coz we could define them as particular type of Value which necessarily exists and demands something normative from our Modelling or Escort Agency and then a wicked witch came and turned all the nice fairies into werewolves and then they started biting each other and so I said 'If you won't play nice, I'll go home and tell Mummy and she will ring up the University and get Prof. Bilgrami sacked.'
We can now raise our version of the genealogical question that so interested
Gandhi: why has this very natural way of thinking about values as being in
the world, including nature, found so little place in the history of thought
about value in the last few centuries of philosophy?
Because fairies don't exist, Prof. Sahib.
The answer to this
question, at its deepest, lies outside of philosophy itself, at least as it is
understood narrowly and as I have done it in the last few paragraphs; it is
found in one central intellectual strand in our cultural history, in a
phenomenon that can be traced, using a term that Weber put into currency,
to describe it: disenchantment‘.
i.e. the discovery that fairies don't exist.
For many centuries this natural way of
thinking about values as being in the world that I have presented within the
secular terms of my own atheistic intellectual orientation, had its source in
the presence of a divinity which was, in many a view, itself immanent in the
world. And it is this source which was undermined in the modern period
that Weber described (somewhat crudely and omnibusly) with that term and,
as a result of its undermining, the very idea that value could be in the world
was replaced by the idea either that values were grounded in and therefore,
in the end, reducible to our desires and moral sentiments and could only by
our projection be thought as being in the world (Hume and Adam Smith), or
that they were not in the world at all but in a noumenal realm of pure will
and practical reason (Kant).
Worthless shite. Human beings evolved by natural selection. Values have to do with focal solutions to coordination and discoordination games. Economics has a theory of Value. Philosophy does not.
But is what Bilgrami doing really Philosophy? Consider the following in which he is talking about God-
Well before his demise, brought about I suppose by the scientific outlook
that we all now admire and which is rightly recommended by the authors of
these tedious tomes, it was science itself and nothing less than science,
which far from registering his demise, proposed instead in the late
seventeenth century, a quite different kind of fate for the father, a form of
migration, an exile into inaccessibility from the visions of ordinary people to
a place outside the universe, from where, in the now more familiar image of
the clockwinder, he first set and then kept an inert universe in motion.
This wasn't Newton's view. God might destroy the world at any moment. It also wasn't the view of anybody else. A God who could be exiled would also be an otiose, an unnecessary God. No doubt, atheists fearful of persecution might prefer to speak of deus otiosus while laying out a purely mechanistic 'natural theology'. Still, this should scarcely to either Bilgrami or any Indian or American because we have never had any blasphemy laws or established Church. We don't give a damn about what might or might not have happened in seventeenth century England because England itself has changed so much that Britishers are permitted to believe anything they like including 'Wicca' magic or Druidism or the Holy Church of the flying Spaghetti monster.
it is the theology and politics and political economy surrounding this
deracination of God from the world of matter and nature and human
community and perception that is worth expounding in some detail so as to
understand its large and abiding effects.
What large and abiding effects? There are none. Nobody stopped Cardinal Newman or Manning from believing in the ability of Catholic Saints to effect all manners of miraculous cures and supernatural events. Science has progressed a great deal since ordinary people were given absolute freedom to believe anything they wished.
Bilgrami alone believes that some dead white men who lived long ago ruined the world for him by thoroughly disenchanting it.
Why does he not do what any sensible undergraduate would and invest in some 'shrooms? He will see plenty of fairies and stop writing this shite.
There is no Latin expression such as ―Deus Deracinus‖ to express the
thought I want to expound. The closest we have is ―Deus Absconditus‖
which though it is meant to convey the inaccessibility of God, conveys to the
English speaker a fugitive fleeing rather than what I want to stress -- the idea
that it is from the roots of nature and ordinary perceptible life that God was
quite assiduously removed.
Worthless shite. Anglicans have always held that the hidden God becomes visible to us through repentance on Ash Wednesday.
‗Racine‘ or roots is the right description of his
immanence in a conception of a sacralized universe, from which he was torn
away by the exile to which the metaphysical outlook of early modern
science (aligned with thoroughly mundane interests) ushered him.
There is no understanding the infantilism of our current religious yearnings
Bilgrami, dude, you are an Indian Muslim. You live in America. You don't have worry about some conspiracy in seventeenth century England. Believe in djinns or apsaras or fairies or whatever you like. Nobody is stopping you.
that does not acknowledge the significance of these intellectual
developments of that earlier period.
The world from which he was exiled, no longer, as result of that exile, an
anima mundi, was then assiduously argued to also be no longer something to
which we were answerable in our moral agency.
By whom? Anybody your ancestral religion required you to lend credence to? No. So why are you getting so worked up? Or, can it be that you are such a self-hating Racist that you think only pukka Whiteys can think and all that Brown people can do is inhabit the world they create?
All value came instead
from us, it owed to nothing but our utilities and gain, and even when there
was an acknowledgement of our capacity for sympathy and moral
sentiments this was not seen as our responsiveness to the normative demands
of a world suffused with value, but something that we (in Hume‘s and Adam
Smith‘s metaphor) projected onto the world and which, as that idea was
developed in the tradition that followed, we kept under the control of the
demands of efficiency and consequence and utility.
Why one might ask, should the fact of the father‘s exile to an external place
as a clockwinder have led to an understanding of the universe as wholly
brute and altogether devoid of value?
Which Anglican- or other Christian- has ever denied that Christ is living and has the power to bind and loose as one's personal God and Saviour? The Universe does not matter. What matters is Paradise which is for all Eternity.
Why was it not possible to retain a
world laden with values that were intelligible to all who inhabited it, despite
the unintelligibility and inaccessibility of the figure of the Father?
Urm...Christianity features a Son as well as a Father. The risen Christ did so much in 40 days that if it were all written down in a book, the Bible tells us, the World would be too small to contain that tome.
Bilgrami, as a Muslim, may have some cultural blind-spots but surely even he must understand that an exiled Father doesn't matter when the Son is ever-present and willing to become one's personal Lord God and Saviour?
must value require a sacralized site for its station, without which it must be
relegated to proxy, but hardly proximate, notions of desire and utility and
Christ does not need a 'sacralized site'- he can enter the heart and heal the soul of the filthiest sinner.
It might seem that these questions are anachronistic, suited only to our own
time when we might conceivably (though perhaps not with much optimism)
seek secular forms of re-enchanting the world.
Yes. By passing a law requiring every back-garden to have at least one fairy.
One cannot put them, at
least not without strain and artificiality, to a period in which value was so
pervasively considered to have a sacred source.
As a matter of fact, devout English Christians can tell you about Holy wells and the sites of hermitages long gone and pilgrim paths winding up and down the length of the land. You must have met some such young people at Uni.
The removal of such a
source in that period, to inaccessibility, was bound to leave the world
configured in one‘s conception as merely brute, subject to nothing but causal
laws, bereft of value, reducing value itself to either utility or to subjective
psychological dispositions summarized with such terms as ‗desire‘ or
‗utility‘, or, when aspiring to the moral, as ‗sympathy‘, and ‗sentiment‘.
No removal occurred. Christianity flourished and rose rather than fell to a peak in the mid-Victorian period.
even if we cannot put these questions to a world view which was, by our
thoroughly modern lights, restricted to fewer conceptual options, we can ask
a diagnostic question about what forces prevented the development of, the
coming to be of, the idea I have in my own brief sketch derived from
Spinoza and extended onto the world: the idea that the world is enchanted
with evaluative properties whose normative demands on us, even if now
thought of in purely secular terms, move our first person point of view to a
responsiveness into moral agency?
It couldn't happen then for the same reason it can't happen now. The thing is silly. Why should I say- 'I'm going to visit the fairy in the men's room' instead of 'I going for a pee?' The normative demand upon me made by my bladder is the same in either case- unless I'm cottaging and thinking of another sort of fairy.
I suppose, if I were suffering from sort of neurological disorder, it would be useful for me to put up labels around my house reminding me to offer my turds to the porcelain fairy and so forth. However, what would be more useful still would be to have an actual fairy attendant. But no such being exists. That's why we don't have a mutual relationship with fairies featuring 'responsiveness to moral agency'. We do have such relationships with human beings and some animals. Fairies and enchantments however do not have this property of mutuality. There is little point in invoking them.
The diagnosis has many elements and
needs more patient elaboration than I can give in a short paper, but here are
some of its elements.
I have said that my (somewhat grotesque) neologism ―Deus Deracinus‘
would have served the thought I want to express best, but the word we have
‗Deus Absconditus‘ in another respect suggests something of what I want to
capture. The phrase, quite apart from standing for the inaccessibility of God
that was insisted upon by the late seventeenth century ideologues of the
Royal Society, conveys a certain anxiety that lay behind their insistence.
Sheer hogwash. There were no such ideologues. A well educated clergyman- who knew very well that Isaiah 45-15- Truly you are a God that hide yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior-
was also the God presiding over Divine Providence which was raising up England and its Established Church over against the Scarlet Whore and the vile Whigs and so forth.
The English did think the Lord of Hosts would smash their enemies armadas. They were a sea-faring race. Thinking God is on one's side is actually rather helpful whether you are risking the waves or merely engaged in mercantile speculation. Exiled or otiose Gods are worthless. So are fairies coz those idle little shits won't go and smash up the enemy's fleet.
"Conditus" means, "put away for safeguarding", with the "abs-" reinforcing
the 'awayness' and separateness or inaccessibility of where God is safely
placed. So, we must ask why should the authority figure need safeguarding
in an inaccessibility, what dangers lay in his immanence, in his availability
to the visionary temperaments and capacities of all those who inhabit his
This is a question Bilgrami needs to ask Isaiah who was writing about Cyrus or some such guy thousands of years ago. The Hebrew Prophets who spoke of God as hiding himself also had a notion of apocalypse- 'the rending of the veil'- and in Christian theology this period of apparent occultation is referred to as the katechon during which, by God's mysterious economy, the eschaton- or end of days- is held at bay.
And why should the scientific establishment of Early Modernity
seek this safekeeping in exile for a father, whom it‘s successor in late, more
mature, modernity would properly describe as ‗dead‘?
They did no such thing. Newton had a substantivist theology featuring a God who might wipe out creation at any moment. Leibniz had a more complicated relational monadology which cashes out as Occassionalism. These aren't exiled but highly active Daddy Gods.
There are three things to observe at the very outset about this exile of the
father for some two hundred years until Nietzsche announced his demise.
First, intellectual history of the Early Modern period records that there was a
remarkable amount of dissent and very explicit dissent against the notions
that produced the exile, dissent by a remarkable group of intellectuals, who
were most vocal first in England which is my focus, and the Netherlands,
and then elsewhere in Europe.
Why is it that every one of these 'remarkable intellectuals' was thoroughly forgotten, as Burke remarked, by the end of the Century? The answer is that they made no remarkable discoveries but simply wrote stupid shite- which however was not as stupid as Bilgrami's shite.
Second, there was absolutely nothing
unscientific about these freethinkers or their dissent. They were themselves
scientists, then, of course, called natural philosophers, fully on board with
the new science and the Newtonian laws, and all its basic notions, such as
gravity, for instance. They (who did not make the conflation that Gandhi
did) were only objecting to the metaphysical outlook generated by official
ideologues around the new science, who began to dominate the Royal
Society, in which the neo-platonist Newton of his private study was given a
quite different official face by people such as Boyle and Samuel Clarke, a
public move in which Newton himself acquiesced.
Second, there was absolutely nothing
unscientific about these freethinkers or their dissent. They were themselves
scientists, then, of course, called natural philosophers, fully on board with
the new science and the Newtonian laws, and all its basic notions, such as
gravity, for instance. They (who did not make the conflation that Gandhi
did) were only objecting to the metaphysical outlook generated by official
ideologues around the new science, who began to dominate the Royal
Society, in which the neo-platonist Newton of his private study was given a
quite different official face by people such as Boyle and Samuel Clarke, a
public move in which Newton himself acquiesced.
There was very little we would now consider scientific about these guys. Science has moved on. God alone knows what 'conflation' Bilgrami thinks Gandhi made. He never quotes the source.
There were no official ideologues of anything in that period. Newton was not a neo-Platonist save in the sense that he wasn't really Isaac Newton but that is a trivial distinction.
Boyle and Clarke don't matter. There isn't some big conspiracy here to do with the suppression of the Fairy Queene or the enslavement of the Orcs or the killing off of Merrie Englande.
And third, the
metaphysical outlook of the dissenters was suppressed and the Royal Society
ideologues won out and their metaphysics became the orthodoxy, not
because of any superiority, either metaphysical or scientific, but because of
carefully cultivated social factors, that is to say, because of the alliances
they formed with different groups such as the Anglicans on the one hand and
the commercial and mercantile interests of the time, on the other.
Suppressed? By whom? How? The silly gobshites were laughed at. If they had been good scientists and technologists they could have come up with useful inventions and gained employment at some other Court.
Newton discovered useful stuff. He was a great Master of the Mint. Life is like that. The talented and the lucky prevail while gobshites with 'metaphysical outlooks' die in the gutter. 'Commercial and mercantile interests' means guys who look for good ideas so as to make money out of them. Utility triumphs, weeping over non-existent fairies leads to the Poor House.
It is this exile of God, which had the effect of rendering the universe brute
and inert, that implied the transformation of an ancient and spiritually
informed conception of nature into the sort of thing that was available now
for predatory extraction by commerce and the elites that grew around it. It is
not that extraction (on a much smaller and less systematic scale and with a
much lower profile) did not take place until then, but in a wide range of
social worlds, such extracting as occurred was accompanied by rituals of
reciprocation intended to restore the balance as well as show respect towards
nature, rituals undertaken after cycles of planting and even hunting.
Very true! The Indian sword-smith- manufacturing the famous Wootz steel- would always ejaculate reverently over any seam of iron the miners had tapped so as to restore its virile potency. Well, that was the explanation the fellow gave for wanking outside my classroom when I was in Standard V. Teacher called the police who beat the fuck out of the guy who, it turned out, wasn't really a sword-smith at all but rather a sword swallower. The same thing happened when Amartya Sen came round to offer a restorative offering of semen to Szpilrajn's extension theorem which he had been extending too much. This shows the importance not just of respecting Nature but also Number Theory and other branches of Mathematics. Whenever you use a lemma, you should be careful to restore its potency by squeezing one off.
Weber, we are familiar with
the idea that German pedagogues were stupid and ignorant. How the fuck can a guy writing in the 21st century not know that Weber was wrong about everything?
the idea that capitalism was an outgrowth from
certain attitudes towards work and economy, but of far greater transformational significance was the way in which a desacralized
conception of the world made it prey to a scale of unthinkingly ruthless
extraction in the form of mining, deforestation, and the kind of plantation
agriculture which we today call agribusiness.
Human beings are now thought to have responsible for the extinction of large mammals starting 125,000 years ago in Africa.
One can have a highly sacralized view of the world and still go in for large scale mining, deforestation and hunting to extinction and so forth. By contrast, advanced economies can reverse environmental degradation and increase forest cover, bring back species from extinction and so forth.
What matters is not whether a Society believe in fairies but whether its actions can be regulated and rationalised so as to avert a tragedy of the commons.
I have written of this
elsewhere. What I want to stress now is not merely the predatory
commercial attitudes towards nature that surfaced with these metaphysical
changes, but other sorts of consequences that the exile of the father had on
the scope for a democratic culture that developed in that period.
'Democratic culture?' Is this guy serious? What fucking democracy existed anywhere in the world at that time?
In the great revolutionary decade of the 1640s in England, almost half a
century prior to our scientific dissenters, Gerard Winstanley, the most well
known among the radicals had declared that ―God is in all motion and ―the
truth is in every body‖.
So what? When did anyone ever say 'God is in some motions- generally loose ones- and the truth is currently only in such and such slut's body'? If you want to appear Religious you've got to go on about how like God is everywhere dude.
This way of thinking about the corporeal realm
had for Winstanley, as he puts it, ‗a great leveling purpose‘. It allowed one
to lay the ground, first of all, for a democratization of religion.
That was very nice of it, I'm sure. How come it allowed one to lay the ground for something which did not actually transpire? Wasn't that rather a mean action? It should have said 'stop! I won't allow you to lay the ground for a democratization of religion because the thing is impossible. You are wasting your time and energy.'
If God was
everywhere, then anyone may perceive the divine or find the divine within
him or her, and therefore may be just as able to preach as a university trained
How is that a good thing? Society needs to curtail preaching. We need to be able to say- 'get the fuck away from me you worthless god botherer. You don't even have a University degree. Why are you wasting my time?'
The significance of this is not to be run together with the
cliché about the Protestant reformation‘s sustained opposition to the
priestcraft enshrined in popery. That opposition was chiefly generative of a
pious and possessive individualism via its demand for an individualistic
relation to God, finessing institutional demands of Catholic forms of piety,
whereas the resistance of the radical sectaries was a resistance precisely to
the orthodox Protestantism that had emerged out of that opposition to
popery; and this radical resistance came from a desire not to join these
orthodoxies in their individualism but rather out of a desire to allow for the
democratic availability of the knowledges of value by which governance
could be as collective as possible so as to match their ideal of possessing and
cultivating the common collectively.
So- these guys were a public nuisance. Not only would they want to come preach at you at all hours, they might suddenly start digging up your garden claiming it for their own.
Sooner or later, sensible people would band together to beat the fuck out of these guys and drive them away. That's the whole story here.
These guys weren't going to deliver either democracy or fairies and enchantments. All they were doing was being a public nuisance.
Winstanley‘s opposition to the
monopoly of so-called experts was, therefore, by no means restricted to the
religious sphere. Through their myriad polemical and instructional
pamphlets, he and a host of other radicals had reached out and created a
radical rank and file population which began to demand a variety of other
things, including an elimination of tithes, a leveling of the legal sphere by a
decentralizing of the courts and the elimination of feed lawyers, as well as
the democratization of medicine by drastically reducing, if not eliminating,
the costs of medicine, and disallowing canonical and monopoly status to the
College of Physicians.
The later scientific dissenters were very clear too that these were the very
monopolies and undemocratic practices and institutions which would get entrenched if science, conceived in terms of the metaphysics of the
Newtonianism of the Royal Society, had its ideological victory.
So, what these guys were proposing was not incentive compatible. It would have reduced the returns to expert knowledge. Society would have got stuck with a bunch of roving vagabonds peddling all sorts of quack remedies.
Equally, that is to say, conversely, the Newtonian ideologues of the Royal
Society around the Boyle lectures administered by Samuel Clarke saw
themselves --without remorse-- in just these conservative terms that the
dissenters portrayed them in. They explicitly called Toland (to name just
one) and a range of other scientific dissenters, ‗enthusiasts‘, a term of
opprobrium at the time, and feared that their alternative picture of nature and
matter was an intellectual ground for the social unrest of the pre-Restoration
period when the radical sectaries had such great, if brief and aborted,
How is Toland a 'scientific dissenter'? What is the point of saying 'rest is a type of motion'? How does this help anyone?
How on earth could Toland, born ten years after the Restoration, have presented an 'alternative picture of nature and matter' which 'was an intellectual ground for the social unrest of the pre
-Restoration period'? Is Bilgrami saying that Toland's work was derivative? Who from?
They were effective in creating with the Anglican
establishment a general conviction that the entire polity would require
orderly rule by a state apparatus around a monarch serving the propertied
classes and that this was just a mundane reflection, indeed a mundane
version, of an externally imposed divine authority which kept a universe of
brute matter in orderly motion, rather than an immanently present God in all
matter and in all persons, inspiring them with the ‗enthusiasms‘ to turn the
‗world upside down‘, in Christopher Hill‘s memorable, eponymous phrase.
Bilgrami is wholly ignorant of English history. Has he never heard of the Seven Bishops tried for seditious libel for opposing James II's declaration of indulgence- which would have granted religious freedom to Dissenters and Catholics? The Anglican establishment was in no need of a junior ecclesiastic, like Clark, who had imbibed a bit of Newton, to instruct them in how to crush non-conformity.
It was after the Glorious Revolution that the Anglican Church began to emphasise its own apostolic succession independent of the whim of the Monarch precisely because William III made this plain.
When had the Anglican Church rejected orderly rule by a 'state apparatus' protecting property-holders like itself? Why is Bilgrami pretending some junior rector who gave the Boyle lecture was 'effective in creating' something which had always existed?
To see God in every body and piece of matter, they anxiously argued, was to
lay oneself open to a polity and a set of civic and religious institutions that
were beholden to popular rather than learned and scriptural judgement.
It was also terribly silly. I come and shit on your doorstep and say 'that is God. You must not remove it. Nay! Thou must humble thyself before this Holy Turd!'
the frontal attack in the late seventeenth century on the scientific dissenters‘
metaphysics of a sacralized world
never happened. There were no 'scientific dissenters' just some silly pamphleteers. Nobody has ever had a metaphysics of a sacralized world because it would feature fairies which turn into a turd on your doorstep which you must humble yourself before lest Gooxweqy, the demon of counter-Albion, seize you by your forelock and scotomize you.
was motivated not just out of the
consideration I have already discussed in my work elsewhere on Gandhi --
freeing nature for the extraction by newly emerging capita —it was
motivated by an anxiety to prevent at all costs this epistemic or cognitive
democratization that had made the revolution of some decades earlier such a
threat to this newly emerging alliance of interests between the scientific
establishment, the Anglican church, the commercial interests and the
oligarchies developing the statecraft needed to pursue these interests
It is these alliances brought together by these anxieties, which ensured that
the exile of the Father from his immanent presence strictly entailed that a
desacralized world would contain no residual evaluative properties that
might provide alternative, more secular sources of enchantment.
Worthless gibberish. The Church owned property and behaved like a rational property-owner. It used its legal powers to enrich itself. Others did likewise. That's it. That's the whole story. People who had nothing who protested got kicked in the teeth. Bilgrami may think they were kicked in the teeth so as to prevent their sacralising the world or scotomising the eye of heaven or saddling the Faery Queene but what Bilgrami thinks is... well, shite like this-
To repeat, it did so first with the argument that ideas of enchantment would
prove an obstacle to taking what one could with impunity from nature‘s
People stupid enough to believe in enchantment could be made to pay money to less stupid people who threatened to put a hex on them. This is not an argument at all.
Bilgrami must know that human beings have hunted a lot of animals and fish and so forth to extinction. There is such a thing as a tragedy of the commons. Enchantment simply does not work in the way Bilgrami thinks.
Not merely the seemingly ineradicable inequalities but the cultural
detritus and psychological desolation of the economic culture that emerged from this over the centuries are with us everywhere, and I bring no news in
saying so --except in having insisted that it had its metaphysical origins in
an early modern exile of the Father, long prior to his death, a point which
makes a great difference to how we should understand the charges of
infantilism that are made against our current religiosity that still seeks
reliance on the authority of the Father.
What great difference does this make? Bilgrami won't tell us. Why is he being so mean?
And second, it melded this economic
culture inseparably with a political outcome supported by the quite different
argument that I am stressing in this paper, the argument that the priestcraft
emerging from scripturally trained and learned divines from the universities
that were needed to comprehend an exiled deity,
The Anglican Church features no exiled deity. Its clergy have sometimes been accused of being too fond of the cricket or the chase and of a certain intellectual obtuseness. No one has ever suggested that they think God has done a runner. Even if Daddy has done so, the Son is very much present- and Christianity- as the name implies- is about Christ's redemptive passion. Bilgrami's Islamic antecedents may have scotomized this aspect of European Religion to his eyes, but surely, after his long residence in America, he must have developed some understanding of the importance his fellow citizens attach to 'accepting Jesus Christ as one's personal Lord God and Saviour'?