Tuesday 30 April 2024

Samanth Subramaniyam on Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi needed to appear 'Prime Ministerial' and thus attract votes to his dynastic party. Alternatively, he could have nominated some one else and ensured that person appeared 'Prime Ministerial' and thus could attract vote to the party he had inherited. Rahul chose neither alternative. Why? One reason may be that he wanted the pleasure of being able to unseat or humiliate a Congress PM. But in order to gain that pleasure, Congress would have to win the general elections. Is Rahul really too stupid to see that? Yes. At least, that is the conclusion readers of the NYT will come to after reading an article by Samanth Subramaniyam titled- 

Time Is Running Out for Rahul Gandhi’s Vision for India

What is that vision? Modi shouldn't be PM. Nobody should be PM- definitely not Rahul because Daddy was PM and got blown up. Granny was PM and got shot. Great-grand pappy wasn't killed but the Chinese took down his pajamas and made fun of his puny genitals. This shows that being PM is bad. Look at Mummy. She wasn't PM and she is still alive.  

As the election neared, the quelling of dissent grew more visible still. 
This year, in an unprecedented move, Modi’s administration arrested two chief ministers of states run by small opposition parties.

Just as Biden foisted fraudulent court cases on Trump after stealing the election- right? The truth is, corrupt politicians get arrested. It may be that central agencies are reluctant to arrest corrupt politicians connected to the ruling party- but that is a different matter.  

(One stepped down hours before his arrest.) In both instances, the government claimed corruption,

no. The prosecutors claimed corruption. All political parties accuse each other of corruption. But without evidence, Judges dismiss such cases.  

but many critics noted that the arrests were uncannily timed to pull two popular politicians out of campaign season in states where the B.J.P. has struggled.

Alternatively, both politicians are hoping to get mileage out of their being arrested. Were this not the case they could have found ways to postpone the hearings or else would have arranged for a scapegoat to be offered up. 

Income-tax authorities froze Congress’s bank accounts, supposedly over a late filing.

Their treasurer was so useless he didn't bother to file the returns 

“It has been orchestrated to cripple us in the elections,” Gandhi told reporters.

Gandhi crippled Congress by being useless.  

If so, it feels like overkill, because it is common wisdom that Congress can’t win.

Which is why it is safe to go after Congress for unpaid taxes, corruption etc.  

Those who want nothing to do with the B.J.P. watch Gandhi with conflicted anguish. He is, by all accounts, sincere, empathetic and committed to a pluralistic India.

He won't let his cousin back into their ancestral party. His pluralism doesn't extend very far. 

This is a man who forgave his father’s killers,

politically, he is in bed with their biggest patrons 

and who said on the sidelines of a private New York event last year, according to one of those present: “I don’t hate Modi. The day I hate, I will leave politics.”

That's a day Modi does not look forward to. Rahul is the gift which keeps giving- to other parties.  

But he’s also the latest in a lineage under whom Congress grew undemocratic and sometimes wildly corrupt. The great liberal hope is that Gandhi can achieve contradictory things: use his dynastic privilege to resuscitate his party, and dissolve the dynasty at the same time.

This is easily done. Nominate a charismatic technocrat who can give Modi a run for his money. A family owned company can bring in a CEO from outside.  

That’s a steep demand, but Gandhi’s priorities are altogether more Himalayan. “He doesn’t say it,” Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who knows Gandhi well, told me, “but he’s modeling himself after Mahatma Gandhi. He doesn’t want to take any position of power.”

Mahatma Gandhi nominated Nehru though, truth be told, Nehru could have crossed over to the Socialists and prevailed over the elderly nutters who supported the Mahatma.  What Yechury didn't say was that Jyoti Basu could have been PM but the CPM politburo would not allow it. This was a factor in the decline of the Communist parties. 

In January, Gandhi told his colleagues that he has “one foot in and one foot out of the party,” and that he plans to be “a bridge to activists outside.”

But activists want a bridge which takes them to power and influence. Still, if Kanhaiya Kumar (who contested the last election on a Communist ticket) gets elected in Delhi, 'activists' might see some point in accepting Rahul's patronage. The trouble is that Kanhaiya is unpopular with the Congress rank and file in Delhi. Also, as a Bhumihar, his appeal to bahishkrit Biharis in the NCR might be limited. 

As he explained it then, the B.J.P., with its undiluted majoritarianism, “is a political-ideological machine.

His granny and his daddy had no problem defeating it. In 1984, the BJP got only two seats in the Lok Sabha.  

It can’t be defeated by a political machine alone.” His role, as he sees it, is to be the counter ideology — to go out into the country, rouse Indians to the dangers of the B.J.P. and offer them his dream of a fairer, more tolerant India instead.

But who will be PM in that dream?  

Rahul Gandhi conceived of his yatra much as Chandra Shekhar did:

No. He was imitating Murli Manohar's 'Ekta Yatra' which started in the deep South and ended in Kashmir. It is said that Modi first got national exposure through this yatra. Ten years later he became CM of Gujarat even though he had never contested an election before that.  

as a way to counter the ideology of a seemingly immovable leader.

Because there is no alternative Prime Ministerial candidate. The hope was that Gehlot, CM of Rajasthan, would be roped in while the mooncalf went walkabout but Gehlot refused to budge.  

...Rahul Gandhi once called Uttar Pradesh his karmabhoomi, a Sanskrit word for the land of one’s momentous actions.

At one point Rahul thought he could revitalize his party at the grassroots level in his ancestral state. He failed. Akhilesh and Yogi are his age but smarter and more experienced.  

But Uttar Pradesh also became the land where Congress was fated to fail. Today it’s the roiling heart of the B.J.P.’s Hindu nationalism. Varanasi, Hinduism’s most sacred city, lies near the state’s eastern border, and Modi chose to represent it in Parliament — a crafty choice for a man wishing to be hailed as a defender of his faith.

Voters in Varanasi knew Modi had done a lot to improve amenities in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. They were happy to advertise their desire to welcome Hindu pilgrims from elsewhere. Modi mentions to Tamil audiences the fact that the second most spoken language in Varanasi is Tamil because of the very large number of pilgrims from that State. 

Around 40 million Muslims live in the state, and under its B.J.P. chief minister, they’re increasingly being erased from public life.

When Nehru became PM, they were physically killed or chased away by the Custodian of Evacuee property.  

One law jeopardizes their right to marry whom they wish.

America prevents you marrying your eight year old niece 

Other regulations have constricted the meat trade, in which many Muslims work.

American States has plenty of such regulations.  

Islamic schools are in danger of being banned outright.

No. They may be deprived of government funding.  

By painting Muslims as trespassers, the B.J.P. licenses violence against them, sometimes even explicitly.

Nehru and Indira presided over vast pogroms against Muslims and Sikhs. 

(In 2015, a man was beaten to death by his Hindu neighbors in his village in western Uttar Pradesh, on the rumor that he had slaughtered a cow. The men accused of his murder have since been freed on bail and the case is still unresolved.)

Plenty of non-Muslims have been slaughtered for cartoons about the Prophet. No religion has a monopoly on crazy.  

More than any other part of India, Uttar Pradesh shows what the B.J.P. has wrought and how successful it has been. In 2019, during the last national election, the B.J.P. swept 62 of the state’s 80 seats. Congress won just one.

Sonia won that seat. Now she has gone to the upper house, will Congress retain it? What if Priyanka contests?  

A few years ago, Gandhi decided that his party needed a way to mobilize people against the B.J.P., settling on a yatra as a means to that end. He embarked on his first, walking up the spine of India, in late 2022. Even the plainness of his attire — sneakers, loosefitting trousers, white polo shirt — was a rebuke to the Olympian vanity of Modi, who once had his own name stitched, in tiny letters, to form the pinstripes of a suit.

Samanth is lying. Modi received the suit, which cost 16,000 dollars as a gift. It was auctioned off for about 700,000 dollars with the money going to charity.  

We thought Rahul's walkabout was a farewell tour which is why it did not matter that he didn't look Prime Ministerial. 

The yatras felt like campaigns, yet Gandhi’s team insists that they were not about projecting him as prime minister but rather a form of ideological resistance, almost above politics. (His staff politely refused my repeated requests for an interview.)

To be fair, if Gehlot had taken over Congress, Rahul could have been seen as mobilizing grass-roots support for the party's Prime Ministerial candidate.  

The Congress Party found itself divided over Gandhi’s approach. Salman Khurshid, a Congress veteran, worried that the party has strayed from bread-and-butter political strategy. We were in his office in Delhi, and he kept looking dolorously at his phone, which never stopped ringing. It was the feverish middle of the election season, and Congress was picking its candidates and negotiating alliances with other parties. Gandhi had to weigh in, Khurshid said: “We’d like him to be within shouting distance. He’s a thousand kilometers away.” Khurshid wished for a more customary system, the sort that promised, say, a 20-minute appointment at 10 a.m. to talk about three things. “That’s how ordinary political parties work,” he said. “He wants an extraordinary political party.”

In which case, he should find someone extraordinary to run it. 

Sometimes, Gandhi’s team told Khurshid and others to come on the yatra and talk to Gandhi on the bus. But it wasn’t sufficient, Khurshid told me. “There’s never enough time.” The yatra involved a lot of stopping and starting and stopping again, as I discovered. Two or three times a day, Gandhi’s Jeep — and its caravan of police cars, S.U.V.s and a vehicle bearing a device labeled “Jammer” — inched through a town, halting at a crossroads for a speech. Then the convoy would hasten to its next engagement, trying to cover vast Uttar Pradesh distances through dense Uttar Pradesh traffic, and always behind schedule. The day ended in a cordoned-off campsite, where everyone slept in shipping containers fitted with bunks. Here, in his own enclosure, Gandhi hobnobbed with local Congress functionaries or practiced jiu-jitsu with his instructor.

I must admit, I was under the impression that Kharge had taken charge of Congress and that things were improving. It appears that the chaos had actually gotten worse.  

In Prayagraj, where we headed after Varanasi, it’s possible to traverse the distance between the party’s zenith and its rock bottom in a single evening. First, Gandhi made a speech outside Anand Bhavan, an ancestral family home, an eggshell-white mansion on an emerald lawn. Anand Bhavan is now a museum, but its chief relic is intangible: the promise of Nehruvian secularism, circa 1947.

Nehru presided over the worse violence against Muslims the sub-continent has ever seen. After he became PM in Delhi, the Muslim percentage went from 33 percent to just 5 per cent.  

Then, while leaving Prayagraj, we passed the high court that invalidated Indira Gandhi’s election in 1975 on the grounds of electoral malpractice. The verdict provoked her to impose a state of emergency — a suspension of civic rights — for nearly two years, tarnishing Congress and strengthening its competitors. By this time too, the party had wrapped itself feudally around the dynasty.

Indira ruthlessly got rid of all rivals. Her son was less capable. Sonia, too, could not prevent regional satraps from setting up their own dynastic Congress parties. 

Any emergent leaders with their own base were subdued or cast off because they threatened the Gandhis. By the late 1980s, other politicians had clawed voters away from Congress by

quitting Congress accusing Rajiv of corruption 

courting specific groups — members of a caste,

Indira did that. Indeed, all parties did. 

say, or as with the B.J.P. and Hindus, of a religion.

Indira and Rajiv got votes for 'defending' Hindus. But so did Nehru.  

As Congress faltered, its workers joined rival parties, including the B.J.P. In India, party workers don’t just canvass voters — they step in for an insufficient state. If a farmer needing a loan is turned away by the bank manager, or if a woman can’t pay the cost of treatment for her sick daughter, party workers use their contacts to help. These services are performed in the hope that the favors will be returned every five years, come the election. “The average party worker needs, say, 10,000 rupees a month to run his home,” an old Congress hand in Varanasi, who asked not to be named for fear of professional reprisal, told me. “If their party can’t get to power, how will they get paid? They’ll go work for whoever is most likely to win.”

This is the crux of the matter. If the party spends money on vanity projects- like Rahul's yatras- they can't pay to get elected which in turn means they have less money- except for Rahu's ego-trips.  

At the time, (2004 when he entered politics) Gandhi often showed little patience with the orthodox figures of politics.

Sanjay and Rajiv were said to have that quality- not necessarily a bad thing.  

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a political scientist at Princeton, who met Gandhi back then, recalled that he made minimal eye contact and seemed distracted — unable even to feign interest as politicians usually do so well.

Mehta is boring and stupid. No sensible person would make eye contact with him. 

A journalist who met Gandhi privately told me that he was, as the saying goes, eager to tell you what you thought: “It was: ‘You don’t know how the Congress works. Let me tell you.’ Or, ‘I’ll tell you about India and Pakistan.’”

Nothing wrong in that. Journalists are supposed to listen to important people and Rahul was very important indeed- at that time.  

In his memoir “A Promised Land,” Barack Obama compared Gandhi, whom he met in 2010, to “a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject.”

Sonia kept foisting her idiot son on unsuspecting foreign dignitaries. 

One of Gandhi’s colleagues admits he used to be “very anxious and pushy” back in the day.

Because, as he said 'I could have become PM at the age of 25.' It took a lot of sustained effort to make himself, and thus his party, unelectable.  

“He has calmed down over a period of time.”

Because there is no longer a risk that his party might win.  

He had to. Congress isn’t a party you can change in a hurry.

Nehru changed it completely. By 1955 it had embraced Socialism. Indira changed it even more completely. She made it dynastic. Rajiv changed it by bringing in spreadsheets and computers. Sonia changed it by backing Manmohan. Rahul changed it by making it unelectable.  

Its ways are too ossified, and it is honeycombed with fiefs.  When Gandhi wanted Congress to field new faces in elections, he pushed for candidates to be selected through an internal voting system, rather like a primary.

Rich people would create a lot of 'benami' memberships and vote for themselves.  

According to one former party consultant, senior politicians, worried about losing their tickets, complained to his mother, Sonia, the Congress president.

What is more they tricked her into believing they were her own cute little babies.  

Khurshid, one of the old guard, told me: “Everything that destroys democracy got in there — money, muscle, power.” It resulted in “the dedicated warriors of the Congress at the youth level” being sidelined.

There were no such warriors. Thugs- yes. Warriors- fuck off! 

The primaries never took off. In 2018, Gandhi wanted young chief ministers in three states where Congress had won state elections. He didn’t get his way.

Why? Gehlot in Rajasthan and Kamal Nath in MP were highly experienced. Rahul was a petulant child.  

But at least Gandhi tried something, a consultant to Congress told me. “If you leave it to these other guys,” he said, “they will not even change the curtains in the party office.”

Curtains don't matter. Winning does matter. Gehlot and Kamal Nath are determined to leave their sons a good legacy. Rahul can't even get married and sire an heir.  

These exasperations may have amplified a hesitancy about power and responsibility that Gandhi seemed always to harbor.

He is work-shy. To be fair, Indian politics is as boring as fuck.  

In 2009, he declined the offer to be a cabinet minister. Perhaps even then he saw his role as that of a moral authority outside the government, Yechury said.

A guy too lazy to do a job handed to him on a plate can't be a moral authority on how that job should be done.  

On becoming the party’s vice president, Gandhi gave not a stirring speech but a somber one, recalling the assassinations in his family and counseling his party that “power is poison.”

It was a poison which came his way because his Daddy was the son of a lady whose father had been PM.  

In a party often pilloried for being dynastic, Gandhi has been unable to stamp his will on Congress.

because he is shit. The Dynast may be a drooling imbecile.  

One friend of the family described Gandhi as “timid.” When his 2022 yatra went through the state of Kerala, Yechury, the Communist leader, considered walking with him, but members of Congress’s Kerala unit protested: The Communists were their chief rivals in the state, and this show of solidarity — even against the B.J.P., a common antagonist — wouldn’t do at all. Yechury couldn’t understand it.

He is a lightweight. Kerala CPM knows that it has to cannibalize Congress before the BJP supplants it. However, it is the CPI which is challenging Rahul in Wayanad. 

Gandhi might not be the party’s president, but there’s no doubt he is its presiding force, Yechury said. Why didn’t he just hold fast?

Because Yechury is yesterday's news.  

Two years ago, during a protest in Delhi, Gandhi and dozens of his Congress colleagues were detained by the police. One of those present, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly, told me that several senior leaders were held together, and Gandhi had “really frank and open conversations” with them. A couple of these leaders “got aggressive, saying, ‘You have to take charge,’ persuading him to take back the party presidency, accusing him of running away from responsibility.” It was high-octane drama: “What do you do when you’re detained, man? We were there for six hours. He couldn’t go anywhere.” The Congress worker remembers Gandhi saying then: “I know what I have to do. My job is to do mass outreach. You guys handle the party.”

The dynast's job is to either run things or appoint a guy who can run things. You can hire people to do outreach or reach-arounds or whatever. Rahul doesn't get this.  

Congress didn’t send any representatives to the temple’s inauguration, and I had expected Gandhi to speak about Ayodhya, which lies, after all, in Uttar Pradesh. But he barely mentioned it, even in Varanasi, a city facing a potential reprise of Ayodhya. The morning after his speech there, I visited a quarter called Pilikothi, following a sequence of lanes, each framed by so many tall tenements that there was something canyonlike about them. It was a Sunday,

which is not a holiday for Muslims 

but Pilikothi echoed with the tack-tack of sari looms. The sound drifted into the basement in which Abdul Batin Nomani, the mufti of Varanasi, sat at a low desk. Behind him were shelves of theological volumes. When he pulled a book out to illustrate a point, his hand didn’t hesitate for a second.

His hand did not tremble even though he was a Muslim and thus terrified of Hindus like the author. 

The title of mufti, or jurist, has been in Nomani’s family since 1927, and he has filled the role for more than two decades. In that time, he said, the B.J.P. has spread so much hate that it has corroded even the possibility of amicable relations between Hindus and Muslims.

Whereas in Pakistan, where Nomani has relatives, relations are very amicable indeed.  

You can be arrested for offering the namaz in public,

just like in Dubai 

or for being a Muslim man marrying a Hindu woman,

just like in Saudi Arabia. On the other hand you could keep her as a concubine or just rape her a lot.  

or for running your butcher shop during Hindu festivals.

in London, you aren't even allowed to butcher your own sheep in your backyard.  

You could be lynched on a whisper that you’re carrying beef, or have your house bulldozed on suspicion of being a rioter, or be hunted by mobs goaded by B.J.P. politicians calling for murder.

Also, if you try to do jihad on kaffirs, those damned kaffirs beat you to death. The lot of the pious Muslim in India or the UK is not a happy one.  

Nomani told me about the head of a Hindu monastery nearby, and how they would invite one another to their religious functions. “Then, slowly, his mind turned,” Nomani said. “He must have been convinced that to talk to people like me is wrong.”

It was useless.  

Nomani heads the committee of the Gyanvapi Mosque, another centuries-old structure that the Hindu right aims to replace with a temple. Weeks before I met Nomani, a court allowed Hindus to worship in the mosque’s basement, similar to what happened in Ayodhya in 1986. Varanasi’s Muslims are fearful, Nomani said. Wouldn’t the same cascade of consequences ensue? Wouldn’t other mosques surely follow? When the yatra swung by, Nomani told a local Congress representative he would welcome a meeting with Gandhi. It never transpired.

So, Rahul isn't utterly stupid. But then, you should remember, the Mahatma was killed by a Hindu. It isn't enough just to appease minorities. You need to appease majorities too.  

Nomani wondered why Gandhi didn’t even speak about the issue and directly confront the B.J.P.’s divisive politics. “Someone could have called and reassured us: ‘Don’t worry, we’re with you,’” Nomani said.

Why be with those who are against you?  

He regards Gandhi with sympathy. “I believe he wants to do the right thing, and that he is against this culture of hate,” he said. “But he’s weak. His party is weak. He can’t do anything.”

Nomani is equally weak. Nobody wants to talk to him. Sad.  

From Prayagraj, the yatra headed to Amethi, a town a couple of hours to the north. I had last visited in 2009, when it was still a stronghold of Congress’s first family, and I remembered the fields of winter mustard, yellow till the horizon, on the town’s outskirts and the wishbone layout of its three main roads. Gandhi won resoundingly that year. But in 2014, when his margin shrank, he must have seen the incoming tide of Hindu nationalism. Sanjay Singh, a local Congress worker, recalled that, on vote-counting day, Gandhi sounded dispirited as the results trickled in, telling his colleagues “the politics of this state is beyond my understanding.”

Even Rahul understood that if Congress lost the Center (it had already lost the State) then Amethi would stop getting lavish funding.  

In 2019, the B.J.P. flipped Amethi. If Gandhi hadn’t simultaneously run from another seat, in Kerala, he wouldn’t be in Parliament at all.

People will vote for Rahul provided they don't understand what he is saying.  

For the rally, the party had set up rows of chairs in a field, but the audience started dribbling out almost as soon as it began. By the time Gandhi was midway through his speech, only half the chairs were occupied. He talked about China, and riots in faraway Manipur, and the B.J.P.’s cronyism. Standing next to me, a policewoman told a videographer, “He isn’t talking about Amethi at all.” The only cheers came when he raised the plight of India’s poorer castes — the very people who made up most of his audience. As he had done throughout the yatra, he warned them they’d never get very far in the B.J.P.’s India. He may well be right, but I remembered something Mehta told me. Modi’s narrative of a resurgent Hinduism, however hollow, makes people feel good about themselves, Mehta said. “Rahul’s narrative does the opposite.”

Modi shows us that Indians can rise by their own merit and hardwork. Rahul reminds us that even if our parents were nice, we might turn out to be shit.  

The next day, something interrupted the yatra’s staid choreography. We were in Raebareli, the one Uttar Pradesh constituency still with the Congress Party. Halfway through his address, Gandhi invited a young man onto his Jeep to quiz him about his prospects.

No. This was a young man from the Maurya community. He claims that he and and several other OBC and SC candidates had been recruited as teachers in UP but were denied appointment letters (bribes may be payable for this). He approached Rahul as he had approached other politicians. Since he had printed up posters and a T-shirt, he appeared professional and motivated rather than just a person who had suffered injustice.

In a later video he said that he had been mistreated even in his own 'Maurya Samaj' local community center by a legislator and his supporters. He believes this is because he is now associated with Rahul and is considered 'political'. It may be that the young man is mentally unbalanced. Still, it is plausible that he was recruited as a teacher but did not get an appointment letter. He says Rahul wrote a letter on his behalf. But he himself doesn't seem to set much store by it.

The man introduced himself as Amit Maurya, but he was barely audible, so Gandhi said, paternally but lightly, “First, learn how to handle a microphone.”

Gandhi had a bullying tone. This frightened the young fellow.  

“I’m a little anxious, sir.”

“Don’t worry,” Gandhi replied. “You’re a lion.”

Rahul isn't tall but he was taller and much older than Amit. Being called a 'babbar sher' by a nutter was disconcerting. Should one laugh or cry? Amit cried.  

Either it was the pressure of the moment or the unchecking of a dam of frustration, but Maurya burst into tears.

Because Rahul was bullying him.  Maurya had prepared a statement explaining the nature of his grievance. There would have been no harm in helping the fellow make that statement since it would harm the BJP which rules UP. 

In the week’s most genuine moment,

It was embarrassing. The young man clearly had a topical grievance- viz. bribes being demanded even from SC and OBC candidates for appointment letters. There may have been some further insult or injury whose nature I was not able to understand from the uploaded video. Perhaps the young man had been part of a protest at Lucknow's Ecogarden and had been manhandled or has a criminal case hanging over his head. Rahul should have let the young man have his say. The Mauryas are a very important caste. 

Sadly Rahul didn't give a damn about the grievance of the young man who was clearly smart though, of course, his grievance may be imaginary. Still, he speaks in an educated manner. Why should he not get his appointment letter and start teaching? Rahul, selfishly, wanted to use the fellow as a prop and put words into his mouth. He was the ventriloquist and Amit was the dummy. His job was to say 'there are no SC or OBC billionaires' (actually there are) and 'there are no SC or OBC owned media houses' (also not true)'. But the plain fact is, Modi is OBC. The President is ST. There are wealthy SC dynastic politicians. Rahul himself has plenty of ill gotten gains.  

Gandhi seemed nonplused, as if he didn’t know what to do with this political gift.

Nonsense! You can watch the video on You tube for yourself. Rahul had bullied the young man till he broke down and wept. Then he grabbed hold of him and put words into his mouth. 

Instinctively, he folded Maurya into an embrace and kept his arm around the sobbing man.

he kept his arm around his throat.  

Still, he just couldn’t abandon his routine — the statistics he’d memorized, the thesis presentation mode he was in.


But even if his speech didn’t change, he sounded more passionate — angry, even — about the inequities he had lined up to narrate to his crowd.

But that crowd knew that he was a Brahmin- a very wealthy one. Modi was one of their own.  If he had given Amit a chance to make a speech- the crowd would have felt he was giving a leg up to a young man from a politically very important community. Instead, Rahul bullied and manhandled the young man. 

Well after the yatra’s end, when summer hammers down and ballot machines appear in schools and colleges and municipal buildings, Gandhi may at least be able to count on Maurya’s vote.

Maurya is smart enough, though he may be mentally ill. Rahul could have given him 'face' by letting a minion adjust his mike. But Rahul was in a hurry. He bullied the boy till he broke down.  

But who knows. Elections are subject to every manner of caprice, and the B.J.P. has shown itself to be peerless at swaying India’s voters.

They get elected if they have a better candidate. Otherwise they lose.  

Out of hubris or audacity, Gandhi wants to persuade people to consider lofty things like morality and love, indispensable values that nonetheless make for nebulous campaign platforms.

Rahul doesn't want to be PM but doesn't want anyone else to be PM either. As with Amit Maurya, he wants somebody else to appear to be saying what he wants to hear but he abruptly loses patience and grabs the fellow and manipulates him like a ventriloquist's dummy. But the only dummy in Indian politics is Rahul himself.  

He doesn’t mind if it takes years, and perhaps he doesn’t mind if he loses his party in the process. In that time, though, he risks seeing his idea of India extinguished altogether.

His idea of India is one where there is a PM he has appointed whom he can bully and manhandle and sack and replace with somebody yet more docile and pliable. But Modi extinguished that idea long ago.  

Friday 26 April 2024

Rupert Read's ridiculous Eschaton

Rupert Read writes in Aeon- 

The classic philosophical debate around civil disobedience (or nonviolent direct action) asks: is there a right to engage in this form of conscientious law-breaking, under circumstances of deep wrong, where conventional methods of addressing that wrong have failed or are unavailable?

We may claim a right- for example the right not to die or the right to sodomize the Black Hole at the center of our galaxy- but it may conflict with a superior right or immunity held by some other party. Alternatively, if we can't provide the remedy for that right's violation ourselves, nobody will do so for us because either there is no vinculum juris or else that bond of law is ineffective by reason of incentive incompatibility or lack of resources. 

It’s widely accepted among philosophers that there is such a right:

It is a claim. Anyone can claim anything.  

it is virtually unknown for philosophers to argue against it; even an extremely mainstream liberal individualist such as John Rawls argues for it.

Some philosophers thought civil disobedience was a good thing only used by good people. Others thought it was ineffective but a way to pass the time- but didn't say so. The problem with civil disobedience is that it might create a public nuisance. This could create a backlash against the cause it seeks to advance. One particular problem is that if a passive resistance program attracts antagonomic nutters, cognitive dissonance is generated such that an entire political coalition loses public esteem. 

And the climate crisis fits the bill for the exercise of this right.

As does the 'yellow vest' movement. The difference between a cause which affects the economic interests of participants and one which is altruistic or idealistic, is that the former represents a more potent threat. It may spontaneously turn violent and lead to the collapse of the rule of law across a wide swathe of territory. In other words, socio-economic grievances which initially find expression in non-violent demonstrations put more pressure on the administration to compromise than do 'virtue signaling' protests where neither side has any great incentive to strike a deal. 

The climate crisis, however, is one where there is money to be made in 'Green Technology'. Furthermore, there may be a 'Green' floating voter with high Banzhaf-Coleman power to decide the result of elections. In this case, there may be resources available to finance both broad based non-violent protests as well as a hard core of militant nutters. The problem here is that the outcome may not align with the stated aims of the movement. It may simply lead to a redistribution of rents.  

Because it is a case of a huge and urgent injustice – a threat to the very viability of ongoing human civilisation, an existential risk – where conventional methods have been tried and failed, and moreover where vulnerable unborn future generations are not able to stick up (let alone vote) for themselves to try to redress the matter.

We owe it to unborn generations to abolish death, naughtiness, and lack of nice cuddles given to us by various celestial objects. Why haven't we already destroyed the economy by doing stupid shit?  Is it not because we haven't paid enough attention to Philosophy not to mention the criminal underfunding, in which we are complicit, of free and compulsory training in sodomy for frail and vulnerable senior citizens? 

So there is no need to rehearse that debate.

Because it is shit.  

It is basically settled: there is a right to engage in civil disobedience in our current extreme circumstances.

The law does recognize a right to certain sorts of public protest. Furthermore, as a matter of public policy, even where penalties are attracted, they may not be applied. Alternatively, juries may refuse to convict. 

That, however, does not settle the matter of whether one should engage in such organised disobedience.

One may gain a reputational, financial, or psychological benefit by doing so. However, the consequence of the campaign may harm everybody, including you. The relevant concept here is global opportunity cost. What is the best alternative foregone by taking a particular course of action? Speaking generally, undermining the rule of law so as to promote a puerile agenda is likely to have serious unintended consequences.  

For there is a more interesting, more timely debate emerging in recent years: are there circumstances and contexts in which (every)one has an obligation to participate in civil disobedience?

Sure. The Emperor says everybody should saw off their own heads every hour of every day on penalty of being guillotined. Everybody tells the Emperor to fuck the fuck off. This may not be very civil but it is disobedience.  

This question goes far beyond the ‘Is it acceptable?’ debate. Former colleagues of mine in XR (now in Just Stop Oil) sometimes argue passionately that we are in precisely such a condition: that you, reader, are morally obligated to join them. I want to consider that case.

We each have our own view of how and in what circumstances we are morally obligated. I may like you personally, but if somebody from your clan killed somebody from my clan, I am morally obliged to kill you. On the other hand, I am not morally obliged to support my elderly Mum  who raised me all by herself. This is because Mums have vaginas and are thus an inferior type of domestic animal. They should simply drop dead once they are unable to work in the fields. 

What type of morality do shitheads who want to destroy the economy subscribe to? The answer is that it is a paranoid and evil morality. Other paranoid and evil people may feel morally obligated in joining their cause. Alternatively, they may pretend to have joined the cause so as to gain a reputational or other benefit. 

I perceive two inseparable elements to the standard case for an obligation to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience, or (as it is often called) ‘civil resistance’: moral and pragmatic. The moral element says that this is simply the right thing to do – to be ‘on the right side of history’, whatever the consequences; and to signal one’s ‘solidarity’ with those worst affected; with the younger generation; with unborn future generations.

We distinguish a claim to some right, immunity or entitlement from a case being made for that thing. The former is a bare assertion. The latter seeks to support that assertion with factual and deontic arguments such that the claim is either admitted or grounds are given for its rejection. 

Anyone can claim that everybody should do any crazy shit. But a claim does not by itself give rise to an obligation. Something more is required. A case has to be made. The problem here is that there can be no general obligation to participate in disobedience as opposed to rebellion. This is because, in the scenario envisaged here, no authority exists to whom there is a duty of obedience such that there is a duty of defiance to some other authority. In a rebellion, there is some alternative center of authority. Now I might say 'you owe it to yourself to be disobedient to everybody and everything when it suits you', but who would obey this silly stricture of mine?

In technical terms, following the great moral philosopher Immanuel Kant: what is to be done is allegedly deontologically or intrinsically determinable.

No it isn't. There can be a duty to obey authority. One may claim everybody has a higher duty to disobey authority. But no case can be made because it would be self-defeating as no authority could license such an antagonomic duty. 

It is allegedly a universal obligation to seek to head off an unprecedented catastrophe,

e.g. death. Did you know that you are likely to die within the next hundred years> We have a universal obligation to stick a radish up our bum and prance around naked saying 'boo to Neo-Liberalism!' How else can we prevent the deaths of ten billion people?  

by any acceptable (usually, nonviolent) means necessary. The idea is that, with the conventional political process having failed to put us on the path to a future indicated by science, precaution and ethics, we are obliged to take matters into our own hands by stepping outside the law in order to ‘just stop oil’.

The law permits you to take reasonable and proportionate steps in your own self-defense. But it gives others similar rights which they may collectively use to have you beaten, incarcerated or subjected to nasty comments about the size of your genitalia.  

The first thing to say about any alleged solidaristic obligatory moral case for backing the radical flank is that now, in countries like the UK, it is hard to square with what young people actually want.

Which is Sex. Also money. But if being a climate activist gets you laid- screw money.  

Consider the 2023 YouGov poll asking the public their opinion of JSO, the campaign group behind the now-dominant form of ‘civil resistance’ in the UK. Only 17 per cent of adults have some kind of positive opinion of what JSO are doing. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, the figure is higher but not much: 21 per cent have a positive view. Across all ages, hugely larger percentages have a negative view: 10 times as many have a ‘very unfavourable’ view as have a ‘very favourable’ view of JSO. Among young people, the ratio is ‘only’ four times as many.

Which is why it makes sense for private equity mavens to fund those nutters.  As for Gaza, that's a gift that could keep giving- for the Right. 

Because a small minority of young people rather than a tiny one (of older people) supports Just Stop Oil plainly does not mean you can show solidarity with the demographic by supporting JSO.

It doesn't mean anything at all. Don't stop oil. Find something cheaper.  Or don't. It makes no difference. 

But, regardless of what young people happen to want, it might be argued that it’s simply the right thing to do to undertake civil resistance on their part.

This is a claim like my claim that Beyonce really wants to be my best friend. Its her security team which, coz they are totes jelly, are keeping me from her.  

Paternalistic, perhaps, but still right, possibly.

I wouldn't like it if Beyonce called me 'Daddy'. I'm only thirty years older than her and, what's more, own a Malibu Barbie with which I would allow her to play. It's like new, except it doesn't have a head. Barbie can say some really mean things from time to time.  I am not a fat bastard. I'm just big boned.

Nevertheless, any such case will be very weak by itself.

It would be a claim, not a case.  

To be convincing, it needs coupling with the pragmatic case: that the action undertaken is likely to actually be the best available way to bring about the desired outcome that will protect young people.

In other words, these guys are smart and know the 'global opportunity cost'. But, if they really were smart, they would be very very rich and thus would have the resources to stop oil and replace it with something yet more profitable.  

And this has been widely understood: the standard pragmatic case for civil resistance, based on social movement theory and indeed history, is that it is simply the most effective way to bring about transformative change.

Though it has never had any such effect. By contrast, the threat of violence or the economic opportunity cost has brought about both salutary and mischievous transformations.  

The weakness of a moral case alone to support an obligation to nonviolent direct action is therefore clear.

There is a claim. There is no case. Suppose 'nonviolent direct action'- e.g. staying home though the Dictator said we should all dance naked in the street to celebrate his birthday- is in our interest. Then the thing will happen spontaneously. Consider what happened to Ceaucescu half way through one of his speeches. The crowd turned against him. There was no plan or underground network. Had there been, his secret police would have cracked down on it. But spontaneous 'disobedience' or 'protest' isn't what this nutter is talking about. Also the thing has nothing to do with obligations or morality. 

Consider Mahatma Gandhi's attempts to recruit soldiers during the Great War. His fellow Gujaratis gave him a patient hearing and realized he was talking bollocks. So they chased him away. He didn't make the same mistake again. Indeed, Gandhi was only associated with Civil Disobedience because he was disobeyed most of the time. But this also meant that, after Independence, some patriot was bound to pump a few bullets into him. 

Outside a relatively narrow category of intrinsically right or wrong actions, we commonly identify the morality of actions – especially, any costly and strenuous actions in the public sphere – with a hoped-for outcome.

No. Many of us will do our duty even if it means we are likely to get killed. Death is a good outcome if the alternative is infamy.  

Or at least: making a hoped-for outcome probable is a minimum threshold for a collective endeavour to make sense.

Economics studies 'collective action problems'. But the solution isn't pretending to be Mahatma fucking Gandhi. It is to do mechanism design.  This is boring stuff but Civil Servants like doing boring stuff. 

Consider the person who chooses, on a ‘purely’ moral basis, what they admit is likely the less effective of two possible actions to change climate policy.

Nothing wrong in that. It is obvious that the most effective action involves genocide, or the certainty of its occurrence if one's demands are not met.  

The logical response of a young person is surely to reject the ‘morality’ of this action: Damn your ‘solidarity’; I want a future! So kindly do what is effective.

The problem with taking the most effective course is that your opponent might very effectively kill you before you can kill him. Kids need to understand that they won't have a future if they pick a fight with more skilled and ruthless killers. Also, people of that sort can be hired quite economically. You may defy a sweet and nice authority but it is more difficult to pick a fight with who will kill you if you fuck with their bottom line.  

Any philosophical assessment of an alleged obligation to undertake nonviolent direct action that hopes to be relevant to the real world must therefore consider likely consequences.

No.  A philosophical assessment can simply admit that there is no such obligation. Claims in this regard are oxymoronic.  

It cannot avoid assessing whether there may be a more effective alternative course of action.

That is an economic, not a philosophical, assessment.  

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not offering a simple get-out clause. Not at all. I do hold that we – each and every human not fast asleep – are obliged to take action on this existential crisis.

You may as well hold that everybody is obliged to say their prayers at night otherwise the Sun won't rise in the morning and there will be perpetual darkness and all life will go extinct even though my gym will continue to direct debit me.  

Let me explain.

When we are failed by our leaders, when the system fails, this does not absolve us from responsibility.

Yes it does. We can fuck off elsewhere or choose new leaders of find a better system to be part of. If you hold no official position or lack an immunity for performing appropriate actions, you have no fucking responsibility.  

On the contrary. Everything is now at stake.

This is always the case because we die. This does not mean we are responsible for abolishing death.  

If you care about anything at all, then ipso facto, whether you know it or not, you care about the climate crisis.

If you care about the climate crisis you should have increased your savings so as to mitigate its effects on you and yours. This means lower expenditure, which means less environmental damage. On the other hand, if you are merely pretending to care about the climate crisis or don't yourself want to take responsibility for shielding yourself from its effects then you can use up scarce resources on stupid virtue signaling stunts.  

For we are on track to have it sweep away all that we hold dear. If you care about the arts, or about disability rights, or about your own children, then you care about this: for they will all, on a default setting, get swept away by the ‘white swan’ threat of climate meltdown.

Nonsense! The world population will continue to rise for the rest of the century. Maybe one or two percent will be displaced. Nobody is predicting an extinction event. In any case, if you don't have grandchildren by about the age of 80, you know you never will. Your line is going extinct. Some collateral kins will survive even if there is a big population crunch. But something of that sort is bound to happen sooner or later. 

So you must, at minimum, consider what you can do to change this situation, to avert or cope with this mother-of-all-threats hanging over us now. To put the matter in terms that the existentialists would have understood: all your projects are mortally threatened by this existential threat, this hyperthreat.

Only in the sense that all your projects are threatened by my ginormous dick which will soon sodomize the Black Hole at the center of the Milky Way.  

So you must, among all your projects (and, in a certain sense, prior to them), consider this project.

In an earlier age this nutter would have gassed on about how the Jews or the Freemasons or the Illuminati are planning to pawn all our immortal souls to their Satanic masters. My point is, if you say we have to do stupid shit to save the planet, other more ruthless nutters may say we have to slaughter everybody to preserve the Multiverse from the Wrath of a Jealous God.  

You are obliged to consider your position. You are obliged to discover what is your most effective potential work to do, to contribute to there being a future.

Only if we believe your paranoid shite.  

Feeling small and relatively powerless does not absolve you.

Get down on your knees and pray you miserable sinner! After that, you can suck off my ginormous pontifical cock.  

So long as you have any power or voice whatsoever, you are obliged to use it (and grow it).

and give me all your money. Otherwise I won't absolve you. Satan will drag you down to hell and shove red hot pokers up your arse unless that's what you are into.  

You are not absolved by speculating that we might be doomed.

I am offering absolutions and indulgences for the low, low, price of $ 9.99.

You don’t know that we are and, until you do, such speculations are beside the point. (Doomism is a prime instance of the undue ‘knowingness’ characteristic of our flawed civilisational model: the tendency to assume that we know something that is, in fact, imponderable.)

Says a guy who says he knows our species is doomed unless we do stupid shit.  

Similarly, you are not absolved by wondering if it is perhaps ‘too late’. This widespread phrase is tellingly vague. One should always ask in response: Too late for what? Yes, it is way too late for a smooth ‘net zero’ transition, or for us to be able to stay in the climatic ‘safe’ zone. It is too late, as I set out earlier, for this civilisation to continue to exist! But it is not too late to co-create a new one (or at least: you do not know that it is); it is not too late to transform and adapt; and it is never too late to seek do the right thing in the place you find yourself.

You can be redeemed by doing stupid shit. Start immediately.  

The vast majority of ‘doomism’ turns out to be what Jean-Paul Sartre called the grasping for a reprieve. A reprieve from having to act, a reprieve from committing. Those who reached for the excuse, during the Second World War, in (say) occupied France, that there was nothing they could do, that resistance was futile, that they were only obeying orders, we now judge to have been in bad faith, or at least to have been seriously mistaken.

No. What we know is that the French were right to minimize battlefield losses and wait it out till the Americans arrived. The wider problem was France needed to be able to 'front load' pain with an effective offensive doctrine. De Gaulle understood this. After the war the French, like the Brits, perhaps with help from the Israelis, got their own nuclear deterrent. Nukes are, au fond, a labor saving device.  

A similar judgment waits to hang over those who are primarily motivated to find excuses not to act in the face of the climate more-than-emergency (which threatens to end up killing far more than Hitler did). Our children will reject such excuses, and they will, where appropriate, make such judgments.

Not if we don't have children or make a point of bursting into hysterical tears while describing in gory details all the indignities their Mummies inflicted on us on the honeymoon night.  

I suggest therefore that everyone under the current unprecedented circumstances (of a collectively imposed existential ‘hyperthreat’ that is more or less tractable, but that conventional methods have largely failed to affect) is indeed obliged to act in a serious manner to deal with that threat.

By doing stupid shite or writing nonsense.  

We are obliged by our situation to try to change our direction of travel, together: in simple terms, to change the world.

Kill yourself. Be the change the rest of us would like to see in the world.

But I pull back from the conclusion that we are obliged to undertake ‘civil resistance’, for the simple but crucial reason that our obligation must be understood as an obligation to undertake the most effective intervention possible in our circumstances.

There is no such obligation. Some may have an inclination of this sort. Others, unless bound by the terms of a contract or by reason of membership of a cult or ideological faction, should display 'Muth Rationality'- i.e. they should act in accordance with the correct economic theory. This involves ignoring nutters and farming out mechanism designer to those with the right incentives and knowledge base.  

Let me now take a moment to consider a specific case where I think this good reason is visible. It’s the case I know best: my own country. ‘Civil resistance’ in the UK has met the limits of its effectiveness since 2019 and is now merely symbolic.

Unless it threatens to boil over into spontaneous violence. BLM & the Gaza protests may have that potential- at least in inner city areas.

The actions of Insulate Britain (IB), primarily blocking motorways, were very probably (and predictably) counterproductive. That is why IB has disappeared. Just Stop Oil, learning from IB’s mistakes, did not necessarily start out that way, but is now very much suffering from the law of diminishing returns, with citizens growing tired of attention-grabbing and disruption to the general public. With the UK government bringing in repressive laws that are, tragically, popular, JSO has surely become counterproductive too. This view is widely held in the environmental movement now, as well as beyond it. (It is not often stated, for reasons of ‘solidarity’.)

The problem with telling stupid lies is that you have to display solidarity with crazy nutters.  

JSO has lost the war.

In the sense that I lost out to Prince Charles in the battle of succession to the late Queen Gorblesser.  

It has not stopped oil; instead, the UK government doubled down on oil production; moreover, the Labour Party has said it will not undo new fossil fuel licences being issued en masse by the Conservative government.

I was horrified when Keir Starmer refused my suggestion that if racist cunts like Rishi don't want to see a bleck man on the throne, then maybe I could take over the spot left open by the late Queen Mum.  

Not only has XR changed its strategy, as of December 2022, and moved away from public disruption, recognising it as counterproductive, but, this January, even Roger Hallam,

a former organic farmer who, in his fifties, decided to study for a Phd 'researching how to achieve social change through civil disobedience and radical movements'. The man appears unhinged. In prison, for criminal damage, he wrote and self-published a pamphlet where he claimed that the climate crisis would lead to mass rape, and featured a story in which the reader's female family members are gang raped and the reader is forced to watch.

XR’s co-founder and the doyen of the ‘more radical than thou’ flank, made a startling admission: ‘We were pushing up against a boulder called “the carbon regime”. Now, like Sisyphus, I see that we were doomed to watch it roll back in our faces.’

These guys were low IQ nutters and self-publicists. By contrast, the Brexit crew got what they wanted. So did all sorts of other vested interest groups or virtue signaling coalitions of wankers. That's how politics works. 

So even he now allows for something like the mass, serious, moderate action that I am advocating for here.
What’s needed is depolarisation (whereas civil resistance inevitably polarises)

 No. What is needed is the disintermediation of elderly Greta Thurnberg wannabes and Professors of stupid shite. 

If one goes back to social movement theory

one finds it is ignorant shite 

and examines the pragmatic case for nonviolent civil resistance, one finds that it is typically made against violent resistance.

Nope. The paradigmatic twentieth century example is that of Dissenters getting sent to jail for refusing to pay their rates. This was to protest local authority support for grant aided Anglican schools under the provisions of the 1902 Act. The thing was deeply silly but it hurt the Conservatives in the 1906 election. However, longer term it damaged the Liberal party because it increasingly appeared, as an American historian wrote- ' at the mercy of single-issue eccentrics and special-interest cranks who forced it to waste valuable parliamentary time attempting to enact huge and complicated quasi-constitutional measures that would best benefit only a minority of the king's subjects, while the rest, the majority, if not opposed, remained uninterested.'

The plain fact is, the Dissenters only pretended to believe that they would burn in Hell if a shilling or two of their rates went to ungodly Anglican or Catholic schools. The whole thing was a stupid piece of play-acting. The Non-conformist conscience needed to drink a couple of pints and let some passing Pope or Cardinal extract the stick up its arse. 

Very good. But it virtually never considers the potentially viable alternative of a concerted programme of lawful moderate action at scale. In particular, whether such a programme may be doubly effective after some partly successful nonviolent direct action has been undertaken to force a national conversation. This is precisely the situation that the UK (and some other countries) have been in since 2019. With XR and Fridays For Future having succeeded in raising the alarm in 2019, the door is finally open for something that has never happened before: a more-or-less-concerted and yet distributed, truly mass, mainstream, climate more-than-movement.

Britain has had a Green Party since 1990. But they have plenty of influential allies in all the major parties. Stupid PhD students or professors suffering a mid-life crisis who think they are Greta Thurnberg are merely a nuisance. 

The Climate Majority Project that I co-founded after leaving X

is useless- save as a sort of secular substitute for some primitive type of apocalyptic religion.  It is obvious that there is going to be a big swing to Labor. People with strong green convictions are probably working behind the scenes to ensure that the new administration will be sympathetic to their aims. 

asks everyone to consider a question: what is your work to do? How can you be most effective in the shared struggle for a future?

Tell these cunts to fuck the fuck off. They add negative value. It is one thing to talk of how one has fond meaning and purpose, in one's declining years, by becoming more environmentally conscious and mindful of the need to 'give back'. This has an authentic ring. It isn't histrionic, or hysterical or hectoring. True, if you are a misunderstood 15 year old girl- i.e. Daddy promises to buy you a Malibu Barbie thus changing the subject anytime you start detailing to him your plan for world domination- then, by all means, be a big fat bossy-boots. Otherwise, people think your wife is sleeping with the dog and that's why you've turned to politics. I'm not saying that's what happened to me. Anyway, it's the sort of thing which could happen to anybody. 

If you are rich,

do stupid shit so you stop being rich 

it is probably by throwing your money into the ring (and thus, in due course, becoming not-rich). If you are a lawyer,

do stupid shit so that the legal system becomes shittier 

there are multiple ways you can parlay your skill into the cause. If you are in business,

do stupid shit. Don't just go bankrupt, lobby government so more and more British firms go bankrupt.  

the raft of things that you ought to do starts with lobbying hard for government more effectively to regulate the business world, to reward ecologically sound behaviour and end the race-to-the-bottom that competitive markets otherwise create.

We call on all entrepreneurs to destroy Capitalism so that they can go fucking extinct.  

For many people, the work will be to get seriously involved in climate-preparedness, in resilience-building in your community, as best you can.

Insulate your neighbor's loft using your own fecal slurry.  Well when I say neighbor, obviously, I mean any bloke who has been porking my wife. 

The beauty of such preparedness-building is not only its practical value, but its tendency to wake up others to the crisis.

Very true. You should carry around a scrap-book of newspaper clippings and show them to random strangers. I find it helps to wear a tin foil hat when engaged in this sort of 'preparedness-building'. 

For teachers and academics,

it is about encouraging your students to pet the hamster you keep in your trouser pocket 

it is about teaching and researching the crisis,

by using books on climate change as suppositories 

and communicating it lovingly and truthfully,

there really is a hamster in my trouser pocket. Kindly acknowledge my truth in a loving manner. 

supportively and efficaciously.

while undergoing gender reassignment surgery and protesting Gaza 

For creatives, the way forward is somewhat similar:

chop your bollocks off. Penises cause RAPE! 

put your talents into helping imagine how we can get through this.

Economists and businessmen make money by doing this. True, they may have to hire a lot of sciencey guys and the math gets complicated. But that's how grownups deal with 'Knightian Uncertainty'. There has to be a 'Hannan Consistent' strategy which is eusoical without being uncompetitive.  

Until we can see a path through what is coming, we are unlikely to get serious enough about building it.

We don't have to see shit. Let the people with 'skin in the game' solve the underlying collective action problems. 

For those in politics and policy, or in the media, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how you might actually respond courageously and effectually to the crisis, and lead on it. For advertisers and people in PR, it’s about putting your ‘dark arts’ into the service of bringing about some light at the end of the tunnel.

By having gender reassignment surgery at least twice a day. I would like to add that schizophrenic cats and lesbian giraffes too can make a very useful contribution by sodomizing neo-liberals. 

For anyone unsure of how best to contribute to the struggle for a future,

ask your Mummy or your G.P whether you are capable of making any such thing.  

it may well be that the most effective thing you need to do right now is stop, really think and feel it, talk it through, and thus spend some time figuring out your best role.

the answer tends to be Captain Jack Sparrow.  It used to be Batman but Batman got fat. 

Especially (though not only) if you are a young person, it may well be that the most effective thing you can do right now is to seek out a few people who are modelling leadership on the crisis,

narcissistic sociopaths 

people who you think are acting particularly effectively, and volunteer your services to them;

or just join a fucking cult 

I mean, figure out how they could use some volunteer assistance,

blow jobs 

and how you could provide it to them in your free time. The huge advantage of this course of action is that you will gain some mentoring,


which is often the most effective way of figuring out what your own best contribution can be, longer term.

swallowing jizz.  

There’s something for everyone under the #climatemajority banner.

sodomy for lesbian giraffes 

For some, the change will be extremely drastic: if you’re are an oil exec, then your best options include defecting, or becoming a double agent or a whistleblower.

why not become a defecating double agent who gives blowjobs? that would be just as useful 

For many, ‘changing your life’ will look surprisingly like continuing to do what you do – only doing it differently. Using your talents, your resources, probably your position, to the maximum effect, in the shared cause.

If you have a job or run a business and are part of a family or neighborhood, you are probably already in that position provided you are responding to market signals- e.g. using less energy when energy prices go up- and  are displaying 'Muth Rationality'- i.e. acting in accordance with the right economic theory.  

The Eschaton is the End of Days, God's day of Wrath. What holds the Eschaton at bay is called the Katechon which is the 'invisible hand' of Adam Smith representing God's 'mysterious economy' or management. The message here is simple. There will always be nutters who run around like headless chickens because the world will end next Tuesday at half past six. Tell them to fuck off. I'm not saying leave everything to the market. This is because market imperfections are profit or social benefit opportunities. You can make money or gain a reputational benefit by spotting and repairing such failures of the market. 


Guillermo Martinez on Borges

 Guillermo Martínez, the brilliant Argentine mathematician and author (e.g. of the 'Oxford Murders' which was made into a film starring Elijah Wood) has written a marvelous book on 'Borges and Mathematics'. In this post, I extract and comment on a lecture he gave some fifteen years ago which is available here. 

the elements of mathematics that appear in the work of Borges are... molded and transmuted into “something else,” within literature, and we will try to recognize these elements without separating them from their context of literary intentions. For example, Borges begins his essay “Avatars of the Tortoise” by saying, 'There is one concept that corrupts and deranges the others. I speak not of Evil, whose limited domain is Ethics; I refer to the Infinite'.

Sometimes, Leibniz's 'law of continuity' regarding generalizations from the finite to the infinite holds true- i.e. is useful. Sometimes, it is highly mischievous. 

Here the playful yet sharp linking of the Infinite with Evil

conventionally evil was associated with finitude or lack. The Gnostic element here is to suggest that the Demiurge may be part of an infinite regress of stupidity and evil.  

immediately removes infinity from the serene world of mathematics

not so serene- at least for Brouwer who said 'the (mathematical) construction is an art, its application to the world an evil parasite.' I should explain Brouwer felt that a vegetarian who did not also renounce the fruits of our carnivorous civilization is just a parasite. He has no virtue. What is properly constructed has integrity, but its use may be evil thus making the whole project parasitical. 

and sheds slightly menacing light on the elegant and almost technical discussion that follows. And when Borges goes on to say that the “numerous Hydra” is a foreshadowing or an emblem of geometrical progression, he is again playing the game of projecting monstrosity and “convenient horror” onto a precise mathematical concept.

I think he was also referencing John Wallis, the Cambridge Platonist, who saw 'the fourth dimension' as  'a monster in nature, and less possible than a Chimaera or Centaure'. Theosophists of the period were constantly quoting him.

 Doestoevsky, in 'Brothers Karamazov, suggests that God's Justice might be 'four dimensional' in which case Man, who is born Euclidean, must reject it or remain outside its Mercy. 

How much mathematics did Borges know? ...it is clear that Borges knew at least the topics contained in 'Mathematics and the Imagination', and these topics are more than enough. This book contains a good sampling of what can be learned in a first course in algebra and analysis at a university. Such classes cover the logical paradoxes, the question of the diverse orders of infinity, some basic problems in topology, and the theory of probability. In his prologue to that book, Borges noted in passing that, according to Bertrand Russell, all of mathematics is perhaps nothing more than a vast tautology.

By then Gentzen calculi, based on conditional tautologies, had appeared. Borges may have heard of this. Apparently Gentzen was a Nazi and there were plenty of Nazi sympathizers in Argentina. 

With this observation Borges showed that he was also aware of what at least in those days was a crucial, controversial, and keenly debated topic in the foundations of mathematics: the question of what is true versus what is demonstrable.

The problem here is that of 'existence proofs'. Do Brouwer 'fixed points' actually exist? American mathematicians were scandalized when Brouwer showed up there in the Sixties and appeared to be denying that they do. Errett Bishop reacted by publishing a paper on the 'debasement of meaning' and 'Schizophrenia in contemporary Mathematics'. To give an example one might say 'this is an existence proof' but actually it is merely a proof that if compactness obtains then such and such would exist. But in that case, what you are really saying is 'I have proved that if everything is as I want it to be such that x exists, then x exists.'  

The bigger problem with the enumerable was expressed by Brouwer's 1920 lecture 'Does Every Real Number Have a Decimal Expansion?' which he answered in the negative. We may say such and such real number must be 'sandwiched between two rational numbers or else that it is the limit of a sequence of rational numbers or finally that it is in the nature of a real number that it have a non-repeating decimal expansion. In other words, it looks like we have the thing pretty much cornered. On either side of it are ducks who quack- indeed we find quacking ducks no matter from which angle we approach it and moreover we know whatever it might be, it can certainly quack, but does this mean it necessarily is a duck? The problem here is for things to be meaningful, what is necessarily meaningful must be undefined or else we end up with the circular semantics of a quack. 

In their day-to-day work scrutinizing the universe of forms and numbers, mathematicians come across certain connections and patterns again and again, certain relationships that recur and that are always verified. By training and habit they are accustomed to thinking that if these relationships and patterns always hold true, then it must be for some discoverable reason. They believe that the universe of forms and numbers is arranged according to some external, Platonic order, and that this order ought to be deciphered. When they find the deep, and usually hidden, explanation, they exhibit it in what is called a demonstration or proof.

But, as Godel understood, these proofs depend on the existence of an 'Absolute Proof'. If even 'natural proofs' are not available, where is this supposed to come from?  

Thus there are two moments in mathematics, as in art: a moment that we can call illumination or inspiration—a solitary and even “elitist” moment in which the mathematician glimpses, in an elusive Platonic world, a result that he considers to be true; and a second, let's say, democratic, moment, in which he has to convince his community of peers of its truth. In exactly the same way, an artist will have fragments of a vision and then at a later time execute that vision in the writing of a book, the painting of a picture, or some other creative activity. In that sense, the creative processes are very similar. What is the difference? That in mathematics there are formal protocols under which the truth that the mathematician wishes to communicate can be demonstrated step by step from principles and “ground rules” that all mathematicians agree on.

Sadly, it turns out, these are always arbitrary and if looked at closely, it will be found nobody actually agrees to that crazy nonsense.  

The demonstration of the value of an esthetic work is not so straightforward, however.

It is equally arbitrary. But for any practical purpose there is always a good enough 'witness'.  

An esthetic work is always subject to criteria of authority, to fashion, to culture, and to the personal and ultimate criterion—often perfectly capricious—of taste.

So there is still the problem that 'naturality' is far to seek. I think this is because everything is 'co-evolved' such that there is no objective function to optimize. This is because the fitness landscape does not directly feature. Thus there are problems of concurrency, computability and complexity. 

Mathematicians believed for centuries that in their domain these two concepts—truth and demonstrability—were basically equivalent: that if something were true then the reasoning behind it could be shown with a logical demonstration, a proof.

Some did. Some didn't. A useful lemma might be a gift-horse one should not look in the mouth.  

On the other hand, judges in a court of law, for example, have always known that truth is not the same as demonstrability.

Generally, there is a 'reasonable doubt' test- though it may favor the prosecutor.  

Let's suppose that there has been a crime committed in a locked room with only two possible suspects. Both of the suspects know the whole truth about the crime: I did it or I didn't do it. There is a fact of the matter and they know what it is, but Justice can only come to this truth through indirect means: digital footprints, cigarette butts, and alibi-checking. Often, the justice system can prove neither the guilt of one nor the innocence of the other.

But the justice system might be able to stipulate what 'clinching evidence' might be. In some jurisdictions, the case can be dismissed because of lack of evidence at the current time but 'without prejudice'- i.e. the case may be revived at a later point.  

Something similar occurs in archeology, where the notion of truth is provisional in nature: the ultimate truth remains out of range, as an unobtainable limit, being the unceasing compilation of the bones of the demonstrable.

Unless it isn't at all. Some new scientific technology may show all previous 'bones of the demonstrable' were irrelevant. The issue can be decided once and for all. Thus various theories about the origins of races based on philological analysis had to yield the stage to DNA based studies. This too may change.  

Thus we see that in fields other than mathematics, truth does not necessarily coincide with demonstrability.

Truth is sublatable as is demonstrability. Is there a necessary connection between them? Must there be either a proof or disproof of the Reimann hypothesis? Even if we say yes, would we also say the same about the Continuum hypothesis.  

Interestingly, Martinez thinks Borges did not know Godel's theorem. Would this matter? Surely, Borges would have thought- as most of us do- that somethings which are true can't be proven while some proofs are simply wrong?

... my aim is to connect the mathematical elements with stylistic elements in Borges. I am trying an approach that is stylistic rather than thematic. Some of the stories and essays where mathematical ideas loom most conspicuously are

Tlon? It is the one closest to a recently closed question in math- viz. the Hilbert program to resolve the foundational crisis. So long as there is an undefined term in a first order language- e.g. membership in ZFC- consistency is not possible for anything rich enough to do Arithmetic. But maybe no language about a language should want any such thing. Mathematics might be not just more of a free creation of the mind, it might be such utter anarchy or antagonomia as frees the mind of itself thus defeating in advance madness or such logicism- i.e. Platonic realism- as is in the world, but only as Hell. But that's cool. If there must be a Hell, let it be in commuting distance. Otherwise, one begins to feel foolish for having turned one's life into a suburban villa of the stockbroker type. 

these: “The Disk,” “The Book of Sand,” “The Library of Babel,” “The Lottery of Babylon,” “On Rigor in Science,” “An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain,” and “Argumentum ornithologicum”;

that last is interesting. It goes as follows ' I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second or perhaps less; I don’t know how many birds I saw. 

We don't see a number of birds anymore than we see a certain number of grains of sand in a pile we heap up on the beach. On the other hand, suppose any 'intuition' (immediate apprehension) is 'constructed' in a mathematical sense then, for a point on a plane, by a property of the (Smith-Volterra-) Cantor set or Denjoy–Riesz theorem, it has a single coordinate. 

Were they a definite or an indefinite number?

We can think of a number as an interval. 

 This problem involves the question of the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite,

Only if God is a Hilbertian Finitist. but that won't keep him safe from self-contradiction

 because how many birds I saw is known to God. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite,

The God who created birds knows the number of birds must always be indefinite because of death and birth and the problem of deciding just when a particular bird dies or is born. 

 because nobody was able to take count. In this case, I saw fewer than ten birds (let’s say) and more than one; but I did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, but not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That number, as a whole number, is inconceivable; ergo, God exists.

So, if there is a sorites problem, God exists. This is like saying if masturbation exists, God must exist because only an omniscient being could punish wankers for each and every one of their horrible offences. 

Taken together with Tlon, on the other hand, Borges's birds suggest that creation is not construction. The world does not embody mathematics though, no doubt, it arises sooner or later for utilitarian reasons. What is strange is that its foundations are in every incompossible heaven though its theorems are to be found here down below. 

the essays “The Perpetual Race of Achilles and the Tortoise” together with “Avatars of the Tortoise,” “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” “The Doctrine of Cycles,” “Pascal” together with “Pascal's Sphere,” and so on. Some of these even contain small mathematical lessons. And though the topics considered are quite diverse, I see three recurring themes. Furthermore, these three themes all come together in one story, “The Aleph.” I propose that we begin our study there.

Martinez is both a literary master as well as a productive mathematician. Perhaps, in informal discussion he would point to current mathematical theorems and conjectures which he finds foreshadowed in not just Borges's work but other great literature- even that of the ancients. 

I am going to talk about these three recurring themes in reverse order. The first theme is the infinite, or, more accurately, the infinities. Toward the end of “The Aleph,” Borges wrote: 'I want to add two observations: one on the nature of the Aleph, the other on its name.

When we think of Beatrice Viterbo we think of the Universal Set designated as V.  Martinez goes on to give a good account of Cantor's work. However, for ordinary people, there was already the notion of 'uncountable infinity'- indeed it is a dogma of the Jains- and this is basic to Zeno, Parmenides's pupil. 

 This is the kind of paradox that amazed Borges: in the mathematics of the infinite, the whole is not necessarily greater than any of its parts.

Indeed. It may be less. There could be a sort of negative synergy or 'cancelling out'. A group may be less effective than any one of its members.  

There are proper parts that are as great as the whole. There are parts that are equivalent to the whole.

And the whole may be quite horrible though all its parts are marvelous.  

Recursive objects This particular property of infinity can be abstracted and applied to other situations in which a part of an object encompasses the data or information content of its entirety.

Though 'infinity' only arises as something useful by Leibniz's law of continuity. Well read chaps like Borges- back in those days- would actually read Liebniz and Spinoza and so forth. Hegel too was big at the time. He had his own 'bad Infinite'.  

We will call such objects recursive objects.

Sadly, as Hegel realized, everything caught in the web of predication is recursive of itself and everything else. In India, the Jains make a big deal of this but the notion is not absent in any mystical literature.  

Borges's Aleph, the little sphere that encompasses every image in the universe, is a recursive object in this way, albeit a fictional one.

Because everything is a mirror of everything. What is interesting is that Borges decides it is a false Aleph. This is like Razborov-Rudich. But the idea is very old. The Chinese unicorn can only be encountered if you don't know it is a unicorn. But, it turns out that knowing a thing is only possible if the things isn't known at all. Adam eats the apple of knowledge and only succeeds in bringing death into the world.  

When Borges says that the application of the name “Aleph” to this sphere is not accidental and immediately calls attention to the connection with this property of infinite sets—that a part can equivalent to the whole—he is inserting his conception into an environment that makes it plausible. This is the technique that he explains in his essay “Narrative Art and Magic,” at the point where he discusses the narrative difficulty in making a centaur believable.

The solution is to describe it naturalistically. However, Borges refers to a 'law of sympathy' ultimately founded on the fact that all things mirror all things in the web of predication or the monadology of existence. Magic, then, is more real than our determination to exile ourselves from it so as to maintain the illusion of our own reality.  

Just as in the case of infinity, where a part can be equivalent to the whole, it is conceivable that there is an element of the universe that encompasses the data or information content or knowledge of everything.

I think Borges was abreast of the mystical currents of his age. Everything encodes all information about everything else.  But 'self-information' is 'surprisal'. We just don't want to surprise ourselves too much and are thus content to remain solitary prisoners of our own dream of a world. 

There are other recursive objects that Borges played with in his works. For example, the maps in “Rigor in Science,” where the map of a single province occupies an entire city, and “in whose abandoned parts, in the deserts, lived animals and beggars.”

This another way of saying to know everything about something is to know everything. Again a Jain dogma. But what is dogma in one religion is heresy- and thus sexy- in another. For Indians, karmic metempsychosis is dogma. In the West it is heresy though it has a lively literary tradition of its own. But, by the time Borges began to write, the Irish were playing with the notion that 'tuirgen' or 'investigative birth-seeking' causes all souls to live the lives of all souls.  

And from the point of view of biology, human beings are recursive objects. A single human cell is enough to make a clone. Certain mosaics are clearly recursive objects: in particular, those in which the design inherent in the first few tiles is repeated throughout.

The mystics went further. If you knew everything about the mosquito that just bit you, you would know everything about everything. Perhaps that is why you kill the mosquito and think no more about it.  

Now consider objects that have the opposite property. What would anti-recurive objects be like?

It would be anti-reflexive. This is generally the case for intensional or epistemic objects.  

They would be objects in which each part is essential and no part can be used as a replacement for the whole thing.

In which case the object must have a well ordered 'extension'- i.e. every member of the set must be known and distinguishable. The problem is, we know of no such objects. One might say, my car is anti-recursive, but is it really? On the one hand, taking out some of the parts might not degrade performance too much. On the other, changing the initial or 'boundary' conditions greatly alters the outcome. Your car gets you to where you want to go because you drive it. If I do, it will end up wrapped around a tree.  

Finite sets are examples of anti-recursive objects because no proper subset of a finite set is equivalent to the whole set.

Only if none of their members are epistemic, impredicative, or intensional in a certain sense.  

Jigsaw puzzles are also examples because, if they are good ones, no two pieces will be alike.

but they contain information. Some pieces must be from the 'borders'.  

From an existential point of view, human beings are anti-recursive.

No. From a phenomenological point of view, this may be the case because of some illicit assumption of an epistemological or ontological type.  As far as bare existence goes, humans are highly recursive. It takes two of them to make another human being. 

There is an intimidating phrase that is due not to Sartre but to Hegel: “Man is no more than the sum of his actions.”

Sartre said “Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realizes himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.” It seems the French can be more verbose than the Germans. 

It does not matter how flawless a man's conduct has been during each day of every year of his life: there is always time to commit some final act that contradicts, ruins, and destroys everything that has happened up to that moment.

Or not. Generally not.  

Or to take the literary turn given by Thomas Mann in The Holy Sinner, his book based on the life of St. Gregory: no matter how incestuous and sinful a man has been throughout his entire life, he can always confess his sins and become Pope.

I can't. Is it due I iz bleck? I suppose one could mention Hinton's 'alterable past' or Wilde saying the repentant sinner can do what the God of Aristotle could not- viz. change the past. 

Infinity and the Book of Sand What I have said up to this point about the infinite would be enough to clarify this small fragment. I am going to extend the discussion a little further in order to explain the relationship between “The Library of Babel” and “The Book of Sand.” We have just recently seen that there are “as many” natural numbers as even numbers. But what happens if we consider fractions? Fractions are very important in Borges's thinking. Why? Let us recall that fractions (also called rational numbers) are obtained by dividing integers. Fractions may be thought of as pairs of integers, with one integer in the numerator and another (which cannot be zero) in the denominator:

3/5, 5/4, 7/6, 7/16, ....

What property of these numbers did Borges use in his stories? That for any two fractions there is always another one between them. Between 0 and 1 we find 1/2, between 0 and 1/2 we find 1/4, between 0 and 1/4 we find 1/8, and so on. Any number can be divided in half.
Because of this, there can be no first number greater than zero: between any positive number and zero there is always yet another.

Borges, being a bookish cove, would have been aware of the argument for the eternity of the Universe attributed to Aristotle. The idea here is that anything that is eternal is necessary. If the present form of the world always was and always will be, it is necessary and no other form is possible. The Book of Sand, whose cover gives its name as 'Holy Writ' and its place of publication as Bombay, was given by an Indian untouchable to a Scotsman who exchanges it for some cash and a blackletter Wycliffe bible. For Catholics, Lollard literacy opened the door to the horrors of the Reformation. Clearly, there is some atrocious reversal of 'natural' hierarchy here. The heathen pariah has unleashed an unholy terror upon his masters. India, at about this time, was gaining independence. The world was being turned topsy turvy. Instead of Genesis, everything is always in medias res which wouldn't matter if the thing was entertaining. But it isn't. It is a nightmare from which you can't wake up- probably because you are already dead. 

This is exactly the property that Borges borrowed in “The Book of Sand.”

I think Borges shows awareness of an argument against every real number having a decimal expansion 

Remember the moment in the story when Borges (as a character) is challenged to open the Book of Sand to its first page.
He told me that his book was called the Book of Sand because neither the book nor sand has a beginning or end.

Borges might have read Samuel Butler, author of Hubidras, who wrote ' I leave to my said children a great chest full of broken promises and cracked oaths; likewise a vast cargo of ropes made with sand'. 

He asked me to find the first page.
I lay my left hand on the cover and opened the book, with my thumb almost touching my index finger. All was useless: there were always several pages interposed between the cover and my hand.

Borges may have been known that the Big Bang Theory was first proposed by a Roman Catholic priest in 1927. If the Universe doesn't have a beginning, how can it have a Creator? 

The front cover of the Book of Sand corresponds to zero, the back cover corresponds to the number one, and the pages in between correspond to the fractions between zero and one. Among the fractions there is no first number after zero or last number before 1. Whatever number I choose, there are always others in between. In this situation it is tempting to conjecture that the infinity of the fractions is tighter, denser, or richer than the infinity of the natural numbers. The second surprise that awaits us is that this is not the case: there are “as many” rational numbers as natural numbers. How can this be?

The cardinality is different but, it turns out there is no cardinality for the total number of cardinalities.  Martinez then gives a good account of Cantor's discoveries. However, because 'diagonal lemmas' establish 'self-reference' and this has always been known to give rise to paradoxes, Borges would have been aware the various philosophical questions this method begs. 

Moreover, this enumeration gives a consecutive ordering to the positive fractions. This ordering is of course different from the way that the fractions lie along the number line, but it might provide an explanation for the unusual page-numbering in the Book of Sand. (This is something that Borges might not have known.) The page numbering seems mysterious to the Borges character in the story, but in principle there is no mystery. There is no contradiction between the fact that for any two leaves of the Book of Sand there is always another between them, and that each page can be assigned a unique page number: the same skillful bookbinder who could stitch those infinitely many pages into the Book of Sand could perfectly well number each page while doing so.

Martinez is assuming a bookbinder- i.e. that the book is 'constructed'. If there is no creator how can there be a non-arbitrary curator or compiler? Borges's bible-seller says 'None is the first page, none the last. I don't know why they're numbered in this arbitrary way. Perhaps to suggest that the terms of an infinite series admit any number.' 

We don't know that they are numbered. All we can say that each page known to us has some numbers on it. But they may not be segments from 'normal' numbers- i.e. they are too random to permit any association with a real number and hence can't be partially ordered. 

To see why, think of random segments from the decimal expansion of a transcendental number. We don't know their order and have no way of doing so if the underlying real is 'normal'. 

Infinity and the Library of Babel
...what kind of infinity corresponds to the collection of all the various books that can be written in our universal alphabet, if we admit words of any finite length and allow books to be of any finite number of pages?

Cantor's Diagonal Argument can be used to show that this collection of books is enumerable as well. The idea is to display all the books that consist of a single page in the first row, all the two-page books in the second row, all the three-page books in the third row, and so on. We then enumerate the books by following Cantor's diagonal path. Since every book in the Library of Babel is also included somewhere on our bookshelves, we conclude that the collection of books in the Library of Babel must also be enumerable.

I came to a similar conclusion. There is a well ordering.  

How is this important in understanding Borges's story? In a note at the end of the story, Borges wrote that a lady-friend of his had observed that the entire construction of the Library of Babel was superfluous or excessive (he used the word useless) because all the books of the Library of Babel could fit into a single volume of infinitely many, infinitely thin, pages—“a silken vademecum in which each page unfolds into other pages.” The book formed by piecing together all the various books of the Library of Babel into a single volume, one after another, would not be longer than Cantor's diagonal path.

I admit that this is a very mathematical way of looking at things. “The Library of Babel,” is meaningful on many levels, and I am not saying that this work of literature reduces to mere mathematics. But at the end of the story Borges arrived at the idea that all of the books can be united in a single, infinite volume.

or just an infinite binary string 

This closing footnote contains the germ of the idea that foreshadows and culminates in “The Book of Sand.” I want to draw attention to this way of thinking about Borges's stories and essays in order to abstract a key idea that is repeated or duplicated elsewhere. It is our first example of a literary “operation” that is reminiscent of mathematical methods. We will study this topic more thoroughly later.

What is the key difference between the two texts? In the first there is a community of librarians. In the second there is an atrocious book which nobody will ever read precisely because it has been placed in an actual Argentinian library. We may feel, if we are in Babel's library, that we could get lucky and find the book Borges would have written had he been us. But of the book traded by the illiterate untouchable for the Christian bible, we feel only horror.  

The sphere with center everywhere and circumference nowhere
We now consider the second element of mathematics in “The Aleph.” It shows up when Borges is about to describe the Aleph, and wonders “how to convey to others the infinite Aleph, that my fearful memory scarcely embraces?”

I have something more to say about the symbol for aleph. The figure of a man with one arm touching the earth and the other pointing to the sky seems particularly fitting because, in a way, the operation of counting is the human attempt at attaining infinity. That is to say, a human being cannot, in his finite life—in his “vidita,” as Bioy Casares would say—effectively count all the numbers. But he has a way of generating them in thought, and in this way can attain numbers as large as necessary. From the ten digits of decimal notation he can reach numbers as large as he likes. However bound to his earthly situation, he can still extend his arm to the sky. That is the objective and the difficulty of counting.

The problem here is that we can't get to the number we can easily specify- e.g. how many more pizzas will I eat in my life? The intension is not connected by any means known to us to the correct extension. True, a Doctor may say to me 'Vivek, I guarantee to you, that if eat even one more pizza you will die.' But if I stop eating pizzas I will still die sooner or later. I want to know the day I can eat a pizza because I'm going to be hit by a bus.  

Borges wrote something similar when he asked himself “how to convey to others the infinite Aleph, that my fearful memory scarcely embraces? Mystics, in a similar hypnotic state, are lavish with emblems: to signify divinity a Persian says of a bird that it is in some way all birds; Alanus de Insulis spoke of a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.” A little farther down he says, “the central problem—the enumeration of an infinite set—is unsolvable.”

This is the case unless certain 'intensions' have 'natural' extensions or there is some outside 'witness' or 'oracle' or editor who can remove repetitions.  

Borges attempts to describe the Aleph, but it is infinite, and it is impossible to run through an infinite description in writing because writing is sequential and language is “successive.”

Language is intensional and thus can give us a good enough 'intuition'. Then, if a 'witness' comes along, we're off to the races. Borges succeeds as a writer because the witness is the darkness in our own wretched hearts.  

Since he cannot give a complete description of the Aleph, in its place he has to provide a sufficiently convincing idea or example, and it is his well-known enumeration of images that follows. We will have more to say on this later.

Borges was a poet- better yet at least some of the books he valued were ones ordinary people have read.  

The second recurring theme is the sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. This occurs in “Pascal's Sphere” and elsewhere. Borges warns his reader: “Not in vain do I recall those inconceivable analogies.”

I suppose, even back then, people had some vague idea that Einstein's universe might be bounded but eternal or else unbounded but subject to collapse. 

It is a very precise analogy that adds plausibility to the little sphere that he describes in “The Aleph.”

It is just a 'naked' monad- i.e. something simple or 'atomic' in the sense that it can't be decomposed any further. But if one such exists, it must contain all information just as if we knew one 'atomic proposition' we could deduce all others. There would be an algorithmic way to crank out all knowledge. These are very old ideas. If you know the secret name of God, you are God. If you know yourself, you know everything. In Islam, Allah enables Alexander to invent the mirror. If he can conquer what he sees in the mirror, he conquers the entire Universe. I don't know how much the Mathematical allusions in Borges adds to their message. What is certain is that it conveyed the sort of thrill that Science Fiction does when we are young and imaginative.  

In order to understand the geometric idea of such a sphere, something that might seem to be a play on words, we shall first ponder it in the plane, and instead of spheres we shall consider circles. Consider an ever-expanding circle: if it continues to grow indefinitely then it will eventually encompass any given point in the plane. The location of its center is not really important and it could be anywhere.

This assumes there is plane or, more generally, that there is a hypokeimenon- i.e. a material substratum or undergirding for reality. It is something that can't be a predicate but which permits other things to have predicates. For Pascal- but not Parmenides who taught that everything that can be thought of or named (i.e. every 'intension') must be (i.e. have a well defined extension)- the nightmare is that no such undergirding exists- at least as far as we are concerned. God may have a geometry of His own, but we don't inhabit it. 

In the essay, “Pascal's Sphere,” at the point where he wants to make this image a bit more precise, Borges writes, “Calogero and Mondolfo reason that Pascal intuited an infinite sphere, or rather an infinitely expanding one, where these words have a dynamic sense.” In other words, we can replace the plane with a circle that grows and grows, because each point in the plane is eventually encompassed by such a circle. Now, in this indefinitely expanding circle, the circumference is lost at infinity. We cannot delimit any circumference. This, I think, is the idea that he is referring to. In making the jump to the infinite, the entire plane can be thought of as a circle with center at any point and circumference nowhere.

I'm not sure about this. I have a vague notion that Guido Calogero wrote something about Gorgias the Nihilist or 'paradoxologist' who gave an Eleatic type argument for non-existence! In this case, the true horror is that though we are as self-centered as fuck our 'extension' is empty! Indeed, we don't exist precisely because of our desperate 'conatus' or determination to continuously remain just as fucking stupid and lazy and selfish as we already are. But only because we don't actually exist. In their heart of hearts, nobody doesn't know this. The trouble is that we defend ourselves against non-existence by falling in love- i.e. subscribing to a Religion whose God isn't just fallible, this is a God who quickly comes to loathe us and to find the heart in which we have erected his Throne to be a fucking gas-chamber. We kill what we love so as to exist- as nothing at all. 

A similar construction is valid for three-dimensions: a globe that grows indefinitely will eventually encompass any given point in space.

Space doesn't exist. God may have such a notion but for us it is an intension without an extension.  

In this way, the universe can be thought of as an indefinitely expanding sphere.

But we can't think- we are incapable of the thought- of what undergirds the thought outlined above.  

This, by the way, is the conception of the universe in contemporary physics: the universe was a little sphere of infinitesimal magnitude and infinitely concentrated mass that once upon a time—in the Big Bang—suddenly expanded in all directions. Why is this “inconceivable analogy” interesting?

It is like Edgar Alan Poe's anticipation of 'Olber's paradox'. The nightmare here is of being shut up in a light-cone which gradually gets cut off from everything else. The Universe itself is burying us alive! 

Because the Aleph is a little sphere. If the universe is viewed as a great big sphere, then the idea that every vision of the universe can be reproduced in a little sphere at the foot of the stairs in some basement is much more believable. Simply through contraction every point in the big sphere of the universe can be translated into the small sphere of the Aleph.

Why then does Borges decide it was a false Aleph? He says the entire universe is contained within the pillar of a certain mosque in Cairo. Borges ends his tale thus 'Does this Aleph exist in the heart of a stone?

If there are two Alephs, indiscernibly identical in terms of information that can be gleaned from them, nevertheless they are distinct if one Aleph actually is itself that which it conveys information about. It is the 'true' Aleph. Why might it exist 'in the heart of a stone'? The stony-hearted feel no love, no longing, no 'regret of Heraclitus'. If all information can incarnate anywhere it must be in the 'heart of a stone'. 

 Did I see it there in the cellar when I saw all things, and have I now forgotten it? 

Borges knew from his reading of TS Eliot that Memory is Love- at least in Sanskrit. Did he also know that an epithet of Shiva, the Hindu God, is 'smarahara'-destroyer of Love, destroyer of Memory- but this is a necessary destruction so Love, and 'Smriti'- i.e. Religion- can survive its own Apocalypse or rending of the veil. 

Our minds are porous and forgetfulness seeps in; I myself am distorting and losing, under the wearing away of the years, the face of Beatriz.' 

As the Prophet said 'everything is going to destruction save the face of God.' What does the lover's loss of face matter? Beatrice's beauty burgeons elsewhere. I suppose a mathematician might mention Grothendieck's God- the dreamer who dreams us and our dreams. Perhaps we do meet our beloved in dreams but forget doing so when we wake. Or perhaps, mathematics is a labyrinth in which everything exists because everything is itself that labyrinth. 

Russell's Paradox
The third paradox is what I call the “paradox of magnification.” (The technical term in logic is self reference, but this has a different meaning in literature and I don't want to mix up the two concepts.) The paradox appears when Borges gives the partial enumeration of the images of the Aleph. But it also occurs in other stories, where Borges constructs worlds that are so very vast and space-filling that they end up including themselves—or even their readers—within their scopes. In “The Aleph” this can be seen here: “I saw the circulation of my dark blood, I saw the workings of love and the modification of death. I saw in the Aleph the world and in the world once more the Aleph, and in the Aleph the world. I saw my face and my guts, I saw your face I was dizzy and I cried.”

Magnification, or the postulation of very vast objects, gives rise to curious paradoxes, and Borges was certainly aware of the most famous one, due to Bertrand Russell. Russell's paradox—which shook the foundations of mathematics and toppled the “naive” theory of sets—shows that one cannot postulate the existence of a set that contains all other sets; that is to say, one cannot postulate an Aleph of sets.

You can, by calling it a proper class. I once heard of an Argentine general who banned set theory because it was 'collectivist'.  I suppose he would have been cool with classes because, after all, there has to be an upper class- right? 

I wonder whether there was something, back in the Thirties, like what we call a 'Reflection principle' which holds that it is possible to find sets that, with respect to any given property, resemble the class of all sets. Godel said 'All the principles for setting up the axioms of set theory should be reducible to Ackermann's principle: The Absolute is unknowable. The strength of this principle increases as we get stronger and stronger systems of set theory. The other principles are only heuristic principles. Hence, the central principle is the reflection principle, which presumably will be understood better as our experience increases. Meanwhile, it helps to separate out more specific principles which either give some additional information or are not yet seen clearly to be derivable from the reflection principle as we understand it now.' 

I don't suppose it matters whether Borges came across some such essay or article. My own suspicion is that he was a Pragmatist. Why know the Absolute save if would be fun to gain Biblical knowledge of it? Scratch that. Why get jiggy with the Absolute if the lads at the pub don't believe your boasting about it? 

Why are mathematicians interested in Borges?

I think the answer is that they suspect their own integrity is orthogonal to existence. They are like Brouwer's vegetarian condemned to be an evil parasite if he uses or is of use to what is of this carnivorous world. 

The three elements that we have just examined appear time and again in Borges's works, molded in literary forms in various ways. In the essay, “Cartesianism as Rhetoric (or, Why are Scientists Interested in Borges?)” in Borges and Science, the author, Lucila Pagliai, asks why Borges's stories and essays are so dear to scientific investigators, philosophers, and mathematicians. She comes to the conclusion that there is an essentially essayistic matrix in the work of Borges, especially in his mature work, and I think she has a point. Borges is a writer who procedes from a single principle—“in the beginning was the idea,”and conceptualizes his stories as incarnations or avatars of abstractions. There are also fragments of logical arguments in many of his stories. The kind of essayistic matrix that Pagliai refers to is, undoubtedly, one of the elements of Borges's style that bear a certain similarity to scientific thought.

The problem here is that Borges is clearly signaling that his style is baroquely parodic, exhausting its own possibilities in advance, because truth be told, there are no paradoxes. There is only scrutiny blinded by its own object.  

In a little article that I wrote on the same topic, “Borges and Three Paradoxes of Mathematics,” I point out the elements of Borges's style that have affinity with the mathematical esthetic. Here is my principal thesis:
I said before that traces of mathematics abound in the work of Borges. Even in the passages that have nothing to do with mathematics, there is something in his writing, an element of style, that is particularly pleasing to the mathematical esthetic.

I suppose genuine mathematicians are stimulated by what Grothenieck calls Yoga- i.e. ideas which can unite disparate subjects under the rubric of greater generality. Borges was scrupulous in presenting only such material. This meant he was relatively poor even during his most productive years.  

I think that a clue to this element is expressed, inadvertantly, is this extraordinary passage from The History of Eternity: “I don't believe in bidding farewell to Platonism (which seems ever cold) without communicating the following observation, with the hope that it will be carried forward and further justified: the general can be more intense than the concrete. There is no shortage of illustrations. As a boy, summering in the north of the province of Buenos Aires, I was fascinated by the rounded plain and the men who drank mate in the kitchen. But my delight was tremendous when I found out that the plain was ‘pampa’ and those men were ‘gauchos.’ The general...trumps individual details.”

In English, gaucho is more concrete and  'individual' then 'farmhand' and 'pampa' is more concrete and individual than 'rounded plain'. Perhaps, an Argentine would think the reverse. Still the 'participation' or 'methexy' associated with gaucho or pampa has an element of oikeisosis or 'natural' appropriation. 

When Borges writes, he typically accumulates examples, analogies, related stories, and variations on what he wants to tell.

He is uniting disparate subjects in the light of a more general, perhaps universal, principle which he can convey in a superbly compact and lapidary manner.  

In this way the thrust of the story that unfolds is at once particular and general, and his passages give the impression that his particular examples are self-supporting references to universal forms. Mathematicians proceed in the same way. When they study an example, a particular case, they examine it with the hope of discovering a stronger and more general property that they can abstract into a theorem. Mathematicians like to think that Borges writes exactly as they would if faced with the challenge: with a proud Platonism,

surely not. There is no ever present danger of 'modal collapse' in his oeuvre precisely because he is so scrupulous in guarding against 'the contamination of reality by the dream' or simulacrum.  

as if there existed a heaven of perfect fictions and a notion of truth for literature.

There is a 'witness' for it- though that witness may lie in the heart of a stone.  

This summarizes, in some way, what I think about the articulation of mathematical thought in the style of Borges.

I would say Borges is like Voevodsky. He shows, for any useful purpose, there are always good enough 'univalent foundations' of a categorical type. Sadly, as Socrates explained long ago, categories are like the oars on a galley which are only resorted to when there is no wind to belly out the sails.