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Greetings, fellow wanderer!

“One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing “

— Plato(The Apology)

While I can’t claim to be as much of a know-nothing as Socrates , these are indeed the ramblings of a wannabe student of the social sciences. Some of this is original others derivative ; a few academic and most of them criticism. The only commonality between these often disparate works will be that they are the outcomes of my wandering mind. Just as Peter Augustine Lawler argued that we wonder as we wander our separate paths : I invite my fellow-travellers to share their wonder along with me in this journey.

A Note to the Readers

So I was thinking of making use of the unexpected lock-down to work on making my blog a tad bit more readable, so I’ll be soon be adding a couple of pages which will help people navigate through this quagmire of long sentences. I’ll add a short description for each page here .

Articles : These are pieces I have written and published in either and online or offline source. If it’s online, I’ll be putting up a link, while if it was offline it I’ll be putting it up as a post here.

Essays: These essays are either written assignments for classes or stuff I think I can never try getting published anytime soon inclusive of book, film and anime reviews.

Strategos: I’m no military leader, but I’ll be damned if I’ll pass up an opportunity to brag of my skills in leading virtual armies to victory. There will be an element of role-play in the posts, so I’d appreciate it if people took it as it is supposed to be taken.

Critical Analysis of “The Threat to the Idea of A Public University” by Avijit Pathak

This is a critique of Avijit Pathak’s article in the Hindu in the background of the continuing JNU protests. You may want to read the article before reading this essay. Comments are appreciated

1.Introduction

“The threat to the idea of a public university” is an article written by Avijit Pathak in the Comment section of The Hindu newspaper on November 20th, 2019. Written in the background of the JNU fee hike protests (Bhanj, 2019), this column reads as both a defense of public education as well as a critique of commodified education. Pathak argues that public education throughout India with ethico-political sensibilities has been replaced by techno-managerial private education, culminating in an unlikely marriage between right-wing nationalism and technocratic rationalism which crushes dissenting views.

2. Analysis

This essay will attempt at analyzing this text by fits examining the personal and ideological context of this article before examining the twin nemeses that the author has set out to slay; neo-liberalism and instrumentalisation in the context of education. Finally, it will examine other tentative solutions to the problems articulated.

2.1 Ideological Context

If historiography is to be considered the art of writing history as well as the history of all such writings and understanding the historian should entail understanding his/her standpoint rooted in their social context (Carr, p.34), then one must contextualize the writer as well to understand their work. This opinion piece is published in The Hindu which is known to have a left of centre lean (Zandt, 2016), and the author is a social scientist from JNU which is again fairly predictive of liberal lean, (Langbert, Quain, & Klein, 2016). This hypothesis is validated through the author’s choice of certain words such as neoliberalism, and hegemony which are either used by leftist critics or derived from Marxist literature.

2.2 Neoliberalism and Instrumentalisation of Knowledge

While neoliberalism first emerged as a descriptor for the attempts of political theorists such as Hayek to refashion the more interventionist liberalism to a more free-market approach, it is Harvey (2005) whose definition of neoliberalism is most apt for understanding this concept.

“Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”

A Brief History of Neoliberalism-Harvey

Pathak argues that this emphasis on free markets has commodified knowledge by emphasizing learning outcomes and putting instrumental rationality on a pedestal. He argues that this techno-managerial education (as opposed to epistemological diversity) corrodes the egalitarian basis of democracy provided by public universities in the Nehruvian past. This argument is problematic on both philosophical and historical grounds. Even if one were to construe neo-liberalism as having a singular fountainhead, disregarding the chasm between Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism and Hayek’s limited government, the argument about epistemological tyranny cannot be leveled against Hayek whose Nobel Prize Banquet Lecture (1974) explicitly rejects this

“The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society. “

F. A. Hayek

The charge of viewing thought as instrumental to action may indeed be raised against Marxist historians such as Carr, who argued that it was the historian who could create insights for public policy who was objective, a glorification of instrumentality.

There is also the disconnect between the ideal of a deliberative democracy and the actuality of India’s years which is submerged in this nostalgia. The mythos of the Indian nation is as inclusive of the desire for technological progress as it is of the egalitarian democracy the author cites. If India was indeed a nation accommodative of contemplation, why were dams (mere products of the techno-managerial soon to be churned out by the IITs and the IIMs) the temples of modern India as opposed to the halls of thinking that are universities?

2.3 Public Education

Pathak also characterizes the public university as a democratic space that can resist the homogenizing tendency of the market and the forces of Hindutva which control state apparatuses. He argues that a public education in the model of JNU would inherently be opposed to marketised education which “is non-democratic, conservative and status quoist” Aside from reflecting the ideology of the author, it makes the mistake of assuming that public higher education liberalizes which is negated by the fact that most of the contemporary theorists of the radical right had at least a higher education degree from a public university (See Appendix)

Another illuminating statement on the limitations of this ideal of a public university (as manifested in JNU) is very evident in this extract from Pathak

“It embraced all: a tribal girl from Manipur, a Dalit boy from Maharashtra, a young leftist from Kerala, a radical feminist from Delhi, an Ambedkarite from the hinterland of Uttar Pradesh, and a young wanderer from Germany or Sri Lanka.”

Diversity in this lexicon is reduced to differences of social origin, as opposed to the diversity of thought which the author was championing but a few paragraphs ago. Whither do non-leftists find a refuge in this kingdom with many houses but rather prohibitive rental agreements?  

This definition of diversity lends credence to the analysis of liberalism as tending towards dismissing its discontents as the sub-political (Dugin,2012). Or as Ward (2019) put it succinctly

“You can be any sexuality, gender, race, etc. that you want to be but if you challenge the idea of ‘tolerance’ you are cast out. In other words, aesthetic participation has replaced political participation”

Daniel Ward

3. Conclusion

According to Lawler (2016) approaching the same question of techno-managerial education (or techno-vocationalism in his understanding) was the product of a middle-class democracy that would balk against any genuinely countercultural thought. Perhaps the greatest defense of public universities that can be mounted is its potency to be counter-cultural is what unites the postmodern conservative Lawler and the progressive Pathak.

Or maybe it is the recognition of what actual progress ought to be:

“The progress toward wisdom and virtue over a particular life: the life of a being born to know, love, and die, a personal being who has more than a merely biological destiny shared with the other mammals.”

Peter Augustine Lawler

Appendix : Education of Radical Right Thinkers

Problematising “Middle Class Democracy”: A Critical Analysis of Peter Augustine Lawler’s “Higher Education as American Counterculture”

“Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and the others nothing, there may arise an extreme democracy, or a pure oligarchy.”

Aristotle’s Politics

This essay is a critical analysis of an article published in The Imaginative Conservative online magazine by the late political philosopher Peter Lawler which can be found here

Peter Augustine Lawler(1951-2017)

Political philosophers from Aristotle to Machiavelli have for long sung paeans to the virtue of a democracy dominated by the middle classes. Thus it is surprising that political philosopher Peter Augustine Lawler would take aim at middle-class democracy in his article “Higher Education as American Counterculture” Lawler describes middle class democracy as a polity which is composed primarily of “free beings who work”, as opposed to aristocrats or working-classes. The middle class is both autonomous enough to be socially mobile, yet enchained to working for either sustenance or dignity. He then goes onto describe the corrosive effects of such an ethical basis on education, work and philosophy in the USA.

Work

To be middle class is to not be in the median income range in the Aristotelian sense, but to be as free as an aristocrat yet as bound to work as a slave. The accumulation of money becomes an end in itself , since society is neither above wealth (as the aristocrats) or below mobility (as in the servile classes). In such a middle class society, it is argued that only actions which produce wealth are given the hallowed title of work.

Philosophy

For Lawler, democracy implies that no man is better than anyone else. Thus public opinion is sanctified as virtuous since the virtue of Socrates is lesser than the sum of the opinions of the demos. Since we have negated the possibility of eudaimonia for the individual, it follows that the only thought worth pursuing is one that augments the material. Thus science becomes little more than technology; philosophy reduced to logic and art hemmed in as designing. This constant rush for technical solutions prevents us from asking why instead of investigating the “hows” of the matter at hand. Uniformity in thought, taste and opinion is thus the product of middle-class democracy.

Education

Tocqueville talked of two paradoxes in the early American democracy; universal literacy yet no higher education and technological advancement but lack of genuine diversity of thought. Lawler expands this analysis to contemporary USA where there seems to be a fetishism for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), as long as the students are not studying theoretical physics or pure mathematics. He traces the origins of this preference to the middle class democracy which fetishizes techno-vocational education as if it were the sorcery of old since it “produces results”. The uniformity of this polity produces standardized tinkerers subject to the demands of corporations and bureaucracies as opposed to genuine thinkers who would rage against the dying of the light.

While there are some deficiencies in his attribution of many of the ills of contemporary America to democracy, Lawler still reiterates the conformity that a democracy creates amongst its citizenry and brings to light the negation of virtue which democracy necessitates since as Aristotle recognized a man who surpasses all else in a community in virtue will be banished or put to death as the Athenians did Socrates. For Lawler, it is only thinking that can be the panacea for this phenomena and higher education a heresy which can end the dogma of the artificer.  We must thus search for meaning in contemplation aided by the righteous who have crossed into the hereafter; in Plato and Hegel, Kant and Marx, as opposed to our pocketbooks or Facebook statuses. For after all is philosophy not recognizing the following ?

“That work is for leisure, the body is for the soul, that technology serves distinctively human purposes, that the world is the home of the human mind, that there is no reliable route to feeling good except being good, and that seeking and searching—wandering and wondering—should, in principle, occupy all of our lives.”

A Ballad for the Modern Man: Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence

Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence was the very definition of a sleeper hit, it was released to commercial failure in 1964 before climbing onto pole position on the Billboard Top 100 for January 1966. The use of this song’s haunting opening lines in memes has led to a revival of interest in this masterpiece, but as is the fate of all things of beauty, its haunting lyrics is often sacrificed at the altar of its visceral music. This assignment attempts to elucidate the critique of modern mass consumption society and the depiction of alienation inherent in The Sound of Silence.

Singer-Songwriter duo Simon & Garfunkel performing outside at a concert in Dublin
Source: Wikipedia

The iconic opening verse of this song describes a conversation between a man and Darkness. He talks of a vision being implanted in his mind which he can’t dispel. In his dreams he wanders the streets of a city on a cold night all alone. The wandering bard is stopped by a neon light which redirects his vision on masses of humanity “talking” but “not speaking”, i.e. unable to meaningfully communicate. He tries to break this silence by trying to reach out, but the silence is deafening. The people worship their” neon god” ignoring the possibility of disruption from the marginalized sections of society.

Loneliness is a recurring theme throughout the song, with the bard constantly reiterating his solitude. He talks of “restless dreams where I walked alone” an overt expression of his isolation. Another hint at this would be him referring to darkness as his old friend. Darkness is considered to be a metaphor for evil and thus his friendliness with darkness reveals that he is friendless. His loneliness and desire for connection pervade the verses.

The reason for his loneliness is quite self-evident in his talking of neon lights. Neon was the primary lighting used in the billboards of 1960s and thus hints at consumerism. The worship of the neon god is essentially the worship of money. The choice between God and Mammon has been clearly made. Money becomes a proxy for achieving consumption through which humans actualize themselves. As Marx notes “The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality”, but by the amount of money I possess.

The inability of people to have meaningful communication is then brought out viscerally by the following lines

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share”

Human logos has created technologies which enable communication at a scale which was once unimaginable. We have mobile phones, emails, WhatsApp and FaceTime. But are we actually talking to each other meaningfully? What is the ethos in our conversations or the mythos that provides meaning to our lives? This eerily similar message from a Japanese suicide message board reveal that we are marching onward to that reality.

“Someone please look at me and acknowledge me

please acknowledge the fact that I am here

 Though I shouted and shouted

it did not reach anyone’s ears”

Japanese suicide board

The cause for this loneliness and loss of meaning is alienation. This obsession with consumption makes humans value things over people. In the rush for obtaining more and more things, his humanity is estranged from him. In the quest for self-gratification, he forgoes the community of feeling that is what bonds people together. The modern man is so rational that he disregards “the words of the prophets.”; of tradition, ridiculing those philosophers who understand the inevitability of the collapse of this system; of the rising of those outside the system. He prefers the comfortable numbness of conspicuous consumption, ignoring the words of the bard, as did the cave-dwellers did the free man in Platos’ Allegory of The Cave, thus selling his hangman the rope that will hang him.

The Sound of Silence warns us of the dangers of consumption without need, and communication without meaning. The question is not whether we have crossed a point of no return but whether we have the will to mend our ways?

Was Manu an Ideal Lawgiver ?

This was an argumentative essay I did as part of my Political Thought(2018) course . Since this is quite a controversial topic I hope that I’ll have some constructive criticism here.

1. INTRODUCTION

Manu has been at the forefront of political debate with “Manuwaadi” being used a pejorative. The Manusmriti has been considered the theoretical basis for the detested caste system (Newar, 2016). Manu is considered to be the Father of Man (Ranjan, 2013) in Hindu mythos. Thus he is both the first king and a sage who codified the laws by which Hindu society is organized. However, there is significant cause to declare that he is not an ideal lawgiver.

2.ARGUMENTS

There are three arguments which will illustrate why Manu is not an ideal lawgiver viz. social inequality, treatment of women and inconsistency.

2.1 Social inequality

Manu describes a four-fold division of society into 4 classes; Brahmins (the priestly class), Kshatriyas (warrior class), Vaishyas(the producer class), Shudras( serving class) (Ranjan, 2013). Each varna has a set of obligations and privileges increasing with an increase in social status with an emphasis on duties (Dwivedi, 2011). Shudra’s punishments are on an average more brutal than the other twice-born varnas, with prescriptions for corporal violence against them even for verbal defamation as evidenced by the following.

A once-born man (a Sudra), who insults a twice-born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin.”

(8.270)

Manu justifies this as being the natural state of things due to the need to preserve Rta (Order)and the will of Brahman (Ranjan, 2013). This cruel system cannot be rationally justified by appeals to divine authority.

2.2 Status of Women

Manu’s views on women and their status are reprehensible (Rao, 2007) by modern standards. Lineage was transferred through the father, so maintaining caste purity necessitated control over women’s sexuality (as evidenced by 5.161) leading to the demonization of their sexuality. (Chakravarthy, 1993).

“By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house.”

(5.147)

Thus, a woman is little more than a man’s slave.

2.3 Inconsistency

In Manu’s view, justice is the proper application of punishment to the guilty (Rao, 2007), in the absence of which the judges will be punished in the afterlife (Meena, 2005). Thus punishment should be proportionate to guilt. Yet in (8.337-8.338) Manu writes as follows.

“337. In (a case of) theft the guilt of a Sudra shall be eightfold, that of a Vaisya sixteen-fold, that of a Kshatriya two-and-thirtyfold, 338. That of a Brahmana sixty-four-fold, or quite a hundred-fold, or (even) twice four-and-sixty fold, knowing the nature of the offence.”

Thus an increase in social position corresponds to an increase in guilt and therefore should have increased punishment (Rao, 2007). This would contradict the increase in the punishment of Shudras as mentioned in (8.271)

“With whatever limb, a man of a low caste does hurt to (a man of the three) highest (castes), even that limb shall be cut off: that is the teaching of Manu.”

3. REFUTATIONS

There are a few refutations offered in defence of Manu. These are that social stratification is a necessity and that there have been interpolations in the text.

3.1 Social Inequality is Just

Hindu society is considered to be a kinship society (Naik, Christian Brotherhood and Hindu Kinship Communities, 2017) as opposed to an egalitarian Christian brotherhood community. Naik advances the argument that the scriptures can provide for a radical critique of liberalism and its values of liberty, equality and fraternity (Naik, Hindu Political Thought: Liberal, Conservative and Reactionary, 2017) since Hindu society has been forced into modernity, not of its own choosing. Let us compare Manu and Plato, two of the great in-egalitarian lawgivers. While inequality may be good in itself, Plato ensures that his philosopher-kings treat their inferiors “as fellow-citizens” (Plato, 2016) and Manu brutalizes them (Ranjan, 2013). If the Shudras are irrational, as are the producing class in The Republic, why is there this excessive reliance on punishment (Meena, 2005), as opposed to Plato’s founding myth? (Sabine, 2007)

3.2 Interpolations

The Arya Samaj has advanced the argument that there has been an adulteration of the content of the Manusmriti over the years (Newar, 2016). This argument cannot be refuted and is in fact strengthened by Section 2.3 of this essay. There may indeed be a number of fake Manus using the original Manu to advance their social standing. However, in the absence of an alternative, this version of the text has to be considered original.

4.CONCLUSION

Manu cannot be considered an ideal lawgiver, even if one accepts the need for social inequality. His doctrine brutalizes women and Shudras unduly while being inconsistent in its principles. Even if the system is meritocratic, its treatment of social inferiors is unnecessarily brutal, while conceding that the first Manu may not have intended this. That being said, however, the burning of the Manusmriti is wrong, since its analysis of the dharma of the ruler and on the primacy of justice are worth replicating in contemporary India. After all, as Manu declared,

“Nectar may be taken even from poison, good advice even from a child; good conduct (may be learnt) even from a foe; and gold (may be taken) even from an impure source.” (2.239)

5. REFERENCES

Chakravarthy, U. (1993, April 3). Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State. Economic and Political Weekly, pp. 579-585.

Dwivedi, D. V. (2011). THOUGHTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN VEDIC TRADITION. The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 72, No. 1, 19-31.

Meena, S. L. (2005). RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN STATE AND DHARMA IN MANUSMRITI. The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 66, No. 3, 575-588.

Naik, A. (2017, February 7). Christian Brotherhood and Hindu Kinship Communities. Retrieved from Truth and Falsify: https://satyanrtam.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/christian-brotherhood-and-hindu-kinship-communities/

Naik, A. (2017, January 17). Hindu Political Thought: Liberal, Conservative and Reactionary. Retrieved from Truth and Falsify: https://satyanrtam.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/hindu-political-thought/

Newar, S. (2016). The Dalits of Hinduism. Agniveer Press.

Plato. (2016). The Republic. New Delhi: Atlantic.

Ranjan, R. (2013). Ancient Indian Political Thought and Institution. Bengaluru: Centrum Press.

Rao, K. S. (2007). VEDIC IDEALS AND INDIAN POLITICAL THOUGHT. The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 68, No. 1, 105-114.

Sabine, G. H. (2007). A History of Political Theory. New Delhi: Surjeet Publications.

A Case for Individuality: The Giver

This reflective article was one of my earliest , published in my school magazine in 2016 dealing with Lois Lowery’s treatment of utopia in her book The Giver. Some of the arguments made here are dated , yet I think that it makes for good reading all the same.

My favourite books are not the ones with happy endings and imperfect worlds being perfected by a perfect hero, but those that disturb my mind and make me think. That is why I believe that fiction should either lift the readers to prodigal heights of bliss or to push them down into the deepest hell-hole of depression. Thus, I would like to write about The Giver by Lois Lowry which is just that .But, I would like
to convey to the readers that this is Not a Review. It is a Reflection.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is a ‘science fiction young adult novel’. But the book deals with themes which are relevant not only for kids but as well as for adults. Our hero, a 12 year old Jonas, lives in the most perfect world imaginable. It can easily be described by John Lennon’s Imagine:

Imagine there’s no countries,

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

No religion too.

John Lennon (Imagine)

This is Lennon’s perfect world. There is no greed, no hunger, no poverty, no war, no crime. — a literal heaven.In the community, which Jonas’ calls home, every person is judged and given a profession most suitable for him /her. But unlike the others, Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memory. It is the duty of the Receiver to act as the collective memory of The Community ,that is while other people do not possess the genetic memories of the generations gone by, the Receiver does. The old Receiver takes on a mentoral role slowly transferring memories into Jonas thus becoming the Giver

The turning point in the story is when Jonas, through his interactions with the  Giver comes to see through the illusion of the community. In order to follow, protect and promote the values of uniformity,  the community chooses to control climate, level hills and landscape the whole earth for their convenience.  They even choose not to hold on to memories, experience feelings and had chosen uniformity in the form of “sameness”, choosing to forget how to perceive colour. They even  suppress emotions. NO one is allowed to be angry. Puberty is controlled through pills. The people of the community are trained to be polite, no matter what their true feelings are. They even chose to forget extreme feelings like love and hate. One character even says, “Love is such a general term, Jonas. It is obsolete now!” (same idea on emotions)

Fredrich Hayek would be vindicated by the ends of the Sameness

The government gives them everything; they don’t have to make choices even on spouses. Children are born in laboratories under the control of genetic scientists and then given to parents. The people are obliged to do what is right in the eyes of the community because that is the only option. They are conditioned to believe that community’s ways are the only ways. Yet, in spite of all this, Jonas decides to make a choice and change the future of the community at the price of his own life. He decides to leave the Community, exposing the members to the memories they gave chose to forget.

Most of our elders keep on ranting about kids making wrong choices. They prefer that all choices except the right one be eliminated something the Community did .They chose to live in a world without choices, so that they would not choose wrong Thus, they chose to live in a world without love, colour, music, weather or beauty. They chose a uniform world; a utilitarian world; a perfect world.

But would we actually like to live in such a world? Disturbingly, many of us would. They would like the world to be a well-oiled machine, each individual an insignificant part. Even religious heads preach so.This can easily seen in the form of intolerance of diversity in our own country. Our leaders project patriotism as toeing the government’s line. Artists have always championed the cause of the individual. Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” is a criticism of the system that produces bricks to fill the wall (bricks are people).. In India, our writers, directors and artists are returning their awards demanding tolerance for diversity.

It is time we define ourselves in our own terms ,not by what somebody tell us. Jonas did so and  transcended his reality. The Giver is not a heart warming tale. It is in fact as cold as the snow that the Community chose not to feel. But it carries a warming. It asks us questions., It asks us to reflect on our society. The Giver is as relevant today as it was when it was written. Are we becoming more and more like the community, intolerant of diversity and individuality.  So the question is, will you heed this warning? That is your choice.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Ms Mellanie Marquez Shibu for helping me write this out. Her efforts were essential in me writing today and I am deeply indebted to her.

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