In memoriam: Chinua Achebe; here’s an old unpublished piece of mine using the same idea “things fall apart; the center cannot hold”
March 23, 2013
Today, Chinua Achebe passed away. He stood up for the rights of Africans threatened by imported colonial norms and religions. According to his Wikipedia entry,
Chinua Achebe (pron.: /ˈtʃɪnwɑː əˈtʃɛbeɪ/, born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, 16 November 1930 – 21 March 2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, andcritic. He was best known for his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart(1958), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature.
Raised by his parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) and soon moved to the metropolis of Lagos. He gained worldwide attention for Things Fall Apart in the late 1950s; his later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Achebe wrote his novels in English and defended the use of English, a “language of colonisers”, in African literature. In 1975, his lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” featured a famous criticism of Joseph Conradas “a bloody racist”; it was later published amid some controversy.
In his honor, here’s an unpublished piece of mine from 2009, using the same metaphor of the “center cannot hold”. India has gotten steadily worse since then.
Chinua Achebe’s trenchant criticism of whites and their religion holds many lessons for Indians and Hindus.
The center cannot hold
Rajeev Srinivasan on the tenuous grip of the government on parts of India
The incidents in Lalgarh, West Bengal, have clarified that the writ of the Government of India does not hold sway in certain parts of the country. There is the dismissive story of how the last Mughal Emperor was sovereign of only a few square miles in Delhi by 1803, while the rest of the country was ruled by others. In all fairness, the Central Government today does control more territory than did Bahadur Shah.
But things have reached a point where the State has begun to unravel. I am reminded of W B Yeats’ The Second Coming, written between two World Wars (strangely apt given the second coming of the UPA). Here is the first part of the poem:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The center is not holding, and things are falling apart. Anarchy is loosed upon the nation.
The fact that Lalgarh was taken over by Communist Party of India (Maoist) terrorists, who displaced and even threatened the lives of the more tame Communists (the Communist Party of India (Marxist)), supposedly ruling the state of West Bengal, is worrying. Even more so is the fact the Communist terrorists called for a 48-hour general strike in five neighboring states (West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa). They appear to believe they have supplanted the states’ official machinery.
Belatedly, the Central government declared the Communist insurgents to be a terrorist organization, to which the more domesticated Communists (the CPI (M)) objected strenuously. This is strange, considering that the law and order situation in West Bengal, ruled by the CPI (M) for 30 years, is directly under threat by these very terrorists. (Haven’t they heard of Article 356?)
The obvious conclusion is that there is not much difference between these two types of Communists – and others such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) — and that quarrels between them are the results of minor theological differences and about the sharing of spoils. They are ideological twins, their goals are inimical to the Indian State and they are missionaries of a foreign power.
There are the ominous warnings – these have fallen on deaf ears – that Communist terrorists are active in as many of 180 of India’s 603 districts, and in fact control some of them. There is the infamous “Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor” – that is, from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh – that the Communist terrorists have affirmed to be their goal. In other words, they fully intend to export their insurrection throughout India, with the likely result of dismembering the country.
And who are these Communists? They have been called “Maoists” and “Naxalites”; they declared, infamously, in the 1970s, that “China’s Chairman is our Chairman”, leaving no room for confusion about where their inspiration – and most likely their funding – comes from. (However, Barbara Crossette, a spokesperson for the New York Times and therefore for the official US view, claimed Nepal’s“Maoists” are not Chinese-funded. There might be American, specifically missionary, interests, also involved with the so-called “Maoists”.)
If we take it as a working hypothesis that the Communist terrorists are aided and abetted by the Chinese, a number of other Chinese actions in the recent past take on ominous overtones:
- The Chinese fought to cancel an Asian Development Bank loan to India which included some development works in Arunachal Pradesh, arguing that it was Chinese territory that India was illegally occupying. In 2006 a Chinese envoy in Mumbai insulted a Central minister at a public meeting on the same issue. (Was the rude emissary declared persona non grata and kicked out in 24 hours? Of course not.)
- The Chinese asked the United States to divide up the major oceans between them, the Americans to get the Eastern Pacific and the Chinese to get the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. This is similar to the Papal Bull in 1493 that divided up the non-white world between Spain and Portugal, as colonies to loot
- In a rude editorial filled with dismissive rhetoric of the kind that one uses with a vastly inferior foe (a Chinese specialty, under the dangerous illusion that they are a Chosen People; they are particularly dismissive of Indians because of skin color and because they are considered ‘useful idiots’), the People’s Daily, a Party mouthpiece, told India that it could not afford the consequences of confrontation with China, and that “India can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale.”
- Chinese have advanced their interests in Myanmar (natural gas sales overriding India’s pleas, and listening posts in the Cocos Islands), Sri Lanka (naval facilities at the port of Hambantota and strong support in the genocidal war against the Tamil Tigers)
- China now enjoys a virtual monopoly over Nepal’s affairs.
China’s ‘string of pearls’ is choking India. There is more: Communist leader Pinarayi Vijayan is under indictment in Kerala for corruption, and the Party’s attitude is essentially that the court system has no business trying one of their bigwigs. Similarly, there are other pockets where the influence of the Indian government is nil: for instance, the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, certain religious establishments, and some districts the Communist terrorists are active in.
Over time, these pockets of “not-India” will expand until we will have Bahadur Shah all over again: the pomp and circumstance of the GoI will be confined to the National Capital Region.
957 words, Jun 23rd, 2009
Fear of Engineering
I have been noticing an interesting phenomenon for some time, but it reached a crescendo with the ascent of Abdul Kalam to the post of President of India. The rise of the humble aeronautical engineer to the nation’s highest post coincided with a flurry of articles and statements in the Indian media that demean and attack scientists and engineers. I conclude, following in Erica Jong’s footsteps, that ‘Fear of Engineering’ is the root cause. You remember Jong and the zipless you-know-what, don’t you?
Anyway, the first inkling I got about the fear of engineering was in something by a particularly puerile (but definitely cute: I saw her photograph somewhere) ‘secular progressive’ columnist: she named many right-wing Hindus with backgrounds in science. Since right-wing Hindus are scum, implied she, those who study science must ipso facto be scum. Her logic is wrong, of course: she ascribes to the whole an attribute of the part. The interesting allegation is the connection between right-wing-ness and science. Are right-wingers more prone to study science rather than humanities? Or is the causality the other way, that is, they studied science, therefore they became right wing? She didn’t say.
More recently I saw a magazine interview with the celebrated author Amitav Ghosh, where he said something to the effect that a lot of fundamentalists are engineers with banal ideas about religion. Charitably, he didn’t confine this to Hindu engineers alone, but gave the impression that engineers of all religious persuasions had banal ideas about religion. I wondered why he focused on engineers alone. Do doctors have non-banal ideas about religion? Do physicists? Do botanists? Or for that matter, what about economists? Lawyers? Ghosh did not elaborate.
Now it is surprisingly politically incorrect of these people to pick on a set of people and impute certain characteristics to them. We are all aware of the Bell Curve and the perils of broad-brush stereotyping. I mean, imagine if the first columnist were to say all Buddhists were scum, or if Ghosh said all Christians have banal ideas about religion. There would be an uproar. This is another example of how the ‘secular progressive’ cabal is able to compartmentalize its concerns: religious minorities get all their solicitous attention, but not, for instance, linguistic minorities.
Personally, I have never claimed to be politically correct, so I am entitled to generalize, and I shall do so quite happily below.
I have to make some disclaimers here in the interests of full disclosure. My parents are both retired professors of the humanities, and whatever I say about the humanities types applies mostly to the younger generation: for in my parents’ young days, it was not the case that every bright student wanted a technical education in engineering or medicine to guarantee them a livelihood. In their day, the liberal arts had not yet become monotheistic cults regurgitating received wisdom from Beijing, the Vatican, Deoband or Chicago.
Furthermore, I have my degrees in engineering and management, so attacks on these technical subjects I do take a little personally. Some Canadian woman (waving her PhD) once suggested that, because of my background, I couldn’t possibly understand the humanities. I asked her, based on the general (low) level of intelligence she exhibited, if she had bought her PhD on the web. She was most offended. I must confess though that one of the best insults I ever got in my hate mail pile was from some Malayalee fellow (therefore possibly a Marxist) who suggested that I should ask for my tuition fees back from IIT and Stanford, for I had obviously not learned anything there! Touche!
In any case, it is pretty clear that some people have a rather poor opinion of either pure or applied scientists. And in particular, a bone to pick with engineers. This of course is a gauntlet waiting to be picked up; and there have been some retorts. P V Indiresan, former director of IIT Madras, responded with an article. And of course, there is always the old Samuel C Florman classic, The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, to fall back upon.
Why this disdain for the T-square brigade? The Indiresan article suggests that it is pretty safe to abuse engineers, because they are generally inarticulate and tongue-tied, diffident, and poor communicators. They do not react, nor do they get much media airtime or column inches. Quite. But then a few upstart engineers are spoiling the whole thing by speaking up, rationally and logically. They are beginning to upset the cozy apple carts set up by humanities types, especially those from the Jawaharlal Nehru University cabal. Said JNU-bots are appalled. Naturally. I mean, how dare these engineers…?
These JNU people have, ever since the BJP came to power, been on the defensive. Their comfortable sinecures as court historians and hagiographers have come under a microscope. They had for fifty years labored mightily, and successfully, with a few simple agendas:
- The glorification of the Nehru dynasty
- The downplaying of Indian history, Sanskrit, and anything else native
- The myth-making about some imaginary composite culture based largely on imported ideasA prime example, of course, is the Aryan Invasion Fairy Tale. It suits the humanities types (and their many sponsors and financiers overseas) to keep drilling into the minds of impressionable Indian children and youth the idea that there is nothing of value that is wholly Indian, and that India is entirely a second-rate, imitative, culture. Which I suppose creates a better market for Euro/American and Chinese goods and ideas. And keeps India forever servile and backward.
It bothers the JNU types that many of those challenging both their cherished shibboleths and their neo-colonialist processes are engineers and computer scientists. For example, N S Rajaram, Subhash Kak, Rajiv Malhotra. That many are Non Resident Indians adds fuel to the fire. There have been quite a few articles from for example, the formidable Anita Pratap, simply bashing NRIs as though they were collectively some kind of troglodytes. Appalling, an NRI engineer, my god, how awful that these people dare challenge the obvious superior wisdom of us flat-earth, ‘creationist’ humanities types!
I am again reminded of Galileo Galilei and his encounters with the Vatican. Some people just can’t take new ideas lying down: like the Vatican which finally recognized that the earth revolves around the sun 300 years later (in 1980 or so), it will take JNU about 200 years to accept that the Aryan Invasion Twinkle-Toes Tale is bunkum.
There is a particularly illuminating and entertaining discussion going on at http://www.sulekha.com as I write this. Rajiv Malhotra triggered it off with an essay on the representation of Hinduism in American academic circles. One might think this obscure stuff, but Malhotra showed how this has a significant impact on real life decisions: the negative images of India and Hinduism affect how India and Indians are treated in all sorts of ways, much as the positive images created by the Needham Project have helped the Chinese project themselves forcefully in the Western psyche.
Warming up to his subject, Malhotra then launched a spirited but cogent attack on the self proclaimed guardians of religious studies, the Religion in South Asia group, a rather exclusive group of academicians who look down their noses at those outside their clique. In particular, he pointed out that the den-mother of Indology studies, Wendy Doniger (formerly O’Flaherty) of the University of Chicago and her band of acolytes have a strangle-hold on the academic representation of Hinduism. Alarmingly, they also have a supremely Orientalist and dismissive, unabashedly racist, attitude towards Hinduism. And they do not agree that those in the tradition, the believers, could possibly have a valid opinion on said representation. See RISA Lila 1: Wendy’s Child Syndrome.
Malhotra’s point was that Wendy Doniger and her brood both misrepresent Hinduism and insult it, and that they essentially indulge in intellectual terrorism. The responses were quite interesting. One Patrick Hogan (apparently a Wendy’s Child) came back with the rash, superficial, patronizing and inane Ten Reasons Why Anyone Who Cares About Hinduism Should Be Grateful To Wendy Doniger. When his arguments were soundly thrashed by lay readers – indeed thoroughly and systematically demolished – Hogan refused to respond.
Then came Jeffrey Kripal, infamous for his distasteful and ultimately dishonest study of Ramakrishna, wherein he accuses the sage of being a repressed homosexual, based almost entirely on his misinterpretation (deliberate, says Swami Tyagananda of the Ramakrishna Mission in his thorough and scholarly critique) of Bengali texts, Bengali being a language Kripal does not speak or read. (Despite the Indian sounding name, Kripal is white.) It is also likely that Kripal is projecting his own psychological needs or fears on to the sage. He wrote The Tantric Truth of the Matter defending his work. S N Balagangadhara rebutted him in India and Her Traditions: A Reply to Jeffrey Kripal and plenty of lay readers also responded. Once again, the ‘Indologist’ was annihilated; once again, Rajiv Malhotra’s basic point about insincere and malicious academics was proven amply.
How extraordinarily like India’s own JNU cult this Wendy Doniger cabal is! I am struck by the equivalence between Romila Thapar and her brood and Wendy Doniger and hers.
Furthemore, Sankrant Sanu, in a brilliant deconstruction, Are Hinduism studies prejudiced? A look at Microsoft Encarta, showed how the chapter on Hinduism in the most popular encyclopedia in the US, used especially by impressionable children, is grossly unfair. Not surprisingly, the Encarta chapter was written by Wendy Doniger herself, an unsympathetic, unbelieving outsider obsessed with the presenting the most simplistic, indeed most base and often titillating interpretations of highly symbolic Hinduism. In comparison, the very sympathetic Encarta chapters on Islam and Christianity are written by believers, insiders who go out of their way to explain the symbolic meanings, for example in the rite of Christians consuming the ‘flesh and blood’ of Jesus: something that looks rather a lot like cannibalism to an uninitiated outsider. Imagine the field day Doniger would have had with this if it were part of Hinduism!
Interestingly, it was (mostly) a set of NRI engineers who accomplished the feat of exposing these people, logically and (generally) dispassionately debating the points raised by Kripal and Hogan. Granted, there were experts, non engineer non NRIs, too; however, the bulk of the respondents were NRI engineers, as they are most comfortable with the Internet and e-discussions. Interestingly, the comments were surprisingly thoughtful and erudite: frankly, more knowledgeable than I would have given an Internet forum credit for. And that brings me to a hypothesis: technologists, who have to deal with the complexities of the real world, are intellectually equipped to debate humanities people even in their own specialties.
Yes, an engineer can comment sensibly on politics, economics, even religious studies, but someone from those disciplines will be baffled by complex engineering concepts. This is not to say that technical tasks are more important – clearly not, for brainwashing people on a large scale is much easier for those who control history – but let the humanities types beware: and I believe they do. Thus the fear of engineering.
Fear of NRIs, fear of numbers, fear of logic
There is also a collective ‘Fear of NRIs,’ I think, along with the irrational fear of engineering. The ‘secular progressives’ realize that NRIs, and in particular NRI engineers, especially those who made money in the high tech boom of the 1990s, are not so likely to swallow their propaganda. (Another disclaimer: I do recognize the very real problems a lot of NRIs have, of cultural confusion and displacement, but in the eyes of the JNU-ites, NRIs form a cohesive and frightening force.) These NRIs have seen the world and done well in fully competitive circles, do not have inferiority complexes, and do not need to suck up to some white academic like Doniger for crumbs like travel grants, which the ‘sepoys’ of Indology in India crave.
In other words, the NRI engineers are shouting from the rooftops, ‘The Emperor has no clothes!’ This is, of course, distressing to those who have been supplying non-existent clothes to the Emperor and profiting mightily therefrom.
These NRI engineers have also come to realize that there is something precious in India that is under grave threat from the Sino-Islamic axis and Christian fundamentalists.
And they have begun to organize; and the results are beginning to appear. Partly through NRI assertiveness, but mostly through local strategy, the Hindu right wing is beginning to get its act together regarding vulnerable Dalits and Adivasis and about the leftist-missionary stranglehold on education. Note the signal Supreme Court ruling that has, finally after 50 years of Nehruvian Stalinist fascism, allowed the school curriculum to reflect some ground realities as well as the results of new research.
As a result of all this, it is getting to be a little more difficult for Christian cultists to prey on unsuspecting tribals or to brainwash children. Thus the increasing ‘secular’ ‘progressive’ paranoia and fear of NRIs. If said NRIs become more influential, with their wealth and their general savvy, the increasing irrelevance of the Nehruvian Stalinist dinosaurs will be accelerated. Their patrons in American- and Vatican-funded missionary circles would not approve at all.
A few months ago, I was talking to a ‘secular progressive’ journalist, and he mentioned in passing how there was a lot of NRI money coming in from the US to support right wing Hindu activities. I was startled, for any NRI Hindu money would be a mere pittance as compared to the absolute billions funneled into India for Wah’abi mosques by Saudi Arabia and the ISI, and on conversion/terrorism activities by the Vatican, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals and sundry Christian cults. (In Tripura, Christian terrorists have killed many Hindus; in Mizoram, they have ethnically cleansed Hindus.)
Soon thereafter, there was a flurry of reports in the media, especially in the US media, about how money from US Hindus was helping Hindu militants in India. Two things were obvious: one, it is meant to equate Hindu ‘militancy’ with Islamic militancy, which is currently under a microscope in the US, and where links by US Muslim organizations with the Taliban and al Qaeda are being investigated. The fact that Hindu ‘militancy’ is pretty mellow and consists primarily of shouting a few slogans – definitely no flying planes into tall buildings is involved – is conveniently ignored. Two, this is a concerted and organized campaign, presumably led by the lunatic fringe Marxists-with-Hindu-names in the US. It did not ‘just happen’: there is malice aforethought.
But I digress. There is yet another fear: the ‘fear of numbers and logic.’ Engineers are brought up on numbers and logic, whereas a lot of Indians are functionally innumerate and illogical, especially those in the humanities. As Indiresan correctly points out, the natural sciences deal with immutable laws of nature, whereas the humanities deal with man-made laws, which are generally not based on fact, but on opinion.
I have an empirical observation: merely by throwing a few numbers at them, you can intimidate many humanities people. In years of writing columns and receiving my share of hate mail, I have seldom come across a humanities type contesting my data. They may rant and rave about what a horrible person I am, and perhaps about how little I understand their disciplines, but they hardly ever challenge the numbers. I shall, uncharitably, conclude that this is because they are innumerate. They must be the ones keeping India’s lottery business going, as they fail to understand that they are almost 100% likely to lose their money.
But far more alarmingly, some humanities types are also illogical. To illustrate this, I’m afraid I have to pick on someone who is one of my favorite columnists: Renuka Naryanan of The Indian Express. There are a few female columnists whose work I always read: Sandhya Jain, Sucheta Dalal, Renuka Narayanan, and, of course, my friend Varsha Bhosle.
When I read Sandhya Jain’s rational and well thought-out work, I am consumed with envy: I wish I had written that! In Sucheta Dalal’s elegant and precise columns I find an encyclopedic knowledge of Indian business. Renuka Narayanan’s erudition and knowledge of both the performing arts and religion are stunning. And Varsha, well, she’s in a class of her own, my warlike friend: she reminds me of Rumpole of the Bailey and his ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed.’
Yet, despite Renuka Narayanan’s erudition, I find her grossly illogical, as a result of her extreme political correctness. In one of her columns, she claimed that ‘Allah belongs to India as much as to Arabia.’ Fine sentiment, indeed, but I believe this is blasphemy. For Allah, as far as I know, shows a very clear preference for Arabia and Arabs and, indeed, generally speaks in Arabic. If her intention is to say that Islam is universal, well, she should simply say so. Otherwise, I could counter with ‘Yahweh belongs to Arabia as much as to Israel,’ or ‘The Buddha belongs to Arabia as much as to Thailand,’ which I don’t think anybody in their right mind would claim.
Similarly, Narayanan recently said she was ashamed of Hinduism because a Muslim Kashmiri acquaintance of hers had been abused and kicked by a ticket examiner in a train just because he was wearing Muslim Kashmiri clothing. Now she is guilty of at least four logical fallacies. One, she is attributing motives by assuming Mr Kicker is a practicing and religious Hindu and that he kicked the Muslim precisely because he is a practicing, religious Hindu. Yet she does not tell the reader why she concludes that Mr Kicker is not a. a Marxist, b. a Christian, c. a Muslim of some other persuasion, say Shia or Ahmediya or Sufi, d. an atheist, e. just a jerk.
Two, she is guilty of rapid generalization: even if Mr Kicker is a Hindu, it does not follow that all Hindus are like Mr Kicker. Three, she is guilty of callisthenic leaps of faith, no pun intended. I am not aware of anything in Hinduism that suggests kicking Muslim Kashmiris, so why should anybody be ashamed of Hinduism for Mr. Kicker’s actions even if he’s a Hindu? Four, this is known as ‘poisoning the well,’ casting aspersions on an opponent’s character, rather than focusing on his arguments, by putting any Hindu interlocutor on the defensive by insinuating he should be ashamed.
Another example of her lack of logic (or common sense) was her claim that when colonial and Christianity-crazed Portuguese sailors in distress off the Chennai coast were guided to safety by a mysterious light emanating from the Kapaleeshwar temple, ‘they built a church right next to it.’ I have news for Narayanan, although in fact I am sure she knows this already. The Portuguese did not build a church ‘next’ to the temple, they built it ‘over’ the temple. That’s right, they demolished the ancient temple that had stood there for at least a thousand years, and built their San Thome Cathedral right on top of it! For full details, see Ishwar Sharan’s book, The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, (Voice of India, 1991), excerpts on the Web at http://hamsa.org
Finally, almost all of Narayanan’s columns have gratuitous positive references to Sufism. Since Sufism is accepted as part of Islam, and Islam has well defined behavior for all Muslims, it is exactly as tolerant or peaceful or spiritual as Islam generally is. At best, it is a marketing variant, meant for the consumption of particular groups of people. It cannot be fundamentally different, or it would be a heresy. Yet, many of India’s painfully PC people ascribe to Sufis, their music and their dance and their spirituality, some grossly over-rated importance. In effect, the claim is that whatever spirituality Hinduism can boast of, Sufism has the same or better. Jalaluddin Rumi this, qawwali, that. Wah-wah! Why, I don’t know. After all, Sufis are the original whirling dervishes: the object of mirth in many travelogues. Why the pinnacle of Indian music and dance are supposed to be Sufi I shall never know. It must be yet another example of dhimmitude, Nehru style, that is, Islamic=good, Hindu=bad. Persian and Arabic=good, Sanskrit=bad.
It’s unfair of me to pick on Renuka Narayanan, but her dhimmitude (in relation to both Christianity and Islam) is particularly galling, as she is clearly not brain-dead, unlike most of the ‘secular progressives’ in the Indian media.
Coming back to engineers, I guess it must be pretty clear by now that they are bad people. But wait, not all of them. There is at least one IIT Madras product who is a big wheel at Frontline (isn’t that China’s national magazine?); an IIT Kanpur product is a big shot at Outlook magazine; another IITian is Sandeep Pandey of ASHA, Magsaysay award winner and advocate of separatism for Kashmir. Jairam Ramesh, Congress bigwig, is from IIT Bombay. Does the fact that these folks exist and are ‘secular progressive’ give at least a temporary reprieve to engineers? I guess not.
Those who demean science and technology would be well advised to wonder why they call one of their specialties ‘Political Science.’ Is this like ‘Palmistry Science’? Or ‘Creation Science’? What is scientific about it? And why is Economics the ‘dismal science’? My belief is that humanities types secretly admire the precision and reproducibility of scientific disciplines. And naturally they trash that which they are in awe of and cannot understand.
Just look at the new-fangled humanities curricula in the market. Unbelievable that people actually pay good money to take these courses. ‘Post-Modern Studies.’ ‘Cultural Studies.’ ‘Post-Colonial Studies.’ ‘Cultural Anthropology.’ ‘Gender Studies.’ ‘Deconstruction.’ Yeah, ‘Advanced Basket-Weaving,’ too. A lot of turgid, meaningless texts, which remind me of the Marxist vocabulary that I just love: bourgeois, revanchist, dialectical, revisionist, imperialist running dog, class struggle, etc, and equally arcane stuff. I strongly recommend Foucault and Derrida if you suffer from insomnia.
What is a good way to identify these humanities fraudsters, you ask? Simple: anybody who says ‘trope’ or ‘praxis’ is undoubtedly one. If I were you, I wouldn’t touch any of their specialties with a barge pole.
I must end with another disclaimer: there are many in the humanities who do excellent work, diligently and with great integrity. I salute them. It is not them that I target, it is the shysters of the media and the self proclaimed ‘intelligentsia’ who, far from being ‘progressive’, are the most reactionary elements around. They are the ones, the ‘sepoys’ in Rajiv Malhotra’s terminology that have to be engaged in battle and trounced. They are the ones who have manufactured a mythical history of India; they are the ones who are shouting loudly about errors in textbooks when they have done nothing but bowdlerization for fifty years: see my earlier column on historicide. In short, they are the barbarians within.
March 19, 2013
The following was published somewhat edited by firstpost on March 18th, 2013 at http://www.firstpost.com/living/the-left-liberal-idea-of-india-is-mere-idea-and-no-india-665191.html
Here is the original text.
What ails liberals?
Rajeev Srinivasan on how the leftist world-view ipso facto guarantees disaster
The recent brouhaha over the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, its invitation to Narendra Modi, and its subsequent revocation under pressure from a few humanities professors – note, from the humanities and not from the business school – has made me think again about a strange fact. This is that people from the humanities and the social sciences sometimes appear to be fascist, intolerant, and, well, warped human beings.
You see this frequently in campuses both in the US, and particularly, in India: humanities people are dogmatic, subject to blind faith, and, alas, innumerate. It is impossible to argue with them with numbers — in particular, those with English as their majors, and exotic variants thereof, including ‘cultural studies’, ‘women’s studies’, ‘cultural anthropology’, ‘gender theory’, and so forth – because they tend to be swayed only by emotion, and cannot comprehend facts, figures, or logic.
These people write tomes about obscure things such as deconstructionism; this stuff is so close to utter nonsense that there was the celebrated hoax perpetrated in 1996 by physicist Alan Sokal wherein he published a paper titled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity in an academic journal of ‘postmodern cultural studies’, without the editors realizing that it was totally meaningless garbage.
There is also the Postmodernism Generator, a computer program, that concocts weighty essays indistinguishable from what the leftists produce; but the program is just spewing out structured gibberish.
I have a theory that humanities majors –they are spotted driving taxis when the economy collapses – are deathly afraid of, and envious of, those with more useful and more employable skills. This anger they sublimate into some sort of reverse-snobbery world-view where they sneer at those with science and engineering backgrounds.
Some years ago, I wrote an essay titled Fear of Engineering wherein I explored both the innumeracy and the rage humanities people exhibit about engineers, NRIs, and in fact, anyone who does not buy into their world view. Like Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts, these humanities types scream, “Off with their heads!”
I have been wondering for long why humanities people act the way they do. The best explanation is by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt whose 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion analyses the differences between leftists and rightists. Now it is almost an axiom that people in the humanities are leftists, so much so that you can replace ‘humanities’ with ‘leftist’ without loss of generality, so what Haidt says is a first approximation to the humanities professors at U Penn, etc.
Haidt’s thesis is that there are six values that people look for in an ethical system: compassion, fairness, the desire to fight oppression; and group loyalty, respect for authority, and the notion of sanctity or purity. Significantly, he suggests that leftists can only understand the first three, whereas rightists can deal with all six.
Thus, conservatives can appreciate (even if they disagree with) a liberal’s obsessions with the first three. On the other hand, the left is completely baffled by the last three values – they cannot comprehend how anybody could have, say, respect for authority. Thus, Haidt, a self-confessed liberal, implies that there is a ‘conservative advantage’, and that, in effect, conservatives have a more well-rounded, well-thought-out perspective.
Let us revisit those notions: compassion, fairness, desire to fight oppression. Nobody can argue against these. Where things get muddled, as with the Gang of Three (Loomba, Kaul and Ghose) at UPenn, is when these notions are taken to ridiculous extremes, and they become articles of blind hatred. For, in the case of Gujarat 2002, the Gang of Three are only worried about one group; they simply have no compassion for the 59 Hindus burned alive in a train in Godhra. Thus, they also fail their own test of fairness. And once they go down the leftist rat-hole, they face a problem of escalating commitment where they have to take more and more extreme, in fact repellant, positions, to justify their initial prejudices. They become oppressors.
They also just cannot understand group loyalty, respect for authority or sanctity. The fact that some things are held holy by some people – and that, out of fairness, other things that are held holy by others also deserve respect – does not occur to the left. As far as they are concerned, nothing is sacred. Or at best only their own shibboleths are sacred.
If you agree with Haidt, this also suggests that leftists are in fact sort of anarchists. I was listening to a talk by Max Boot, a military historian, who suggested that 19th century anarchists were never able to – and tautologically, they never could – have an impact because they ended up being too atomized and weak as they could not organize themselves because they detested any sense of authority. Or of larger purpose.
In passing, modern-day terrorists can also be analyzed using Haidt’s six values: they obsess on compassion (to their own), but not fairness (to those they terrorize); they allegedly fight oppression (but bring about their own), they are into group loyalty, they don’t respect authority (they want revolutions), and they have ideas of sanctified texts.
Rightists can see all six of the values, and they differ from leftists most in group loyalty. Interestingly, in evolutionary terms, the support of a group is often critical to the success of an individual; and perhaps this means that – I am hoping here – leftists will evolve themselves out of existence! That would only be fair: history is littered with failed experiments, such as Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, etc.
This explains why the leftist’s so-called ‘Idea of India’ includes no loyalty to Indiaper se, but only some vague slogans about ‘inclusiveness’. The rightist, on the other hand, resonates to a super-ordinate cause that is greater than himself – the transforming idea of matrubhumi, karmabhumi, punyabhumi. The rightist can say with conviction: “I will fight for an idea that I hold sacred”: as Modi says with ‘India First’. The leftist cannot. He doesn’t belong to any group. He doesn’t believe in anything beyond his puny self.
Finally, the biggest folly of the leftists is their failure to see that compassion and fairness necessitate organization, structure and authority. They can only see ‘distribution’; they cannot comprehend ‘production’, or that if you don’t produce, you cannot distribute anything. I have seen this in Kerala: there is nothing left to distribute, so instead of distributing wealth (which has ceased to be produced), now the leftists are going about distributing… poverty!
That is the crux of the matter. By being naïve, uncompromising, and often malicious, leftists can only be obstacles to progress – and this is abundantly demonstrated by India’s hyper-active and loud liberals. Since history is ruthless (and, in their dogma, supreme), leftists and their ideas deserve to be, and will be, thrown in the garbage-bin of history.
1156 words, 16 March 2013
March 17, 2013
This is an unpublished piece I wrote some time ago. I have admired Hitchens for a long time.
Why Christopher Hitchens was one of the most important intellectuals of the recent past
Rajeev Srinivasan looks back at the career of the formidable journalist and essayist who passed away recently
We shall miss Christopher Hitchens for at least three reasons. First, he was the kind of atheist that even a theist could appreciate and applaud.
March 17, 2013
A slightly edited version of the following was published by niticentral on march 5th (a bit late in posting it here): http://www.niticentral.com/2013/03/05/fiasco-of-modi-at-wharton-52433.html
The dog it was that died: The fiasco of Modi at Wharton
Rajeev Srinivasan on why the whole thing was predictable
Now that it is official – Narendra Modi is no longer invited by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school to their India Economic Forum to be a keynote speaker – it occurs to me that the whole thing could have been foreseen. Indeed, I was mildly surprised when I first heard Modi had accepted the invitation – what about his visa, I thought to myself. In fact, I thought this whole thing was going to end in a fiasco, remembering how Subramaniam Swamy had been summarily dispatched by Harvard, and how Witzel has mocked Indians.
The outcome could not possibly have been any different, considering the dramatis personae – the left-lib types in academe, the religious fundamentalists, the US government, and the Indian government. All of them have acted perfectly rationally, as per their points of view and their objectives.
First, the leftists. The left-lib types are on the ascendant in US universities, and they are feeling their oats as their favorite, Barack Obama, handily won election last year, and has appointed two Atlanticists as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. It is not a conjecture that the halls of academe tend to be full of very left-leaning people, who are far more leftist than the average citizen. This is as true of the US as it is of India.
In India, I have been appalled at the kinds of opinions held by faculty at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, where I taught for a while. These people were dismissive of points of view that did not fit with their comfortable axioms; I also suspected they got their views by just listening to some TV anchor – it was so superficial and incoherent. And this at a top-rated school; I dread to think of what it must be in lesser schools.
At Stanford, I have found a palpable hostility to Indian, specifically Hindu, interests. Now Stanford, partly because of the gravitational pull of the conservative Hoover Institution on campus, is relatively less leftist. Yet, there too there is animosity – it is perhaps the conservative Christian hostility to anything other than their own dogma. In any case, a clique of far-leftists, including an execrable group of Indian Communists, have hijacked the agenda there. Most Indian-origin people invited to lecture there are fiercely anti-Hindu, if not anti-India too.
So you can’t win. It is either the holy-rollers intent on ‘saving’ the pagans by taking their land away from them; or it is the leftists intent on spreading their wacky ideas for world conquest. Christopher Hitchens, in another context, quoted Dante Allighieri who said that “the Pope was fornicating with the Emperor”. Similarly, here it is the Communists fornicating with the fundamentalists. India is the easiest target it is full of fifth columnists.
Second, the Islamists. They, too, see themselves on a winning note in the US, as they have an immense, and rather baffling, ability to intimidate, browbeat, or guilt-trip people, as and when required. There are entities such as CAIR that forcefully push the Islamist agenda. Besides, if the stick doesn’t work, there is always the carrot. Just look at how much petro-money Islamists are willing to throw around especially on campuses – Faigate, anyone?
Let us also remember that it was a Hyderabad, India-born Muslim librarian at MIT who spearheaded the earlier campaign to deny Modi a visa to the US. He was attached to the Aga Khan Foundation. The idea of keeping the Modi/Gujarat riots issue alive is to reinforce their positioning of Muslims as ‘victims’ almost by definition. And we all know that westerners, ignorant of the situation on the ground, can be induced to support ridiculous positions if these positions are well-marketed: as happened in the case of Binayak Sen, saint and healer.
Third, the US government. Obama has decided that all his vaunted bipartisanism is for the birds, now that he never has to stand for election again. His brinksmanship on the sequester, as well as his naming of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel shows that Obama does not plan to compromise (of course except where he is forced to.)
It is a fact that America has been defeated in Afghanistan, or is pretty close to it. They have to declare victory and run like hell. It has become a tar baby for them, and they simply want to exit, having accomplished nothing other than spending a trillion dollars and having thousands of their soldiers die. They want to walk away, and the simplest thing to do is to leave Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the Pakistanis.
Of course, the Americans brought about their dependence on Pakistan through their own orneriness. If they had not been so dogmatic about Iran (okay, admittedly Iran is a dubious ally, but it is not possible to find a more dubious ‘ally’ than Pakistan) they could have cut Pakistan out of the loop entirely by approaching Afghanistan from the west. As things stand, they have to swallow their pride, even though it is plain as daylight that Pakistan is playing a double game, and mollify Pakistan.
And what is the Americans’ favorite mechanism to please Pakistan? Why, giving them Kashmir (that was Chuck Hagel’s preferred solution as he held forth in a press conference). The small matter that Kashmir is not theirs to give away is a minor detail. Nor does it matter to them that, like Oliver Twist, Pakistan will never be satisfied, but will keep asking for more.
Finally, the Indian government. In many respects, it is the real culprit. It may well be happy that this issue is diverting attention away from the many scams coming to light, and also from the rather brutal budget that was presented just a few days ago. Very convenient to act all pristine and chaste and feign injured innocence. It may even have initiated this diversionary tactic. Well, even if it didn’t, it is quite capable of diversionary tactics – remember how the gravely ill rape-victim Jyoti Singh Pandey was flown to Singapore to divert attention.
The Indian government, specifically the Congress, is also demonstrating that it remains deathly scared of Narendra Modi. They have tried every trick in the book, and even set up an official Dirty Tricks Department (or words to that effect) to denigrate Modi. Their attempts at tejovadham are going nowhere, but they do not let up on the constant propaganda. They have at their service a truly motley crew of characters: Angry Dancer, Police Officer 1.0 and 2.0, Ex-Babu-Now-Saint, and the allegedly Witness-Coaching Activist Who Was Told to Keep Away From Their Locality By The Victims Who Were Allegedly Being Helped.
The irony is that this may become one of those stories with unintended consequences. The real losers may well be the leftlib types. I am reminded of Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog’: this may come back to bite the leftlibs in the ass. Here is what the elegy says:
But soon a wonder came to light,
That showed the rogues they lied:
The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.
That may well be the epitaph of the story: it is Wharton, and the left-libs and their fundamentalist pals that are facing the fallout. The serenely unconcerned Modi may well benefit from this incident, wherein he was plainly wronged.
1242 words, 3 Mar 2013
March 16, 2013
Ashis Nandy inadvertently exposed atrocious leftist bigotry
Rajeev Srinivasan on the startling oppression of the disadvantaged by the Communists
It has been a few weeks since Ashis Nandy made a statement that was roundly condemned by all. Although it made headlines at the time, we have moved on, as there are, daily, other, new atrocities to sensationalize (so far as the media is concerned) and to be aggravated about (so far as the public is concerned) – for example the abrupt cave-in to Italy about the marines who jumped bail.
What has surprised me is that two dramatic events – the massive attacks on Hindus (many temples burnt, and other atrocities undoubtedly have taken place) in Bangladesh that are going on, and the torching of 200 Hindu homes in West Bengal’s Canning area, have not received any publicity at all. The leftist-run media has simply ignored the carnage. This, compared to the hue and cry about Ashis Nandy’s statement, made me wonder about underlying prejudices: milady doth protest too much, indeed.
A glance at Google Trends shows that ‘Ashis Nandy’ as a search term had a huge peak in January and then it died down in about a week’s time. Everyone has found something new. But Nandy’s statement, which I reproduce verbatim below, should not so easily be forgotten. I personally think Nandy should be congratulated for his candor, not condemned. For, here is a lifelong leftist laying bare a dirty little secret that all of us should be cognizant of. What he actually said is the following:
It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes and as long as this is the case, Indian republic will survive. And I give an example, one of the states with least amount of corruption is the state of West Bengal where when the CPM was there. And I want to propose to you, draw your attention to the fact that in the last 100 years nobody from the OBCs, the backward classes and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state.
(Verbatim transcript of the relevant section, from Outlook India at http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?283737 )
The part that got the attention is, for convenience, what I shall call Part A: “most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the SCs and now increasingly STs”. Now this may or may not be true, and it may depend on which state you are talking about. For instance, in Kerala, this may not be true, as the powers that be are either Christian or Muslim or deracinated Communists. But it may well be true in Dravida-Kazhagam Tamil Nadu. Yet, while I am not convinced that OBC/SC/ST are any more venal than the so-called upper castes, I concede he may be right.
That Nandy said something rude about the so-called lower castes (although he claims he was misquoted) should not be surprising, as this is par for the course for a leftist ‘intellectual’. Besides, Nandy is – I believe – a Serampore Christian; Christians tend to be contemptuous of ‘lower-castes’, although they claim, unconvincingly, that they are beyond caste. Note that Christians parade their prize ‘Hindu Brahmin’ converts; and ill-treat Harijan converts.
Let us analyze Part A briefly. What the man is saying, prima facie, is that ‘lower-caste’ people are inherently more corrupt, although he adds a baffling claim about how the Indian republic is safe so long as this is true. That seems to imply that corruption is the natural state of the Indian republic, which may well be true. There are some who say that the Indian constitution is a flawed document, and surely a republic based on such a constitution could be inherently corrupt.
There is also an argument that parallels the statement about how a woman needs to be twice as good as a man to be considered half as good. Things are not easy for those from the ‘lower castes’, as they do face a certain amount of discrimination and reduced expectations about their capacity to deliver. So unless a ‘lower caste’ person is twice as corrupt or ruthless, they may not get ahead.
But the really interesting thoughts come from Part B. Strangely, there was no storm of protest from the usual suspects over this statement because, I suspect, it is verifiably true. Nandy is saying that in the past 100 years, no OBC/SC/ST has had a shot at power in Bengal.
Let me rephrase that in context: despite the fact that for a large part of the last 100 years, (West) Bengal has been ruled by Communists and other leftists, the self-proclaimed messiahs of the oppressed, no OBC or SC/ST has been anywhere near power.
Now that is a truly explosive statement. In other words, Ashis Nandy, a sociologist and a leftist himself, in stating baldly, in so many words, that the Communists are die-hard casteists!
That is the dirty little secret of the leftists: extreme bigotry and contempt for the subaltern. This has been nicely demonstrated in Kerala. The backbone of the Communists in Kerala are OBC Ezhavas, especially from Malabar. However, even though Communists first came to power as long ago as 1957, they never made an Ezhava a Chief Minister until V S Achuthanandan in 2006, and that too only under protest. The party bosses once got him defeated in a safe seat, and in 2006 they openly pushed forward a Muslim to checkmate VS’s appointment as CM, after projecting him during the election as the CM candidate, which played a large part in their win in the first place.
If you consider that Ezhavas are numerous, well-organized and relatively well-off, and this is what is done to them, we can imagine what is done to less assertive SC/ST groups. According to the Communists, the OBC/SC/ST’s role is to be their hewers of wood and carriers of water, never leaders.
There were other highly qualified Ezhava candidates in those fifty years from 1957 to 2006, including two women: one, the stalwart theoretician K R Gowri, the tallest leader among the Communists; and the other, Susheela Gopalan, the wife of their deified leader A K Gopalan, after whom AKG Bhavans are named. Once they even projected Gowri as the CM candidate, but when they won, rejected her on ‘health’ grounds. This is risible considering she is still active in politics twenty years later: she finally quit the party in frustration, formed another party and has been elected several times again.
Let me mention in passing that this, and other evidence (including the harrowing tales told by women cadres who desert the Communists in the Red Corridor because of sexual and other oppression) suggests that the oft-heard-crying-crocodile-tears-about-womens’-rights Communists are actually misogynists by and large.
But that need not detain us here. Back to Part B of Nandy’s statement:in the last 100 years nobody from the OBCs, the backward classes and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal.
Let us savor that delicious statement once more.
So if you believe Nandy – and he should know, as an insider – the vast sea of humanity called the common man, or pothujanam in Malayalam, or aam admi in Hindi, is despised and oppressed by the leftists of India! We shouldn’t be surprised, because the leftists are utter hypocrites.
I had heard this also – I am not sure if it is true — in the context of Bengal: that the reason West Bengal Communists are not bothered about systematic oppression, including slaughter, of Hindus in Bangladesh is because of caste. The Communist leaders in West Bengal appear to be high-caste (to my untrained eye, all those Banerjees and Mukherjees and Chatterjees and Boses are high-caste, and I am willing to be corrected if I am wrong); the Hindus being massacred in Bangladesh are low-caste. Therefore kind-hearted West Bengal Communists, whose hearts bleed daily for Muslims in India, simply ignore the much worse plight of the Hindus of Bangladesh.
Anyway, I have observed this mind-set in an Indian woman brought up in a Communist household. She casually announced her father’s casteism, as though it were a credit. Furthermore, she is a racist, and often airs her view that Indians are inferior to whites. Communist brainwashing runs deep.
Unfortunately, there are many like her who believe the utter nonsense peddled by the Communists. So long as this garbage is considered serious and not a bad joke, there is no chance that India will progress. The first thing to do would be to stop funding a certain university, the ground-zero of this virus; then maybe endemic casteism – and many other ills — will diminish in India.
1450 words, 9 Mar 2013