Fear of Engineering [replugged from some years ago] | what liberals suffer from

March 19, 2013


Rajeev Srinivasan

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.

    Rajeev Srinivasan


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