Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Aurobindian movement's larger context is colonial and postcolo­nial India

1 Tradition, Rhetoric, and the Aurobindo Movement
Sightseers in the southeastern Indian coastal town of Pondicherry quickly discover the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and learn about the model city of Auroville. As the legacies of Pondicherry's most-famous moderncitizens--the revolutionary-turned-mystic Sri Aurobindo Ghose( 1872- 1950) and his collaborator, Mirra Richard (1878-1973, known asthe Mother) -- the two institutions dominate the town. The statues of the soldier-statesman Dupliex and Mohatma Gandhi may jointly overpower the seaside, but it is the heritage of Aurobindo and his yogic partner, rather than the town's unique Indo-French history and the nation's collective struggle for independence, that most colors how people view Pondicherry.
The Ashram's1 voluminous literature depicts it as a spiritual labora­tory. It is intended as a place where the practitioners of Aurobindo's yoga can experiment with human evolution. Auroville, meanwhile, is advertised as a new age, transcendent city that will spur and eventually realize humanity's evolutionary goal of unity in diversity. Where the Ashram sits four square in Pondicherry, participating in full in the political, economic, and educational establishments of that place, Auroville melds into the surrounding countryside. It is a "city" whose buildings are scattered amid the villages of rural Tamil Nadu state. Auroville has no stop lights and few motor vehicles. It possesses instead a kind of visual and auditory quiet that is an outgrowth of its Aurobindian heritage. Aurovilians, many of them veterans of the Euro-American social upheavals of the 1960s, have dedicated themselves to the attempt -13-
2 The Rhetoric of Right as Interpretation, Tradition, and Symbolic Capital
Political Interpretation and Action
Why should we study the rhetoric of right? Of what importance is it inthe attempt to understand the political world?
Understanding the rhetoric of right gives us insight into an old maxim that has regained favor over the past few decades: that to act politically, people must first understand the world.1 Brute facts and bare economic conditions do not provide a sufficient framework for action. They may provide reasons for acting, but crucial questions remain unanswered: How do we act? What is to be done? Where do we start, with which problem? How do we solve problems? How can we be effective? What do we want to achieve? People must first interpret the world in order to know what action to take.
For example, consider the situation in India at the turn of the century. Brute facts pointed to a troubled existence for Indians. The subcontinent had just experienced a series of severe famines. Religious unrest was on the rise. Crime was also rising, while there was no sign that education was doing likewise. What was one to do? Several options were open to Indians, among which were: 1) to do nothing, and trust that the British would solve the problem; 2) to cooperate with the British; and 3) to resist the British. Now the question became how to choose. And this is where the act of interpreting the world became important, because it was the foundation for different choices. Some Indians examined the facts, -24-
3 Texts in Context
Not only did Sri Aurobindo expose the deficiencies and errors of the Congress, but his political knowledge and insight led him to predict the dire consequences of its half-hearted and opportunistic policies upon the teem­ing, sweating, and starving masses of the Indian people, driven to despera­tion by ravaging famines and oppressive law and levies of the [British]government. -- A follower of Aurobindo, writing on the centennial of Aurobindo's birth
In order to understand and fully appreciate a rhetoric of right, one must put the texts that constitute that rhetoric into the contexts of time and place. It is only by grasping political and historical environments that one can detect the nuances of textual invocation that come into play when participants use a rhetoric of right to defend and further their interests within the discourse community. In a sense, one must attempt to understand the world as it is seen through the eyes of the participants. Otherwise the observer is tempted to impose his or her own understand­ing of concepts and arguments onto invocations, thus losing a real appre­ciation of their power. Of course, seeing the world through the eyes of participants does not necessarily mean agreeing with their political agenda.
The Aurobindian movement's larger context is colonial and postcolo­nial India. In their own fashion, Aurobindian texts answer in succession the important questions taken up by both Indian political leaders and the rank and file during the past ninety years: How should Indians respond to -44-
4 Cosmology: Mysticism,The Evolution of Consciousness, and Freedom
Many societies see nowadays the rebirth of an aggressive fundamentalism or a conservative purism to halt indulgence and a laissez-faire attitude which institute themselves little by little in the name of tolerance. Not to fallinto this trap--this is the challenge every new society has to take up,especially if it wants to bring about in man a change in the level ofconsciousness. -- Yanne, "Credo,"Auroville Today 26 ( February 1991): 3
Systems are tempting; there is gratification in keeping things in order. Computers are really good for that; humans, since they're given the oppor­tunity of not being plugged into wall sockets, should try something else. -- François, "Defining Ourselves,"Auroville Today 20 ( August 1990): 1
Chapter 3 introduced the Aurobindo movement by tracing its general texts within the context of Indian politics. Chapter 4 begins an analysis of the particular texts that form the discourse from which the Aurobindian rhetoric of right is derived. This analysis explores the three sources of symbolic capital described in chapter 2--cosmology, the virtues and example of founders and heroes, and history.
This chapter begins with a description of cosmology in general as a source of symbolic capital, then moves to a description of the text of -103-
5 The Description and Authority of Founders and Heroes: Aurobindo and the Mother as Mosaic Mediators
[The Mother] was not terribly impressed when questioned about more rigidand now computer-aided organizational methods that most modern systems have relied on in the past to get results. "This is a makeshift," she said,"which we should tolerate only very temporarily." And later in the same exchange, she said that "an organization is needed for the work to be done--but the organization itself must be flexible and progressive." --Sun-Word Rising
Chapter 4 began the analysis of the sources of tradition in political rhetoric. We saw that, for the Aurobindo movement, problems identified by cosmology were conceptualized in terms of egoism, that the resolu­tion of all problems necessitated a change of consciousness, and that human success was measured in the movement to a state of being wherein political structures are replaced by an organic and flexible mode of organization founded on an intuitive self-discipline. In the cosmologi­cal texts of the movement, symbolic capital is contained in the concepts of consciousness and evolution.
Here, we turn to texts containing the description and authority of founders and heroes as another source of tradition. We shall see that, for the Aurobindo movement, the solution to problems, understood to -150-
6 History: The Path to the Promised Land
Today's trend of individuals and working groups managing and directing their own affairs has probably turned out to be the most positive develop­ment in Auroville's administrative structure in the last years. First, because who is in a better position to decide what to do than those who have taken up the particular responsibility? And second, but equally important, the increased concentration on one's own work makes it all the more difficult to meddle in other people's concerns." -- François Grenier, "Decision-Making in Auroville, "Auroville Today 16 ( April 1990):6
In the previous two chapters, we examined the role of cosmology and of portrayals of founders and heroes in the rhetoric of right. Along the way, we have seen how cosmology creates symbolic capital that can be used in the rhetoric of right by defining the core human problems at the root of every situation, and dictating the correct epistemology, ontology, and methodology to be used in identifying and understanding those problems. Likewise, we have examined how descriptions of founders and heroes define a range of preferred solutions to problems by identifying and describing the authority and example of respected persons. In this chapter, we will explore the role of history in creating symbolic capital relating to the right "ends" of the community.
8 Summary and Applications
Before moving on to give examples of how we may apply this study ofthe rhetoric of right to the larger field of political analysis, we should summarize the general results derived from this particular case study.
First we saw that the rhetoric of right provides taken-for-granted prin­ciples, descriptions, and calculations linked to a discursively constructed conceptualization of the common good that people use to judge the "rightness" of policy. Those taken-for-granted elements are embedded in a discourse that conceptualizes the common good as part of a general response to problems thrown up by particular contexts. Here, Aurobindo and his followers created a discourse as a means of responding to the problems of colonial and postcolonial India. Those problems included the worth of Indian culture and spirituality in an empire that took Western rationality as the highest form of knowledge, the status of individuals in a traditional culture that assigned women and certain castes to inferior status, the relationship between two religious traditions that simultaneously aimed for the highest values and sank to legitimizing intimidation and violence, and the authority and role of leaders in a soon to be independent country in which Western and traditional models were both present and to a degree discredited. What emerged was a set of texts that conceptualized the common good in terms of the need to evolve spiritually, the duty to be flexible and open to the mystical forces present in contexts, and the goal of a synthetic joining of human cultures in ananarchic "unity in diversity." In turn, those texts were passed down through time in the form of a cosmology, a celebration of the example and authority of leaders and founders, and a secular history.
Notes Tradition, Rhetoric, and the Aurobindo Movement The word "ashram" corresponds roughly to "monastery," but as we shall see below, it does not always carry all the connotations of that Western concept. In general, the word refers to a group of people who live together in order collectively to live a spiritual life. In turn, members of an ashram are usually termed "ashramites" or "sadhaks" (the followers of a spiritual discipline or"sadhana"). Some political analysts have usefully examined the substance, but not the power, of rhetoric as a tool of persuasion. See for example, David Johnston, The Rhetoric of Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation( Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986). One of the few exceptions to the general neglect of rhetoric as argument is Albert O. Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy ( Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991). Margaret Thatcher, The Path to Power ( New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 555. By "right," I do not mean the strict philosophical definition confined to deontolog­ical modes of argument. As will become apparent in the course of this book, the rhetoric of right can be used in the contexts of both deontological and teleological arguments--and thus in arguments concerning both "right" and "good." Rather, Imean "right" here in the more general sense of "correct," "accurate," and"appropriate." In this sense, contemporary conservatives' identification of a mode of argument and political analysis that they dub "political correctness" is the idenU3tification of a variant of the general American rhetoric of right whose generalapplication they oppose. Conservatives acknowledge the power of this rhetorical variant in its ability to link arguments with a supposedly "correct" view of things,but they disagree as to the "correctness" of that view. The ultimate result, of course, is normative theory based on the analytic, decontex­tualized depiction of politics. The most famous, and egregious, of these are John Rawls, A Theory of Justice ( Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of the HarvardUniversity Press, 1971), and Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia ( NewYork: Basic Books, 1974). See Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Urbana:.University of IllinoisPress, 1964). 11:49 AM

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