Friday, April 25, 2008

Politics in India cannot be ever divorced from issues of religion and caste

Those Days and These Days
from Around and About by shantanu dutta

Jawaharlal Nehru was one who earnestly and passionately wanted a political order that was above the dictates of caste and creed and through out his long innings as a leader both before and after independence, he sought to lay its foundations, often by battling it out with other conservative ideas. But as in the nineteenth century; so too in the twentieth century – Nehru’s charisma in his time; the same as the charisma of the nineteenth century aristocracy in their time ensured that their thoughts reigned for a time and then after they were gone; caste and religion based politics slowly gained re entry and even have come to occupy centre stage.

The communist parties are supposed to be above caste, class and religion but this commitment perhaps is as best seen in the uppermost echelons. And as for the Dravidian parties, every one knows how after the old guard passes on, there would be very little left of Periyar’s (again charisma driven) legacy of rationalism.

Religion is too deeply etched on the human psyche ; and for any one to pretend that politics or any other social activity can be carried out by ignoring this interface is sheer naiveté. The experience of Swami Vivekananda and his turn around is a case in point. An avowed agnostic and rationalist with little to with matters of religion, an encounter with the illiterate and rustic Ramakrishna Paramhansa changed his destiny and the contour of Indian society at the turn of the century exactly a hundred years ago.

Politics in India cannot be ever divorced from issues of religion and caste. It wasn’t then in Those Days and it isn’t possible These Days. What history teaches us though is that it can be harnessed and controlled so that the forces of fanaticism, bigotry and intolerance do not ever hold sway. That much is possible. That much is what a man of Mahatma Gandhi’s stature was able to achieve. We may expect no more than this or we live in a fool’s paradise.

The Social Brain Hypothesis: Are our brains hardwired to deal with social hierarchies?
from by Kambiz Kamrani

Almost all primates live in groups with an observable and definable social hierarchy, and humans aren’t an exception. We may overlook it in our day to day lives, but every so often it becomes evident that we interact best when we understand the pecking order. The social brain hpyothesis argues that the cognitive demands of living in complexly bonded social groups selected for increases in executive brain. Two new papers in the current issue of the journal Neuron investigate this phenomenon by looking at the activity in specific regions of the brain, like the striatum, which reflects a common signal of reward in both the economic and social domains.

The research was conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health. fMRI was used to monitor the activity of the brain of 72 participants who were playing an interactive computer game for money. From this press release,

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