Friday, October 31, 2008

The unity of the subcontinent was a cherished wish of Sri Aurobindo

from aju mukhopadhyay <> to "Tusar N. Mohapatra" <> date 11 October 2008 21:26 subject Re: World Union and Supramental
8, Cheir Lodi Street, Pondicherry
Of the possibility of a World Government on Spiritual Foundation
by Aju Mukhopadhyay

That mankind is proceeding toward some kind of unity is without any doubt. If hindrances are found Nature will seek and find the right course to move on. If it is based on spirituality the problem will almost go for men will see others as themselves, the relation among them will be based on psychic and soul realisation.

Clash of Religions
Joy and pride of triumph take the people and nation to such heights that they always ride on their high horses. Romans persecuted Jesus and built Christian religion after him using his life and work as the symbol of their religion. The European nations, proud of their riches and modern civilisation, thought of their religion as superior to others. They conquered large number of countries and converted many of the vanquished to Christianity with the lofty idea of civilising them as they were. With the advent of aggressive Islam, who conquered nations and converted the infidels to their religion, the two highly ambitious religions clashed. Religion became the source of power and pride. Religious war continued for centuries. Still now it plays its role. Trying to convert others to one’s own religion is a kind of expansionism. Converters do not wish to face any hindrance on the way. The Pope has expressed displeasure at the effort in some province in India to ban conversion by passing act.
In this connection a story told by the Mother of Pondicherry comes to our mind. She was coming by ship from France to meet Sri Aurobindo for the first time in 1914. In the ship she met a Presbyterian who conducted the Sunday mass in a cabin. All joined him except the Mother. She was later told by the clergyman that he was going to China to convert the ‘heathens’. At this she became serious and told him, ‘Listen, even before your religion was born- not even two thousand years ago- the Chinese had a very high philosophy and knew a path leading them to the Divine; and when they think of Westerners, they think of them as barbarians. And so you are going there to convert those who know more about it than you?’ (The Mother. Pondicherry; Collected Works. V-8. p.150)
The war continued for years in Bosnia-Herzegovina and adjacent areas among Slavs all of whom originally belonged to Yugoslavia. Sir Arthur Evans, a scholar, wrote after his visit to the area in his book, Through Bosnia-Herzegovina on Foot (London:1876), ‘ After the 11th century many Bosnians were no longer Catholics but followed agnostic, puritanical form of Christianity. The Catholic rulers and those of neighbouring kingdoms were frequently ordered by the Pope to chastise them. . . for more than three centuries, many thousands were killed, many more tortured; once 40000 were arrested and many of them were dragged in chains all the way to Rome (As reported in The Asian Age of 10.7.1995).

In 1450 many such Bosnians appealed to Turkish Sultan and were converted to Islam in due course. The fight continued to the present era in different forms.
Afghanistan was a melting spot of cultures. It was a Buddhist centre up to ninth century when Islam entered the valley. Buddha statues, 50 and 34.5 metres in height at Bamiyan, were two pieces of great heritage of human art and culture. On 2 March 2001 Taliban, one of the crudest religious fundamentalists, destroyed such statues by gun, rocket and tank fires in the face of world wide protest. Mr. Mulla Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the fanatics, said that it was in line with the fatwa from local Islamic clerics, designed to prevent worshipping of ‘false idols’.
Persecution, torture and death at the hands of religious fanatics continue to grow. Fight between the Turkish army and Kurdish workers continued for 16 years. Both Hizbollah and Fazelet fought to replace Turkey’s secular system with an Islamic agenda.
Three extremists were sentenced to death and many others punished as they tried to overthrow the Malaysian Government and replace it with an Islamic State in 2000-2001. A Muslim State in Nigeria pronounced fatwa to kill the author of an article which was insulting to Prophet Mohammad. Such fatwa were issued against authors by the Iranian Head of the Government, Ayatollah Khomeini and the clerics in Bangladesh.
In recent months world has witnessed series of massacres on different countries for publishing caricatures of Prophet Mohammad by cartoonists in response to an invitation by the Danish Government as a symbol of the freedom of expression. Writers like Salman Rushdie, Tasleema Nasrin, philosopher Henri-Levy, Chahla Chafiq and others issued statement expressing fear of Islamic totalitarianism.

Muslims constitute 40 out of about 180 nations of the world. They cover about one sixth of the global population and 40 per cent of the oil rich areas of the globe. Yet they clash more among themselves than with others. Oil rich countries are more aligned to the West and have less affinity with poor and populous Muslim countries. The longest war after the Second World War was fought between Iraq and Iran. The Gulf war was triggered by Muslims.
Islamic terrorism has spread everywhere: Chechneya, Moscow, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa. As all countries have become cautious and prepared so soft targets are more preferred, calling for more innocent lives. A writer like Hasan Suroor laments that all the miscreants crying jihad or killing innocents are doing it in the name of Allah and there is no pious Muslim to decry it. The writer feels that it is the wrong doers who are at falut, not the Islam.
Besides the largest Islamic religious groups there are violent activists otherwhere also, like LTTE in Sri Lanka or Maoists and other regional groups in India. The Hindu fundamentalists brought down the historic structure Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and complicated the issue.
Religionists would do well if they stop thinking that their religion is the only great one to be followed by others and begin to follow Sri Ramakrishna, who said that all paths lead to the same goal, the divine. Long back our Veda pronounced, Ekam sadvipra bahudha vadanti. The Truth is one, the wise call it by many names.

Clash of Ideas
After religion, moderns clashed violently over the world of ideas. Communism and Capitalism/ Democracy are the two rival ideas which influenced the largest number of people in the modern world. Communism brought the hope to many that it would spread throughout the world and men would unite under the leadership of the proletariat. But it turned out to be a mechanical dictatorship; dictatorship of a few and finally of one autocrat. After the sacrifice of innumerable human lives, ambitious communist Governments became expansionist, suppressing large number of people and race under it. The two largest Governments were USSR and China. People never lived peacefully under them until the changes occurred. Internecine fights continued. The internal state of affairs in communist countries was exposed by some writers of the lands. A few such names are, Mikhail Solokhov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Svetlana Aliluyeva, Silviu Craciunas and Jung Chang.
Utter lack of freedom, discontent and various other troubles brought fissures in the apparent solid bodies of such Governments. The constituent countries of the erstwhile USSR revolted. Mikhail Gorbachov avoided the blood shed and led the people through his unique Perestroika and Glasnost from communism to democracy. 12 constituent parts of USSR became independent nations united by commonwealth of CIS countries. East European communist countries gradually came out of the chains and became independent countries. Some countries like Tibet and Hongkong have been brought under the communist China and Taiwan is also in the process of inclusion as China is said to be their Mother Country. China has realized the world order and has shifted from its previous stand. It has invited huge foreign investment in the country. The right to individual property has been accepted and its economy is running in sort of capitalist line.

There has never been any communist Government in India. The Governments formed by left parties in three provinces functioned democratically under the Indian Republic. West Bengal is a province with longest record of such Government. A recent interview with the Chief Minister of West Bengal, published in The Hindu, revealed the position. Excerpts from a few replies given by him will clear the point.
‘We are closely observing the development taking place all over the world; changes are taking place in China and Vietnam on one side and Latin America on the other. . . .
‘China and Vietnam, they learnt lessons from the failures of the Soviet Union that stemmed from being totally cut off from world economy, its highly centralized command economy. . . . These countries have decided that this command system does not work
. . . .
‘Earlier communists used to think, as might have been in the case of erstwhile Soviet Union, that communists know everything under the sun. This is not right.’

Though the leaders have of late realised this, Sri Aurobindo predicted this long ago in his The Ideal of Human Unity. Rabindranath was overwhelmed by the material progress of the Soviets but he too foresaw a crack down of such a mechanised system. Devoid of God and spiritualism, there is no possibility of Unity under this system.

Clash of Civilisations
Ultimately it seems to be a clash and conflict of civilizations. Each civilization sticks to its root in spite of tremendous progress in transport and communication, reducing their apparent differences. Professor Huntington, the author of Clash of Civilisations, defined civilization as the highest cultural grouping of people at the broadest level. While Arnold Toynbee identified 21 major civilisations of which six existed, Huntington listed eight.
Relations between countries and nations have significantly changed. Many isms have vanished from the scene. The cold war between the US and the USSR ended but another cold war between China and USA raised its head, as thought Deng Xia Peng. Another type of cold war developed between the West and the rest of the world. Europe and America, though Christians, have their differences. West feels threatened by the non-western countries. Muslims think that Islam is in danger. Above all, the American ego, represented by its president, wants to dominate the rest of the world. In the face of prevailing cold wave flowing between countries, efforts to adjust and mitigate differences are on at different levels.

The Ego of the Super Power
The most disturbing aspect of the relations is the whimsical, arbitrary and imperial behaviour of the United States of America. It will be quite apposite to go into some details.
On 3 July 1988 an American missile cruiser stationed in the Persian Gulf accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner killing 290 civilians. When questioned, George Bush first, the then US President replied, ‘I will never apologize for the United States. I don’t care what the facts are’. They invade countries not in favourable terms with them, for some reason or the other, even defying the presence of UNO or compelling them to accord sanction against their enemies. The list may be longer than Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Libya, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 1963 US President John F Kennedy wished a regime change in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was given all support when he massacred Shias and his other enemies. From before the year 2003 they again desired a regime change and George Bush, the present president of USA, violently attacked Iraq on the plea that they were keeping weapons of Mass Destruction and they were behind the 9/11/2001 attack of their Trade Tower. Britain supported. France did not. They did not recognise US to be the super power. While destroying Iraq US destroyed the remains of thousands of years old Mesopotamian civilisation and placed themselves on a par with Taliban, the vandals. Though European Powers later came forward to their support, respecting the super power position of America, people of India vehemently opposed the sending of Indian troops in Iraq. The occupation of Iraq by the US still continues, though they have managed to establish there a puppet Government of their choice. Arundhati Roy, the writer, concluded her lecture in New York on 13 May 2003 with the words, ‘I hate to disagree with your president. Yours is by no means a great nation. But you could be a great people. History is giving you chance. Seize the time.’
The whites of USA occupied the old country, driving out the original inhabitants. So, truly, they are by no means a great and ancient nation.
We strongly feel that Israelites/ Jews have right to their place on earth like others and that they should not be hounded by terrorists as India is hounded persistently by them. Terrorism has become global. But it is ironical that Israel, who is creating havoc in Palestine and Lebanon, killing innocent lives and destroying properties to suppress the Hamas and Hizbollah with support from USA, celebrated their own terrorist act, the bombing of King David Hotel, on 22 July 1946 against Britain at a time when British prime minister is busy defending them. While United States supports and encourages the Israeli bombing, it does not support Indian bombing of terrorist hideouts in other countries for their own arbitrary and selfish strategy. Afghanistan is still burning. Both USA’s and Pakistan’s presence there cannot be ignored.

United States is keen to see that no country other than those already equipped with nuclear warhead possesses it. Both U.S. and Russia have stockpiled large number of such weapons. Some Europeans and Asians are also good nuke powers. Countries ambitious to have such weapons are regularly threatened by the US and warned by the UNO.
37 noble laureate scientists representing the Federation of American Scientists, have strongly objected to the Indo-US civilian nuclear technology deal as it will jeoparadise the NPT idea which is 30 years old now. They felt that the NPT should be replaced by a new international frame work. They further opined that America cannot continue to treat nuclear weapons as militarily useful and politically salient while expecting to stop global nuclear proliferation. The American motive is exposed by this. They want to rule the global roast, want forever to dominate others. But they can feel the pulse of others so adjustments are made in specific cases. Now Indian Nuclear Scientists have also appealed to the Indian Parliamentarians to see that Indo-Us agreement does not infringe on our independence, that we should be able to hold on to our nuclear programmes and that nothing short of Universal Nuclear disarmament must be out ultimate aim. They have claimed that India is one of the most advanced countries in the technology of fast breeder reactors.

The founders of the United Nations were determined ‘To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life time has brought untold sorrow to mankind . . . .’
The first purpose of the UNO is to maintain international peace and security. But in the context of the latest act of aggression by Israel one notes that UNO tackles crimes by the weak but is mute and unresponsive in the face of lawless behaviour of the powerful.
Sri Aurobindo wrote in the P.S. chapter of The Ideal of Human Unity, ‘The League of Nations was in fact an oligarchy of big powers each drawing behind it a retinue of small states and using the general body. . . for furtherance of its own policy much more than for the general interest and the good of the world at large. . . . In the constitution of the U.N.O. an attempt was made, in principle at least, to escape from these errors; but. . . . A strong surviving element of oligarchy remained in the preponderant place assigned to the five great Powers in the Security Council and was clinched by the device of the veto. . . .’ (SABCL. Pondicherry; V-15. p.559)
‘The League of Nations came into being as a direct consequence of the first war, world-wide conflict. If the third war . . . does come, it is likely to precipitate as inevitably a further step and perhaps the final outcome of this great world-endeavour. Nature uses such means, apparently opposed and dangerous to her intended purpose to bring about the fruition of that purpose.’ (ibid. p.557)
So he warned, ‘The leaders of the nations . . . must be on guard against unwise policies or fatal errors; the deficiencies that exist in the organization or its constitution have to be quickly remedied or slowly and continuously eliminated. . . . ‘ (ibid. p.558)
‘National egoism, the pride of domination and the desire of expansion still govern the mind of humanity, however modified that may now be in their methods . . . until the spirit is radically changed, the union of human race by a federation of free nations must remain a noble chimera.’ Sri Aurobindo wrote (ibid. pp.328-329).
His observations still hold good after some 90 years. The earth is burning with fire of war from place to place. The suffering of people inflicted with injury or death is the same even if such wars are not given the World War status.
Confused with the global scenarios the great scientist and intellectual, Stephen Hawking recently posed a question to the Internet, ‘In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain for another 100 years?’
There have come some 25000 answers through Yahoo. Many saw technology as the panacea, as our President often thinks. Others saw hope if we could just get along with others, invoking the combined power of God, Love and Peace.

The Unity on Spiritual Foundation Reviewing his theory in 1950, after about 34-35 years of writing The Ideal of Human Unity, Sri Aurobindo observed that his theory of ultimate union of the world’s people remained unaltered.
We find indeed that the world is moving closer for needs through different associations like UNO and its different bodies, European Union, NATO, SAARC, WTO, Group of Eight and many others. But these, based on needs, through the mode of diplomacy are something like outward unity which Sri Aurobindo called externals of civilisation like unity in dress, manners and habits, details of political, social and economic order. He wished a greater, living unity in the psychological life of humanity. He said that oneness is secretly the foundation of all things. Evolving spirit in Nature is destined to realize it consciously. Through diversity evolution moves from a simple to complex oneness. One day the human race must realize this, he confirmed. But by unity he did not mean uniformity; logically simple and scientifically rigid, beautifully neat mechanical sameness but a living oneness full of healthy variation and freedom.
Cultural affinity, the same origin of country and birth are reasons for natural unity. Living in the same country Ireland and Britain are always at loggerhead but Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have the natural affinity among the people, most of whom originally belong to India. In spite of ban on Indian cinema in Pakistan, the people zealously guard their right to enjoy them even through illegal means. Samuel Baid writes that once Bhutto asked poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Josh Malhiabadi to record their views on the culture of Pakistan on Radio Pakistan. While Faiz Ahmed said that the roots of Pakistani culture lay in Delhi and Agra, the other poet said that Jinnah’s two nation theory aborted the process of Ganga-Jamuna (composite) culture that was evolving between the Hindus and Muslims. The records were shelved but made public in 1978 for political purpose. The unity of the subcontinent was a cherished wish of Sri Aurobindo. It is expected to happen in the course of time as happened in Germany and Vietnam or through federation.
‘The ultimate result must be the formation of a World-State and the most desirable form of it would be a federation of free nationalities.’ (ibid. p.571) Sri Aurobindo said and stressed the need of free individuals who would remain at the centre of such nationalities.
The unity would be solid and secured if it is on a spiritual foundation. About the coming of a spiritual age Sri Aurobindo said in his The Human Cycle, ‘There will be a labour of religion to reject its past heavy weight of dead matter and revivify its strength in the foundation of the spirit. . . .
‘If mankind is to be spiritualised, it must first in the mass cease to be the material or the vital man and become the psychic and the free mental being. It may be questioned
whether such a mass progress or conversion is possible; but if it is not, then the spiritualisation of mankind as a whole is a chimera. . . .
‘The spiritual age will be ready to set in when the common mind of man begins to be alive to these truths and to be moved or desire to be moved by the triple or triune spirit.’
(SABCL. Pondicherry; V-15. pp.234-244)

The Conslusion
Though it seems that a world Government on spiritual foundation is a far cry at the moment, we may pause a little and deeply ponder over it. Sri Aurobindo said that the drive toward spirituality would be pioneered by individuals and groups of individuals. We find such individuals and groups, spiritual centres already established, not only in India but across the globe. It may take the world toward fruition of its goal at the appropriate time, the length of which is beyond our anticipation. * * * (c) Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2008 Email: and 10:10 AM

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Policies that fundamentally encourage equality need to be at the base of every political decision

Marx And Spencer TOI 25 Oct 2008, DIPANKAR GUPTA
Society must always come before the market.

We have to decide what kind of society we want before we let loose the market...The political decision that North Europeans, and even Canadians, took was to first devise their society and then let the economy arrange itself around it. They never seriously contested America’s boast that its profit and productivity were higher than theirs. They may have objected to the ways Americans calculated unemployment figures, but even that was inconsequential. Scandinavian countries took a clear and conscious political decision that what mattered most was that mothers not neglect their children, that old people not lie in gutters and that the sick have medical care. Once these conditions were agreed upon, the market was allowed freedom...

When one plans for society, one plans for the long run. The muscular sprinter is useless when it comes to running uphill, as only a marathon specialist can. If one were to think long distance then policies that fundamentally encourage equality need to be at the base of every political decision. Nietzsche once said that if a priest and a convict were made to climb mountains they would end up as equals. They would both be exhausted.

Democracy needs resolve and it must place society first. This is where planning plays a role, and all planning need not be of the slothful Soviet type. Interestingly, so many of those who till recently praised the poise and gift of the market have had a sudden change of heart. Earlier, only laissez faire and Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” figured. But today they are overeager to condemn the bosses of Wall Street and of every other crooked street in the world. The short term not only encourages painful social philippics, but also fair-weather friends.

But when bullies get beaten they run to the teacher for help. This is exactly how financial bosses are behaving, though they were actually walloped by their own swing. Even so, the message is clear. To favour the market and blow the whistle on society only perpetuates the Marx & Spencer brand of politics. Do we really want that? Should not the dead rest in peace? The writer is professor of sociology at JNU.

Hindu Nationalist themes have been adopted by many within the Sri Aurobindo Ashram

The Lives of Sri Aurobindo: The aggrieved victim turned aggressor
by Rich on Fri 24 Oct 2008 10:56 AM PDT Permanent Link Hindu Nationalist themes have been adopted by many within the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in which Mr. Reddy resides.

Sri Aurobindo was indeed a revolutionary leader against the British occupation of India as well as a cultural icon who fought for the self-determination of the subcontinent's indigenous populations, however, his writing on the polity that best suited the new nation of India is secular and democratic. His penetrating analysis of Fascism, Communism, Capitalism, from 1900 – 1950 is still a critically satisfying read today.

He certainly did not suggest following the chauvinistic path of fundamentalist religion, rather he envisioned a renewal of the collective spirit through a continual graduation of consciousness In his evolutionary perspective he clearly placed secular democratic values on a higher rung of the ladder of consciousness than one determined by religious fervor.

Therefore, it is ironic to watch those who claim to represent Sri Aurobindo ideals ignore the democratic character of his words and replace them with a militant interpretation of Hindu nationalism. This is evident in its failure to critically assess text that are viewed as hostile to their aspiration to seize the cultural interpretations of powerful institutions. In fact words themselves are ignored by those claiming speaking rights for Sri Aurobindo. Science, Culture and Integral Yoga

Friday, October 24, 2008

India's inventive form of secularism recognises, respects, even financially supports all religions

Indian Express > Op-Ed > ‘In India, the greater the intensity of religious practice, the greater the support for democracy’ > Vandita Mishra > Oct 24, 2008: Alfred C. Stepan

For many decades the highest quality of democracy is assessed to have been in Scandinavian countries. But all have an established evangelical Lutheran church. So we cannot say, as theoreticians of democracy, that an established church per se is dissonant with the democratic state.

But it would have been totally inappropriate for India to select the Scandinavian model. India has great religious heterogeneity and by Scandinavian standards, a terrific intensity of religious practice. So the unique Indian model was devised — one that recognises all religions, respects all religions, even financially supports all religions. The French idea of secularism based on state hostility to religion and the US notion based on its separation from the state was also not attractive in the Indian context.

India has also overturned the secularists’ prediction and hope ? that the more urban and educated the people are, the less involved in religion they would be, and therefore more secular. In India, data proves the exact opposite has happened — the greater the size of the city you live in, the more educated you are, the more you practice religion.

Do you see a crisis of secularism in India today?

I am horrified by events in Orissa and in Gujarat earlier. But as a comparativist, I must look at the larger frame.
The conventional wisdom is that the greater the intensity of religious practice, the more dangerous it is for democracy. But our data tells us that for all of India’s four major religions — Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism — the reverse is true. The greater the intensity of religious practice, the greater the support for democracy. My judgment is that this would not have happened if India had not chosen its inventive form of secularism. Sometimes the state doesn’t live up to it. But in comparative terms, it is a success. 10:44 AM

Monday, October 20, 2008

Restoring moral clarity and romance to professional practice

It’s not the market by Pratap Bhanu Mehta Indian Express > Edits & Columns > Oct 20, 2008

A political or economic crisis often unhinges many entrenched assumptions. The current economic crisis, for instance, has reopened the debate about the relationship between states and markets in unprecedented ways. It is often equally important, in responding to a crisis, to ensure that one dogma is simply not replaced by another dogma.

Both markets and states are subject to failures. The more probing question is under what conditions each is likely to succeed or fail. This is a complex question. But in recent discussions there is a striking absence of two issues that are enabling conditions for both markets and states to succeed. Both of these issues were very much part of the consciousness of all great theorists of modernisation from Adam Smith to Durkheim; and they were very much part of public discussion in the work of, say, Radhakamal Mukherjee. These two issues are as follows.

The first issue is the role of the professions (law, medicine, accountancy, management, academics etc) in providing the enabling conditions for a society to flourish. Beyond the state and market, these professional groups, with their own norms and identities, are absolutely central to the functioning of any modern society. It could be argued without too much exaggeration that these groups are the principal source of a functional and institutionalised morality in modern societies. These groups are not defined by self-sacrifice, far from it. Rather, they are in principle defined by certain activities. They participate in civic life and contribute to society, through their profession. Well-functioning groups will be driven by a respect for the norms and standards of the activity.

So, to simplify, lawyers will act as “officers of the court”, doctors will be in business of saving lives, accountants exposing fraud, etc. The existence of professional communities in which norms and standards are maintained are crucial in two respects: both states and markets rely on them, and it is largely professional communities that can create compliance to norms.

The biggest crisis we may be facing is not that of the state or market, but in the idea of professionalism. At a mundane level, the Enron debacle in the US was traced to the perfidy of accountants; and when the full history of the current crisis is written, the conflicts of interest of academics and other “professionals” will play a prominent part.

But in India, arguably, the crisis of the professions is the dirty open secret we never discuss... the bar association is hardly the purveyor of professional standards...only a miniscule of prominent lawyers thought it was their obligation to give their clients “objective” legal advice...

Indeed institutions are pretty much now reduced to incentives. But, as Adam Smith knew, there is something paradoxical about the idea that we can create integrity only by incentives. By definition, an individual who responds only (and I repeat only) to incentives, lacks integrity, because their commitments to ends and norms are entirely externally driven; it is as if they can be honest only when they are paid for it.

Societies cannot be held together only by coercion (state) or money (markets). Something more is required. In a broader sense, it requires internalisation of norms and values that set limits on what can be bought and sold. It requires the thought that not everything is merely instrumental. But in a more narrow sense, the idea of a professional identity was precisely the mechanism by which the gaps between norms and incentives could be filled...There is a lot of false lament over how the middle classes lack social and civic commitment. But this task is not well served by exalted calls for self-sacrifice: it will be better served by myriads of doctors and lawyers and accountants and journalists restoring moral clarity and romance to their professional practice. [What’s religion? 4:08 PM 3:30 AM 5:45 PM]

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Capitalism needs our Faith. The global economy will never be secular again

Religion & American politics: SSRC Home SSRC Blogs Blog Home
Welcome to the faith-based economy posted by Arjun Appadurai

But now we are in a new Weberian moment, where Calvinist ideas of proof, certainty of election through the rationality of good works, and faith in the rightness of predestination, are not anymore the backbone of thrift, calculation and bourgeois risk-taking. Now faith is about something else. It is faith in capitalism itself, capitalism viewed as a transcendent means of organizing human affairs, of capitalism as a theodicy for the explanation of evil, lust, greed and theft in the economy, and of the meltdown as a supreme form of testing by suffering, which will weed out the weak of heart from those of true good faith.

We must believe in capitalism, in the ways that the early Protestants were asked to believe in predestination. Not all are saved, but we must all act as if we might be saved, and by acting as if we might be among the saved, we enact our faith in capitalism, even if we might be among the doomed or damned. Such faith must be shown in our works, in our actions: we must continue to spend, to work hard, to invest, and, as George Bush long ago said, “to shop” as if our very lives depended on it. In other words, capitalism now needs our faith more than our faith needs capitalism. Practically, what does this mean? It means austerity, chosen or imposed...

Max Weber, Durkheim and the other giants of early social science watched with concern as the march of industrial capitalism, science and the division of labor appeared to erode religious belief and we seemed to be well on the way to a “disenchanted world.” But the Iron Cage turned out to be a Pandora’s Box.

In the 1950s, sixties and early seventies, the general social science consensus was that modernization after World War II was sure to replace religion with faith in science, bureaucracy, law and education. But the world turned out to be a perverse place and, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, it became evident that religion was not on the retreat. Evangelical Protestantism was born again in the United States, Islam became the very paradigm of an expansive and aggressive religious ideology, Roman Catholicism was quick to fight back in its own favored climates and constituencies, notably in Latin America, Eastern and Southern Europe and in various parts of Asia and Africa.

Even Hinduism and Buddhism, normally seen as quiet and sleepy, went global with a renewed energy and pushed their interests into various national and diasporic public spheres with scary effect in many parts of South and South-East Asia. As migrants began to carry their religious affiliations with them through the internet, television, telephone and the press, many world cities, from Detroit, London and Berlin, to Sao Paulo, Cairo and Seoul, began to be the sites of multiple religious movements, conversions, cults and churches, representing every variety of global evangelism and many varieties of indigenous tradition. The story of the Korean Protestant aid workers kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan recently is only the most bizarre in a worldwide drama of leveraged conversions or duelling evangelisms. And quite a large number of people seemed to be interested in being soldiers (and cleansers) in religious wars.

And capitalism itself in the last decades of the twentieth century has been observed to be tied up with numerous forms of hysteria, panic and mystery. Local entrepreneurs in sites as different as Lagos, Taiwan and Guatemala connected new forms of gambling, speculation and scam to the related languages of salvation and millennial profit. These new forms of re-enchanted capitalism have generally been tied to the capitalist badlands, where traditions of fetish, phantasm and spectre have frequently surrounded money and its reproduction. It is hardly news, especially to anthropologists, that the repressed fetishes of the commodity are always part of the lunatic edges of modern capitalism, thus giving rise to many brands of casino capitalism, evangelical entrepreneurship and proletarian life-wagering...

The cardinal mystery of the market, of course, verily its Spirit, is the Invisible Hand. For the Invisible Hand to move again, it needs a Helping Hand from us, the wretched of Main Street. And in lending this helping hand, in the biggest bailout in human history, we are asked to show our Faith in the Economy. For once, and perhaps for the last time, capitalism needs our Faith as much as we need its mysteries. The global economy will never be secular again.

[For more on the current economic crisis, see the SSRC "President's Question," where Craig Calhoun asks, "What do we know about the bailouts?"---ed.] This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 14th, 2008 at 11:02 am and is filed under Religion & American politics.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An alternating rhythm of repose and activity characterises the life of the universe


The growth of man in society is a fascinating subject for study and research. Thinkers have looked at the question from various angles and have formulated different theories regarding the social development of man through the ages. We will attempt to present some of the more important of these in their large lines, evaluate them inter alia in the light of Sri Aurobindo's thought, bearing in mind contemporary advanced opinion, and give a brief outline of the Master's own exposition of the subject.

An alternating rhythm of repose and activity, movement and cessation of movement characterises the life of the universe. Discussing this feature with reference to human civilisations Prof. Toynbee draws attention to the interesting concept of YIN and YANG in the Sinic imagery. Yin is the static and Yang the dynamic. The nucleus of the sinic character which stands for Yin seems to represent dark coiling clouds overshadowing the Sun, while the nucleus of the character which stands for Yang seems to represent the unclouded sun-disk emitting its rays. In the Chinese formula Yin is always mentioned first.' And this is in keeping with the Eastern tradition which has always regarded activity posterior to and consequent upon an antecedent state of repose.

Brahma the creator is born out of and rests for support on the recumbent figure of Vishnu lying on the folds of Sesha. The creative Power of Dynamis Kali performs her whirl of dance on the immobile body of Shiva. Proceeding out of a state of repose, activity has perforce to come to halt in repose, though only to set out on a further career of movement. This fundamental trait of swing between the Yin- static and Yang-dynamic has governed all the manifestations in the universe, particularly human effort at a mastery and governance of life, within and without, which is what we usually describe as civilisation. Many have been such endeavours by human societies more than twenty of them have been listed but all of them have been subject, more or less in a uniform manner, to the eternal laws of Yin and Yang. The process is the same.

A society content to rest in its primitive state is provoked out of its Yin stage to meet a certain difficulty challenge thrown by Nature and in acting responsively to it the society passes into a Yang stage and the period of growth commences. In the very process of responding to the challenge a further challenge is provoked and so on. The society continues to grow till it successfully meets the challenges; but the moment it flags, the Yang stage begins to end, the society begins to lapse back into the Yin. But it will be a mistake to assume that all the human societies have been simply engaged in a mechanical repetitive movement. The wheel turns round its own axle, again and again in a tireless way, true. But in performing its revolutions the wheel moves forward also. The movement of human society taken collectively does show such a forward inarch.

  • In what direction does the progress tend?
  • Does a detached study of the past civilisations give us any clue as to the decisive factors influencing their career?

Systematic attempts have been made by serious students of history to study this vast saga of the rise and fall of human societies from the beginnings of recorded time with a view to find out the prime or the predominant factor which influences, governs and shapes their movement. There is what is called the Theological Interpretation of History. It looks upon history as the Drama of the Will of God. All events are determined by Him. Syste matised as it was in Europe, it was inevitable that the theory should have been woven round the figure of Christ. 'Its earliest apologists sought to show how the world had followed a divine plan in its long preparation for the life of Christ.

From this central fact of all history, mankind should continue through war and suffering until the Divine plan was completed at the judgement day. The fate of nations is in God's hands; history is the revelation of His wisdom and power. Whether He intervenes directly by miracle or merely sets his laws in operation, he is the master of men's fate.' (Encyclo- paedia of Britannica). Bishop Bossuet worked out this theory in great detail (in his famous Histoire Universelle) and sought to prove that the key to the understanding of History was in the Will of God. But the Will does not work, in the very nature of things, openly and palpably; it works, he said, through secondary and natural causes. And it is to these latter that we have to turn for guidance in our study. Logically pursued, this theory led one to these 'secondary and natural causes' for explanations of history rather than to an inferential Will of God.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Free from the need to pretend to be politically correct

Televisionized India: Beyond small screen City City Bang Bang Santosh Desai The Times of India, 6 Oct 2008. That television is the most powerful engine of change in India is an assertion that is unlikely to be challenged by most...

More fundamentally, ideas like secularism, tolerance, and temperate balance start looking like impositions. One can argue that the recent surge in intolerance that one sees from a large section of society is in some way a product of a televisionized India, free from the need to pretend to be politically correct. The pent up feelings of resentment and entitlement have rushed out and get both tacit and explicit support from television.

In a certain sense, television has made Indian democracy more real in that, we are today dealing with issues that come from how people, when not pretending to be someone else, and when not subject to editorial admonitions, really feel about things. The prejudices are out in the open, be they those with a communal tinge or elements of class hatred (will Mayawati really become Prime Minister?).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

In the olden times people fought to satisfy national greed and dynastic ambition


The Place of Democracy in Human Evolution by C. C. DUTT

The word 'democracy is, theoretically at least, simple in its signi- ficance. It means a form of government in which the supreme power is wielded by the people, where the supreme authority vests in the whole body of the people. It is obviously something quite different from a theocracy, an autocracy, an oligarchy or a monarchy, absolute or limited. Lincoln's definition is the aptest we can think of, govern- ment of the people, by the people, for the people. A sovereign people may exercise its power directly, as in the little republics of olden times; or it may function through its elected representatives, as in a modern republic like, say, France. It is an essential condition that every adult subject should have the right to control the affairs of the State. For, it is obvious that by restricting the franchise a government, democratic in form, may be reduced virtually to an oligarchy...

Sri Aurobindo's characterisation of the ancient Hindu State throws a great deal of light on the point:

"The King was the living representation of the Divine and the other orders of the community the natural powers of the collective self."

"The old Indian State was a complex of communal freedom and self-determination with a supreme co-ordinating authority."

The whole system had for its basis the village community and the township, which were, respectively, the rural and urban units of autonomy. These units have been described as republican in character, and not without reason. But what is truly singular in the Hindu socio-political system is that it

"tends to fuse together in different ways the theocratic, the monarchic and aristocratic, the plutocratic and democratic tendencies in a whole."

There were a few small States in northern India (like the Kshudraka, Mallvaka and Yaudheya) which were definitely republican in form. These were, by no means, typical of ancient India. The normal Pre-Mauryan realm was as described above, a harmonious combination of various human elements, where there was little to provoke discord between the component parts. This state of things, however, did not last, when powerful alien hordes like the Sakr;, Hunas and Yavanas pressed hard on the frontier. India, too, J so many other lands, developed large empires which complf swamped the old Hindu State. But the spirit of communal freedom and self-determination survived for a long time in the village Panchayats and is probably not quite dead even today.

Coming back to the industrialism and the imperialism of modern times, it is not difficult to understand how these two trends of the human mind run together, and how they are both inconsistent with democratic ideals. There is nothing intrinsically degrading in organising a country industrially. Nor is there apparently any moral bar to a country conserving its raw materials and vastly increasing its manufactures. But if this policy is pushed on to its extreme limits, what would be the immediate effect?

Obviously, over-production, if the country is, at all efficient industrially. Over-production is, however, an evil only if no ready market can be found for the goods turned out. If the country concerned has its own colonies and dependencies, the manufactured goods can be dumped down there and disposed of by the use (or misuse) of political power. But if it has not, then it has to persuade or coerce other countries into purchasing them. In either case, political complications are bound to set in, political complications that are not likely to bring either freedom or happiness to the nation at large. In all such matters, the people who play a prominent part are the big capitalists who organise themselves into trusts, and, when necessary, control the elections. Wars have been fought before now at the instance of petroleum magnates, iron and steel kings and armament manufacturers. After a disastrous war has been fought and millions of men have been killed and cities have been burnt to ashes readjustment of territories is sought to be made in the interests of the capitalists. In the olden times people fought to satisfy national greed and dynastic ambition. Today the lure is money and money, almost nothing else...

Man will, in future, be probably led to experiment with a free class-less state-less organisation based on fraternal comradeship. Communism is being tried today. But it has practically dropped its inter- national aspect. A scheme of anarchism, spiritual if not philosophic, may well be man's future pursuit for a while. Thus will man be led on, by his reason, to try one panacea after another for his ills. He will never get on to the right path till he realises that the liberty and equality which he has so long been seeking must be the liberty and equality of the soul. This realisation can come only when he has eliminated his egoism, transcended his rationalism and climbed up to a suprarational and spiritual plane. C. C. DUTT