Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The human spirit has still to find itself, its idea and its greater orientation


THE year 1919 comes to us with the appearance of one of the most pregnant and historic dates of the modern world. It has ended the greatest war in history, begotten a new thing in the history of mankind, a League of Nations which claims to be the foundation-stone for the future united life of the human race, and cleared the stage for fresh and momentous other constructions or destructions, which will bring us into another structure of society and of the framework of human life than has yet been known in the recorded memory of the earth's peoples. This is record enough for a single year and it looks as if there were already sufficient to give this date an undisputed preeminence in the twentieth century. But it is possible that things are not quite what they look to the contemporary eye and that posterity may see them in a very different focus. 1815 must have seemed the date of dates to the men of the day whose minds were filled with the view of the long struggle between the ancient regimes and revolutionary France and then between Europe and Napoleon. But when we look back at present, we see that it was only a stage, the end of the acutest phase of struggle, the commencement of a breathing-time, the date of a makeshift which could not endure. We look back from it to 1789 which began the destruction of an old order and the birth of a new ideal and beyond it to later dates which mark the progress of that ideal towards its broadening realisation. So too posterity may look back beyond this year 1919 to the beginning of the catastrophe which marks the first collapse of the former European order and forward beyond it to dates yet in the womb of the future which will mark the progress towards realisation of whatever order and ideal is destined to replace it. This year too may be only the end of an acute phase of a first struggle, the commencement. of a breathing-time, the year of a make- shift, the temporary halt of a flood in motion. That is so because it has not realised the deeper mind of humanity nor answered to the far-reaching intention of the Time-Spirit.

In the enthusiasm of the struggle a hope arose that it would sweep away all the piled-up obstacles to human progress and usher in with a miraculous immediateness a new age. A vague ideal also syllabled eloquently of peace, of brotherhood, of freedom, of unity, which for the moment partly enlightened and kindled the soul of the race and gave its intellect a broader vista. Men spoke of the powers of good and evil separated on opposite sides and locked in a decisive conflict. These ideas were the exaggerations of sentiment and idealistic reason and in their excessive and blinding light many things took cover which were of a very different nature. The hope could not but be an illusion, a haloscene of the dream mind when it sees a future possibility in its own light apart from existing conditions. Human mind and action are too much of a tangled coil to admit of such miraculous suddennesses; the physical shock of war and revolution can break down stifling obstructions, but they cannot of themselves create either the kingdom of good or the kingdom of God; for that a mental and spiritual change is needed to which our slowly moving human nature takes time to shape its customary being. The ideal, a thing of the intellect and the sentiment only, cannot so easily bring about its own effectuation; force of circumstance, the will to survive of existing actualities, the insistent past of our own nature are not so easily blown away by the eager shouting of a few high and great words or even by the breath of the thought behind them, however loudly blare the trumpets of the ideal. Nor was the war itself precisely a definite issue between pure good and pure evil, - such distinctions belong to the world of the idealistic reason of which our actual intricate existence in whose net opposites are very bafflingly fused together, is as yet at least no faithful reproduction, - but a very confused clash and catastrophe of the intertangled powers of the past, present and future. The result actually realised is only such as might have been expected from the balance of the forces at work. It is not the last result nor the end of the whole matter, but it represents the first sum of things that was ready for working out in the immediate- ness of the moment's potency. More was involved which will now press for its reign, but belongs to the future.

The cataclysm of the last five years had a Janus face, one side turned towards the past, one turned towards the future. In its dealings with the past it was a conflict between two forces, one represented by Germany and the central Powers, the other by America and the western nations of Europe. Outwardly, imperial Germany represented a very nakedly brutal imperialism and militarism satisfied of its own rightful claim and perfection and opposed to the broader middle-class democracy - but democracy tainted with a half-hearted, uneasy, unwilling militarism and a liberalised, comfortably half-idealistic imperialism- of Western Europe. But this was only the outside of the matter, in itself it would not have been a sufficient occasion for so great a catastrophe. Imperial Germany and all it represented had to go because it was the worst side of European civilisation enthroned in all the glory of a perfect mechanical and scientific efficiency. Its figure was a composite godl1ead of Moloch and Mammon seated between the guardian figures of Intelligence and Science. It had its ideal, a singular combination of the remnants of the old spirit of monarchy and feudalism now stripped of all its past justification, of a very modern burdensome organised aggressive commercialism and industrialism and of a mechanised State socialism administered by an empire and a bureaucracy, all guided by an expert intelligence and power of science. This triple-headed caricature of a future ideal for the world, with its claim to take possession of the race and mechanise its life for it, had to be broken, and with it passed away almost all the old phantoms of aristocracy and survivals of aristocratic monarchy which still lived on in an increasingly democratic Europe. So much the war has swept away; but its more important and positive result is not the destruction of the past, but a shaking even of the present bases and a clearing of the field for the forces of the future.

The future does not belong to that hybrid thing, a middle- class democracy infected with the old theory of international relations, however modified by concessions to a new broader spirit of idealism. The peace which closes the war is evidently in part a prolongation of the past and a thing of the moment, its only importance for the future is its association' with the plan for a league of nations. But this league also is a makeshift, a temporary device awaiting the possibility of a more perfect formation.- Its insecurity lies in the degree to which it is a concession to the past and founded on a present which is indeed still dominant, but very evidently doomed to a rapid passing. The future destined to replace this present is evident enough in some of its main outward tendencies, in society away from plutocracy and middle-class democracy to some completeness of socialism and attempt at a broad and equal commonalty of social living, in the relations of the peoples away from aggressive nationalism and balances of power to some closer international comity. But these are only symptoms, feelings-out, mechanical tendencies, not likely by themselves, whatever changes they bring, to satisfy for long the soul of humanity. Behind them lies a greater question of the spirit and ideal which are to govern the relations of man with man and people with people in the age that is opening, the most critical because the most far-reaching in its hopes of all the historic ages of humanity.

Meanwhile much is gone that had to go, though relics and dregs of it remain for destruction, and the agony of a sanguinary struggle is ended, and for that there may well be rejoicing. But if something is ended, all has yet to be begun. The human spirit has still to find itself, its idea and its greater orientation. THE END Page-654 Location: Home > E-Library > Works Of Sri Aurobindo > English > Social And Political Thought Volume-15 > 1919

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Alipore Bomb case was bigger than 1857. Sadly, our 'eminent' historians never told us this

OPED Saturday, October 11, 2008 Politics of reaching out Udayan Namboodiri

By taking the first steps to greater political inclusiveness this week, LK Advani practically asked the Hindu Right to mend its own ways -- a Saturday Special focus

On the whole during this trial at every stage I could find, in the British legal system, how easily the innocent could be punished, sent to prison, suffer transportation, even loss of life. Unless one stood in the dock oneself, one cannot realise the delusive untruth of the Western penal code. It is something of a gamble, a gamble with human freedom, with man's joys and sorrows, a life-long agony for him and his family, his friends and relatives, insult, a living death. In this system there is no counting as to how often guilty persons escape and how many innocent persons perish".

The writer of these lines was Sri Aurobindo; the book, Tales of Prison Life, which was based on his experiences as an accused in the Alipore Bomb Case of 1908. The parallels of the context with that of today are vaguely eerie. A hundred years ago this October, Anglo-Indian officers of Calcutta Police were randomly rounding up Bengali boys in connection with bomb discoveries in the unlikeliest of places. A garden house in Manicktola, the rest room of a girl's school in Hatibagan, a chummery of east Bengali clerks in Sealdah, it seemed no place was safe. Thanks to the The Statesman's tradition of reproducing quaintly relevant news items from a bygone era in its "100 Years Ago Today" column, we are now getting to read some of the reports that must have filled the minds of the white denizens of the imperial city with so much anxiety back then.

Those who treat Sri Aurobindo as an icon must understand that Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, as played out in Independent India, is as much weighted on the side of the prosecution as in the famous savant's time. Draconian laws still insulate the police from critical inquiry and human rights are treated as so many doormats. Today's demanders of "tough laws" to fight terror must realise that without police reform and a thorough overhaul of the CrPC, a legislation like POTA-II would resemble a cart placed before the horse.

We are not commenting here on the content of revolutionary terrorism as celebrated by the Swadeshi movement as a necessary arm of resistance to British rule. Perceptions on what constitutes 'freedom fighting' and 'terrorism' are, as we well know, calibrated by the situation of the beholder. The intention is to point out how each age's law makers stand directly poised for confrontation by painting the guilty and the innocent with the same broad brush. Sri Aurbindo filled the pages of his dairy with heart wrenching stories of the degradations that perfectly honest human souls were subjected to under the pernicious British gaol system. He described in his subsequent book the farcical trials under the hypocritical jurisprudence that presided over the lives of ordinary mortals, filling them at once with great hope and depressing futility. He was eventually acquitted, but that's different. [...]

So, on the 100th anniversary of Sri Aurobindo's famous incarceration, they would do well to plunge into the ocean of Hindu philosophy in search of knowledge that could address the political insufficiency of some of their present postures. Advani, who would be 81 next month, has proved to them once again that majoritarianism could also mean the elder brother practicing what he preaches. Terrorism , like the black death, affects us all. Blaming "the Jews" didn't help last time and nor will it this time round. -- The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer

OPED Saturday, November 22, 2008 100 years of righteous terror Udayan Namboodiri

In terms of bequeathing a legacy, the Alipore Bomb case was bigger than 1857. Sadly, our 'eminent' historians never told us this

Exactly a hundred years ago today, 25-year-old Satyendranath Bose climbed the gallows at Calcutta's Alipore Jail with the cry Vande Mataram on his lips. His was the third hanging of the year. Fifteen-year-old Khudiram Bose and Kanailal Dutta (20) had preceded Satyen for bombing and shooting at representatives and agents of the British Empire. The entire country was left breathless by the competitive dare shown by middle-class, educated Bengali boys. All over Punjab, Maharashtra, Sind and, of course, Bengal, bards began spinning spectacularly panegyric yarns about boys, the milk still in their cheeks, merrily kissing the hangman’s noose before dying. Some of these songs have stood the test of time. Quite a few may have inspired a Bhagat Singh or a Subhas Chandra Bose. At any rate, India got its first batch of pure heroes.

This week, Saturday Special recalls the multi-layered impact of the Alipore Bomb Case that manifests in a variety of ways even today. We have just got over the 150th anniversary of the 1857 revolt. But, hype apart, how many scholars would disagree that its contribution to the future course of the freedom struggle was almost zero? Few actually. It's one thing to politely agree that it was the "first war of independence", but quite another to accept that its cause commanded widespread sympathy or that its actors were the stuff of folklore. Alipore, on the other hand, was both.

We feature alongside (main story), the noted American historian, Peter Heehs, whose authoritative work, The Bomb in Bengal: The rise of revolutionary terrorism, is respected as the first narrative history of the event even as it stops short of being uncritically laudatory.

The Alipore Bomb Case got its name from the district court of Alipore in which a clutch of cases concerning the same group of accused persons was tried. But no bomb actually went off there. On April 30, 1908 two members of Barindranath Ghose's wider circle, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki, threw the famous Muzaffarpur bomb, whose target was Douglas Kingsford, an unpopular Judge, but actually killed two innocent Englishwomen. Chaki committed suicide but Khudiram entered folklore for the calmness he exuded when mounting the gallows on August 11. Just as soon as the news of the blast reached the authorities in Calcutta, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, Andrew Fraser, himself an object of three assassination attempts for being the real author of the Partition decision, decided to crack down on a garden house that was engaging the attention of police detectives for quite some time.

This garden house was located in Manicktola, an eastern suburb of Calcutta and was an ancestral property of the Ghose brothers. Barindranath wished to operate an Ananda Math-like group from there. His followers lived a spartan life on the garden. They stocked a great deal of guns, ammunition and explosive chemicals. They read the Gita, meditated and trained themselves in martial skills. The police had been watching the property for quite some time. After the Muzaffarpur incident, they decided to move in. Early on May 2, a large posse of CID officers and men swooped down on the garden house and arrested everybody they could find. They also raided the office of Nabashakti, a paper run by Aurobindo from downtown Calcutta and rounded him up. The owners of shops and houses suspected to assist the operation were also hauled away.

Wide publicity followed the mystical leader and his band of boy revolutionaries after the arrests. For the first time we see the latitude enjoyed by the native Press, even in the heyday of Empire, to defend the revolutionaries. Moral support often came from unexpected quarters. For example, Kier Hardie, a Scottish socialist who was the first independent MP in Britain, said, "the outbreak of terrorism is the natural outcome of the policy now being pursued in India." Therefore you had not only 'terrorism', but also an early 'root cause' theory. In retribution, bombs began to go off at regular intervals all over India. Terror gripped the European and Anglo-Indian communities. A unit of the British Army posted in Calcutta wrote to Viceroy Lord Minto that its members would not hesitate to slaughter every available Bengali if a even one European was hurt. On November 8, a young boy called Jatin Roy Choudhury, who was connected to Barindra Ghose's group via two members, shot at Lieutenant Governor Fraser at Calcutta's Overtoun Hall. He missed, but went on record saying, "If we kill one LG, other LGs will listen to our grievances."

The case was heard in two stages. The first, against 30 of the 35 arrested, began within a month. Alongside, there were two other cases called the Harrison Road Arms Act case and the Alipore Jail Murder case. The latter was over the murder of Narendra Nath Goswami, a follower of Barin Ghose since the early days, who was killed by Dutt and Bose inside the Jail Hospital because he decided to spill the beans as an approver. This was achieved on August 31 and, after a speedy trial, they were sentenced to death. Dutt was hanged on November 10. His body was taken in procession to the Kalighat burning ghat by thousands of people. This unnerved the government and when it was Satyen's turn to hang 12 days later, his body was cremated within the jail premises.

Aurobindo Ghose's stood trial as part of the second batch, the Judge presiding being Charles Porten Beachcroft, his contemporary at Cambridge University. Chittaranjan Das, the famous barrister and Congress leader, defended him for a nominal fee. The eventual verdict and its place in history are still intensely debated. The Judgment itself is part of the curriculum of many law schools. It was an excellent opportunity for the British to showcase the liberal core of their jurisprudence and Judge Beachcroft exploited it to the hilt. Though there was a mountain of evidence implicating Aurobindo Ghose, he was acquitted. Barindra and Ulaskhkar were sentenced to death (commuted on appeal). Seven others were jailed for varying lengths of time and the rest were acquitted.

The legacy: The Alipore Bomb case marked a personal watershed for Aurobindo. It also changed the course of the freedom movement. He was left disillusioned by terrorist tactics and underwent a paradigm shift in his attitude, chosing thenceforth to become a great spiritual savant. But the spirit of righteous war did not leave successive generations of freedom fighters. Hundreds of so-called terrorist groups mushroomed all over India and even abroad. Though Nehruvian and Marxist scholars gave predominance to Mahatma Gandhi and non-violence in school history texts -- about the only ‘history’ most Indians ever get to read -- it cannot be denied that the British felt more exercised by those who followed Aurobindo's principle.

Academician Rakesh Sinha (The Other Voice) recounts some of the latter-day teachings of Aurobindo while Dr Heehs reflects on the conceptual divide between terrorism of the form we know today and what was celebrated by the early Bengal patriots. ry of the Indian freedom movement. -- The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer. The Search Results are given below using word ALIPORE BOMB CASE 'God cannot be jailed' 22 November, 2008 The bomb that shook an Empire 22 November, 2008 100 years of righteous terror 22 November, 2008 Politics of reaching out 11 October, 2008 Alipore bomb case to be exhibited at SC museum 12 May, 2006

Monday, December 29, 2008

Justice as fairness, Rawls said, aims to effect a “reconciliation of liberty and equality”

Rawls from Philosophy Talk: The Blog by John Perry

"In A Theory of Justice (1971, 1999), John Rawls proposed a striking and original marriage of liberty and equality, animated by a tolerant and democratic faith in human possibilities. For much of the past century, the idea of a politcal philosophy devoted to both liberty and equality seemed to many people a contradiction in terms. Outraged by vast differences between the lives of rich and poor, egalitarians condemned the classical liberalism of John Locke and Adam Smith for giving undue attention to legalrights and liberties, while remaining in different to the fate of ordinary people.

  • Traditional liberalism, they complained, prized equality before the law, but showed complacency in the face of profound and grim inequalities of fortune on earth.
  • Classical liberals, in contrast, embraced personal liberty, and condemned egalitarians for their paternalism and willingness to sacrifice human freedom in the name of some possible future utopia.

Practically speaking, democratic welfare states tried, with more or less success, to ensure personal and political liberties while protecting indviduals from unforgiving markets. But the philosophical options seemed starkly opposed. In between Friedrich von Hayek's classical liberalism and Karl Marx's egalitarianism, every thing was an unstable political compromise, or an ad hoc balancing of competing values.

"A Theory of Justice changed all this. Rawls proposed a conception of justice – he called it “justice as fairness” – that was commited to both the individual rights we associate with classical liberalism, and to an egalitarian ideal of fair distribution conventionally associated with socialist and radical democratic traditions. Justice as fairness, Rawls said, aims to effect a “reconciliation of liberty and equality.” His work prompted a remarable renaissance of political philosophy in the United States and elsewhere (A Theory of Justice has been translated into more than 20 languages), and has provided the foundation for all subsequent discussion about fundametal questions of social justice." From "The Importance of Philosophy: Reflections on John Rawls" S. Afr. J, Philos. 2004, 23(2)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Becoming critical, competent, conscious, & compassionate

"Such a Body We Must Create:" New Theses on Integral Micropolitics Daniel Gustav Anderson INTEGRAL REVIEW December 2008 Vol. 4, No. 2 Anderson: New Theses on Integral Micropolitics

Leo Strauss (1973), the intellectual forefather of American neoconservatism, accurately frames this problem from the perspective of the subject-at-large:

What is called freedom of thought in a large number of cases amounts to—and even for all practical purposes consists of—the ability to choose between two or more different views presented by a small minority of people who are public speakers or writers. (p. 23)

If anything like the Habermasian public sphere exists now, it is effectively rigged, much as the game of brand preference is for any kind of commodity. Whether one chooses cigarette X or cigarette Y, one chooses cancer rather than any kind of fulfillment; if democracy as it is known in any given Western state is the final-perfect form of government, then the scope of one’s choices is effectively foreclosed.

I propose instead that everyone attempt to take up the discipline of making new values, and that those who master this practice first must go further and make space for others to learn how. Transformational practice demands one take responsibility for what one can be responsible for. If a comprehensive transformation is to occur, one must be able to take real responsibility for two factors, the means of production and reproduction of established society, and subjectivity, political consciousness (Marcuse, 1969, p. 56).

Ortega y Gasset (1993) takes responsibility of this kind to be "the Herculean task of genuine aristocracies" (p. 21); by contrast I take this to be the task first of a critical vanguard working from the bottom up—working, precisely in Ortega y Gasset’s formulation of effortful servitude and discipline (p. 63), or in Gurdjieff’s famous summary of his own practice, conscious labors and intentional sufferings. This is real responsibility, or becoming-responsible.92

Becoming-responsible is a practice that includes both interventions and takes many forms. One can see from this discussion of transformation and intervention that a responsible vanguard or agent must have at minimum the following four characteristics:

  • Becoming-critical. One is able to read one’s moment clearly, without misunderstanding.
  • Becoming-competent. One is able to take self-directed action toward an intelligent (critical, conscious, compassionate) aim with increasing skill; one is willing to learn.
  • Becoming-conscious. One is able to intentionally disabuse oneself of mechanically-acquired habits and attitudes that lead to misunderstanding, incompetence, and incomplete or distorted compassion, and take action that is creative (novel) rather than merely recreative or repetitive.
  • Becoming-compassionate. One is able to select aims and actions not for the sake of one’s regime-investment or personal narrative but for the benefit of one’s community and, ultimately, all of animated nature diversely framed. This demands critical intelligence, life competence, and disciplined consciousness.

89 In theological language, one might say that the first intervention corresponds to the "turn" of one’s intentions to the divine in recognition of the divine that Buber (1958) describes.
90 According to Marcuse (1969), "radical change in consciousness is the beginning, the first step in changing social existence: emergence of the new Subject" (p. 53), suggesting that the emergence of this new subjectivity is the task of the second intervention. [...]

Ziporyn (2004) gives four characteristics of the actions of one practicing revolutionary desire, a charismatic: inexplicability, absolute confidence, sacrifice, and meaninglessness. 10:08 AM 9:33 PM 9:35 PM 8:30 AM 10:53 AM

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Like Hegel, Sri Aurobindo characterizes this evolution as Providential

Imperialism. Rosa Luxemburg demonstrated early in the Twentieth Century that, under empire, the world became consumed without margins, nondual in an unusual sense, under a global regime. The task of capital in this phase was to integrate control over its imperial members socially and subjectively. Thus, post-Hegelian and positivist synthesis is explored (Aurobindo, Gebser67), but on the terms of Spirit rather than the literal cannon.68

The critical question is whether this attempt is an ideological cipher or mimicry for European force, as I suggest it is in important ways for Aurobindo (Anderson, 2006), or if it is a redoubling of spiritual and intellectual force against this hegemony, as I think it usually is in the tradition of Marxist and post-Marxist critique. This question remains a live one; my intention here is only to frame it for further inquiry in order to show that what we call integral critique at the time of capital’s explicitly imperial period responded directly in form and content to the conditions of an imperial regime.

This still very much matters because imperialism carries on, if in different forms and by different means than it was implemented during the Scramble for Africa (see Chile, 1973 or Iraq, 2003), and the residual forms of the early integral response (such as Aurobindo’s Providential theory of evolution) remain in the writings of key integralists as functioning ideologies or residuals.

66 Capitalism is understood here not as a set of values or a static structure but as a dynamic kind of regime best described as a very large and aggregated machine that, with some intelligence but with or without responsibility, functions by constantly breaking down and consuming bits of itself as fuel and as raw materials (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983)—in short, reinventing itself in fits and starts (see Thesis Seven).
67 I find the origin of integral theory as an intellectual movement in Aurobindo’s post-Hegelian positivism (Anderson, 2006); Hampson (2007), in a useful counterbalance to my position, cites Gebser’s positivist, post-Hegelian synthetic work as the foundational gesture of integral theory. Both positions have merit, and broadly speaking, do not contradict, insofar as both Aurobindo and Gebser were working from largely the same intellectual milieu the Hegelian and post-Hegelian idealism Wilber (2000a) praises as a "lost opportunity" (pp. 523-537) and in the context of Empire’s transformations. Such is the ambivalence of the post-colonial situation.
68 Integral praxis has arisen under the aegis of private property, as a response to it—in some cases critical and oppositional, in some apparently so but not actually, in others still positively and explicitly supportive of the regime at hand. Since this is the case, if integralists are to have a complete understanding of our collective project, we need to develop the theoretic tools for understanding how our ideas circulate as commodities and as flecks of ideology—that is, by whom and how our work is deployed, under what terms, and under whose control. The Marxist tradition provides means for explicating all this ready-made and, in my view, already postformal if not always already-integral or responsible. Toward this end, one of the implicit purposes of the present inquiry is the continued patriation of Marxist and post-Marxist inquiry into integral discourse that I began in Anderson (2006).
Anderson: New Theses on Integral Micropolitics
INTEGRAL REVIEW December 2008 Vol. 4, No. 2 9:35 PM

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lobbying is marketing: to transform a group’s narrow interest into public interest

Lobbying Democracy in action
ET , 17 Dec 2008, 0512 hrs IST, Robert J Samuelson

Lobbyists have a bad rap, which is why politicians routinely vilify them. People want to blame their discontents on sleazy influence merchants. Periodic scandals confirm the stereotypes: the Jack Abramoffs who wine and dine legislators. But mainly the anti-lobbying bias is mythology.

Myth number one is that lobbying is anti-democratic , because it frustrates “the will of the people.” Just the opposite is true: lobbying is an expression of democracy. We are a collection of special interests; and one person’s special interest is another’s job or moral crusade. If people can’t organize to influence government—to muzzle or shape its powers—then democracy is dead. The “will of the people” is rarely observable, because people disagree and have inconsistent desires. Of course, the “public good” should always triumph, but what represents the public good is usually debatable. The idea that the making of these choices should occur in a vacuum —delegated to an all-knowing political elite—is profoundly undemocratic. Lobbyists sharpen debate by providing an outlet for more constituencies and giving government more information.

A second myth is that lobbying favours the wealthy, including corporations, because only they can afford its cost. Government favours them and ignores the poor and middle class. Actually, the facts contradict that. Sure, the wealthy extract privileges from government, but mainly they’re its servants. The richest 1% of Americans pay 28% of federal taxes, says the Congressional Budget Office . About 60% of the $3-trillion federal budget goes for payments to individuals—mostly poor and middle class. You can argue that the burdens and benefits should be greater, but if the rich were all-powerful , their taxes would be much lower. Similarly, the poor and middle class do have powerful advocates. To name three: the AARP for retirees; the AFL-CIO for unionized workers; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for the poor.

A final myth is that lobbying consists mostly of privileged access to legislators or congressional staffers—and that campaign contributions buy that access. Although this happens, it’s not the main story. “Lobbying is much more substantive and out in the open than its ugly caricature. Lobbyists primarily woo lawmakers with facts,” writes Jeffrey H Birnbaum, the veteran lobbying reporter. If lawmakers “see merit in a position and there is a public outcry in its favour, that’s the way they tend to vote.” Lobbying is marketing: trying to transform a group’s narrow interest into something perceived as the “public interest.”

In 2008, there are about 16,000 active registered lobbyists—people with sufficient congressional contacts that by law they’re required to report, says the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s up about 50% since 1998. But there are also hordes of public relations consultants, advertising managers, Internet advisers and policy experts primed to influence government. When political scientist James Thurber of American University counted all these others, the influence-lobbying complex ballooned to 2,61,000. Under Obama, this complex will expand. Of course, it can capture public policy for private purposes.

Sometimes this involves discreet favours: budget “earmarks,” tax breaks or regulatory preferences. Though large for recipients, most are small in the context of government. What matter most are the major policies that determine the government’s overall size and direction. Lobbying ensures robust debate on these issues , and whether the ultimate outcome is for good or ill, it’s democracy in action. (c) 2008, The Washington Post Writers Group


July/August 2003 Atlantic
Americans censure nepotism on the one hand and practice it as much as they can on the other. There's much to be said for "good" nepotism, the author argues—which is fortunate, because we're living in a nepotistic Golden Age
Adam Bellow
In Praise of Nepotism

The tendency in American life since World War II has been toward individualism, mobility, and the dissipation of family bonds. The "return" of nepotism therefore seems especially disturbing. Critics from both left and right have pointed out the worrisome consequences of reviving the hereditary principle. Several writers have recently argued that after a long period of extreme social mobility and mixing, the United States is undergoing a new process of stratification. Call it what you like, the overclass, the cognitive elite, the meritocracy, today's American elite increasingly lives in its own segregated communities, sends its children to the same exclusive schools, marries within its own class, and acts in other ways to pass on its accumulated wealth, position, and privileges. In other words, the American meritocracy appears to be turning into an exclusive, inbred caste. [...]

Indeed, we should not only respect great families but try to be more like them. Rather than simply seeking to punish or stamp out the bad kind of nepotism, we should reward and encourage the good. The risks inherent in the return of dynastic nepotism have been exaggerated and fail to take into account both the progress of meritocracy and the power of social envy in a democracy. Dynastic heirs walk on very thin ice in our society: we readily grant them the benefit of the doubt, but we hold them to extremely high standards, and at the first sign of their failing to meet those standards, the hammer comes down hard.

Nepotism may be objectively discriminatory, but given that people are going to practice it anyway, we may as well infuse it with meritocratic principles so that all can benefit. Let families compete for public honors; this has always been the soul of republican virtue, and it is up to us to recover this tradition in every generation. The spirit of family enterprise gives dignity and meaning to our lives, and is not only a spur to achievement but also a check on excessive ambition. It links the generations in a chain of generosity and gratitude. We would all be better off if we reflected more consistently and deeply not only on our debt to our ancestors but also on what we owe our descendants. Adam Bellow is an executive editor at large for Doubleday. This article has been adapted from his book, In Praise of Nepotism, to be published in July by Doubleday. In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History: Adam Bellow

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

None of the currently fashionable European theorists and philosophers provide anything like it

Biopolitics Reading Roberto Esposito’s Bios
The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro

But not only is Esposito’s account of biology incomplete; his account of politics is, as well. This is due to the fact that, like far too many contemporary theorists, he considers questions of domination and authority, and political-philosophical arguments about the nature of law and sovereignty, without giving any thought to matters of political economy (more specifically, to processes of the extraction of surplus value, and the circulation and accumulation of capital). He has no account, in other words, of the ways in which conceptualizations of, and decisions about, “life”, are today at least as overdetermined by considerations of money and economy as they are by politics and political considerations. Biological research today is an expensive proposition; it must be publicly or privately funded (cf. the race between public and private bodies to sequence the human genome).

Money sets the agenda. Even as the management of “life” expands, in terms of everything from health care to biometrics in the name of “public safety,” priorities are set more by cost-benefit analyses than by strictly “political” forms of decision. “Biopolitics” today is intimately entangled with neoliberalism, alike in theory, in policy, and in practice. And this is yet another dimension that Esposito altogether ignores. It’s significant that Foucault himself, in his lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics, presciently focused his analysis mostly on the strategies and doctrines of a then (1978-1979) just emerging neoliberalism. Foucault discusses both the post-War German state-guided version of neoliberalism, and (at lesser length, but even more crucially for an understanding of the world today) the neoliberalism of the Chicago School of Milton Friedman, and especially Gary Becker.

Rather than offering any judgment on neoliberal practices, Foucault discusses them with the icy objectivity of an entomologist describing the habits of parasitic wasps. His emphasis, nonetheless, is on “the generalization of the grid of homo oeconomicus to domains that are not immediately and directly economic” (page 268). This expansion of the “economic” (as narrowly understood by neoclassical marginalism, as a form of calculative rationality) to all forms of human activity is indeed the largest “ideological” change we have experienced in the years since Foucault’s death; it has altered our very sense of the social and the political.

It is odd that, even as Foucault, at the extreme limits of his own thought, proclaimed the fundamental significance of this transformation of the modern episteme, his supposed disciples almost completely ignore it. (And I should note that the crisis we are currently undergoing does not in the least represent the “end” of neoliberalism — the state’s rescue of financial institutions, and its efforts to reboot the economy through spending and re-regulation, come out of the same economistic principles that motivated the deregulation of the 1980s and 1990s in the first place).

I don’t have any conclusion to this discussion, except to say that a biopolitics that is relevant to, let alone adequate to, the contemporary world, and that at least tries (even if not altogether successfully) to be “as radical as reality itself,” is yet to be born. Certainly none of the currently fashionable European theorists and philosophers provide anything like it — or even a starting place. time. 11:29 AM 12:04 PM 12:16 PM

Monday, December 15, 2008

We're all communists in our home life. It's another thing to force this system on a whole nation, which Sri Aurobindo never advocated

My Response to Our Windy Hindi from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
Our intrepid Windy Hindi (see yesterday's comment @ 8:28 PM) says he would be willing to engage in a dialogue with me so long as I refrain from hurting his feelings, so let's begin... Instead, he vouches for the wisdom of conflating the two, even citing an isolated passage by India's most celebrated 20th century sage, Sri Aurobindo, to support his unorthodox view:

"The rejection of falsehood by the mind seeking after truth is one of the chief causes why mind cannot attain to the settled, rounded & perfect truth; not to escape falsehood is the effort of [the] divine mind, but to seize the truth which lies masked behind even the most grotesque or far-wandering error."

I would like to see the total context of this passage, in part because Aurobindo said many things in many different contexts and from diverse planes of consciousness, often revising them -- if he had time -- from the standpoint of later understanding. His ideas evolved over the years with new realizations, and his work was left unfinished when he died. Very few of his works were edited by him before their publication, so this or that particular statement must be taken with a grain of salt. However, what he considered his most important work, the epic poem Savitri, was completed just prior to his death. You could say that it is his "last will and testament," spiritually speaking...

WH says that "if you've ever interacted with the Integral Yoga community in America and elsewhere in the world, you would find Sri Aurobindo and the Mother incorporated many, many aspects of what you would consider 'leftism' into their philosophy and their ideals of community life."

This is just false. I have no objection to people engaging in communitarian living if that is their choice in the micro arena. After all, we're all communists in our home life, are we not? We have neighbor kids who wander in our house at any time of the day and snatch something out of the fridge without having to ask. It's another thing entirely to force this system on a whole nation, which Sri Aurobindo never advocated. I mean, here in the slackatoreum, what's mine is Future Leader's, and what's his is his. We all share and share alike, only some of us share more than others. Namely me. But it's my choice. It would lose its virtue if I were forced against my will by the state to do this with total strangers.

Another important point is that Aurobindo turned away the vast majority of people who sought him out to become disciples, as spiritually unfit for his path. Doesn't sound very egalitarian to me!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

If society is in need of anything, it must first try the market

For A Second Republic from ANTIDOTE by Sauvik

In modern terminology, the “principle of subsidiarity” is used to show how powers are best divided between the various tiers of government. However, the true meaning of the term goes a little deeper than that. It means that if society is in need of anything, it must first try the market. If businessmen cannot provide the good in question, society must then look towards private voluntary organizations and charities.

Only when both these fail should government be called in – and that too, at the lowest level: the city, the town, the village. Then, if there are goods and services that this lowest tier of government cannot supply, these should fall upon higher levels. In India we need to strictly apply the principle of subsidiarity and redesign our government. We must invert the pyramid.

This calls for a New Constitution. A Second Republic. See my recent article on why we need a Second Republic here.

The Importance of Market Entrepreneurs
from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy

Knowledge of the configurations of the stars was interesting, but long-distance overseas trade on a regular basis drove the need for both accurate timekeepers for safer navigation from knowing longitude as well as latitude and for accurate charts for safer seamanship, once the ‘secrets’ of discovery gave way to the less dramatic open-seas of regular trade routes. Knowledge is necessary (three cheers to the discoverers!); but not sufficient. What made the difference are the entrepreneurs and the creators of industry.

Markets were not discovered by a scientist; they operated millennia before the science of economics appeared (and their merits are still hotly debated). Scores of ideas are dormant until somebody finds a use for them and somebody markets those uses successfully.