Friday, July 13, 2012

Asserting one's identity and being an ass

Critiques on two articles
1) Rajeev Srinivasan, the doyen of Hindu assertion in the Internet media, writes the following (Linky)

As the title of the article suggests, Rajeev starts with the Higgs Boson, and then goes on to claim that

I believe the most astounding achievement of a single human mind in all of history was that of Panini, 2,500 years ago.

Not to speak of apples and oranges (how constructing languages and explaining the world by means of scientific theories are acts of similitude), the claim that Sanskrit is uber alles has been one of the common themes of the new-age vocal Hindu elite. For such a claim to be considered, first, we need to cross the basic stumbling block of how a dead (yes, dead and essentially confined to temples and liturgical acts) language spoken by fewer people than a district in India (in contrast to many many other living, thriving and adapting languages) has a claim to being supreme over all languages not just in India, but over the world. Once that bridge is crossed, if Panini has a claim to Sanskrit, there are similar people with respect to other languages: Tholkappiyar for Tamil, Nannayya for Telugu, etc. Where does the madness of attributing astonishing achievements to one person/language in a country with many people/languages end? Third, a claim to supremacy of Sanskrit over the regional languages is not a new phenomenon -- every generation sees such revival acts. In the early twentieth century, many Brahmin stalwarts of the Madras Presidency claimed Sanskrit to be a deva-bhasha and accorded an inferior status, both socially and philosophically, to Tamil -- all the while speaking in glib English to their British overlords. Such monumental stupidity of presuming Tamil to be an asura-bhasha or a naraka-bhasha added fuel to the fire of non-Brahminical Tamil self-assertion witnessed by the likes of the Justice Party and the Dravida Kazhagam.

Underlying both the JP/DK and the new-age vocal Hindu elite is a common thread: one of self-assertion made possible by both a perceived as well as a semi-real victimist mindset engendered by an all-denying and powerful club of opposite elites. These contrasting polarities in this socio-politico-economic game have further common threads despite their mutual loathing and opprobrium: i) they are elites with a deep sense of awareness on what is "good" for the rank and file, ii) they want the game to continue so that the process can polarize sufficient people to their camp and hence need "The Other" to manufacture sympathy and empathy independent of acts of omission or commission, and hence, iii) without disagreement, discord and Dystopia, such disagreements and discords will be manufactured anyway. And finally, iv) the game shall never end as the game is not about self-assertion, but a far-reaching goal that transcends society, rule-of-law, and day-to-day living.

Rajeev further adds:

A certain Cartesian vanity afflicts Western science -- the idea that by digging ever deeper it is possible to understand reality completely. There are two reasons to doubt this: One is the famous Uncertainty Principle of Heisenberg. The other is the observed tendency in nature of aggregation, where in a complex system, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (think of an ant colony).

This is as bizarre as it can get. On the rhetorical level, is Werner Heisenberg the product of Oriental wisdom or a product of the same Western science? On a more deeper level, what is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to physics is Godel's Incompleteness Theorem(s) to arithmetic. And Godel neither dropped out of the Kerala School of math nor claimed any legacy from Aryabhatta with the point being, Indians (and Hindus specifically) have enough good reasons to feel proud of their legacy/culture/heritage that there is no further reason to grind an axe at the achievements of other civilizations and make a comical farce of our own rational capabilities. Knowing the measuredness/moderations of identity, consciousness, and labeling is what distinguishes a more refined path to self-assertion than retracing the ills of the past perpetrated by so many groups, sub-groups and clans. The new-age vocal Hindu elite could learn to moderate their self-assertion for constructive purposes, and learn not to assert their identity for the heck of asserting. Or as Tilak might have phrased it:

Assert when it is your bloody right, not when it is not needed...

Rajeev contends eventually:

I don't think the 'God particle' is going to render philosophy or God itself immaterial.

Yes, that is right. In this matter, P. V. Indiresan writes (Linky)

There is a basic difference between faith and scientific spirit. Faith applies to what we do not know but believe in. In contrast, scientific spirit does assume a few hypotheses like, for instance, for the electromagnetic theory to be true but only till experiments prove them false. One single experiment is enough for a scientist to give up his theories.

As some other wise person commented,

Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of any religion/faith-based system, and Rejection without proof is the fundamental approach to modern science.

While modern science is not in the clear for discarding/not respecting wisdom from the bygone era which have not been experimentally proven (like say the efficacy of curcumin/turmeric), what the pursuit for the class of Higgs boson can show is that there are equally competent theories based on fewer and fewer axioms that are more plausible than a fantastical one axiom viewpoint that "there is a god" to explain everyday occurrences and happenstances.

2) The second article is from Sadanand Menon (Linky)

It is important today to understand how in Dara’s rustic physicality the “legend” of the body and the “legend” of the nation intersected. In fact, the hard corporeal affinity between pumped up muscles and pumped up nationhood is too real to be ignored and could be any semiologist’s delight.

In contrast to Rajeev's article, this one belongs to the opposite side of having to piss on the self-assertionists' jamboree such as those on nationality, identity assertion tasks, etc. Hiding behind this need to piss is an undeniable truism: every community, country, sub-group/group has asserted itself at one point in time or the other. If they have not, they will do so in the not-so-distant future. There are absolutely no exceptions to this rule: be it the US, be it India, be it Hindus, be it the various caste-affinities, be it Europe, be it the whites in the US, be it African-americans, be it the chinese, be it Muslims, be it Tamils, be it Bengalis, you name it. Such an identity assertion process makes certain "Others" victims, some just lie on the shortest path to hell while some participate in a zero-sum game. The fact that some "Others" become victims in the process does not in itself make identity assertion a castigable proposition. To do so, only masks the problem. The problem is not the assertion of identity, but a clear lack of moderation in the process and knowing when an identity has to be asserted.

All this makes Sadanand Menon's point a bit condescending and a bit contrarian. But neatly hidden beneath this need to piss is this whine:

One of the key superheroes of Hindu mythology who conquered time and straddles multiple yugas is Pavanputra Hanuman and it is neither fortuitous nor arbitrary that in the highly problematic television serial of Ramanand Sagar’s “Ramayana,” the coveted role of the immortal, invincible simian-god eventually went to none other than our own epitome of desi akhara invincibility — Dara Singh.
It is hardly a surprise that, into the nineties, Dara Singh emerged as one of the most influential power-brokers in the political circles of the Capital, disbursing patronage and privilege in equal measure, rubbing shoulders with the communal and the corrupt and even cornering (via the Bharatiya Janata Party) a Rajya Sabha seat between 2003 to 2009.

What was/is so problematic about the tele-serial Ramayana? Is it a problem of Ramanand Sagar's that some Hindus took to extremes in the process of this self-assertion? It is the problem of the judicial system that such Hindus were not put to the test, but then in a country of long judicial delays and often arbitrary judicial enforcement, the central problem lies elsewhere. To ask the Hindus to not assert their identity so that some Hindus could become extremist (even in a suggestive sense as it is in this article) has been how the opposite party has behaved since 1947. What this demand for non-assertion does is evoke militant assertion, and in some sense, both parties now have a purpose to sustain their own futures.

Or is being political a crime? If so, many "icons" from varied fields such as Jayapradha, Sachin Tendulkar, Dilip Tirkey, Hema Malini, etc., have rubbed shoulders with the crass and the crazy in the Parliament House. Some have even taken the patronage of equally crass and incompetent parties with no moral grand-standing that is believable. Dara Singh is neither the first in this list, nor is he unique in having a bad rap on his knuckles. From all indications, Dara Singh's Rajya Sabha presence was uneventful as will (most likely) be the case of one SRT.

It was a further endorsement of Dara’s prowess that he was also such a “patriot”; that post-Partition, he became the symbol of Indian (Hindu) virility, unlike the equally legendary Gama who chose to relocate himself in Pakistan and self-destructed his image. Dara became a national aspiration as well as a national treasure. The body of Dara Singh became the body of the nation.

Such claims belie facts on the ground. The first Indian Olympic medal winner, Kashabha Jadhav, essentially died in penury. And yes, he won a bronze in wrestling. The State Government of Maharashtra celebrated him when he was dead by awarding the Shiv Chhatrapati Award in 1993 (he died in 1984!!) while the Union Government bestowed an Arjuna Award in 2001. When Sushil Kumar won the bronze in 2008, the subsequent year saw a fistfight on whether three people (Abhinav Bindra had already been awarded in 2001, Mary Kom, Jitendra Kumar and Sushil Kumar) could be conferred the more princely sum-bestowing Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in a single year. Sadly, if Dara Singh was the doyen of Hindu (!) virility in the nation's imagination, why exactly were other "less virile" exponents such as Milkha Singh (!), Vijay "Merchant", P. K. Banerjee, etc., also celebrated? While Manoj Kumar or Sivaji Ganesan's patriotic movies got attention, why did movies on such themes as social change, family dramas, crime, religion-based mythological dramas, etc. also get the attention of people?

Dara inhabited this male world of ambition and achievement that summarily dismissed the existence of the “other.” The “other” in this paradigm is “weakness” and has no right to exist.

As mentioned earlier, it is a short step from being worried about the ills of self-assertion to prescribing a dose of non-assertion. Such gives-and-takes are what makes the two sides so noxious. And rightfully, as one of my algebra teachers used to say

A (Jacobson) radical on the left is the same as a radical on the right.

And I can safely add, "and both are equally garrulous."

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