Thursday, December 13, 2012

Asimov's 'Strikebreaker' and the Caste System Fractal

Thanks, Sri Aravindan Neelakandan.
This post attempts to use Asimov's 'Strikebreaker' that appeared in 'Anthropology and Science Fiction', 1971 to better understand the caste systems of the world. A Purva Paksha of religious cults based on Asimov's classic 1941 'Nightfall' can be read here.

Elsevere is a totally self-contained planet out in space. Its surface area is very small, but real-estate in that planet is measured in terms of habitable volume. Resources are at a premium, and imports are kept to a minimum, so the planet requires a very high degree of efficiency in recycling waste. Rather than adopting an autocratic or theocratic way of managing such a fragile ecosystem, the society of Elsevere is segmented along hereditary, occupation-based endogamous castes (caste comes from the Portuguese word 'Casta') to efficiently divide up the planet's tasks. The increasing level of specialization achieved by successive generations refining the skill sets associated with the performance of their assigned tasks helps keep Elsevere prosperous. The family of Ragusnik are in charge of waste disposal (including human waste) and are considered 'untouchable' and are ranked at the bottom of their social heirarchy. The rest of the planet do not interact with them or speak face-to-face. To keep the Ragusnik family tree going, the society supplies them orphaned girl babies.

The Strike
Ragusnik does not directly come into contact with the waste disposal and recycling, which is completed mechanized. He just has to push a button and monitor some meters. Ragusnik is housed in the best and most spacious house in the planet with maximum access to resources, but he is a social outcast. He resents this treatment one day, asserts his individualism within the caste system and goes on a strike. Waste continues to pile up, and it is a only a matter of time before the system breaks down, killing all inhabitants of Elsevere. All it takes is a few minutes of training to do the job, but no one in Elsever would even dream of doing Ragusnik's job. It is incredibly repulsive to the rest of the planet. Talks break down, and the planet faces annihilation.

The Observer
Dr. Lamorak is a social scientist from earth, and an outsider, who visits Elsevere on a data gathering mission, notices the dispute and what is at stake, and wants to mediate. He sees the illogical exclusion of Ragusnik from the society, but cannot convince the Elsevarians of their bizarre attitude.
Asimov notes:
"Elsevere is a world caught in a bind. It is limited by its lack of resources, lack of space, and its need to generate its own gravity and power. It is delicately balanced, tightly knit, and everything must fit properly into place. People must fit properly too, for any rocking of this boat is a constant danger. Any changes to the system will most likely be for the worst. This is the reason behind the rigid castes and the justification for the isolation of Ragusnik".

Enter: The Strikebreaker
As it often happens on earth, Lamorak drops his neutrality and takes sides. He has a difficult choice to make. The welfare of 30,000 Elsevarians versus the injustice to one man and his family. As time starts running out, he decides in favor of the greatest good and volunteers to read the manuals and operate the disposal unit himself to save the planet. He operates the waste disposal system and saves the planet.

Lamorak explains to Ragusnik that the rest of the universe does not worry about pushing buttons and outsiders can be hired to this job going forward. Over time, the galaxy will come to know about the injustice done to him, and his future generations can live like normal human beings. Ragusnik is aghast at this intervention since he feels his brinkmanship would have definitely resulted in his winning back his dignity and justice now. He decides to end his strike, much to Lamorak's relief, and gets back to work. He is upset with Lamorak and refuses to shake his hand. In the end, Lamorak is considered an outcast in Elsevere for pushing those buttons. He is thanked for his intervention, but is forced to leave the planet immediately and is not welcome to return.

Whose Responsibility?
Asimov notes:
"Lamorak's choice makes a cogent point in this story, a point about responsibility. The people of Elsevere have been brought up to view Ragusnikhood as repulsive and unspeakable, an attitude learned from earliest childhood. At what point do they become so responsible for his misery that they should have to pay such a terrible price for having supported it? Every individual is born into a cultural system that presents him with attitudes and beliefs read-made - many of them are of current usefulness and others are simply historical baggage, but all of them are part of that system. Who, then, is to blame for the misery of Ragusnik and his lonely attempt to win the status of a full and equal human being?"

Purva Paksha
Much has been said about India's caste system and much of it is misinformed. Few realize that India did not really have a caste system for a long, long time. They had a Jati-and-Varna system (Jati = the group you were born into, Varna = your occupational group, and Varna initially allowed social mobility before it ossified). The colonials merged this two-dimensional social structure into a single-dimensional 'caste', distorting the meaning significantly. Untouchability is illegal in India, and former untouchables have made amazing progress. They have produced powerful political leaders who have an impact on national politics, as well as business leaders, although more needs to be done. However, like every other place in the world, people who choose to discriminate will do so, and India is no exception. Some of the best discussions on caste systems are summarized below.

Anatomy of a Caste System
We will start off with Asimov notes some interesting instances of untouchability in ancient times on earth:
"Lamorak thought of Untoucbhables in ancient India, the ones who handled corpses. He thought of the position of swineherds in ancient Judea".

This tells us that caste systems are or were not present in India alone and so not unique to India.  The findings of Sri. Neelakandan's Purva Paksha of caste systems in the West, and Rajiv Malhotra's P.P of the one in the United States, are simply stunning. We start with Rajiv's work first. In this brilliant essay, he clearly identifies the American caste system (yes). Along the way, he also explains why doing Purva Pakshas are important:

"Understanding this American caste system has important implications for Asian Americans. Indians have traditionally been too introverted and due to that, have not studied the rest of the world. But the dynamics of the West are important to understand, even to deepen one's understanding of oneself. The field of academic scholarship and teaching of Hinduism is dominated by Jews and Christians. Indians have been content to be portrayed by others, and yet complain later when the portrayal begins to play out in society -- be it in the form of peer pressure facing their own kids growing up in the West, or as public opinion shaped by Marxists of Indian origin, or in the form of aggressive proselytizing back in India."

Thus, we have seen an example of a more recent caste system in place. Nor is the caste system in India solely due to a single religion. The Muslims there have a very well codified caste system in place as well. Christianity in India also has a well-defined caste system. To dig deeper, we will refer to a March 2011 discussion in the Rajiv Malhotra forum that is summarized in the other blog I maintain. There, Rajiv's co-author of 'Breaking India', Sri. Aravindan Neelakandan credits Asimov's 'Strikebreaker' as providing one of the best insights into how and why a caste system comes into being and how it operates. You can join the Rajiv Malhotra Forum to read the discussion in its entirety. Here is what Sri. Neelakandan has to say on this topic:

"Now the birth-based multi-layered institutions of pre-modern Europe were supported by Christian theologians and law-makers. This does not make Christianity, in the eyes of modern scholars, a supporter of this system. However with Hinduism different yard sticks are used. An essentialist argument is put forth to say that Hinduism is intertwined with Jaathi. This is simply not the complete picture and is a distorted picture of history. In this connection, with regard to the evolution of untouchability, one of the best insights on the
subject is in an unexpected realm. I suggest the science fiction short story "Strikebreaker," by Isaac Asimov, in "Anthropology Through Science Fiction",
(Ed. Carol Mason, Martin Harry Green- berg, and Patricia Warrick, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1974) Unfortunately I lost my copy of this wonderful collection.:( In the related discussion, Asimov states that caste system evolves
in a society with limited resources and limited mobility.

Veracity of this speculation by the good doctor of science fiction, can be further validated by the fact that pre-Modern Europe also had defiled trades and ritual notions of purity and untouchability.
It is not just an accident that not many works or literature can be found on this subject in the Western curriculum. The one rare book I came across in this regard is "Defiled Trades and Social Outcasts: Honor and Ritual Pollution in Early Modern Germany"  (my comment: I found a free pdf link) by Kathy Stuart (Cambridge University Press 2006). It was not a phenomenon limited to Germany though. Please see the passage below and change some words and one can pass it for the account of an European traveler about pre-Modern India.

"Throughout the Holy Roman empire dishonorable tradesmen suffered various forms of social, economic, leagal and political discrimination on a graduated scale of dishonor at the hands of "honorable" guild artisans and in "honorable" society
at large....Executioners and skinners might be pelted with stones by onlookers, they might be refused access to taverns, excluded from public baths or denied an honorable burial. Dishonor was transmitted through heredity often over several generayions. The polluting quality of dishonor is one of its defining characteristics." (pp.2-3)

So we need not justify or label Jaathi as an uniquely Indic phenomenon. But what one finds unique as an Indian is this:
There is not a single instance of mass movement in Christendom that spoke for these voiceless people of dishonorable trades.  Luther took pride in saying that he was instrumental in the massacre of peasants. As against that all Bhakthi movements were peasant based. One cannot
imagine a medieval Pope or Cardinal or noble-born Christian saint performing the last rites of a defiled person as one's own father. But in India we have the greatest Vaishanava Acharya not only receiving wisdom from but performing the last rites of a man of Pulaya Jaathi.

So caste system can evolve anywhere given the appropriate social conditions
. In India it became rigid with colonial  resource drain. In Europe it withered away with enormous inflow of capital and resources -particularly India- as well as acquisition of vast lands by Europeans in Australia, Africa and Americas. So in a way, it was through the suffering of colonized countries like India that the birth based discriminations in European society was mostly erased.

I also think those who want to somehow preserve the Jaathi and project it in a positive light often fail to see the dark alchemy that this system is undergoing in India.

Western Strikebreakers

Dr. Lamorak intervenes and ends up messing with the planet's social system and ensures that Ragusnik is forced to continue his sub-humanly existence. India is a tragic example of misinformed and often diabolical interference from the west as recorded in 'Breaking India' (although the west does not brook outside interference into its own society). Toward this, let's return to the discussion and see what Sri. Neelakandan has to say:

"... Here let me again quote 'Breaking India' which deals more objectively the situation and the pros and cons of Jaathi. This is from Chapter 5 of the book and is under the sub-heading "Building on Max Muller's work":
Prior to colonialism, the jati-varna system in India had little, if anything, to do with race, ethnicity, or genetics. It was better understood as a set of distinctions based on traditional or inherited social status derived from work roles. Jati is a highly localized and intricately organized social structure. One of the important aspects of jati, which was conspicuously overlooked by western Indologists, was its dynamic nature – allowing social mobility as well as occupational diversification. These rural social structures were more horizontally organized than vertically stratified. It was this inherent feature of the jati-varna system that led Gandhi to postulate the model of `oceanic circle' for the ideal Indian village society rather than the Western pyramidal model. Nevertheless, the colonial imposition of the hierarchical view, coupled with distortions of jati in order to fit it into a racial framework, grossly distorted the characteristics of jati and greatly amplified its negative features. Max Müller, who was largely responsible for entrenching the racial framework for studying jati, had his own evangelical motive. In his view, caste: which has hitherto proved an impediment to conversion of the Hindus, may in future became one of the most powerful engines for the conversion not merely of the individuals, but of whole classes of Indian society. (Breaking India p.52)

Today Jaathi has become an important and effective tool for community evangelism. So those who bat for it should take this worrying aspect into consideration.

The Caste System Fractal
(pic source: /
In fact, a quick look at the how the world is organized itself will tell me that there is little difference between Elsevere and today's earth in some respects - we most likely have a world caste system in place. A Caste system is a fractal, and like fractals, tends to show up everywhere. Within earth we have a country-based caste system (more about that below). Each country or social cluster has its own caste system. Within each such caste, you see sub-castes, etc.. so on until you see formal or informally segregated neighborhoods (like in the US), and so forth.
An alien visitor to earth would surely notice that there is a clear hierarchy of countries, the UN security council, the G5, G20, etc. - those who call the shots, control the world's oil, stockpile nuclear weapons, control human rights groups, act as the global policemen, establish travel and trade barriers, sell Western universalism, and enjoy high standards of living based on a lavish consumptive lifestyle, .. and then there are those who don't do these things, and store the nuclear waste, manufacture low-level goods, and many of whose citizens endure sub-human conditions... I leave it a social scientist who passes by this site to connect the dots to validate/invalidate this hypothesis if someone hasn't already done so.

To summarize, a Purva Paksha clearly establishes that there are caste systems all around us, and at every time in recorded history. Give the right set of conditions, some kind of a caste system is inevitable, and this is not unique to a country, region, religion, or time. However, when a caste system starts to create more problems that it solves, it's continued use must be re-examined. Asimov notes:
"A caste system woks only so long as everyone recognizes the rightness of its structure and realizes a fair share of the benefits thereof. When members of the lower castes begin to complain about their treatment and members of the higher castes begin to wonder about their justness, the system is in trouble".

These are some of the lessons we can learn from 'Strikebreaker', a 13-page sci-fi story written long ago.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review of Asimov's 'Nightfall' from a Dharmic Perspective

Nightfall (NF) was written by Isaac Asimov in 1941, when the war that was burning down Europe would escalate into a global war. It remains one of the best science fiction stories ever written and won many awards. Reams have been written about this book in the western literature. The attempt here is to subject 'Nightfall' to a Purva Paksha, i.e., examine the ideas in the book from a native Indian (Dharmic) viewpoint, utilizing some key ideas in Rajiv Malhotra's book 'Being Different'. We will rely on the original version (about 20-odd pages) of NF that was published in 'Anthropology through Science Fiction', 1971. (The next post in the TQ blog will cover another Asimov story in this book). You can read 'Nightfall' online here.

(picture source link:

NF visits the human-inhabited planet of Lagash at a most critical point in its civilization, when five of its six suns have fizzled out, and the sixth ("Beta") appears to be in danger of meeting the same fate, leaving its inhabitants to endure 'night' for the first time ever. Archaeologists determine that Lagash has gone through repeated cycles of birth and destruction. Physicists , after applying the laws of gravity and orbital motions, and centuries of analysis, calculate that each boom-bust cycle lasts 2049 years that ends with a solar eclipse of a sole remaining sun. Psychologists explain that the resulting onset of nightfall and its terrifying darkness brings about an extraordinary claustrophobia among the population. Driven insane by fear and chaos, the people will proceed to light up and eventually burn down Lagash to cinder. This fear drives a bunch of scientists to build and move into an artificially lit doomsday hide-out.

On the other hand, Lagash has a group of cultists who follow 'the book of revelations' that pretty much talks about all these effects, but attributing causality to some external divine force. Furthermore, the book talks about an appearance of many stars in the sky in the end, which cult followers have to view to achieve salvation. While the cult cares less about the cause ("they believe it because the book says so"), they share valuable data with the scientists, and in this bargain, the scientists will validate that the cultists were indeed prophetic.
The scientists proceed to provide rational explanations for the phenomena that coincide with that the cult says, but as a result of this scientific explanation, increasing number of Lagashians desert the cult since they do not need the book anymore for supernatural explanations, greatly annoying the cult that accuses the seculars of Blasphemy. The scientists reciprocate this dislike for the cultists and in the end, the cultists attempt to destroy their observatory that is trying to photograph and analyze the final scene, fearing that the scientists were interfering with their moment of salvation. As nightfall descends, the Lagashians go crazy and burn down their civilization, as predicted.

Asimov's introduction to Nightfall
Per Wikipedia, Asimov says that he wrote NF after being introduced to Emerson's quote by John Campbell:
"... If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, 
and preserve for many generations,
the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!
Campbell's opinion to the contrary was: "I think men would go mad." "

Asimov writes a two-page introduction to NF in this book and makes the following observations:

a. A cult that at it's core does not address the problems that cause the society's ills will hasten its disintegration.

b. Religion or science? (classical binary choice approach that characterizes the Western frame of reference). Science was successful in explaining why Lagash would burn down, and in that process were able to rescue many cultists from their dogmatic existence. But in the end, neither science, nor the cult were able to save the people from self-destructing, thereby indicating the inadequacy of the cult and science in providing timely and practical solutions for a critical problem.

Emerson's Quote
Emerson, whose quote inspired the book, was greatly influenced by Hinduism. Rajiv Malhotra writes in his book 'Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism': "... Europe's encounter with Sanskrit revolutionized the European study of linguistics, and its encounter with Hinduism and Buddhism deeply informed Western philosophy and challenged the Judeo-Christian traditions. Some westerners, such as the American transcendentalists: Thoreau, Emerson and Whitman, broke away from Christian orthodoxy as a result. This process continues today ever more deeply in the mainstream of the West through yoga, meditation, healing sciences, the arts, eco-feminism, philosophy, and pop culture...".

Indeed, Emerson's aforementioned quote is taken from his work 'Nature'. Sanderson Beck notes:

".. In his essay on "Nature" Emerson reveals the essence of his philosophy: "Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul." This has been stated before in the Sankhya philosophy of India ... Spirit, or the oversoul which includes all individual souls, is the eternal essence of an infinite absolute reality which creates all the transitory phenomena of Nature The Sanskrit terms are Purusha which means Person and Prakriti meaning Nature.."

Interestingly, Beck says "....the truth may be spoken in any language, and we must not hasten to conclude that he merely adopted the Hindu religion, but rather that he found there corresponding ideas to the illumination he received from his own soul and experience in life. In his essay "Compensation" which describes the spiritual law of karma, or cause and effect in human action, he indicates he discovered this principle himself although it has been known for millennia in India and is similar to Greek notions of justice and retribution .."

This paragraph can be recognized as yet another attempt to digest Hinduism into Western universalism, and amputate critical Hindu ideas from its original body of work. In fact, Emerson's text reads but like an English re-interpretation of the original Sanskrit texts of Hinduism.

Nightfall appears to depict Emerson as the cultists in NF who see the divine in the once-in-a-thousand-year stars but at the same time, also exposes the limitations of science in solving society's most difficult problems. In the end, the scientists of Lagash are shocked to see thousands of stars that they never expected would fit into such a small sky, and as they begin their descent into terror, lose their coherence, and remain unable to find a rational explanation for this final phenomenon. On the other hands, the cultists did have an explanation, however inadequate.

Dharmic point of view
Hinduism, like other Dharmic religions, does NOT see a contradiction between itself and science. Indeed, concepts of Hinduism have not come into conflict with science so far, be it Heliocentrism, Evolution, Quantum Mechanics, or the
Theory of Relativity. The Hindu belief of cyclical time is exemplified in NF by the creative-destructive cycles of Lagash. In contrast, NF's cultists accept their book-ordained fiery end without question and implicitly reject Karma - a mindset that could have potentially changed the end result for the population. They believe that the stars that show up on doomsday are a historically divine intervention from elsewhere (duality). These stars provide, at the risk of madness, a collective salvation for only the populace of Lagash that views them but not others, who will be damned, and is thus not linked to individual Karma or Sva-Dharma. It is clear that NF's cult is not based on a Dharmic thought system but is history-centric, and nearly exactly models any Abrahamic religion.

In the end, neither the cultists (who are not dharmic but dogmatic), nor the atheistic seculars (limited by their senses to incomplete understanding) are able to develop adhyatma vidya (inner sciences, self-realization techniques) required to transcend the limitation of the human sense and the primordial fear of darkness. Doing so would have also enabled them to get past the few hours of darkness due to a solar eclipse.

Nightfall on Earth
Clearly, all religions are NOT the same, not in 1941 when the global war began, not now on earth, or in some futuristic Lagash. Every year, there are many predictions of the end of the world. Every year, the primordial fear of nightfall drives many so-called rational and smart people to believe this may well be possible and call for a collective holding of hands to fight the terror of darkness. This is how cults operate.  Science merely laughs. Dharmic faiths like Hinduism, on the other hand that have no conflict with science by design, talk of timeless, cyclical time and empower you to overcome your fear of eternal darkness.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hinduism: The Ultimate Anti-Fragile

[as always, this article is a work in progress ...]

Note: This post is not to be viewed as a 'celebration' by the Hindu society of 'succeeding in surviving continually for a very long time'. After all, a cockroach has also survived for a long time. Barely surviving is not a cause for high-fives. Indeed as Rajiv Malhotra says:
"I have too many times responded to this false belief as an instance of what I have coined the Moron Smriti. Dharma's space and share went down by 80% over the past 1500 years. Imagine your company CFO saying, "Congratulations, boss! We lost 80% of our marketshare, share price, revenues, but guess what? We are still not bankrupt! Isn't that cool?""

Rather the attempt here is to recognize the key concept of integral unity present in Hinduism that gives it its unsurpassed resilience and ability to constructively harness 'disorder' in the hope that it helps shape the future of Hinduism in a positive manner.

Reading Naseem Taleb and following this interview is interesting.
"Linda Geddes: In your new book you talk about things being "antifragile." What do you mean exactly?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: When you ask people what is the opposite of fragile, they mostly answer something that is resilient or unbreakable—an unbreakable package would be robust. However, the opposite of fragile is something that actually gains from disorder. In the book, I classify things into fragile, robust, or antifragile...

LG: How would you make something antifragile?
NNT: If antifragility is the property of all these natural complex systems that have survived, then depriving them of volatility, randomness, and stressors will harm them...


Note the highlighted terms used to represent what to the West essentially is some form of "chaos".  Readers of the book "Being Different: India's Challenge to Western Universalism", will most probably grasp the meaning of the title of this post relatively quickly. Empirically, it is well known that Hinduism and India's Dharmic civilization has managed to not just survive but continually thrive for 5000+ years. There is a lesson to be learned here. Furthermore, Hinduism has withstood the onslaught of invaders who practiced and imposed barbaric versions of Abrahamic ideologies for more than 800 years on India, but remarkably, with relatively little success. Reason: They could not decipher the "chaos" and "disorder" within Hinduism required to cause it to disintegrate. The path of least resistance employed to conquer Hinduism led them into a maze and a series of dead ends. In comparison, almost the entire middle east was converted to Islam within a few decades using similar methods. Similarly, Europe and the United States witnesses a rapid conquest of paganism centuries ago, and presently, a steady decline in Church membership in the last century, despite enjoying a monopoly in the religious market and unprecedented and robust material prosperity. Why?
Although a lot of this post focuses on religion and philosophy, this is not just a religion versus religion comparison on resilience. This is more a civilization versus civilization comparison.

Integral Unity
Dharmic thought systems' organic Integral Unity, as opposed to the Judeo-Christian approach of synthesizing unity makes it anti-fragile. In BD, Rajiv Malhotra points out: "... All dharmic schools begin by assuming that ultimately the cosmos is a unified whole in which absolute reality and the relative manifestations are profoundly connected. Western worldviews, by contrast, have been shaped by a tension between the absolute status of Judeo-Christian historical revelations on the one hand and the knowledge produced by a highly dualistic and atomistic Greek metaphysics and Aristotelian binary logic on the other".

Chapter 3 of this book shows precisely how the organic and integral unity-based Dharmic traditions are anti-fragile in contrast with the Judeo-Christian one that is based on various inorganically synthesized coalition of ideas, which is inherently fragile (i.e. a Jarasandha Model). As far as chaos, Rajiv Malhotra notes: "Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian yogi and philosopher of the twentieth century, said that since unity in the dharmic traditions is grounded in a sense of oneness, there can be immense multiplicity without fear of collapse into disintegration and chaos. He went on to say that nature can afford the luxury of infinite differentiation, since the underlying immutability of the eternal always remains unaffected. In the West, chaos is seen as a ceaseless threat both psychologically and socially – something to be overcome by control or elimination. Psychologically, it drives the ego to become all-powerful and controlling. Socially, it creates a hegemonic impulse over those who are different. A cosmology based on unity that is synthetic and not innate is riddled with anxieties. Therefore, order must be imposed so as to resolve differences relating to culture, race, gender, sexual orientation and so on ..."

Thus is clear from this passage that Rajiv Malhotra perceives this inability of the West to embrace chaos as a major fault line. Interestingly, Gurumurthy, India's brilliant investigative journalist, and Hindu thinker in a recent talk in Bangalore said "the west has nationalized the family and privatized the state". The fear of chaos has breached the western family's living room and bedroom.

The Bandhu Principle
So how exactly does Integral Unity make Hinduism anti-fragile? To that we turn to the Bandhu principle, which is described in 'Being Different' as follows:
"Bandhu is a concept used to explain how the whole and the parts are held together in integral unity. All aspects of the world stem from a common ineffable source, and what we perceive as nature is but a pointer to a higher reality. There is interlinking among the various faces of this reality, such as sounds, numbers, colours and ideas, and this interlinking is bandhu.... 

Furthermore .... Not only does each discipline presume this unity; so does the relationship among disciplines. All the arts and sciences are interrelated and may be seen as manifold ways in which human nature, itself an emanation of cosmic unity, expresses itself. One discipline contains and reflects the others. Delving deeply into any one of them eventually leads to similar integral principles and structures..."

Thus "... Bandhu accounts for the survival of dharmic spirituality, for even when certain disciplines and practices were destroyed, other disciplines encoding the same principles survived and helped revive the overall tradition."

The West is slowly beginning to see the benefits of such highly decentralized 'anti-fragile' designs - something that India always had used, and informally understood for thousands of years. The study of complex network systems in the aftermath of the West's financial collapse of 2007 reveals some interesting preliminary results [see this 15-minute video]. The talker notes the high degree of centralization of ownership as well as the high levels of interactions between the nodes in the network.

This interview reiterates why it is extremely important for Hinduism to survive in its original form and context without bad Western translations, uncredited appropriations, digestion, and new-age makeovers. Among many other things, it also provides crucial answers, feedback, and examples to some of the most complex practical and dire problems facing societies in the world today and in the future. Next, let us look at the nature of the "Black Swans" that Hinduism may face in the future.

Black Swans and the anti-fragile future of Hinduism
The Amazon book description says "Antifragile is a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world." Let's go back to the interview once again.

"LG: Does all this connect to your black swans?

NNT: Those are rare events with extreme impacts that lie outside the realm of regular expectations because nothing in the past can convincingly point to their possibility. The global financial collapse is one example ...

LG: How do we get out of the way of these rare catastrophic events?
NNT: We can't measure the probability of rare events because small measurement errors will cause those predictions to explode. The real point of my book The Black Swan is not to talk about the weird things that can happen but to be able to identify how resistant and robust you are to computationally small probabilities..."

Yes, Hinduism (or more accurately, Dharmic Civilization) has survived a few totally unexpected and incredibly hostile attacks, albeit at a very heavy price paid in terms of a Dharmic decay in Hindu society. The questions that it faces today are 
- can this decaying Hindu society that was once a vehicle of integral unity be induced to implode? 
- what if Dharmic Civilization is attacked by an adversary that simulates the Bandhu principle? This is precisely the method of inculturation being adopted by the Church in India. 
- How can this anti-fragile exemplar survive such a viral attack? 

Broadly speaking, it seems that the Church has employed three different types / stages in their attack on Hinduism:

Stage 1: 1757 - 1857 : Overt Missionary tactics to convert natives as a de-facto  and active government policy. One of the tangible victories of the 1857 war of Independence was to strongly discourage the use of this type of a frontal attack.

Stage 2: 1857 - 1947 : Government-sanctioned methods to impart Church-friendly / Western-Universal, convent-English education and the destruction and marginalization of native traditions, teaching, and training methods. 

Stage 3: 1947 - present: The political freedom gained by India ended the blatantly pro-Abrahamic methods but not the Western-Universalism that Gandhi fought against.  The WU controlled media and educational material contains ample anti-Hindu messaging that largely encourages the rejection of Hindu philosophy using textbooks riddled with straw-man arguments.
Furthermore, distributed stealth-marketing methods employing native force multipliers (inculturation and converted Christian transmitters). This, by far, has the maximum chance of success and empirical results can confirm this. This approach attempts to destroy Hinduism:
a) from the inside-out, by 
b) employing not just a single central agency, but a union of varied agents having diverse talents, and in pursuit of their own objectives, and 
c) outwardly simulates a Hinduism-like integral unity.

Note that (c) is just a simulation and obfuscation since this ploy is merely another (admittedly clever) instance of synthetic-unity at work given the history-centric core of the adversarial sections of the West. In stage-1 and stage-2, the Hindu society, either willingly or reluctantly, joined hands with the India's Islamic society to repel Western universalism, but paid a heavy price in terms of territorial and demographic losses apart from enduring a cultural genocide. How it will be able to defend itself against this novel inside-out attack is an open question. However, the heartening news is that the books "Breaking India" and "Being Different" have 
a) deciphered the mechanism, tactics, and to some extent, also understood the strategy employed by the adversary
b) Prescribed some methods and techniques that can be employed toward preserving the DNA of the ultimate anti-fragile system of the universe.

Update 1 (December 5, 2012)
The video of the brilliant lecture by Gurumurthy in Bengaluru last week (alluded to earlier in the original post above) is now online. The first 15-20 minutes of the talk is especially interesting in that it reveals the "anti-fragile" nature of Indian civilization's native, self-governing, entrepreneurial, decentralized, eco-friendly, pluralistic economy that is neither Darwinian-Capitalistic or Socialist/Marxist. The Bandhu principle appears to extend to the 'Hindu business model' as well. This is contrasted with the West's fear of 'chaos' that inevitably converges toward a centralized ownership model (either the government, or a few private organizations), which is evident from the empirical observations in the 'who controls the west' video in the above post. Per Dr. Vaidyanathan (who also spoke that day), more than 90% of Indian work-force is self-employed. Amazing resilience!

The resilience of this native Hindu economy as described by Gurumurthy is best captured within the first 5-10 minutes of the followup to this talk by M. R. Venkatesh. I have embedded that video as well, below for the sake of completion.


Update 2 (December 13, 2012)
This update comes thanks to the insightful questions asked of the thesis by an anonymous commentator. The robustness and fragility of History-Centric (HC) versus Dharmic cultures are compared side-by-side, and some hypotheses postulated.

Robustness and Anti-fragility of History-Centric Cultures
A HC faith's only but glaring weakness is its complete dependence on history. This results in a Synthetic but not Integral Unity (Ref: 'Being Different' book). All additional theology are derived dependencies and extensions of this HC core. This resembles a "Star-wars Death-Star" model. If the core is damaged beyond a point, the system implodes. History-Centrism is a non-regeneratable resource. If their history is discredited or erased, that culture will disappear. Consequently, it is a strategy that even a low-grade threat to their HC objects (e.g. religious structure/holy book/prophet) must receive a disproportionately severe response. HC faith based cultures are designed to be robust, so their first line of defense is tight. They have the support of oil-rich countries or Western nations with strong military, economic, and information base.
Hypothesis: Working HC-systems are typically very (strategically) robust to make up for the poor anti-fragile properties that make them vulnerable to implosion.

The best way to take down such a system is an open question and is left to the reader.

Comparative Analysis of Hinduism
As already argued, Hinduism has been super anti-fragile in the past. The response to an attack on its religious resources typically elicits a disproportionately muted response. Temples damaged, texts and concepts distorted, Yoga, Ayurveda, Advaita digested, etc..,  eliciting nothing more than a whimper and grumblings. Thus Hindus have been been terribly complacent about their primary line of defense for decades, and this has hurt them badly. Furthermore, a major emerging threat is the systematic attack (Stage 3) on Hindu Gurus all over the world.  Unlike HC theologists whose main task is to memorize 'HC Smriti' (Claim: A machine is sufficient to replicate and teach all necessary HC theology??), the wise Guru carries with her or him, the 'DNA' of Hinduism that can be used to re-generate and propagate Dharmic concepts and inspire future leaders of the nation (Can we even count the number of patriotic Indian leaders inspired by Swami Vivekananda?).

Hypothesis: Working Dharmic systems (e.g. Hindu society) today are typically non-robust that leaves them vulnerable to sustained pressure. They have excellent anti-fragile properties that have been understood by adversarial HC systems.

Update 3: Dec 21, 2012
Perspectives on Indian History: The anti-fragile nature of India's cultural unity (Sanskriti) comes out really well in this insightful and superb presentation (Jijnasa Charcha) by Sandeep Balakrishna. This Google-docs link may look better. In particular note the empirical comparison with HC-dominated Europe. You can view the Jijnasa Charcha on Youtube here (turn the audio way up). This is a 5-part video, that is well worth listening to.

Update 4: January 9, 2012
Updated terminology in a few places.

Update 5: January 11, 2012 
Added introductory note and reference to Rajiv Malhotra's coined phrase "Moron Smriti".

Update 6: August 08, 2014
anti-fragility of Hinduism (and dharmic systems, in general) also appear to be related to its allostatic nature ~ 'unchanging, perhaps even getting stronger, by adaptively changing' without sacrificing dharma. Here's a tweet by the @macroresilience twitter handle:
Update 7: May 3, 2016
Briefly updated content.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Talking Stones

This December 6, there will be the same old drum-beating drill about Hindus tearing up an unused mosque in Ayodhya twenty years ago. Independent of the merits of the actions of the group that day, excavations prove beyond reasonable doubt that a monotheist victory-prayer hall was built by trampling upon a preexisting Mandir-like structure, mocking an sacred and pluralistic geography revered by a billion Indians, including non-Hindus. However, come 12/6, another generation of gullible Indian kids who check 'Hindu' in their school application forms will be selectively indoctrinated into feeling guilty for the rest of their life about their amazing,  inclusive faith that attracts new followers everywhere else in the world without any proselytizing. They will receive subtle guidance from textbooks to recognize the trouble that temple culture causes by coming in the way of progress and unity - without ever being allowed to examine the facts. Impressionable youth will be shown pop-cultural examples to let them know that a modern Hindu is a non temple-going 'cool guy' and 'hip girl' who discards the superstitious Ishta Devta of his/her boring parents and subscribes to the supremely intellectual notion of a single sys-admin with super-user privileges.

There is much echoing power in the orchestrated sounds coming from the now-fallen masonry that was erected by a triumphant but murderous tyrant. In stark contrast, the broken Murthis of Halebidu and Hampi have performed their penance in mutilated silence for more than half a millennium now; they once welcomed thousands of despairing innocents into a magnificent Karmic oasis when nearly all hope for natives was lost and desert dogma reigned supreme in the land. However, it's not just these ancient temples that gave so much and asked so little in return, which appear to be so quiet now.  Many temples are strangled and turned into retirement museums called "national monuments". Now even the active, working ones seem to be tired. Like the one I met the other day.

Trash strewn around her, unclean; deserted; the premises unmaintained and uncared for. It seems a lot of Hindus around that area lost their jobs and moved on, so there was a shortage of funds. It's hard not to notice the well maintained Chinese church just a few hundred yards away. Everything there seemed to be shiny and well crafted, perhaps even made in America. Irritated to find that the temple had closed her doors to me so early in the day, I checked the time in my watch and as I turned to leave that depressing place, she wondered if I too would be deserting her? I got defensive. "It's not my job. It's not fair ...", before the sheer inertia of a defeated mind stopped me in my tracks and and the weight of despair dragged me down to my haunches. It is after all an unequal and unfair battle.

Just two weeks ago, I chatted with the young, dynamic, English-speaking priest of that temple who left his wife and little child in Bangalore to serve the small Hindu community here. He had saved enough to make a trip to India last week. It took him more than a year of struggling with paperwork to just get a driver's license here and was left to his own resources. Some priests in domes can conjure up an peaceful mob after a prayer. Others in cathedrals can go one better and have loving human-rights people and media microphones serenade you on-demand. Our priest cannot even afford an Internet connection in his tiny apartment in a lonely land, and is the lowest in the pecking order within the community he serves.  Temple-priests and their children will be encouraged to pay for their ancestor's real or imaginary crimes even as the voices of December will warn you to cease and desist from applying the same sickening logic to others.

Sure, my community wants the services of this priest - just not the profound Sanskrit mantras (and he chants them beautifully and explains their meaning too), but quick mumbo-jumbo at a discounted price. They petition him to provide them with any auspicious date for a family function as long as it is on a weekend. A white American lady seeking solace within Hinduism once showed up at that temple with deep questions for our priest. An avid temple-going, prosperous Indian-American, a dentist by profession, who happened to be there at that time, volunteered to translate the accent. At the end of a very positive three-way conversation, the dentist informed the lady that "Hinduism was the worst religion in this world"... As we cleared some of the trash, I hoped the Murthis would feel just a little better about their American home now. How often do we go to a temple to return a favor?

Many important voices will be speaking for the December stones, and I have no problem with that. My temple stones are not mute, and they need to be heard too. Not by the government, the media, or anybody else, but by us. If we listen carefully enough, we may perhaps begin to rediscover our own voice of Dharma.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Contemporary Discussions on Feminist Issues in Hinduism - 1

This page, like others in this blog is a work in progress and will try to collect links to useful and data-driven discussions on topics like Sati, Karva Chauth, and Agni Pariksha, etc, which are moderated by informed Hindu scholars and historians. A superficial reading of these topics may suggest to some that texts of Hinduism target women, and indeed there are many ignorant Hindus who try to "enforce" such practices. Hopefully these discussions (using an Indian/Dharmic point of view rather than regurgitated western paradigms) will bring more clarity to those seeking answers to these questions.

Hinduism is the only religion that also worships the divine in a feminine form, and these feminine forms are approached first when Hindus pray for wealth, prosperity, education, and even military strength!. Shakti is another fundamental concept of Hinduism that differentiates it from History-centric faiths, and for which there is no equivalent in those religions. A non-trivial chunk of the Vedas was authored by women. The breath-taking debate between Mandana Misra and Sankara was moderated by Misra's wife. Both Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are fought to right the injustice against the main female protagonist (Sita and Draupadi). In contemporary India, Women have occupied the highest positions of political and economic power, are an integral part of the Indian armed forces, but much progress needs to be made in terms of repairing the broken law and order apparatus of India, especially in terms of safeguarding women's rights and curbing violence against women and children.

It will help immeasurably to distinguish between the individual actions of those born into Hindu families and the Dharma-based texts of Hinduism. Steve Jobs disregarded medical advice to delay his cancer treatment and paid the price. That doesn't mean that medicine is inhuman :)
However, it must be conceded that if a person wants to deliberately twist facts and the words of a text to suit a polemic and score points rather than honestly look for lessons in self-realization or seek to reform, then there is no defense against that.

The Practice of Sati
In this post, Sandeep Balakrishna, a genuine and outspoken authority on Hindu Dharma and Indian history rebuts an English writer who wrote:
"It was the British, let us not forget, who outlawed Indian slavery, infanticide and the horrendous practice of suttee, whereby widows were burned to death on their husband’s funeral pyre."

Sandeep: "That’s a new one. Indian slavery! One would want to ask how Mr.Sandbrook defines this term or show us exactly one instance of “Indian slavery.” On outlawing infanticide, it’s no thanks to the British but largely the Indian reformers who persuaded the government to outlaw it. Also note the spelling of “sati.” Nothing like the good ol’ “suttee” eh? While I do cringe at Sati, let’s not forget the era we’re talking about. The whole “liberation from Sati” like the “evil caste system” is exaggerated. Sati was by and large a voluntary practice by the wife. Sati and Jauhar are in many ways synonymous, a practice that held death preferable to dishonour. Perhaps Mr. Sandbrook would like to read accounts of how Indian widows were fair game for Brit officers."

Is Sati sanctioned by the Rig Veda?
NO. The reason is your average Western idologist of the 20th century with limited Sanskrit skills, wrongly translating crucial words into English. For this, we don't even need to look far. Even the simplistic and much maligned Wikipedia has some data.

" it [Rig Veda] explicitly states that the widow should return to her house.
उदीर्ष्व नार्यभि जीवलोकं गतासुमेतमुप शेष एहि |
हस्तग्राभस्य दिधिषोस्तवेदं पत्युर्जनित्वमभि सम्बभूथ || (RV 10.18.8)
Rise, come unto the world of life, O woman — come, he is lifeless by whose side thou liest. Wifehood with this thy husband was thy portion, who took thy hand and wooed thee as a lover.[65]
A reason given for the discrepancy in translation and interpretation of verse 10.18.7, is that one consonant in a word that meant house, yonim agree "foremost to the yoni", was deliberately changed by those who wished claim scriptural justification, to a word that meant fire, yomiagne

Karva Chauth:
Ritual fasting is prevalent all over the world. The complaint is that KC targets women. What i've seen of this is largely from bad Bollywood movies where the leading lady always volunteers to fast on a particular day as a token of her love for her husband.

[watch this space for updates]

Agni Pariksha:
This topic (trial by fire of the blameless Sita) was recently debated during Diwali. There are some excellent and fairly impartial blogs that present their views.

The second, and more recent post is by a lady (and a feminist to boot :)

The third one is by Vijayendra Mohanty, and is a wonderful exposition on the Dharmic principles underlying that incident of the Ramayana.

A fourth, and very good article on this topic is by Sri. Aravindan Neelakandan, co-author of Breaking India.

Part-2 will focus on collecting articles on the practice of female infanticide and dowry deaths (it should come as no surprise now that neither is sanctioned in the texts, and would be considered extremely Adharmic).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Last Temptation of Christopher Hitchens

There was an interesting interview of Chris Hitchens' widow that was published in The content has certainly been altered after I first read it today morning. The original version had this specific description of a conversation during Hitchens' last days:

"...In Hitch's words, the same demand was made of him as his eyes were closing. Do you wish to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?"

Hitchens' widow recalls that he was essentially asked the same question that was posed to Tom Paine when he was dying. This text is missing in the article now. I googled and found a preview of WGBH News version of that same interview. Here is the snapshot:
1. Why would such a question be asked of a person who was an outspoken supporter of atheism all his life, and poured scorn on the church and its 'saints' like Theresa? What is at stake here?

Answer:  A fundamental Christian belief is that every human other than Jesus is born with a sexually-transmitted defect that renders him or her, along their soul, a sinner destined for eternal damnation. This situation can only be remedied by 'third party intervention' via an affirmative answer to the quoted question (the body and it's soul are the first two parties and quite helpless on their own in this regard).

 2. Does an affirmative answer to the quoted question instantly transform a non-believer into a permanent (until kingdom come, literally), bona-fide Christian?

Answer: Yes (getting Baptized is like getting a printed membership-card, perhaps).

Christianity, like other Abrahamic religions is history-centric', a term coined by Rajiv Malhotra in his book 'Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism". A history-centric belief is time-dependent. To become a member of the Christian history-centric system, it is both necessary and sufficient (in an overwhelming majority of its denominations) to believe in a divine historical prior that consists of a finite and unique set of frozen events in the past that can never ever reoccur in the future. Church membership demands unquestionable affirmation of the 'Nicene Creed' in which the 'Jesus immaculately conceived as the son of God' clause is the center-piece. This is a binary condition: If you accept and believe this, you are in, otherwise you are out. This condition is readily accepted by all members regardless of whether he/she is a mild-mannered, jovial, and moderate person or a fanatic and zealous believer. Everything else, such as celebrating Christmas, etc., is optional. Notice that almost every ritual in Christianity is directed toward solidifying and reinforcing the history-centric belief that is enshrined in the Nicene Creed. Thus, in such a system, to merely think of Christ as a wise, kind, and great human being and act upon his message of love is insufficient; to think that you and your soul on your own can find 'salvation,' is unacceptable.

In direct contrast, if Hitchens were a member of a Dharmic thought system (another term coined by Rajiv Malhotra), he probably would have found no conflict between that thought system and the way he lead most of his life in search of truth, by following his Dharma. There is no history exam required to qualify as a Dharmic person.

Hitch's last temptation was to abdicate responsibility for a lifetime time of activity that was based a certain ethical value system in exchange for a shot at eternal, history-centric heaven. All it took was a mouse-click, a push of a button, or a nod of the head to discard that brief period of time which was already in the past and book his ticket to everlasting future happiness in history-centric heaven. Even in death, he recognized and rejected what he identified as silliness and performed his duty on this earth to the end. He is a true hero. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Analysis of History-Centrism: Landing Page

This is a landing page for ongoing research work that attempts to model History-Centric Thought Systems (HCTS), the nature of its membership and how it is likely to interact with thought systems that are not history-centric, as well as its impact on cultural diversity.

This is not a finished work of research. We are just getting warmed up! Comments, criticism, corrections welcome. Suggestions on how to take this analysis forward meaningfully (without getting too sidetracked into abstract modeling) would be appreciated. 

History-Centrism is one of many key terms introduced by Rajiv Malhotra in his powerful new book 'Being Different' to counter claims of Western universalism by 'reversing the gaze' and analyzing their thought system based on a Dharmic (Indian) framework. Judeo-Christianity is an instance of a membership that subscribes to a HCTS in contrast with Indic schools of philosophy that focus on the inner sciences and are non-dual in nature.

1. Necessary/Sufficient Conditions for History-Centric membership
Stipulates the requirements for becoming a member of a HCTS or get disqualified using the concept of a historical prior. It follows from this formulation that HC implies duality (i.e. with mathematical certainty).

2. Impact of HC belief and duality on stability of HC membership
We analyze the stability of membership of a HCTS and show the stable equilibrium will probably never be reached if a unique non-reproducible prior belief drives the HCTS, i.e., it creates a "proselytize or perish" response to a chronic and self-induced existential question, even in the absence of any local competition.

3. Game-Theoretic analysis of History-centric conflicts & comparison with non-dual groups
Part-A: We differentiate between active and passive duality and attempt a game-theoretic analysis of the nature of resultant conflict between:
- two rival HCTS
- HCTS and non-HCTS
- two non-dual thought systems
and classify them accordingly. The results can provide insight on the response that can be adopted by a non-HCTS to survive in such contests that often tend to be characterized by asymmetric or one-sided payoffs.
Part-B: we study the decision choices available to the participants in such contexts and examine three cases.

4. History-Centrism and Monoculture: How HCTS has motivated the creation of a global master narrative of Western universalism that is the dominant contemporary monoculture. We look at examples of how the reductionism and digestion that characterize a monoculture can suffocate diversity and diminish the authenticity of experience.

Note: The material below has been added after this new model based on History-Centrism was first featured on Rajiv Malhotra's 'Being Different' book website.

5. Contradiction Networks: On how a HCTS model that is subjected to sustained scientific examination over a period of time is characterized by a maze ('network') of contradictions. The management of the HCTS spends more time trying to manage these chains/circuits of contradictions rather than eliminate it's logical source.

6. Duality masquerading as Advaita : As the HCTS model attempts to manage, rather than eliminate its inherent contradictions, it is forced to appropriate useful metaphysical as well as practical self-improvement methods from Dharmic Thought Systems to re-brand itself and project a new image.

7. A programmable model of the History-Centric soul: Unlike the Dharmic Atman, the HC soul is finite, time-limited, bounded, deterministic, and programmable, and also extremely unforgiving by design. The binary end-state / output of this model is only controllable by a third-party owner and depends purely on the keying in of a collectively valid and static input password / coupon rooted in history-centrism. The fear psychosis induced by such a design is arguably the biggest reason why many followers of HC faiths (e.g. Abrahamic religions) tend to relinquish membership after a while, and also why aggressive conversions continue to occur.

8. History Centrism in Western Mathematics: Mainstream western math and science is characterized by a relative over-reliance of historical reputation driven theorems and laws that were themselves based on axiomatic mathematical truth claims rooted in theology. In contrast, Dharmic systems focus on the empirical approach that allows one to re-experience the first discovery via first principles. Rather than rely solely on metaphysical truth, DTS recognizes a pluralism of analytical approaches to the same physical problem, and that a model representation may never be perfect and it is practically useful to not obsess about the unrepresentable that is not relevant to a given context. In the modern world of computing, internet, and artificial intelligence, the DTS based approach is proving its practical efficacy over abstract deductive methods that provide little real-world insight.

9. Yoga: Freedom from History. An attempt to understand the ideas behind Chapter 2 of the book"Being Different". Being history-centric is to be held hostage to some ancient historical prior that can never be authenticated. A double whammy effect of being history-centric is that any scope for salvation is possible only in the infinitely distant future beyond this life and cosmos. Consequently, such a person is unable to live in the present since the keys to happiness are tied to the past and the future, but never the current moment.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Yoga: Freedom from History

Chapter 2 of Rajiv Malhotra's book 'Being Different' is interestingly and curiously titled "Yoga: Freedom from History". This post tries to understand the meaning behind this title by examining the following questions. Many of the arguments used here are borrowed or paraphrased from passages in the aforementioned book.

1. What does freedom from history mean, and why would we even want such a freedom?

2. What has Yoga got to do with freedom? and what is the connection between Yoga and history?

Freedom from history and why it is incredibly useful

The 'history' that is alluded to here is closely related to 'history centrism', a term coined by Rajiv Malhotra in this book to describe thought systems whose fundamental rules are irreversibly tied to and completely dependent on a sense of collective history. The necessary and sufficient conditions for a human to become a member of a history-centric thought system (HCTS) based group (e.g. religion) is tied to whether they accept a specific historical prior associated with that HCTS (see the first few posts in this blog for complete details). The membership into this religious club is exclusive, i.e., a non-member is considered deficient and incapable of maximizing their potential on their own, since the core HCTS belief is that such a maximization is only possible by acceptance of the historical prior (e.g. Nicene Creed and the Christian church) and cannot happen in this lifetime.

To be free from history is to (among other things):
1. Reject this exclusivity that ties you to some collective history and allows you to embrace the notion of inclusiveness and non-duality (Advaita)

2. Take charge of your present and live in the present, and given your present state, your future is independent of any collective historical past. Among other things, this point hints at a (partially) Markovian view of life in Dharmic thought systems (more on this in a later post).

3. Believe that you, and equally importantly, any other person can maximize one's potential in this lifetime without depending on a past historical event or prophet. You are responsible for yourself and are naturally endowed with the amazing ability to maximize this potential in this world and in this lifetime, not in some infinitely distant and separated future time, and place.

Yoga and Freedom from history
Yoga is one of the ways of maximizing your potential in this lifetime and achieving the highest states of consciousness. If all historical records are lost today, HCTS systems (and their religions) would essentially disappear. For example, if all historical events known to man in the middle east and India are lost, all Abrahamic religions would cease to exist. However, all Dharmic (Indic) philosophy based religions (and every one recognizes the fundamental power of Yoga) would survive and regenerate itself over time since they are not history-centric.  Yoga is an inner science that is repeatable, and does not depend on any kind of history, nor requires any kind of group membership. In short, a Yogi achieves freedom from history centrism and dogma. A key point to note is that while Dharmic thought systems (DTS) extensively use Itihaas (a word that very approximately resembles history, but is not the same as history) to motivate a Yogi, they are not tied to it nor are defined by it like HCTS are. For example, if all records of the Ramayana and Mahabharata were irretrievably lost, Hinduism would still be able to regenerate itself and continue to provide meaningful answers to an individual's problems via Yoga and 'embodied knowing'.

Is Yoga for everybody?
If dumbed-down and incorrectly treated as Pilates-like calisthenics like it is done extensively in the west, that Yogasana is for everybody, including a person who claims exclusivity via a HCTS, or a serial killer. However, Yogasana is but an aid to actual Yoga. Developing the ability to contort oneself into a double pretzel is certainly not the gateway to a higher state of consciousness.  As we have seen earlier, Yoga is a scientific means of attaining freedom from ego, dogma and history-centrism, which means that a person cannot be a true Yogi unless they first and foremost let go of this exclusivity.

The contention here is that Yoga cannot be for those who claim exclusivity. For example, a baptized Christian who wears Indian garments, lights incense sticks, chants Hindu songs and Buddhist hymns, but swears by the historical prior encoded in the Nicene Creed can never be a true Yogi.  On the other hand, consider a person in the west who worships Jesus as an Istha-Devta (favored icon of divinity), without claiming the historicity of Jesus as an exclusive savior, and believes in her own potential for divinity and ability to have the same Jesus-experience. She sheds exclusivity to free herself from the clutches of history-centrism and the notion of collective salvation and dogma, and can most certainly become a true Yogi. Thus the phrase 'Christian Yoga',  or 'Jewish Yoga', or 'Islamic Yoga' is nothing but an oxymoron. In short, Yoga is not for everybody, but does not mean that any person or group can "own" Yoga, since that is akin to saying somebody "owns science". Hinduism and India arrived at Yoga first, and as long as due credit is given to this historical fact, Yoga, like open source science, is available to anybody, regardless of religious orientation. After all, Yoga delivers freedom from history! The silly Huffington-Post debate that perversely twisted this debate into one of "ownership" is an example of how even very knowledgeable people in the west are drowned in their history-centrism, and fall short in their attempts to understand the true idea of Yoga.

Yoga and Sanskrit
Sanskrit is the language of Yoga and the Sanskrit words chanted during Yogi are endowed with specific vibrations that are crucial toward attaining the highest levels of consciousness. The use of Sanskrit in Yoga is therefore not merely symbolic and many of the words used in Sanskrit in Yoga are non-translatable. For example, it is futile to replace 'Om' with words from the Torah, Bible, Koran, or some song book. They are absolutely not equivalent, and just plain silly.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Being the Same and Being Different: The Paradox of Sameness

In the second installment of the series that explores the concept of 'Synthetic Unity' of the West versus the 'Integral Unity' of Dharmic India that was introduced by Rajiv Malhtora in his book 'Being Different', we focus on the alluring idea of 'sameness' that everybody loves to talk about (e.g. Aman Ki Asha :). We noted in the introductory article that a homogeneous "same" Pakistan has collapsed whereas a "all different" India has thrived. Similarly, Europe's relatively short-lived multiculturalism experiment is on the brink of failure while cultural diversity thrived in ancient India and has survived so far across centuries.

This leads to the following paradox:

Why should 'being different' bring more cohesiveness than 'being the same' ?

On the surface, it is not unreasonable to expect that 'being different' that is so visible in India should naturally divide whereas the 'sameness' that is so visible in the west should unite. In fact, this was precisely the thought process that permeated and drove the U.S foreign policy toward the post-colonial subcontinent in the 1950s. In the book 'Being Different', Rajiv Malhotra notes that the then secretary of state John Dulles (as in Dulles airport, Washington D.C) backed a monotheistic Pakistan 'that was true to one master' over 'polytheistic' India that 'served many masters' and was thus deemed more likely to be unreliable and untrustworthy. However, when we dig deeper and get the root of the how humans react to multiculturalism, we notice that:

1. Every individual is different by birth and by circumstance. Given a pair of individuals who want to be "multicultural" in the western sense, when push comes to shove, the expectation is that the person deemed 'weaker' has to explicitly or implicitly admit inferiority and adopt the culture of the 'stronger' person and get digested. Both persons in the quest for sameness suffer from difference anxiety, the resolution of which ends in some form of violent conflict. This is a fundamental problem with expecting 'sameness'.

2. Difference anxiety caused by the need to enforce sameness in the west is a real issue. For example Brewer (1991) in a highly cited research article argues:

that the composition of an individual's social identity necessitates a trade-off between the need for assimilation and the need for differentiation. This is in contrast to previous models of social identity who assumed that individuals aim at maintaining some balanced level of similarity with other people on a uni dimensional similarity/dissimilarity scale.

The key implications of the theory lay in its dynamic aspects, as it is argued that individuals continuously take corrective actions to maintain an optimal compromise between the two needs. For instance, a person feeling too unique might achieve more assimilation by joining a group and making comparisons with in-group members (and finding similarities). Alternatively, a member of a large overly inclusive group might try achieve distinctiveness by making inter-group comparisons. Such actions are undertaken until the individual reaches an equilibrium, that is when his/her needs for assimilation and differentiation are equally activated. 

As pointed out by Brewer (1999) in later work, this has implications for the study of prejudice and inter-group processes as one can ask if "in-group preference and loyalty can exist without spawning out-group fear or hostility"
3. Here is another example of difference anxiety in the American context: Morrison et al (2009) define multiculturalism as "the belief that racial and ethnic differences should be acknowledged and appreciated" and notes that such an objective "has been met with both positive reactions (e.g., decreased prejudice) and negative reactions (e.g., perceptions of threat) from dominant group members".

4. Such a unity achieved by birth-based discrimination,  forcible or pressure-based digestion, submission, and fueled by difference anxiety rather than a mutually respectful debate is at best synthetic and tenuous and one that is constantly prone to fissure, while the goal of sameness remains elusive. In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, this inherent weakness of synthetic unity is demonstrated by the example of King Jarasandha, who was born in two halves at birth and spliced together, and grew to be among the strongest and the most ruthless kings in the world, yet was killed in single combat by Bhima (with the help of Krishna) by exploiting Jarasandha's synthetic unity.

5. To further explain the difference between Western synthetic unity and Dharmic Integral Unity, here is an interesting online article (thanks to @brazenpixy), where the author says:

"Separation causes uselessness, but much of Western civilization is based on separating the parts. One date is separate from another, history separate from math which is separate from biology. It's a world view we inherited from Newton and Descartes, so useful in many ways and disastrous in others. However, there has always been an alternative view of the universe as a single, totally interconnected system. You'll find that in Eastern traditions, American Transcendentalism, and at least some aspects of quantum physics."
6. In direct contrast, Dharmic thought systems are characterized by an integral unity that recognizes that infinite variations in the cosmos (specie, race, ethnicity, language, ..) are merely the manifestation of the same (and there is no "other"), and is thus able to accept and work with the multiplicity (Maya) in the universe without any stress or difference anxiety. India's multiculturalism has for milliennia been based on such Dharmic thought systems that share this fundamental concept, and it has worked pretty well. In other words, 'being different' is a more natural manifestation than 'being the same', and multiculturalism is achieved here by focusing on being equal while being different, which is best achieved via self-realization and mutual respect, rather than mere tolerance, external conversion, and digestion. Furthermore, as Rajiv Malhtora notes, being different is a powerful way of not being digested. Mahatma Gandhi's 'Hind Swaraj' also echoes this same idea, and he practiced 'being different' more than most in recent times.

7. The beautiful Sanskrit verse that best resolves this paradox of sameness and captures the essence of the Integral Unity of Dharmic India that spans the infinite multiplicity of the cosmos is given in the 'Being Different' book of Rajiv Malhotra (source used for Shloka and translation below is here):

Purnam-adah purnam-idam
purnaat purnam-udacyate.
purnasya purnam-aadaaya,

That is infinite, this is infinite;
From that infinite this infinite comes.
From that infinite, this infinite removed or added;
Infinite remains infinite

Sunday, May 27, 2012

On why Multiculturalism usually doesn't work - Part 1

We kick off the next series of articles that explore the contrasting effects of the 'Synthetic Unity' that defines the west and the 'Integral Unity' that defines India, as discussed in Chapter 3 of the book 'Being Different' (BD) by Rajiv Malhotra. The first three posts in this series serve to motivate and provide contemporary real-world examples that highlight the importance of these concepts by building upon an article "A Working Model for Multiculturalism" that is linked in the articles section of 'Being Different' website.

The author of that post primarily analyzes multiculturalism in a localized office workspace scenario and presents two main arguments:

a. 'Zero' tolerance (or mere tolerance) policy of a company is at best a necessary condition for establishing a multicultural workplace, but one that in itself is insufficient.

b. Mutual respect is a necessary and sufficient condition for achieving a stable, working multicultural solution.

Our post attempts to use these two findings as a starting point and extend them as follows:

1. Apply the idea of 'mutual respect' to a more general setting that goes beyond a local workplace where everybody is typically bound legally by a strict corporate policy.

2. The paradox of sameness.

3. Examine alternative theories developed in the West and contrast it with BD's mutual respect

In the west, multiculturalism experiments have invariably failed because of the lack of mutual respect, which if present, actually encourages multiculturalism and diversity. The United States fares a little better due to the combination of the bill of rights, Abraham Lincoln's legacy, and crucially, the Dharmic Gandhi inspired civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King, but it is not a done deal yet.

Multiculturalism Works When There is Mutual Respect
Rajiv Malhotra in his book 'Being Different' highlights the importance of mutual respect (MR). MR possesses what can be called a multi-layered meaning. The first level is pretty straight forward: you respect me, I respect you, and we get along. Even at this macro-level, MR is superior to tolerance that says: either one or both of us tolerate each other, and we somehow get along. However, MR does not just stop there. Tolerance implies either a single unidirectional relationship (I'm superior and tolerate you) or two one-way relationships filled with anxiety (I tolerate you, and you tolerate me). MR implies a single bi-directional bond based on permanent equality, i.e. our respect for each other must be mutual or not at all, unlike tolerance that is characterized by one or more one-way relationships based on the (seemingly paradoxical) centrifugal notion of sameness. Let's apply these implications of tolerance and MR to a multicultural situation:

Scenario1. In Europe, many leaders have accepted that multiculturalism has either failed or doomed to fail. Why? Our argument: because it is based on tolerance. Both parties want sameness, but the question then is which party must transform to achieve this objective? This requires that either Islamic immigrants adopt the Judeo-Christian/Atheist west's norm, or the West embraces dogmatic Islam. In other words, one of the parties must be digested by the other, but given the irreconcilable differences in the predominantly history-centric thought systems (Islam, Judeo-Christianity, Atheism: see previous blog posts for a detailed discussion of our history-centric modeling approach) neither of these options are really realizable. Instead, the Western governments have set up policies that aim to superficially placate Islam to an extent, and in response, the immigrants have likewise compromised cosmetically to tolerate Western 'decadence'. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in a stalemate characterized by a permanent state of difference anxiety, which can lead to occasional bouts of extreme violence from both parties. Our most recent post on the Virginia Tech and Oikos University shootings argues that the root cause was difference anxiety.

Scenario2. In contrast, look at India prior to Islamic invasions, a subcontinent where multiculturalism is not just an option, there is really no option but multiculturalism. It worked remarkably well for a couple of thousand years until about 800 years of barbaric foreign occupation that only ended 65 years ago. The key reason was that the prevailing Dharmic thought system strongly emphasized mutual respect. Every cultural variation was deemed equally valid, regardless of its geography (North v South or East v West), or it's sub-Dharmic category (Buddhism, Jainism, or Hinduism) and diversity was embraced as a manifestation of the divine (A beautiful article here explains that in a Dharmic thought system, the question was not whether there was one or many gods, because there is only god !!). In game theoretic terms, multiculturalism based on tolerance in Europe veers toward a zero-sum game with each party waiting to see who blinks first, whereas in ancient India, multiculturalism based on mutual respect resulted in a stable and peaceful non-zero sum outcome, where ideas were challenged extremely vociferously but scientifically and rationally via Purva-Paksha debates, obviating the need for state-sponsored bans or violent crusades. Incredibly, a large portion of that Dharma-generated mutual respect still remains intact in contemporary India, and is perhaps the only reason why a hugely diverse India has thrived whereas a monotheistic and apparently homogenous Pakistan has not. However, as non-Dharmic thought systems gain strength (fed by foreign-sponsors and their Indian supporters), we are beginning to see a breakdown of this stable multiculturalism in peacetime India, and one can discern a switch in the language that, increasingly like Europe, talks of compromise and tolerance rather than genuine mutual respect. The outcome of a continued breakdown is not hard to predict.

Why was the outcome of scenario-1, despite the unity via their common Abrahamic ancestry, an unstable stalemate, whereas the result in scenario-2, characterized by amazingly diverse groups of people, mutually beneficial stability? Why does the former produce and rely on mere tolerance and the latter, mutual respect? Part of the answer lies in the contrast between synthetic unity and integral unity, which we will explore in the next post by examining, what we propose and coin, the paradox of sameness.

As always, this blog is a work in progress and is intended to be used as a resource and reference. Updated text, corrections, and new links will show up as time progresses.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Virginia Tech and Oikos University Massacres: Was Difference Anxiety the Root Cause?

In this post, we uncover two eerily similar and horrific examples of the impact of difference anxiety that history-centric thought systems have injected into their captive followers minds. 'Difference Anxiety' is a powerful phrase introduced by Rajiv Malhotra in his recent book 'Being Different'.

April 16, 2012 will mark the five-year anniversary of the horrific massacre of innocent students and faculty at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. On this day in 2007, a deranged student walked around the idyllic VT campus and classrooms murdering 32 people (one of whom was a friend) and wounding 25 more before committing suicide.

April 2, 2012: Another deranged gunman, an ex-student of the Oikos University (OU) in West Oakland, California shot and killed seven and wounded more before being captured. These two attacks are numerically among the three worst campus massacres in the history of the United States. Here are the commonalities between these two April killers. Neither the American nor the international media have investigated these cases from this angle so far, to the best of my knowledge.

The VT Killer

Seung-Hui Cho, was born in South Korea in a family that seems to have disavowed the pluralist native philosophical traditions of Korea and embraced Christian Church Dogma and were zealous church goers after they emigrated to the United States. Based on the feedback from the community in Korea and his uneasy elationship with family and community in Virgnia, there are strong indicators that that his deracinated upbringing where his family discarded their age old Confucian beliefs and adopted an aggressive Evangelist Church dogma contributed toward maintaining this confused state of mind. We can conclude that he had issues with his name because it sounded like a girl's name based on the evidence of his uncle Kim in Korea who said "But when I heard that it happened in Virginia, where my sister lived, and the name was Seung Hui, I knew. He has a girl's name - Seung Hui is a rare name for a man". In the US, an evangelist pastor at a Korean church in Centerville, Virginia, where Cho grew up, told the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper he had once advised Cho's mother to take him to a doctor to check for autism. The mother disagreed, but prayed in church for her son to crawl out of his shell"

There is also first-hand evidence that suggests Seung's total disillusionment with Church dogma and the gender difference anxiety issues (in this case manifested via his 'girl's' name and his stalking of females in the campus) that afflict quite a few of its adherents.

The OU Killer

One L. Goh is also a native of South Korea. His family too uprooted him from his native place and immigrated to the United States when he was a kid, interestingly, to the same geographical area of the VT shooting, Southwest Virginia. He was extremely uncomfortable with his name because it sounded like a girl's name and actually went ahead and changed it. Sounds familiar?

OU is a private Korean Christian university in Oakland, California. It should be no surprise that it is affiliated with the Evangelical Praise God Korean Presbyterian Church in Oakland. OU is reported in the media as primarily a nursing school, but a deeper look shows that its curriculum includes a strong dose of Christian Dogma. Aside from the language anxiety problem that Goh faced, we perhaps see his gender anxiety issue surface once again: the local police chief indicates that "Goh went to Oikos with "the intent of locating a female administrator but when learning she was not there, he opened fire at random people". Another example is Goh extolling his masculinity by glorifying violence. Note the predominantly female population in OU (and his victims).  We also see that the reports mention that Goh was disillusioned and angry with the management of OU and had a score to settle with them, and appears to have picked on innocent women as an alternative target to vent his fury. After the event, we notice the local Korean church community "calling for unity" and closing ranks.

Main Culprit: Difference Anxiety?
These are glaring recent examples where the History-Centric Christian dogma in the west has failed to provide sustainable solutions to their youthful followers in dire need of scientifically uplifting and healing help and peace of mind. The Church response is typically dogmatic and the option is to simply to "pray" or ingest side-effects-filled drugs prescribed by doctors. Neither of these solutions address the fundamental issue of Difference Anxiety faced by people from non-western cultures as well as by some in the west toward these visitors. The conclusions of the official VT massacre report lays the final blame on the young killer for not seeking help. Furthermore, in history-centric populations where such anxious youth mingle, there is little or no scope for mutual respect and equality based on recognizing and accepting these differences, and the relationship is based more on the patronizing and unsustainable notion of tolerance, with the aim of eventually erasing such differences. In both cases, we see this occur. Informal conversations with friends in Singapore and other parts of East Asia indicate that the phenomenon of such a gender difference anxiety among some of their peoples there may be widespread, and as is well argued in the recent book 'Being Different', my postulate is that this gender anxiety was not prevalent when Confucianism and Buddhist Dharma dominated Korea, and is almost surely a recent product of History-Centric thought via the Evangelical church that has a dogmatic (western universal) and warped notion of masculinity and femininity. This condition seems to been reinforced at an early age in the killers minds and maybe worsened after immigration into a completely western society.

Cultural Genocide by the Evangelist Christian Church
The two above examples are emblematic of the failures of Church over many centuries in coming up with an uplifting self-realization and self-help methods like the Yoga and meditation of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism of Dharmic India and Asia for their followers, coupled with its disdain for such inner sciences, which they are now trying to misappropriate into their dogma given the increasing popularity of Yoga in the west. To make matters worse, the church is marketing this failed product to non-western cultures using their predatory and cynical practice of inculturation and digestion wherein they convert native populations to Christianity by deceitful incorporation of popular elements of local tradition (Korean example), but without ever getting rid of their dogma and History-Centrism. Korea is a prime example where Western Evangelists with tacit approval from their governments have destroyed the cultural fabric of South Korea and created a huge deracinated population. 43% of South Korea now follow Evangelist Christian dogma, where there were close to 0% just a couple of centuries back. This is nothing short of cultural genocide and these very same Evangelists are targeting India in exactly the same manner. How many Chos and Gohs will that produce?

We close this post by praying for the Dharmic Atmans of the victims of these horrific crimes. The Atman is infinite and eternal. Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti!