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