coromandal


simplicity and otherworldliness

What’s society built on? It’s built on trust. It’s built on bluff. – Stereolab 

In revolution at first there is a general unhappiness around the status quo power in a given state, then a consensus builds up around the idea that the power is undesirable and should be removed, then the offending power is removed whether by violence or by peace, and finally a new political structure is established which of course is in danger of becoming a new intolerable status quo.

Historians and quants journal the entire process and measure the delta improvement from before the event to after. What’s exhausting is the cycle of history, how one insufferable social state can be revolutionized and replaced by an equally intolerable state. To break the cycle, a smart revolutionary carefully plans to remove the abuses of the old status quo and implant measures to guarantee better affairs in the new.

Gandhi was one such revolutionary. He saw and understood the abuses of the British Raj and realized India could throw them out of the country but end up keeping their rotten ideas. It was both the pervasive presence of the Raj and the insidious nature of their governing philosophy that kept the Indian subcontinent in its state of subservience and lockdown.

The prevailing philosophy of the British occupiers was of course Western – a mix of liberalism, imperialism, economic growth, Marxism, nihilism, industrial capitalism, the dominance of power, profit and capital. The genius of the occupiers was to convince Indians that this modern, western, instrumental philosophy benefited them. Gandhi realized that to be successful he would have to fight off the Western philosophy and the nativist Hindu nationalism which had adopted most of the precepts of the western ideas.

And so the question was asked: what do we build society on that is uniquely Indian? In his Hind Swaraj, Indian Home Rule he prescribed this vision based on the Indian virtues of simplicity, patience, frugality, and otherworldliness. He rightly saw that science and industrial capitalism had overturned spiritual authority and that this had to be corrected. The British quit India 73 years ago.

So was there success in Gandhi’s revolution? Modern India is the world’s largest democracy, it was founded on principles of secularism, and for many years after independence had a protectionist economy and during the cold war often chose to trade with the USSR instead of the West. Up until recently Indians have effectively kept modern multinational corporations out of their communities. Although not explicitly Indian principles, they show a tendency to resist western political culture as defined by the Hind Swaraj.

However, more recently the forces of nationalism and global neoliberal capital have ravaged the world including the Indian subcontinent. But the Hind Swaraj’s indictment of Western civilization was written to return Indians to the root of their identity and a root is deeper than a storm.

From The Inner Voice:

The terms of Gandhi’s critique, however, were remarkably original. He set out his views in “Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule,” a book written feverishly, in nine days, in November, 1909. Gandhi opposed those of his revolutionary Indian peers who—inspired by Marx, Herbert Spencer, Russian nihilists, and nationalists in Italy and Ireland—saw salvation in large-scale emulation of the West. Many of these were Hindu nationalists, intellectual ancestors of Gandhi’s assassin, determined to unite India around a monolithic Hinduism. Gandhi saw that these nationalists would merely replace one set of deluded rulers in India with another: “English rule,” as he termed it, “without the Englishman.”

Gandhi’s indictment of modern civilization went further. According to him, the industrial revolution, by turning human labor into a source of power, profit, and capital, had made economic prosperity the central goal of politics, enthroning machinery over men and relegating religion and ethics to irrelevance. As Gandhi saw it, Western political philosophy obediently validated the world of industrial capitalism. If liberalism vindicated the preoccupation with economic growth at home, liberal imperialism abroad made British rule over India appear beneficial for Indians—a view many Indians themselves subscribed to. Europeans who saw civilization as their unique possession denigrated the traditional virtues of Indians—simplicity, patience, frugality, otherworldliness—as backwardness.

The Inner Voice, Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker



a common disease, as in a plague

So many plagues consume us. The scientists emphasize the ones that destroy our bodies, but the ones that destroy our minds and souls are as pervasive, noxious, and deadly. Where are the priests?

Consumerism is one such plague, buying luxury goods and experiences. So believed the Epicureans, and in the town of Oinoanda in south west Asia Minor in AD 1208, Diogenes, who was an Epicurean, posted warnings about the plague of consumerism in a market that sold luxury goods.

Luxurious foods and drinks … in no way produce freedom from harm and a healthy condition in the flesh.

One must regard wealth beyond what is natural as of no more use than water to a container that is full to overflowing.

Real value is generated not by the theatres and baths and perfumes and ointments … but by natural science.

  • Epicurean slogans inscribed at the behest of Diogenes on central market colonnade in the town of Oinoanda south west Asia Minor AD 1208

Diogenes, an evangelist for Epicurean salvation from consumerism, describes his passion on the same wall in the market in Oinoanda:

Having already reached the sunset of my life (being almost on the verge of departure from the world on account of old age), I wanted, before being overtaken by death, to compose a fine anthem to celebrate the fullness of pleasure and so to help now those who are well constituted. Now, if only one person, or two or three or four or five or six … were in a bad predicament, I should address them individually … but as the majority of people suffer from a common disease, as in a plague, with their false notions about things, and as their number is increasing (for in mutual emulation they catch the disease from each other, like sheep) … I wished to use this stoa to advertise publicly medicines that bring salvation.

  • Diogenes, same wall

 



support not struggle
April 22, 2020, 3:24 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

The totality of life it seems, in the contemporary world, is competition and struggle: family life, education, work and career, even friendship. For the most part competition today is seen as a good thing: it keeps us on our toes, makes our work and thinking sharper, is good for the bottom line. But for many competition and struggle is less than ideal – I for one can’t see the point – and there’s lots of evidence that the positives are easily matched and often outweighed by the negatives: the unequal outcomes of the meritocratic system logically end in jealousy, fear, and despair.

We are told that competition is not only good but also ingrained in our natures. Is that true?  Below is a counter argument: humans are motivated, throughout our evolution, by love and shared connection. And in our evolution and by our affinity one for another, we don’t naturally struggle against each other, on the contrary we naturally support each other.

Man is appealed to to be guided in his acts, not merely by love […] but by the perception of his oneness with each human being. In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support not mutual struggle — has had the leading part.

Peter Kropotkin, 1902, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution



a question of where love comes from
March 30, 2018, 3:45 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

Image result for Mother and Son antonioni

Some people grow up scrounging for the little love they can get, and end up never really finding the consolation of a deep and abiding affection. Often they were orphans, went to boarding school, or somehow were separated from their parents.

Other people grow up fully immersed in love, and learn to not doubt the source of it. For them love is a limitless wellspring to which they eternally return for succour; it nurtures in them confidence and entitlement.

I imagine for the first group the alienation and pain can last a lifetime and even spread over several generations of lives. The entitlement of the second group can be painful to anyone looking in from an outside position of deprivation. If there is empathy then perhaps they are somewhat less aggrieved, but if no empathy then exponential suffering.

Genevieve Fox on love:

 

From the moment of my diagnosis, and then my prognosis, a positive one affording me a 70–80 percent chance of my curative treatment being successful, I pondered the nature of love: Had I left my sons enough of it? Does love endure? Is love bankable? What, in short, is the measure of love?

I stumble upon the answer courtesy of an illness that forced me to look back on a childhood marked by loss and the absence of love. An orphan’s life such as my own, lived with a hotchpotch of strangers and then, from the age of fifteen, alone, kept me on my mettle. Looking back on that time with my mother-eyes, I only now see that if you’re parentless and live on your wits, if you don’t belong and wish to do so, you look out for love, take it if you find it, look out for more. But you don’t bank the love; you live off reserves, and do not accrue funds. My sons, by contrast, are emotionally entitled; they default to a state of happiness whose roots reach deep, deep into the constancy of love. There is, for them, no question of where the love comes from or if and when the supplies will dry up. This is not because I am in remission, following a successful treatment, and they no longer fear for my health. It is because they have never known a dry riverbed. The experience of love is alchemical; it creates in a child a place of abundance, of safety.

Words to Live By, Genevieve Fox



The difference between man and animal is one of degree and not of kind

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Image: Henri Rousseau

I walked into the bathroom to see what my dad was doing. He was drowning Pixie’s pups because no one in Visag would take them. They looked  up desperately through the clear water and bubbles. He set their limp bodies aside and later buried them in the yard. This was wrong, but I had almost no emotion. My dad was so assured of the issue of animals and I believed him. We ate meat at meals and we were taught that animals are dumb, and the people who worship them, Hindus, were wrong to do so. Pixie herself, who I still love after all these years, was euthanized and buried in the yard when we left the country.

I put out traps in my apartment during the winter when the mice come in and start to bother me. This was before I found out there are more humanitarian ways of getting rid of them – moth balls work, they hate the smell. Once, I found a mouse caught in a trap behind the TV and he was still alive and terrified. The wire had pinched his lower body but not the vital organs. I worried how long he had been there. I picked him up and filled a bucket as my dad had done and drowned him. The same thing happened: he looked up at me as he expelled his last breath. I was more emotional; I believed the assurances of my father less and felt the pain of the mouse more.

Darwin said humans are different from animals ‘in degree not kind;’ significant difference but fully related. And since he said it, we have basically believed the opposite, that animals are completely different and fully inferior. We believed the opposite so we could conquer and use animals and not feel bad about it. We did the same with slaves, they were mere chattel.

What inconvenience would result, and what new world emerge, if we began to think as Darwin did? A recognition in the eyes of a mouse his short life is ending with regret, longing and pain. The extension of the human condition to include the animal kingdom. As Barnes says below, a revolution in how we live and organize the planet – or allow it to organize us.

Carl Safina, a professor of nature and humanity at Stony Brook University, New York, wrote:

“Suggesting that other animals can feel anything wasn’t just a conversation stopper; it was a career killer. In 1992, readers of the exclusive journal Science were warned by one academic writer that studying animal perceptions ‘isn’t a project I’d recommend to anyone without tenure’.”

It is odd that scientists, who claim to work only from data, and philosophers, who, like Wittgenstein, might speculate without anything as sordid as data but still love a good bit of logic, operate on the certainty that, while all placental mammals are put together in the same way physiologically, one of them is somehow completely different from all the other 4,000-odd – so different that we don’t even need evidence to prove it. Are we talking about the soul here? I ask only for information.

Throughout the years, people have sought to isolate and identify humanity’s USP, and every time they have done so, they discover that some animal – some non-human animal – has it, too. All the barriers we have erected between ourselves and other animals turn out to be frail and porous: emotion, thought, problem-solving, tool use, culture, an understanding of death, an awareness of the self, consciousness, language, syntax, sport, mercy, magnanimity, individuality, names, personality, reason, planning, insight, foresight, imagination, moral choice… even art, religion and jokes.

It’s all in Darwin, but we have spent getting on for two centuries ignoring or distorting the stuff he taught us. In The Descent of Man, he wrote: “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” If you accept evolution by means of natural selection, that must be true.

Why, then, are humans so resistant to the idea? We can find the answer in human history. For many years it was important to uphold the notion of the moral and mental inferiority of non-white people, because without such a certainty colonialism and slavery would be immoral. And that would never do: they were so convenient.

To change our views on the uniqueness of human beings would require recalibrating 5,000 years or so of human thought, which would in turn require revolutionary changes in the way we live our lives and manage the planet we all live on.

And that would be highly inconvenient.

Simon Barnes, Why humans need to rethink their place in the animal kingdom: Books by Elena Passarello, Peter Wohlleben and Lucy Cooke explore our relationship with wildlife, The New Statesman



Hume: the governed

The governed resign control of their lives to the people who govern. So it is the opinion of the many – that they remain powerless – by which the powerful maintain their control.

There are two kinds of opinion: opinion of interest and opinion of right. Opinion of interest means the population at large believes in the advantages of goverment. This opinion gives a sitting government security. Opinion of right is the right to power and right to property.

Why so easy for the few to govern the many? Why turn over how you think and what you like to governors so easily?

Government is established and maintained by controlling the the opinion of the governed.

Nothing appears more surprizing to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular. The soldan of Egypt, or the emperor of Rome, might drive his harmless subjects, like brute beasts, against their sentiments and inclination: But he must, at least, have led his mamalukes, or prætorian bands, like men, by their opinion.

Opinion is of two kinds, to wit, opinion of interest, and opinion of right. By opinion of interest, I chiefly understand the sense of the general advantage which is reaped from government; together with the persuasion, that the particular government, which is established, is equally advantageous with any other that could easily be settled. When this opinion prevails among the generality of a state, or among those who have the force in their hands, it gives great security to any government.

Right is of two kinds, right to Power and right to Property. What prevalence opinion of the first kind has over mankind, may easily be understood, by observing the attachment which all nations have to their ancient government, and even to those names, which have had the sanction of antiquity. Antiquity always begets the opinion of right; and whatever disadvantageous sentiments we may entertain of mankind, they are always found to be prodigal both of blood and treasure in the maintenance of public justice. There is, indeed, no particular, in which, at first sight, there may appear a greater contradiction in the frame of the human mind than the present. When men act in a faction, they are apt, without shame or remorse, to neglect all the ties of honour and morality, in order to serve their party; and yet, when a faction is formed upon a point of right or principle, there is no occasion, where men discover a greater obstinacy, and a more determined sense of justice and equity. The same social disposition of mankind is the cause of these contradictory appearances.

David Hume, 1777



rehearsals for revolution

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What good is it to speak out, much less demonstrate: things won’t change, the world is too big and the issues too complicated. Underlying this common argument is rank conservatism masquerading as enlightened rationalism and common sense. You have to plan and speak if you want change.

Demonstrations are rehearsals for eventual revolution; if the element of rehearsal is missing, it’s probably not a real revolution but merely a spectacle. Think, act, speak, live.

The truth is that mass demonstrations are rehearsals for revolution: not strategic or even tactical ones, but rehearsals of revolutionary awareness. The delay between the rehearsals and the real performance may be very long: their quality – the intensity of rehearsed awareness – may, on different occasions, vary considerably: but any demonstration which lacks this element of rehearsal is better described as an officially encouraged public spectacle.

A demonstration, however much spontaneity it may contain, is a created event which arbitrarily separates itself from ordinary life. Its value is the result of its artificiality, for therein lies its prophetic, rehearsing possibilities.

A mass demonstration distinguishes itself from other mass crowds because it congregates in public to create its function, instead of forming in response to one: in this, it differs from any assembly of workers within their place of work – even when strike action is involved – or from any crowd of spectators. It is an assembly which challenges what is given by the mere fact of its coming together.

The Nature of Mass Demonstrations, John Berger



proto friends
January 9, 2017, 11:46 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

The purposes of friendships are to share interests, to reassure one another, for fun, and for learning about our selves.

But we waste time with proto friends who basically distract from some or all of these purposes.

[4:40] One side affect of getting a bit more precise about what we’re trying to do with our social lives, is that we’re likely to conclude that in many cases we’re spending time with people for no truly identifiable good reason. These proto friends share none of our professional ambitions or interests, they aren’t reassuring and may indeed be secretly really very excited by the possibility of our failure, we can’t be cathartically silly around them, and they aren’t in the least bit interested in furthering our or their path to self knowledge. They are, like so many of the people in our social lives, simply in our orbit as the result of some unhappy accident that we’ve been too sentimental to correct. We should dare to be a little ruthless in this area. Culling acquaintances isn’t a sign that we’ve lost belief in friendship, it’s evidence that we’re starting to get clearer and therefore more demanding about what a friendship could really be. In the best way, the price of knowing what friendship is for may be a few more evenings at home in our own company.

Alain de Botton, The Purpose of Friendship



stand up for the stupid and crazy
December 16, 2016, 8:56 am
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

Sylvia Plachy

Here is an uncorrupted description of the idea of American individualism and  freedom, which of course has been so utterly debased to be unrecognizable: randian selfishness, libertarian isolation, war and hate and poverty.

It’s a recipe for a lovely dish. Do these things: love all beings, commune with the marginalized, spurn ideology, read poetry, resist authority; and you will become … a great poem: distilled calm, revealed truth, aspect of beauty, before your tribe, for people to see.

This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

—Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass,” 1855



Diotima’s Ladder
October 7, 2016, 4:31 pm
Filed under: the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: , , ,

Why Socrates believed that sexual desire is the first step towards righteousness

Can sexual desire lead us to something that transcends the physical act? Socrates seemed to think so. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates recalls the words of his apparent teacher of erotics, the priestess Diotima of Mantinea, who instructed him that lust was the first rung on a ladder leading upwards towards an appreciation of the form of beauty itself and, further, to morality and virtue.

Video by BBC Radio 4 and The Open University

Script: Nigel Warburton

Animator: Andrew Park

from Aeon magazine