coromandal


the argumentative Indian

BANGALORE HANUMAN0001Nationalism is on the rise in India; Modi – India’s big new hope for Prime Ministership – is a Hindu fundamentalist set to sweep away the longstanding tolerant Congress. I remember India in the 1970s – admittedly from child’s eyes – as being genteel and tolerant. Not any more. It feels coarser, on the edge, aggressive and desperate.

Following is a passage from a review of a book (The Hindus: An Alternate History, Wendy Doniger) that has been, in classic fundamentalist fashion, pulled from circulation. Some of the article’s observations in chart form:

the argumentative Indian > the offended Indian
the tolerant Indian > the intolerant mob
the reflective citizen > the hurt communal mobiliser
the courageous Indian > the cowardly thug

Here is the passage from Mehta’s review:

India is a democracy, but its reputation as a bastion of liberal values is dimming by the day. The argumentative Indian is being replaced by the offended Indian, the tolerant Indian by the intolerant mob, the reflective citizen by the hurt communal mobiliser, the courageous Indian by the cowardly thug who needs the state to protect it against every argument, the pious Indian by the ultimate blasphemer who thinks he needs to protect the gods rather than the gods being there to protect him. Whether this is a tiny minority or represents the majority is beside the point. The point is that the assault on free expression is winning. How is liberal India being silenced?

Silencing of liberal India, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Indian Express

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the dogmatism of the untraveled
July 29, 2013, 10:42 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

We tend to associate liberalism with big government and big society etc. and not with business.  Except of course for the idea of free markets and more broadly market liberalism, liberal is the word reserved for bleeding hearts.

Unless you believe in the invisible hand of the market, but that’s more magical than liberal.

Liberalism like any complex idea changes meaning over time, but also by how close or how far you are from it.  Here is a far away view which reverses some of our here and now ideas about liberalism.

At its best, market liberalism manifests forms of pluralism that throw together very different kinds of people, and burnish away the rough edges of intractability that would otherwise keep them apart – or at each others’ throats. From Bertrand Russell:

What may be called, in a broad sense, the Liberal theory of politics is a recurrent product of commerce.  The first known example of it was in the Ionian cities of Asia Minor, which lived by trading with Egypt and Lydia.  When Athens, in the time of Pericles, became commercial, the Athenians became Liberal.  After a long eclipse, Liberal ideas revived in the Lombard cities of the middle ages, and prevailed in Italy until they were extinguished by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century.  But the Spaniards failed to reconquer Holland or to subdue England, and it was these countries that were the champions of Liberalism and the leaders in commerce in the seventeenth century.  In our day the leadership has passed to the United States.

The reasons for the connection of commerce with Liberalism are obvious.  Trade brings men into contact with tribal customs different from their own, and in so doing destroys the dogmatism of the untraveled.  The relation of buyer and seller is one of negotiation between two parties who are both free; it is most profitable when the buyer or seller is able to understand the point of view of the other party.

Bertrand Russell



holding ideas tentatively
November 23, 2012, 3:15 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

When things are uncertain or even scary and everyone looks around for people to lead them and to believe in, they often look for assertions of finitude, grand visions that are certain, minds that have been made up, plans that are strong and complete.  They certainly are not interested in wishy-washiness, ambivalence, backtracking and changes of mind.

But, as Russell describes below, there is often a problem with absolute certainty:  shifting reality – what is perceived to be true now will need to be adjusted tomorrow, as circumstances change.  Ironically, the one thing we can be sure of is that circumstances will change; and that, in a mutable world, it’s better to hold your ideas lightly.

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the fullness of freedom

In 1944 Karl Polyani wrote about good and bad freedoms.

He described bad freedom as:

“the freedom to exploit one’s fellows, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community, the freedom to keep technological inventions from being used for public benefit, or the freedom to profit from public calamities secretly engineered for private advantage”

And good freedom as:

The market economy under which these freedoms throve also produced freedoms we prize highly:  Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of meeting, freedom of association, freedom to choose one’s own job.

For Polyani the good freedoms are “by-products of the same economy that was also responsible for the evil freedoms.”

Then he wrote a prescription for a better future; one which is broader, more transparent and inclusive and ultimately more hopeful; one which twins freedom with justice:

The passing of the market economy can become the beginning of an era of unprecedented freedom.  Juridical and actual freedom can be made wider and more general than ever before; regulation and control can achieve freedom not only for the few, but for all.  Freedom not as an appurtenance of privilege, tainted at the source, but as a prescriptive right extending far beyond the narrow confines of the political sphere into the intimate organization of society itself.  Thus will old freedoms and civic rights be added to the fund of new freedoms generated by the leisure and security that industrial society offers to all.  Such a society can afford to be both just and free.

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dutch tolerance in america
March 27, 2009, 10:19 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here is a quotation from Janera’s blog entry Triangle of Tolerance.  Back at the founding, New Amsterdam was a free trade zone – and general liberalism flowed from economic policy into social spheres and back again –  while Boston and other eastern cities, dominated by the puritan British, became defined by religious intolerance.

The thought is that generations and generations later we are still suffering by these attitudes and ideas.  I find the mention of land rights particularly revealing – an industry and ideology has grown like barnacles, encrusted, around what originally may have been a simple and useful idea.

From the article –

According to Shorto, the free trading, tolerance, and keen business sense of the Dutch is still felt in America. The Dutch were the first to issue public shares in a company, and in New Amsterdam, an ethnically mixed group co-existed, trading with the Indians and making a profit, while pubs abounded and prostitution was pervasive. This was starkly different from the puritan English settlements of Boston and Hartford, which were much more religious, operating from the assumption that they had a God-given right to the land.

This small story has had a big impact on the American identity and culture, according to Shorto. Whilst some Americans need to identify with English purity, others accept the impact of other groups—Blacks, Latinos and the Dutch, among others—on the origins of America. While Russell was talking, I couldn’t help but think that this dichotomy has trickled down to modern-day American politics with the Republicans adhering to the puritan explanation of American history whilst the Democrats may be more inclined to acknowledge America as a true mix of ideas from its inception.