Browncast Episode 99: Carl Zha on the new Cold War, and marrying a Hindu

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up with the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Since we started the Brown Pundits Browncast we’ve seen significant listener growth. This is really a hobby and labor of love, so I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. Though it’s by the Brown Pundits, the topic isn’t always “brown.” That being said, there is a significant number of listeners in India (especially with the topic is more Indocentric).

Due to the costs of both recording software and storage space, I would appreciate if you could also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. It also compensates me for my admittedly mediocre editing (I’m a data scientist/geneticist). If we get more patrons I have reached out to have someone professional edit…but really we don’t have the funds now.

If you can’t give (in these times may cannot!), I would appreciate more positive reviews!

In this episode, I talk to Carl Zha, repeat guest on the Browncast, and host of the Silk and Steel podcast.

Since we’ve been having Carl on he has kind of become “a thing.” His Twitter account has shot up in followers, and Carl has gotten himself into multiple controversies. One of the major ones is whether Carl is an agent of Chinese intelligence. I ask him about this accusation.

Additionally, we talk about his new life in Bali, and the fact that he’s basically left the United States indefinitely. Carl is now marrying a Balinese woman, and he mentions that his mother-in-law was worried about his religion (since his grandmother was Buddhist his mother-in-law was mollified).

Finally, we discuss extensively the new “Cold War” that has begun over the past few months. A fun and serious conversation.

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The War Over Myth

When the ancient Cro-Magnon crossed paths with the Neanderthal in prehistoric Europe, a conflict was born. Slowly but surely, the invading Cro-Magnons subdued and supplanted the native Neanderthals into oblivion. The only Neanderthal traces left were fossils and tiny genetic snippets in the Sapiens code. But why did these Cro-Magnons so rapidly succeed the Neanderthals?

Yuval Noah Harari proposes the power of myth.

Origins

In his book Sapiens, Harari posits that it was the ability of ancient humans to create myths that led to triumph over their Neanderthal cousins. Whether it was concepts of religion, trade, country, etc…, the Cro-Magnon coalitions weren’t just strengthened by shared genetic codes but shared mythic creeds. Innovation and legends built from this cognitive revolution gave early humans the tools to not only conquer other species but also each other.

Old myths were now carving new realities.

THE COGNITIVE REVOLUTION MAY HAVE ESCAPED THE NEANDERTHAL WHO WAS NO MATCH FOR THE MYTH MAKING CRO-MAGNON.

This blood of fratricide would continue across the ages to the tip of Spartan spears clashing against Athenian shields. In this land of early contacts, people who shared even greater similarities than the Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals were still locked in an eternal war over the myths of alliances and city states. Another incarnation would appear in the same land as Greeks and Anatolian “Turks” (who may have shared more DNA with an Athenian than a Central Asian) would come to gunpowder blows with a backdrop of whether Jesus or Muhammed was the supreme prophet.

Of course, one could say these conflicts were all over resources; but myths provided the fuel to the fire. The fictions of community, ideology, and religion were integral to these conflicts; and the legends of their conflicts were peppered with these myths, not over who controlled a salt mine.

The Deviant

History is filled with centralized powers and rulers having a vice grip over their societies’ myths. Nonetheless, massive calamities or upheavals would cause realities to shatter mythologies (much like the coronavirus today). The spread of the internet and social media have upended traditional formulas, and now myths are increasingly divided and divisive.

I came across an extremely interesting yet at times very hypocritical podcast – the Rabbit Hole. It is produced by the New York Times and delves into the story of a young man named Caleb and his radicalization by way of…YouTube. On the way it pairs a fairly centrist Joe Rogan with famous racists such as Stephan Molyneaux and Milo Yiannopolous, designates deviation from mainstream thought as a mental disturbance, and labels dissent against mainstream media as surefire pathway to bigotry.

THE RABBIT HOLE PODCAST FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES.

It is slickly produced, gorgeous in audio, and loudly ironic – as it sounds like a parody of propaganda itself.

Let’s not forget the highlight reel of the New York Times’ myths this year includes lamenting that not enough Indians have died due to coronaviruslabeling the Chinese travel ban as racist, and canceling #MeToo because Joe Biden.

These are the myths that an esteemed and storied American institution propagates. It doesn’t take a mythologist or scientist to tell you that something is off.

Media, academia, corporations, and governments themselves are seeing their stories thrown into bonfires like an Evangelical reaction to Harry Potter books. The sacred myths of the past such as the accessibility of the American Dream, the “natural fit” of the European Union, the hyper-competence of the CCP, India’s minority favoritism in guise of “secularism,” and so many more myths of the elites are being capsized. Populist surges have been inflamed by mismatching of reality and myth, and alternative voices have been given suffrage by the internet.

The Rabbit Hole feels like a reaction. A major institution trying to silence alternative thought (much of which I strongly disagree with myself) as it feels threatened, using every aesthetic and influential trick in its repertoire. It’s a very entertaining yet at times jarring piece of content. It’s so fascinating seeing a media giant so brazenly and fearfully enforce its myth.

Māyā, the Illusion

The Hindu concept of Māyā is multifaceted; but for our purpose today, let’s pin it down to the idea that our world is an elaborate illusion, fueled by attachment, arrogance, and deception. The illusion is tailored. For one, it may be their emotional faults; for another, it’s their addiction; for someone else, it’s their position of power, etc…

Each person has their own māyā. Their own reality. Their own myth.

Institutions have for too long utilized prestige to create precedent. They have gotten used to their word being a given, rather than something that is taken. Now with the coronavirus baring the top-down māyā of the elites and institutions, a bottom-up backlash ensues.

A whole array of new myths and challenges to the status quo are arising. Many of my group chat debates with friends end up being us posting different articles that say wildly opposite conclusions with Herculean confidence – a testament to how we now have a myriad of myths to choose from yet increasing difficulty in discerning our reality. News is no longer news. News is narrative.

Truth is more subjective than ever.

Think Different

The Vedas have described reality as “neti neti” – not this, not that. This comfort with ambiguity is something that is sorely missed in today’s world. The sages who composed the Vedas found ease in ambiguity and accepted the limits of truth. From their verses, flowed the founding myths of the Indian subcontinent; and subsequent philosophers and truth-seekers created their own spin on those myths. Debate, diversity, and a mutual respect became integral to the Indic ethos, something you would never assume today watching the screaming cobblestone screens of Indian news.

FOREVER RADICAL – STEVE JOBS’ PENCHANT FOR REBELLIOUS THOUGHT CHANGED A WHOLE INDUSTRY AND EVENTUALLY THE WORLD

Now is a time to embrace ambiguity. Absolute truths are being overturned by the coronavirus and the cascading economic downturn. From the Federal Reserve’s infinite monetary sprint careening past notions of debt to the WHO’s blatant capitulation to the Dragon, old conventions are imploding to open a path for new strategies, new myths.

This piece is more of a collection of thoughts than a focused message. A quiver of arrows rather than a spear. I want you to leave with questions.

Why should I listen to the media and institutions that have been so consistently wrong? That have a permanent sneer towards me? That seek to sear any speck of debate into ashes?

The war over myths is the story of human progress. Our myths chart the trail of our future. Belief has proven self-fulfilling on an individual as well as societal level. We must make sure that our beliefs are not defined by consistently wrong and Puritanical elites and institutions.

Our myths should come from experience and inquiry. It’s time for conversion. It’s time for reincarnation. It’s time to choose our own mythology.

This is a repost from The EmissaryPlease visit the blog for more content and thanks to Brown Pundits!

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People of Indian ancestry need to learn things outside of India or they will sound stupid

At my other blog, The Decline Of Genocide And The Rise Of Rents. One of the comments is from someone with an Indian name:

The problem with the whitewashing of the islamic invasions of India is that first, nobody does that with the christian invasions of sub saharan Africa and even more so, central and South America and secondly, the genocides did not stop in the past.

I wonder how much of what the author wrote applied to the European conquests of central and south america where the aim was clearly to slaughter and convert.

Since the commenter is parochial, they don’t know about the Spanish Black Legend, which was an Anglo-Protestant propaganda effort to argue that the Catholic Spaniards were particularly cruel and evil. The reality is that the aim was to convert, but, it was also to turn the indigenous peasantry into sources of rents for the Spaniards, who were keen on living like aristocrats in the New World. The demographic collapse of the indigenous population prevented some of that and necessitated the importation of African slaves.

Why was there a demographic collapse? It wasn’t really the Spaniards killing the native people in large numbers (in fact, the conquest of America occurred with the large-scale cooperation of indigenous allies). Rather, it was disease, as outlined in Charles C. Mann’s 1491.  If you look at the comment about, you will notice a peculiar contradiction in the idea that one would want to “slaughter and convert.” Winning souls usually entails keeping them alive!

Henry Kamen’s Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763, the author outlines the contrasting case of what has become the Phillippines. Here Spaniards and mestizos were a tiny minority, and the indigenous peoples were the overwhelming majority, with a large number of Chinese engaging in trade. Why the difference? Because the Spaniards did not bring disease that were particularly impactful on the people of the Phillippines, and on the contrary, tropical climates in Asia were not healthful for Europeans. The mortality rate for the Dutch East India Company in Batavia was incredibly high, as Southeast Asia served as a great mortality maw for young men from the Netherlands and Germany for generations.

The contrast with Africa is the most extreme. Fatal disease meant that the European presence in Sub-Saharan Africa was constrained to isolated fortifications and trading center on the coast for centuries. The reason Africa was “dark” was that even after all this time much of it was unexplored into the 19th century. If you look at biographies of the “Arab slave traders” from this period you will observe that many were of predominant black African ancestry. The primary, but not exclusive, reason for this difficulty of conquest and domination was malaria. The introduction of quinine opened up the continent to Europeans and resulted in the scramble for Africa.

Though some European missionaries did come to continent with colonialism, in most places mass Christianization occurred after the end of European rule. It was driven by native Christians and often spread fastest among groups that were located adjacent to Muslims. Christianity was seen as a bulwark of the native culture against Islam,* which Vodun and other indigenous beliefs exhibited little resistance (it is a peculiar fact that “public paganism” persists in West Africa, but not in East Africa, where tribal religions are much more rural and marginal phenomenon).

What can this tell us about India? As I have posted at length, it testifies to the power and strength of native Indian religious ideas and systems. Though Hindus say they are “pagan”, they are not pagan like African pagans. Or pagans like the people of highland Southeast Asia, or the New World. Or Classical Antiquity. Muslim rulers dominated the region around Delhi from 1200 to 1770, but 80-90% of the people in the region remained non-Muslim at the end of this period!

And yet 30% of subcontinental people are now Muslim. They are concentrated on the margins, in the far west and far east. What does this tell us?

A standard model presented is that slaughter and mass-killings resulted in the shift of religion at the point of the sword. Were Muslims particularly brutal in the west and the east? More brutal in eastern Bengal than western Bengal? More brutal in southeast East Bengal than northern East Bengal?

The idea of an exceptionally violent and brutal occupation is promoted and encouraged by many factors. First, many Muslims in the past and even actually like the idea that the Turks and Mughals were particularly vicious and zealous. The Turks themselves had an interest in portraying themselves as such ghazis converting pagans at the point of the sword. For Hindus, the conversion of marginal, liminal, and low caste communities to Islam of their own free will is not something one would want to address, because it points to “push” factors within Hindu society. Defection says something about the group from which you defect.

Finally, there is the reality that the Muslims did engage in forms of cultural genocide. The destruction of temples, the selective targeting of the religious, the imposition of an alien Persian high culture, are all true things that occurred in a Hindu India.

Note: I may just delete a lot of comments on this post if they don’t meet my standard. Just warning.

* The attraction of highland Southeast Asians to Christianity has the same tendency: they see it as a bulwark against absorption into lowland Buddhist culture.

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Afghanistan, Next Round

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Some questions and then more questions came my way about recent events in Afghanistan. My two cents put together in the piece.

Afghanistan – Next Round Afghan Style

Hamid Hussain

“However tall the mountain is, there is a road to the top of it”.   Afghan Proverb

United States and Taliban signed an agreement in February 2020.  The agreement was to pave the way for withdrawal of US troops and integration of Taliban in Afghan political system. The next step was exchange of 5000 Taliban and 1000 Afghan government prisoners.  This also proved to be the first hurdle.  Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insisted on linking prisoner release with cease fire.  Taliban rejected it and under US pressure, Ghani released few hundred Taliban prisoners.

In the deal with US, Taliban agreed not to threaten “security of US and its allies’.  Taliban defined only Europeans as ‘US allies.  Off course they don’t consider Afghan government as US ally therefore they continued to attack government forces. On the start of the Muslim holy months of Ramazan, Ghani asked again for a ceasefire.  Taliban representative in his response called this call ‘illogical’.  Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) also called for a ceasefire during negotiations between Taliban and Afghan government.  Taliban are not likely to agree to this.  They see attacks on Afghan security forces as a lever to extract more concessions. Taliban also want to calibrate its military operations to keep momentum of its cadres.  If they agree to a prolonged ceasefire and few months later need military operations, they may face difficulties in re-activating its own cadres.

Current violence in uneven geographically.  Violence has decreased in Taliban controlled areas in south and east and large cities.  In Taliban controlled areas, night raids by Afghan forces and air strikes by US forces and attacks by Taliban on government posts and convoys, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks and target killings was the main engine of violence.  Afghan forces have stopped operations in Taliban controlled areas resulting in marked reduction of violence.  In government controlled large cities, Taliban were attacking government and civilian targets.  They have markedly reduced these attacks that resulted in reduction of violence in large cities. In some parts of eastern Afghanistan, Daesh was responsible for most attacks.  An unlikely alliance of US, Afghan forces, Taliban and local militias confronted Daesh from all sides eliminating most pockets of Daesh that contributed to marked reduction of violence. In all these areas, with reduction of violence, general public feels somewhat secure with economic activity picking up in towns and rural areas. Continue reading “Afghanistan, Next Round”

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AASI Y chromosomal lineage: haplogroup C


There was a conversation in the comments about which Y chromosomal lineages clearly descend from “Ancient Ancestral South Indians,” the people who have strong affinities to the eastern wave out of Africa. Though Y chromosomal lineage H is strongly localized to South Asia, it seems to have deep Pleistocene connections to West Asia, so that is not a clear candidate. Many “eastern” Y haplogroups have connections to East Asians, so it is not often clear which of the others might be AASI.

Reading a paper on Australian Aboriginal genetics clarified things. Many South Asian groups with no East Asian ancestry carry Y haplogroup C (e.g., Patels), which diversified 50,000 years ago between Australian/Papuans and Indians. This is clearly a reflection of deep-time connections across southern Eurasia and into Oceania.

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A collective religion in an individualistic age

Recently on Twitter someone asked why people of subcontinental backgrounds who leave Islam don’t refamiliarize themselves with the religion of their ancestors. One response could be “well actually, my ancestors weren’t really Hindu…” I think this is a pedantic dodge. In places like Iraqi Kurdistan and Tajikstan some people from Muslim backgrounds are embracing a Zoroastrian identity.

Iraqi Kurds turn to Zoroastrianism as faith, identity entwine:

In a ceremony at an ancient, ruined temple in northern Iraq, Faiza Fuad joined a growing number of Kurds who are leaving Islam to embrace the faith of their ancestors — Zoroastrianism.

Years of violence by the Islamic State jihadist group have left many disillusioned with Islam, while a much longer history of state oppression has pushed some in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region to see the millennia-old religion as a way of reasserting their identity.

“After Kurds witnessed the brutality of IS, many started to rethink their faith,” said Asrawan Qadrok, the faith’s top priest in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

But to be clear, not all the ancestors of the Kurds were Zoroastrian. Some were Christians. Others were probably Jews. The largest numbers on the eve of the Arab conquest were probably a mix of folk mountain pagan, with a patina of Zoroastrianism among the elites. Additionally, modern Mazdaist Zoroastrianism is only a single stream, and one strongly shaped by its Islamic captivity.

And yet on some level, it makes sense that Kurds convert to Zoroastrianism to reconnect with their ancestral Iranian tradition. It is part and parcel of that tradition. Similarly, people of Muslim subcontinental background turning toward Sanata Dharma is not crazy, even if their ancestors were Buddhist or pagans of some sort.

But there’s a problem with “converting” to Hinduism: modern Hinduism is organized around jatis, and being Hindu means being part of the community, and membership in that community is a matter of birth, not choice. Someone who was raised a Muslim and converts to Hinduism can’t just join one of the many local jatis. Of course, there are devotional sects such as ISKON, but these are exceptions, not the rule.

Obviously the same problem occurs in Islam and Christianity. I have read of converts to Islam who were single talk about the difficulty of finding a spouse since they have no “connections” within the community, and being single as a Muslim convert can be very isolating. But, Islam has within it more of an acceptance, like Christianity, that conversion of individuals is possible and even meritorious. Hindus are more ambiguous and ambivalent.

In the premodern world, Hindu communitarianism was a good fit. But in a more individualistic world, it puts Hinduism at some disadvantage.

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Browncast Episode 98: Covid-19 India status update, May 5th

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up with the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Since we started the Brown Pundits Browncast we’ve seen significant listener growth. This is really a hobby and labor of love, so I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. Though it’s by the Brown Pundits, the topic isn’t always “brown.” That being said, there is a significant number of listeners in India (especially with the topic is more Indocentric).

Due to the costs of both recording software and storage space, I would appreciate if you could also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. It also compensates me for my admittedly mediocre editing (I’m a data scientist/geneticist). If we get more patrons I have reached out to have someone professional edit…but really we don’t have the funds now.

If you can’t give (in these times may cannot!), I would appreciate more positive reviews!

In this episode, I talk to Kushal Mehra, the Carvaka, about what’s going on in India.

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Capsule Review: Napoleon, a Life; by Andrew Roberts

Roberts is an unabashed hero-worshiper when it comes to Napoleon. That can become a little irritating. But he has also done tremendous research and presents a very thorough, very readable and very up to date biography of Napoleon (up to date because new information, including 100s of previously lost letters, have continued to turn up and all that information is included in this work).

His hero worship does not affect my five star rating because he does not hide any of Napoleon’s faults, mistakes or disasters. He just feels the need to jump in with explanations, mitigating factors and examples of similar atrocities/mistakes etc. from others to try and keep things in perspective. If you do not share his Napoleon-love, you can still benefit from reading this book. As someone who grew up hearing about Napoleon from an uncle with several editions of Emil Ludwig’s classic biography always present in the house, I am not exactly an unbiased observer, but I think the book really IS worth a read. Factually accurate, extremely detailed and highly readable.

Best “new thing I learned from this book”? Exactly how much money the British spent (very effectively) as subsidies to various European powers to keep Napoleon in check. I knew they spent money but it had never been clear to me how systematic, well thought out, effective and extensive that effort was.
by the way, Roberts’ England-love is also real, and likely deeper than any Napoleon-love he may have. That too shows up in the book 🙂

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The Persian captivity

I have long suggested to readers of this weblog to inform themselves of the histories of peoples outside of the Indian subcontinent to understand better broader human dynamics and get out of the box of parochialism. But, the comments of this weblog don’t suggest that many are taking me up that advice.

Let’s start with the depredations of nomadic Central Asian peoples that the Indian subcontinent has been subject to, starting with the Indo-Aryans, down to the Afghan invasions of the 19th century. There is an attitude that this is sui generis in some fashion. But it’s not. Most of Eurasia has been subject to the predations of the pastoralist peoples. In Strange Parallels: Volume 2, Mainland Mirrors: Europe, Japan, China, South Asia, and the Islands: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c.800–1830, the author argues that Southeast Asia, Japan, and Western Europe were protected from these incursions due to their geography, and so were allowed a cultural continuity which was ideal for the formation of nation-states.

This is in sharp contrast with the Islamic world. Though I am skeptical of the idea that the first Arabs conquerors of the Near East were nomads (I think they were residents of the cities of the Levantine liminal fringe), the Turks definitely were. Arriving as slave soldiers in the 9th century, after 1000 AD Turkic dynasties were dominant through the Muslim world for nearly 1,000 years. Reza Shah Pahlavi’s ascension in the 20th century broke the long history of the rule of Iran by men who were not Iranians of Iran.

And yet the spread of rule by Turkic dynasties was associated with the spread of Persian high culture, not its diminishment. As outlined in The Persianate World: The Frontiers of a Eurasian Lingua Franca, the three early modern Muslim polities of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals, were ethnically Turkic in their self-conception but patronized and facilitated Farsi as a language of administration and culture.

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