Scale – In Satyagraha, Societies, and Statecraft

By The Emissary Leave a comment

One writer who caused an evolution of my thought is the fiery Nassim Nicholas Taleb. His brash yet precise style, swashbuckling smashing of intellectuals, and ancestral Mediterranean insights provided an alternative thought diet in a world that force-feeds the same message to me on television, social media, and amongst my friends here in a buffet of American coastal elites. From the jest of randomness, the beauty of black swans, the advancement of antifragility, and piercing skin in the game, Taleb created a dancing sequence of jabs and hooks to create a battle-hardened mentality to approach the world and knowledge.

One of the biggest yet most nuanced lessons I learned from Taleb was that of scale – how inputs yield outputs differently, depending on size and magnitude. An easy example of this common-sense concept is the difficulty in enforcing an exercise and diet regimen for oneself versus one’s entire family versus one’s entire community and so on. Trying to do good things is easier and possibly more effective in the long run when done on a smaller scale.

It’s one thing to change oneself on an individual level, another to create a visible shift in societies, and another to execute proper governance accounting for different groups along with the externalities and the headaches that come along with policies.

The Search for Truth

Satyagraha or the holding of truth paved the road in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s independence. Inspired by the ahimsa of Hinduism and Jainism, Gandhi brought his own interpretation taking an ancient concept to new frontiers.

The principles of satyagraha:

  1. Nonviolence
  2. Truth
  3. Not stealing
  4. Non-possession (not the same as poverty)
  5. Body-labor or bread-labor
  6. Control of desires
  7. Fearlessness
  8. Equal respect for all religions
  9. Economic strategy such as boycott of imported goods (swadeshi)

Admirable qualities that built the legend of the Mahatma, the great soul. Selflessness at its apex captured the hearts of Indians across the subcontinent in a mass non-violent movement at such a scale that it has no parallels in world history before or since. While an individual taking on satyagraha is highly laudable, expanding it to society proved a double-edged sword.

With the British reeled from a cataclysmic World War at home and a cracking crown jewel in the Raj, their leaders eventually acquiesced to the rightful demands of an independent India. Truth had met victory in the eyes of the Mahatma’s disciples, but this satyagraha would now face a much older foe that had made its home in the subcontinent over centuries.

Jinnah and Gandhi Prior To Their Falling Out Early On In The Indian Independence Movement

Naiveté crept into a population until it was maimed by the madness of a maniac with Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s call of “Direct Action” severing the dreams of Gandhi and millions of other Indians for a united India. What Gandhi and his ideological descendants, Gandhians, got wrong is how values apply at scale. Stunningly noble principles for individuals could not be forced upon a people who were facing a polar opposite ideology filled with aggressive malice and cultivated by despicable men to match.

“Hindus should never be angry against the Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo even their existence.” —Mahatma Gandhi, Birla Mandir, New Delhi, on April 6, 1947; Partition Would Occur 4 Months Later

The beauty of satyagraha was smeared with the ugliness of Islamism and this duality incarnated by way of a bloody partition. An assassin would cite the suicidal idealism of Gandhi as the gunpowder to his fatal and fateful bullet that transformed a man into a martyr and Gandhi into a god. The last breath of Gandhi permeated throughout Indian politics since.

Forsaking looking at others’ faults and focusing on your own to improve are great actions on an individual level. Trying to apply this mentality at a large scale is impossible and can be disastrous. Gandhi’s goal to apply the kindness and tolerance that he practiced throughout his life at a larger level provides a testament to the dangers of this ruinously beautiful ideal.

Primus Inter Pares

While I may have been harsh on Gandhi, his satyagraha was a very inspirational movement that achieved its primary aim (with the help of several violently resisting Indians of course, too) and would echo in the minds of different generations and geographies. Its failures would only truly come to fore when reciprocity broke down as scale increased and satyagraha faced the sinister.

A communal concoction that had been boiling for centuries spilled over once again just as Gandhi tried to ease the concerns of an ambitious Jinnah and company who were decided in their choice to break India. What went so wrong here?

Good behavior scales badly. Bad behavior scales goodly.

An essential lesson to impart here is that the kindness that we should all so admire shouldn’t be extended frivolously in the world at large scales. Strive to be exceedingly kind to all the individuals in your life, but expect less of a return as familiarity decreases and quantity increases. The world of geopolitics and governance is witness to how might towers over magnanimity as scale maximizes. And it is here where we need to examine a powerful chapter across world history for the past several decades – social justice.

Inspired By Gandhi’s Non-Violent Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. Marched For Civil Rights and To End Segregation

Social justice has yielded some of the greatest moments in politics as policies such as apartheid and segregation were thrown into the abyss, while reservations in India helped lower castes climb out of the abyss. Tangible benefits were born through simple and actionable policies and goals.

Today, however, social justice movements have been plagued by vague goals and a lack of dynamic leadership. Faceless protests descend into rioting at an alarming rate with politicians taking advantage of the chaos and righteous movements thwarted by themselves. No Gandhi’s, no Dr. King’s, no Mandela’s lead the wave of change today. The absence of these emissaries who create a dialogue between the masses and politicians means that when social justice is applied at scale, it descends into disarray with vultures disguised as politicians picking and prodding at a soon to be carcass of a movement. Justice has inherent danger when applied at scale and needs the right leaders and values to guide it properly.

On the flip side, there are also the potential horrors of hyper-local justice such as in the panchayat system of rural India, where a clan of elders decides the fate of the accused, sometimes with cruel and Hammurabi style punishments. We are seeing this hyper-local eye for an eye type justice now extrapolate to larger scales amongst many intelligentsia and political leaders, a notion that would lead to disastrous strife if the scale continues to ramp up.

Virtualism

Bruno Maçães, a prominent political analyst and now part-time philosopher, proposes that America is entering a period where fantasy supersedes reality. The digital world at your fingertips is shaped by the hand of technology. What you see and consume on your timeline is a lens with a distorted scale of the world. What is anecdote becomes amplified into annals as the speed of the extreme races past the mundane on the information superhighway.

THE SPREAD OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY HAVE BLURRED THE LINE BETWEEN FANTASY AND REALITY

Outrage oscillates the Overton Window wildly as technology’s reality distortion field melds our perception. This pendulum pushes our politics in an increasingly divisive direction as upstart politicians wield clout and clicks on social media steering agendas into fantastical territories that are disconnected from realities and history. Technology and social media have brought notions of the past closer to us than ever as rabid battles over who oppressed who pan out in the digital theatre of war.

Elite consensus is upended by guerrilla historians, sometimes erroneously but many times rightfully. These intellectual insurgents zoom out and in on specific instances to promote their perspective, occasionally out-of-context but every so often right on the money. The thin selection of stories published by establishments has given way to an explosion of untold chapters bypassing traditional media and academia, all with the help of technology.

Protests Have Quickly Descended Into Riots Across The US As No Leader Stands On The Same Platform As The Giants of the Past

However, this has directly lead to an exacerbation of the application of justice. Crimes of the past are scaled out to include those in the present. Justice morphs into its fraternal twin, revenge. Now, I don’t believe it’s right to silence the discussion of the horrors of the past as that is essential to reconciliation. However, this discussion must be joined with efforts to bring real justice – opportunity and truth – to those who have been oppressed and not extend the hatred of the past to the descendants of oppressors in the present. Funny enough, the answer to opportunity may lie in economics (whether welfare reform, access to capital, ease of business, tackling inequalities, etc…) rather than culture wars.

Today’s society values performatives over pragmatism. In the quest to fight historical injustices, we can’t ask for revenge that spirals into a wheel of fire. We should remember the great effort to organize mass non-violent movements such as satyagraha and civil rights in an era today where the embers of violence quickly follow the gasoline rhetoric of many of our politicians and “activists.” For only great men, great women, and great movements transcend the limits of scale and sculpt our tomorrow.

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

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The Ambition of the Emirates

By The Emissary 6 Comments

 

For a large part of history, the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula were on the fringe in the rise and fall of empires. They alternated raiding and trading as this wheel of fire rolled on across the dunes. But eventually, the Arabian caravan would be equipped with both sword and word to make haste across the Old World in a relentless raid that would change both history and humanity.

Yet just as quickly as the prized Arabian horses would gallop into newly conquered lands, the Arabs would soon scatter leaving their language, faith, and the prestige of their roots behind in strange lands. Tribalism trumped their newfound unity and the Arabs would once again retreat into their wildernesses and pilgrimages.

That is until wealth erupted from its wastelands. The old elites of the Middle East would now return from their desert exile to begin another round of a game of thrones.

Continue reading “The Ambition of the Emirates”

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Brahmanism Versus Brahminism

By The Emissary 15 Comments

Yes – read the title twice.

Was inspired to write this due to Gaurav’s interesting post on Brahmanical Patriarchy. Note – I am a non-Brahmin Hindu.

I’ve always been pretty aware of the difference between Brahman – a word for the metaphysical supreme Godhead/substance in Hinduism and brāhmin – the priestly caste in the varna system. But many times, I see people using the 2 interchangeably as if they are one and the same. Ditto for Brahmanism and Brahminism.

Now if you’ve followed my writing, you know I’m pretty critical of academic takes on Hinduism and academia in general. I generally think both Brahmanism and Brahminism are frankly bullshit IYI terms coined by outsiders and unfortunately adopted widely nowadays.

However, Gaurav’s take on “Brahmanism” (all Hindu practices & rituals which have a basis in scriptures like the Vedic Canon, Puranas/Itihasa, Sutras/Shastras as Brahmanism) is a fair description to me of core Vedic or Hindu thought. A Hinduism rooted to the Upanishadic Brahman that contrasts (but more or less doesn’t clash with) many local or Agamic traditions. A tradition that really does bind the diversity of Hinduism together by common roots and cause. I’d prefer to call it Vedic Dharma or Vedic religion (because I don’t like the Brahman/brahmin casual mixing) but that’s beyond the point.

Onto Brahminism – now this is a term I loathe. To my knowledge, this term was coined by Jesuit missionaries visiting India to convert heathens to the one true faith. These days, the term is honestly just a cover for Brahmin bashing and even more so Hinduism bashing. Brahminism = Brahmanism = standard and core Hindu faith and customs. Basically, the shtick is, all of Hinduism is for and by Brahmins and is solely used as a tool for oppression. If that core description of Vedic (or according to them – Brāhmin) thought and ritual is scrapped away, the link of diverse Hindu traditions is gone and an ideological balkanization occurs. This is a very pretty picture if you’re in opposition to Hinduism. See the monstrosity that is Dravidianism for an example today.

A casual scroll through social media will have people criticizing innocent/non-harmful Hindu rituals and customs such as doing puja for a puppy or vegetarianism and label them as “Brahminical/Brāhmin OPPRESSION!” Yet many of these practices have nothing to do with Brāhmins in this day and age or even in the past (depending on time and geography of course).

While I agree that ending caste discrimination should be a paramount cause of Hindu sampradays and Hinduism in the present, the “Brāhmin Boogeyman” is increasingly just a cover for criticizing Hinduism as a whole and removing agency/tradition/history from non-Brahmin Hindus.

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Browncast – Cliff Smith and Sam Westrop: The Origins of South Asian Islamism

By The Emissary 3 Comments

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 the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

This episode features Akshar and Mukunda talking to Cliff Smith and Sam Westrop of the Middle East Forum. We get into topics surrounding the relevance of the Deobandi movement, how Islamism percolates between South Asia and the West, and the political ramifications of Islamism in the US and the UK.

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Belief and Reclamation

By The Emissary 111 Comments

For eons, ascetics and wanderers would journey to the sacred snow-clad Himalayas to test the fires of their belief. Where the skies met the earth and the heavens met the material world, humans met enlightenment; and their discoveries would cascade down the subcontinent. These beliefs would be ossified by ritual and rite, and a culture would engulf the land between the great Himalayas and an endless ocean – India, that is Bhārata.

And it is this legendary journey from the foothills of the Himalayas to the tip of the subcontinent that a civilizational epic takes place – the Rāmāyana. On August 5th, 2020, the ancient song of Valmiki will echo in the villages, in the cities, in the deserts, the fields, the jungles, the mountains, the waters, and especially in the minds of those who believe. A civilization will enact its long-awaited reclamation.

Continue reading “Belief and Reclamation”

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Browncast Episode 112: Tarun Sridharan from Odd Compass – Rajas and Sultans

By The Emissary 3 Comments

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 the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point.

This episode features Razib and Akshar talking history with Tarun Sridharan, the man behind a very interesting Youtube Channel – Odd Compass. We discuss the Malacca Sultanate, Vijaynagara’s downfall, Maratha success, and various other topics in history. Make sure to check out his Instagram and especially youtube channel which has beautiful and well-researched videos on history (especially Indian!).

Check out his latest video on the history of war elephants:

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Why the Far Left Is More Dangerous Than the Far Right

By The Emissary 30 Comments

I still remember the good old days.

When the biggest internal danger to America was Bible Thumping McDonald’s addicts and a spontaneous KKK takeover of the White House. I was a young brown kid growing up in a post-9/11 America. Politics was one of the last things on my mind and easily summed up as Democrats = “tolerance” and Republicans = “racist.” Barack Obama’s 2008 victory showed me that a minority in the United States could achieve anything.

All was well.

Then an apparent apocalypse happened in 2016 when the Anti-Christ was elected. I still remember watching the CNN panel go from Manhattan arrogance to DC downplaying to Rust Belt frustration to Portland freakout – the coast to coast American experience all within a day. And I kind of shared that fear too. I liked Bernie, voted for Hillary, and was aghast at Trump. I still believed my old Republican and Democrat dichotomy.

Then I decided to take a second look. I started to notice unnerving parallels between American and Indian politics, particularly those on the left end of the spectrum. Looking at it from a different angle, I realized I was misjudging the waves for the tide.

Continue reading “Why the Far Left Is More Dangerous Than the Far Right”

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Browncast Episode 108: Harsh Gupta on the India-China Conflict and Going Long India

By The Emissary 7 Comments

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 the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point.

Harsh Gupta | The Indian Express

This episode features Omar, Mukunda, and Akshar talking to Harsh Gupta, an investor and author. We discuss the big picture geopolitics of the Galwan clash in Ladakh, Indian civilization, and why Harsh is going long on India. Some positive vibes in a trying time for many!

 

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The Shadow Sultanate: Qatar

By The Emissary 9 Comments

Influence is an art. It is a dance of subtlety and force. A moving of the mind and a journey of the heart. It is difficult enough to master at an individual level; so how can one possibly master it at a geopolitical level?

Yet, influence is the invisible hand in geopolitics. Hard to quantify and in constant flux, some countries wield it with brute might, while other countries seduce their counterparts into submission.

Qatar may be the per square mile most influential nation in the world. This little, lavish country has mastered the painting of perceptions through the art of influence. And more than that, Qatar has turned its art into action.

Continue reading “The Shadow Sultanate: Qatar”

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Browncast Episode 103: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra on Indian Defense, Economics, and History

By The Emissary 18 Comments

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 the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) | Twitter

This episode features Omar, Mukunda, and Akshar talking to Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a defense and policy analyst, about his evolution of political thought with highlights on his former communist affinity, evolving feelings on Modi, and passion for Indian nationalism. We also get into the continued inefficiencies of India and how it has been so detrimental to its development, plus possible reforms to remedy it. The wide-ranging conversation also includes insights into Abhijit’s time in jail, Kashmir, and “Frugal Indian” cooking tips!

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