Sarah Haider, Shadi Hamid, myself and Murtaza Hussain recorded an impromptu podcast that we titled the “Intellectual Brown Web.” These are basically people I know well (I am good friends with both Sarah and Shadi) or who got involved in Twitter threads repeatedly (Murtaza). But there is no “Hindo-origin person.” Since I don’t give a shit about representation or affirmative action I don’t care too much…but this got me thinking, what based Hindu Americans would you have on? I know plenty of based Hindus from India…but most Hindu Indian Americans are Rho Khanna at the most based.
I mean think about this: why the fuck am I having to write long pieces about how the anti-caste discrimination stuff is bullshit? I’m just a tech entrepreneur who isn’t even from a Hindu background. Suhag at HAF does stuff and others, but where are the big hitters? Instead you have public Hindu Americans proudly pushing this stuff.
Note: there are plenty of based Hindu Americans who are doctors, engineers and business people. They just aren’t public people. Which is fine, but if you don’t speak for yourself, at some point Razib Khan is going to get tired of doing so.
Every nationality or cultural group should have a song done like this. I’m writing a Substack on Vikings, who were quite nasty in many ways, but popular culture songs like this make them seem “bad ass.”
And India’s higher education system badly needs shaking up. Setting aside issues of quality (as if those can be set aside), India does not come close to providing sufficient seats to those aspiring to higher education — a glaring shortcoming as India’s burgeoning middle class strives to prepare their children for the opportunities of the future.
India’s system has its successes, of course, but they are narrow. Just nine Indian higher education institutions made the top 500 of the most recent QS World University Rankings. The top one — the Indian Institute of Science (at 155) — is a highly specialized institution focused on postgraduate studies and research in the sciences. The other eight are part of the well-known Indian Institutes of Technology, which specialize in engineering. The highest-ranked comprehensive university was the University of Delhi, falling in the 520s.
That is simply not good enough. All told, India has just over 1,000 institutions of higher learning. China, with a similar population, has three times that. The United States, with a much smaller population, has four times as many.
This all sounds find, but India will replicate some of the US’s pathologies in the education sector. The “consumer model” of higher education has been causing serious problems here over the past few decades. The op-ed even states that “Private universities, too, are overly regulated and cannot operate for profit. That deters the best entrepreneurs from entering the sector.” Entrepreneurs entering the sector was a disaster, and for-profit colleges were a way to absorb student loans from the public fisc.
I don’t have a big personal issue with vegetarians, though I really enjoy ribeye and you’ll take shrimp from my dead hands. My daughter has been a vegetarian since she was five due to ethical concerns about animal cruelty.
But every now and then I hear that BJP-aligned governments or officials are removing eggs from school meal programs due to cultural sensitivities. I get that, but is there a good argument from this from a utilitarian/nutritional angle? Children at critical ages need protein and fat, and perhaps I’m wrong, but India still seems to have a lot of nutritional issues in a lot of is population. These kids are the future, and honestly, this seems like the cultural forces are shooting society in the face.
If Marin county or the Irvine School District unveiled this I wouldn’t care. With enough money and care you can design a vegan diet with balance and supplementation to be healthy. But this requires care and execution, and I see many American with lots of money who don’t pull it off well judging by their physique and fatigue.
What’s the deal? It’s true that the Chinese eat everything, but sometimes I wonder if the Indians eat nothing.
(this matters to all of us because a massive number of working age people in the next few decade are going to be Indian, and we need them to be as healthy as possible)
One of the things that has saddened and frustrated me on this weblog over the last 12 years has been the tendency of brown people, Indian subcontinentals, South Asians, etc. to engage in differentiation. As a geneticist, I am aware of differences, and I accept and admit it candidly to an extent that is rare in an open manner in the West. Also, some ribbing and joking is normal, and I am not offended.
But Pakistanis vs. Indians, Southies vs. Northies, Bangladeshis vs. Indians. High caste vs. low caste, vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian.
Our cultural differences are striking. Our diversity of form, belief and practice is mind-blogging. But we come from the same roots. The rest of the world looks at us, and recognizes the kinship. We? Not so much. Muslims claim Arab or Iranian heritage. Jats and northwest Indians distinguish themselves from the lower and dark races. Southerners express contempt for the barbarism of BIMARU. BIMARU claims that they are the font of culture. And so forth.
This is not to end with a resounding assertion. But sometimes, I wonder if the silent majority is not like this, and we hear the prattling of the minority?
Another Browncast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, Apple, Spotify, 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!
The podcast was a good experience – a free flowing discussion without much structure. Retrospectively I felt I could have intervened more on some points or countered some of the answers, but I am overall happy with the discussion.
I hope I have this opportunity again to discuss a few more things with Sai.
One of the problems with “traditional” familial and cultural systems is the level of depravity they can mask. This is not a “slam dunk” argument against them, but it is a real thing. The suppression of the evidence of clear sexual abuse in a certain community in the UK in the service of preventing negative stereotypes seems to be a case where the lives and misery of young girls in these communities are not accounted for in the same way as those from more mainstream subcultures. You can see exactly how Rotherham happened, though in that case, the girls targeted were explicit outgroups.
(this not even an explicitly communal point, as Hindu women have routinely complained about the “perverted uncle” problem in joint-families)
If anti-Americanism was bad, look what its opposite has done. Britain is in trouble because its elite is so engrossed with the US as to confuse it for their own nation. The UK does not issue the world’s reserve currency. It does not have near-limitless demand for its sovereign debt. It can’t, as US Republicans sometimes do, cut taxes on the hunch that lawmakers of the future will trim public spending. Reaganism was a good idea. Reaganism without the dollar isn’t. If UK premier Liz Truss has a programme, though, that is its four-word expression.
So much of what Britain has done and thought in recent years makes sense if you assume it is a country of 330mn people with $20tn annual output. The idea that it could ever look the EU in the eye as an adversarial negotiator, for instance. Or the decision to grow picky about Chinese inward investment at the same time as forfeiting the European market. Or the bet that Washington was going to entertain a meaningful bilateral trade deal. Superpowers get to behave with such presumption.
(if you go to google news, look up the piece, and use incognito mode, you should be able to read it for free)
This is basically what Ed West told me in our podcast. Britain has been culturally swallowed by America and American affairs, and that’s not good for the UK’s social and economic development because the natives don’t pay enough attention to their real station and situation in the world.
For the Right: they need to get over Empire and Britain’s role in the world. Contra James bond they’re a medium-sized nation living off a history of geopolitical relevance. For the Left: get over colonialism. The ghosts of Ninevah haunt the old ruins.
India’s complexity is a perennial source of inspiration for commentary, columns and books.
Shrayana Bhattacharya, a World Bank economist, joins the list of authors who have tried to explain India with their books.
The book is about contemporary Indian women.
Ms. Bhattacharya, who trained in development economics at Delhi and Harvard university, uses her years of experience in primary research, to bring us her own, and stories of women from a cross-section of society.
The cornerstone of these stories is Shah Rukh Khan, one of India’s most famous movie stars.
In a career spanning over three decades, Mr. Khan has built, through his cinema and his off-screen presence, an image of an ‘industry outsider’ who dominates the Hindi film industry with the dint of his hard work and sincerity.
His choice of unconventional roles for a leading man, in the early part of his career, and his off-screen image of a loving husband and family man stand him apart.
This is in contrast with the usual tropes of a male Hindi movies star , the good guy who charms his way to audiences’ heart on screen and whose umpteen romantic dalliances they read in the press.
Khan’s popularity, in the Hindi heartland and amongst the diaspora, is the string Bhattacharya uses to stich tales of gender disparity and loneliness.
We get a ringside view, Bhattacharya takes us through her own and lives of five other women, as they struggle with lack of income opportunities, denial of agency and grapple with every day challenges of living in India, exaggerated by their gender.
What holds these women together is their love for Khan’s cinema and in turn Khan himself.
When they need joy, inspiration in their lives and an escape from every day struggles, the women seek Khan’s onscreen roles and his offscreen persona.
The pictures that Bhattacharya paints, are colored by facts.
The protagonists of her stories come alive, unlike in Khan’s movies, as she vividly explains their lives with a sharp eye for detail.
When giving context to their struggles, she backs her submissions with reams of hard data.
Annexures include a table that captures share of dialogues for women in some of Khan’s movies.
She gives the women who shared their stories and their unbound love for Khan with her, their own voice.
The writing is not rhetorical flourishes with clichés thrown in. That bane of most commentary on India. The book engages.
Even for those who live in India and see the every day reality, the book is thought provoking. The passage where she describes the transactional nature of relationships is worth a chapter of its own.
Where the book misses out is on exploring the other impact of Khan’s filmography.
Barring notable exceptions, Khan’s work since his seminal hit Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, has comprised of Yash Raj school of saccharin cinema.
Movies where characters are super rich, beautiful with ‘love’ as the only thing missing in their lives.
It’s the kind of cinema that’s as far from the everyday India as cinema can get.
Khan and his cinema have done their bit in building the hegemony of ‘How much money do I make? How do I look?’ lifestyle.
The characters in her book struggle with these questions too.
Khan’s role in shaping a consumerist, trying to ‘fit in’/ ‘cool’ individual persona is left unexplored.
I found Khan’s portrayal as an all-India star an over-played hand. Khan’s as much a pan India phenomenon as Dal Makhani, the ubiquitous North Indian delicacy, is a pan India delight. The cinema crazy south Indian states have temples of their movie stars and Khan is not in one of them.
As she writes on the state of affairs, Bhattacharya skips the raging phenomenon sweeping urban India. The Dating app. Where the society has failed markets have stepped in. Technology is helping even the scales for women. The progress is slow and it does not include the majority but it’s a start.
India is a large complex place with everyday challenges being met head on by a young and an energetic populace.
Bhattacharay’s book captures some of these challenges and the forces taking them on, impeccably.
Anybody trying to get a sense of the churn going through India and its society will be well served by this book.
One hopes her fellow commentators will be inspired by her lucid writing and her love for data.
On Twitter I ran into a peculiar argument about vegetarianism and Brahmanism:
This is just factually wrong from what I know. The standard narrative I was taught is that the shift toward vegetarianism was driven by non-Brahmin-led religious movements, in particular the Sramanic sects like Jainism and Buddhism (that seem to have had a Kshatriya and Vaishya “class” base). Rather, post-Vedic Brahmanic ritualism was changed by the influence of these movements, with the Brahmin caste becoming followers and expositors. This probably aligns with the idea that much of late Indian Buddhism was actually incorporated into Advaita, so the idea that Buddhism is a “daughter” religion of Hinduism is actually not correct.
Now, it is totally true that today militant vegetarianism is often correlated with upper castes and is instrumentalized in an exclusionary manner. But that is the endpoint and operationalization of vegetarianism, not its root. The original commenter was making a political and rhetorical point, so truth was pretty irrelevant. But those of us who value truth need to periodically bring up pedantic aspects because otherwise the lie becomes truth, and that is true perversion.