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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 Mukunda and Akshar talking to Saagar Enjeti, co-host of Rising on The Hill and host of The Realignment Podcast. We talk about Saagar’s come up and his political journey as we delve into the US election results, right populism, and an Indian-American’s place in all this.
Yesterday I read a piece in Web portal Newslaundry (of which i am a disappointed subscriber). While i agreed with some parts of the argument I found the oversimplification and ideological bias to be very stark and mildly unpalatable. Particularly what struck me was the referring to Yogi Adityanath as Ajay Bisht.
about that time Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ajay Bisht showed up in Karawal Nagar and told a bustling audience that “their ancestors broke this country apart”, meaning Muslims.
Being a reasonable follower of politics I know that Yogi Adityanath was once called Ajay Bisht before he took the name Adityanath as the head of Gorakhpur Muth. The use of name Ajay Bisht is clearly a polemical ploy to get virtual cheers from the people on your side of the debate but what it foolishly ignores IMO is the reverence Hindus in general have for Yogis, Sadhus and Godmen.
The problems of this polemic are twofold:
Some people who are uninformed maybe confused by use of name Ajay Bisht. Even a minute incoherence which diverts from the thrust of the argument could be seen as counterproductive.
It prejudices minds of readers who are not necessarily partisan but find this un-name calling unpalatable.
In my readings and listenings over the years, the only people who had scornfully referred to un-named religious men have been people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. However one doesn’t need to defend these folks for their consistency as their all out attack on religion is as even handed as humanly possible.
This discussion goes well into the truly sad self goal by the Indian Liberals viz. the Delhi Riots 2020 book launch. One of the arguments for this is made in here. (Again in Newslaundry which to my disappointment is going truly into the Wokesphere). This argument is so lame and so pre-Internet IMO that it doesn’t even bother confronting the real outcome of Bloomsbury de-platforming Delhi Riots 2020 – increased popularity and unnecessary (from liberal pov) martyrdom of the authors. What could’ve been criticized as an one sided and hyperbolic book has become a Free speech issue. And Liberals have ceded a lot of moral ground here. Contrast this with the much more objectively problematic book on 26/11 – RSS ka Shadyantra, 26/11 which did not receive any meaningful criticism from the liberal side despite being the complete PIGSHIT. The book could’ve objectively & legally banned from publishing IMO as it compromised the national position on 26-11 and Pakistan but it wasn’t. The extend to which the RSS opposed that book was that they filed a court complaint and the author/publisher had to apologize – yes its the so called Fascists who take the legal route. The whole outrage over the pulping of Wendy Doniger’s book is put in nice perspective with this incident. The reason I personally endured parts of Doniger’s spurious Freudian extrapolations is because of the noise that book generated. Same will happen with the Delhi Riots 2020 for many non-partisan people.
Some smart liberals have stood up against this virtue signaling masquerading as moral righteousness. Examples – Here and Here but they have been childishly dismissed by the left as Both-siders between Good and Evil. What is surprising for me is how deracinated some people have become to count this instance as a liberal victory. As if getting plaudits from your own tribe matters as a victory. But in these polarized echo chambers even a (BOT)tish liberal POV articles by folks like Aakar Patel & Shivam Vij are well received. Lets not even start with how people like Rana Ayyub and Sagarika Ghose earn so much money and fame.
On the whole, based on interactions i have had with Hindutva supporters, most don’t support the extreme narrative espoused in books like Delhi Riots 2020. From a purely reductionist point of view – 40/53 causalities have been Muslim and the overwhelming number of people facing prosecution are also Muslims. Such hard facts are irrefutable even if people on the Right are moderately honest (which most are). However what has enraged most people on the right is the calling of Delhi 2020 riots- Pogromsor comparing them to Gujarat 2002. Journalists like Rahul Pandita and even bleeding heart liberals like Rajdeep Sardesai were viciously attacked from the left when they pointed out that both communities had suffered from the riots. If such an atmosphere persists I wouldn’t be surprised if more One sided books like Delhi Riots 2020 are written, published and widely read. Had I been the marketing in-charge of release of Delhi Riots 2020, i couldn’t have come up with a better plan for a wider readership.
What is tragic about these antics is that people on the right are more likely to believe extreme and conspiracy theorist narratives as a natural function of this controversy. But till LIBERALS continue with virtue signaling over readable and nuanced arguments, liberals(like me) are bound to be pushed rightwards.
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?
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.
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.
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.
It is slickly produced, gorgeous in audio, and loudly ironic – as it sounds like a parody of propaganda itself.
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.
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.
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.
Update: Since this post is receiving many-fold more visitors than this blog normally receives in the whole day, here is the TL;DR for those who are too dim to read, or too lazy to do so: Hasan should not engage in guilt-by-association against others when the tactics are so easily turned against himself. That is all.
As I am trying to withdraw from Twitter food-fights I did not want to comment on this on that medium. But, since I have a platform of this weblog, I did think it would appropriate to point out a peculiar sort of behavior by Mehdi Hasan, a relatively prominent commentator in the UK who is becoming more well known in the USA.
A few days ago I saw Hasan criticizing Rand Paul on Twitter for the fact that his father was involved in a controversy around racist newsletters in the 1990s. I thought it was strange for Hasan to imply that the guilt of the father should echo down through the generations, The main issue I have with this sort of behavior is that Hasan himself was saying that homosexuals were pedophiles and non-Muslims lived like animals down into the 2000s, far more recently than the Ron Paul Newsletters. Hasan has disavowed these views, and my own view is that unless otherwise shown one can probably accept that he’s changed his positions (he has, for example, denounced the traditional Islamic punishment of death for apostasy in the last decade).
Hasan should probably more careful than most in holding someone’s past against them, let alone the transgressions of someone’s father (no matter the context). The grace that he is given, he should give to others.
His behavior indicates to me that he believes he is prominent and powerful enough that no one will point out the hypocrisy of his behavior in asking forgiveness of his own past while holding the past of the parents of ideological opponents against them.
But the main reason I’m posting now is that today I saw something again where Hasan attempted to play guilt-by-association: this time against Tulsi Gabbard. In particular, he criticized her for appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show, which is bad because Carlson is a bad person (a racist according to Hasan). Of course, some of us are aware that Hasan has a long-time grievance against Gabbard for being Islamophobic. It wasn’t a coincidence that he criticized her.
My problem is that Hasan works for Al Jazeera, which owned by the government of Qatar. Qatar is a repressive, reactionary, and racist state. I say this from personal experience having visited. Of course, I myself had fun in Qatar, because I stayed at a nice hotel, and drank wine and dined at Nobu. But we all know the lives that the Asian and African work-force live to maintain the techno-reactionary utopia (of course Western people are treated well in Qatar).
No one is pure and lives on an island. The United States itself has blood on its hands, and all Americans who are citizens of this democracy have some share of that. I don’t begrudge progressive journalists who work for Al Jazeera English. A job is a job today in journalism, and Al Jazeera is a big organization with diverse views. But, the fact is that within Al Jazeera its non-English arm often trades in racism and religious bigotry, and the ultimate ownership is in the hands of an autocratic monarchy.
To me, this means that employees of Al Jazeera English should show a bit of humility and acceptance of moral complexity when it comes to complicity and associations. As it is, quite often they are among the most woke and self-righteous exemplars of the opinion journalism class. Tucker Carlson and Fox News are perhaps nasty and racist in Hasan’s view, but Al Jazeera is sponsored by an incredibly classist and reactionary government. Should the latter negate our acceptance of Hasan’s assertions that he is a progressive person?
Hasan’s problem with Rand Paul is clearly with the views of Rand Paul. His problem with Tulsi Gabbard is that he believes she is Islamophobic. He should focus on these issues, instead of attempting guilt-by-association, because he and many other self-righteous pompous journalists live in gossamer glass houses.