social justice

Conceptual Anarchy in Hinduism

“9.334. But to serve Brahmanas (who are) learned in the Vedas, householders, and famous (for virtue) is the highest duty of a Sudra, which leads to beatitude.” –Manu Smriti

“All your talk is of caste and creed

Is it even as natural as the spider and its web?

The four blessed Vedas, were they created by Brahma?

Is caste and creed worthwhile, ye elders of Paichalur?” -Uttiranallur Nagai

Mandana-Misra-and-AdiShankaras-debate

Hinduism is in a constant state of transformation through internal discourse and dissent. Image source.

(This post mostly consists of quotes from Manu Smriti and Medieval Hindu Bhakti poems, so if you want to skip my spiel just hit the “read more” link at the bottom.)

People in the west tend to have an odd outlook on the ethics or “doctrines” of Hinduism. In most religions, doctrine works something like this: There is a core text, or set of texts, which contain precepts. Early in the religion’s history some sages write commentaries on these. The rest of the reasoning and doctrine formation of the religion continues by referring to these sources for legitimacy. Innovations occur, but normally only if it can somehow be “textually justified.”

Certainly there is a part of the Hindu religion, which operates very similarly to this—the religion of the Brahmins. But Hinduism cannot be thought of as just that. It is the religion of all Indians, except perhaps those who explicitly decry the label, like the Buddhists, Jainsm and Sikhs (and even those divisions are sometimes blurry. Even some sects of Islam are pretty heavily syncretized.)

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The Turing-Poe test

With the rise of the internet radicals and internet trolls, it would be an interesting exercise to apply the Turing test to Poe’s law. Is that person posting that stuff an idiot? Are they just pretending to be an idiot? Or is it idiots tricked into looking like even bigger idiots by a loose group of people pretending to be idiots? Because that’s exactly what happened with #EndFathersDay on twitter.

straw feminist

This prank originated on 4chan’s news and politics board, /pol/, a board known for its radicalism, offensiveness and free speech, and it’s clear that it was success. What’s more interesting is that this isn’t your typical black propaganda, because it actually fooled the people that it was satirizing into joining in. The hashtag topped twitter’s trending lists, sweeping up thousands of bona fide feminists in the apparently empowering anti-holiday frenzy. Plenty of savvier feminist tweeters pointed out that such tweets needed to stop – not because the rhetoric is fucking crazy, but because of who is originating the hashtag, since the internet is public and any group of people planning such thing will be uncovered with a little digging.

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Exits, the left, and liberalism

Earlier this week, my colleague Mark Lutter attempted to make an impassioned case for the left to embrace the political practice of “exit,” while not making much of an effort to define it in a way that a leftist could make much sense of it.  I say this not because the practice itself is incomprehensible to the left, but because leftist ideas of mass “exit” are already in existence in so many places.  The Scottish National Party leans heavily to the left, as do the Bloc et Parti Québécois*.  The current efforts for Catalan independence are being spearheaded by a leftist party, the Republican Left of Catalonia, with backing from the pragmatic Convergence and Union. SYRIZA, the leftist coalition in Greece led by Alexis Tsipras (above), is pushing hard for a general election after success in European elections last month, so as to set up a possible exit from the European Union after being under severe austerity in recent years. The list goes on.

Of course, with the exception of SYRIZA (which we’ll get to in a moment), one could argue that most of these secessionist efforts are ethnically oriented, and perhaps not what is meant by “exit” in Lutter’s mind. So, let us look at the more basic terminology, the act of free dissociation. Lutter rightly points out that exit was previously associated with the classical left. The Paris Commune of 1871 could be framed as one of the better leftist representations of that from the time period: A dissociation from the nascent Third French Republic in order to protect the interests and livelihoods of the city’s workers from the political machinations of the majority-rural French population.

However, Lutter is not interested in the left of modern times, even though it still exists — albeit as a marginalized fringe group — in American politics.  Liberalism and progressivism, strains of political thought that are often haphazardly associated with the left, are Lutter’s true concern. Yet, both those philosophies are completely incompatible with the concept of “exit.” Why? The answer falls on the basis of what purpose “exit” serves. Lutter’s use of the term “survival” nails the principle: “Exit,” in his mind, serves as an act of self-preservation from change, or from the pressure to change. It serves as a means to survive upheaval of one’s way of life because of these changes.

The important thing to understand about liberal thinking, be it economic liberalism or social progressivism, is that its purpose is to instigate change itself, or at least embrace it. In the liberal’s mind, to allow any and all persons** to opt out of these changes defeats the purpose of making changes to begin with. Their primary act of self-preservation, and often their means of advancing change, is accommodation and compromise. In essence, “exit” by Lutter’s terms is a defense against liberalism, even if one were to create liberal communities as he and Scott Alexander suggested.

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