Feb 25, 2013

Identity and Learning: Worlds within worlds

Popular media and political parties seem to thrive on false dichotomies. Some are more transparent than others. Are faith and reason mutually exclusive? Is secularism and diversity endangered by Hinduism? Is democracy compatible with Islam? Is China's one-party system better than India's democracy at this stage of development? One bloc of countries is invading others to give them the gift of capitalist democracy, another bloc works to cure the disease of capitalism and bring social justice, while a third is trying to give everyone the gift of faith and religious law. Buffeted by internationalist blocs and their local sepoys, some Indians prefer to define themselves merely as "being different" from others based on a shared racial memory. How can Indians think about our identity more creatively while engaging with everyone in a globalizing environment?

Fundamental Hindu philosophy says that holistic survival can happen if we all become one - and we can become one while remaining diverse because our desires for distinctive categories reside simultaneously in each of us. We  can become reflections of each other while not becoming copies of one other. We can see and work on reflections of others in ourselves, and ourselves in others. Moreover, the adventure of consciousness blossoms in stages, and each stage reveals petals that protect others within: whorls within whorls. Each whorl is an iteration in the civilizing process of Man.

Below is a tentative table listing some civilizational iterations. Convenient names of historical civilizations have been used to characterize prominent cardinal values in each iteration. Original material borrowed from The Order of Time and modified. 

These can be applied to an individual or a culture as a whole. Various cultures of the world have managed to cycle through or assimilate few or more of these iterations. Its also pretty clear that some need to make more progress than others. 

Each iteration builds on preceding ones, so some individuals/cultures may need to "re-tribalize" in order to re-build a proper foundation for holistic growth rather than face increasing deracination as they "progress".

Once in 1992, Lee Kwan Yew, the architect of Singapore's successful city-state, was invited to Pakistan as part of a cultural exchange, to discuss ideas for developing an Asian economy using "Asian values", and to make way for investments. His hosts told him about the ideology of Pakistan, the two-nation theory, the inspiration of Islam, its values and mission, and the problems it was facing. At the end, Mr. Lee exclaimed, "How can a culture that places all its value in a life after death create a thriving entrepreneurial and innovation-based modern economy?!" Apparently he correlated purposes with values and virtues, and for a society with a fixation on one particular iteration, he saw a serious problem.

The purposes of any iteration have been looked at from four viewpoints: 
  1. Non-illusion, i.e., what kinds of data is considered more 'real' and significant than others. The Selection of Importances is basic to any course of action and further cognition. 
  2. Love, i.e., how is affinity expressed in the context of that iteration. The kinds of affinity and identification  it allows directly corresponds to the smooth flows of that same type of communication, as well as the type of reality that can be shared by participants of that iteration.
  3. Reward, i.e., the medium that provides satisfaction for participants. This has a direct effect on the political-economic order possible at that iteration. It can intensify or dampen the production-consumption cycle, and have similar effects on all other forms of oscillations.
  4. Social quality, i.e., the attitude it creates at the social apart from individual level, in either mobilizing people or affecting them in other cultural ways: actions, speech, thoughts, etc. This will be a trigger for the kinds of "rights" and obligations that people at a particular iteration tend to prioritize and are willing to fight for.
  5. Effect, i.e., the net political effect of that iteration at the individual as well as social level.
A quick summary of the above table:

The Zeroeth Iteration  (Vedic) has as its essence a vigilant meditation as a permanent state of mind. Its net effect is "discipline". Here "discipline" doesn't mean a regimen, but rather discipleship. The Vedic effect is to be at cause over "knowingness", and therefore to gain the ability of continuous, never-ending learning. 

The purposeful values of any iteration can't be treated as absolutes - that would be an error. Rather, its Values are better interpreted according to practical Principles aimed at bringing about a desired Reality. This desired Reality is the quality of consciousness that is sought to be achieved for some purpose. Each such Reality (consciousness) manifests certain Virtues that indicate its existence symptomatically. For this  Zeroeth iteration, the relationship can be represented as follows:

The First Iteration (Asian) has as its goal "community", and therefore its values, principles and virtues align with that, in a sense of regimen and harmony.

The Second Iteration (Platonian) has as its goal "politics". So its values, principles and virtues align with this purpose of the art and science of governing any sphere of affairs - individual or social.

The Third Iteration (Christian) is inherently an inverted, subjective reality, and has as its goal sacrifice. Here is an inversion, a gambit of one reality for another, where there is gain through loss.

The Fourth Iteration (Mohammedan) is a sufferance, an austerity, executed at a sunset of sorts. A penitent austerity, an abandonment or killing of past, and a turning about and journey back to a lost Center. It is  a cult phase, of correction and radicalization of old orders. But inversion and radicalism can result in unhinged fixations also.

The Fifth Iteration (Cartesian) is a rational foundation of inquiry based on empirical observation. Undertaken holistically, it is the beginning of being able to work with two (or more) realities simultaneously, a spiritual dualism. Undertaken without completing the earlier iterations, it can become a permanent deracination from spiritual reality.

The Sixth Iteration (Democratic) introduces accountability of all parts to the whole. It is devolution of responsibility.

The Seventh Iteration (Economic) is the organizing principle of any order that can encourage or discourage different types of responsibility. It is the base of the pyramid.

The Eighth Iteration (Interfaith) takes into account that at least at a global level, human civilization will always have a "cleft" in it - apart from the mainstream, there will be crosscurrents, subversive points of view, a rejectionist section of defectors or drop-outs. Certain ideologies will always exist that cater to this eternal tendency. A mature civilization can create a working unity even with this cleft, and turn it into an advantage by becoming a motor for continuous technological and ideological evolution. Apart from humanity as a whole, civilizations such as India have always included a cleft in it, and perhaps modern America is moving in that direction fast.

The Last Iteration has been tentatively named "A New Dualism", and its goal is one of social control - one that resolves a problem by inspiring and re-channeling human social forces towards a new purpose and greater satisfaction and justice. This re-purposing would go hand in hand with cleaning up the corruptions that indicate that the old order is running into several limiting conditions or stepping on unseen triggers - a dangerous "I didn't know the gun was loaded" condition that could threaten survival. I have called it "Dualism" because it is the full ripening of what began with the Fifth Iteration (Cartesian) and is able to fully work with two ontological realities seamlessly.

In the various anti-corruption movements or 'revolutions' today, there is a discernible move by different nations to complete their own incomplete iterations, or remove obstacles from the ones they have attempted. Some are proving to be more smooth and successful at progressing than others. What gives? 

A progressive characteristic may have something to do with the underlying self-definition. The more abstract and dynamic, the smoother and more flexible. The more prescriptive or history-centric, the more reaction and conflict one can expect. Rajiv Malhotra's discussion of History-Centric traditions versus non History-Centric culture is relevant here.

A famous mantra from the Vedas and Upanishads. It was supposedly also quoted a lot by The Buddha to his disciples:

चरन् वै मधु विन्दति चरन् स्वादुम् उदुम्बरं 
सूर्यस्य पश्य श्रेमनं यो न तन्द्रयते चरन् |
चरैवेति चरैवेति ||    
~ ऐतरेय ब्राह्मण 7-15-5

One translation:

"The moving one wins nectar, 
The moving one gets delicious pickings. 
Look at the superiority of the Sun
Which is never tired of moving. 
Keep moving, Keep moving."
~ Aitareya Brahmana 7-15-5

No comments:

Post a Comment