Academic knowledge is not enough!
Also economic knowledge is also not enough!
The world needs more interactive civil society activism!
There is A Knowledge Commission deliberating about creating a knowledge society. But what is knowledge precisely. Knowledge is a word first coined by a management guru, Peter Drucker, 30 years ago. So also came the knowledge worker. And now the talk of competitive advantage for a more knowledge-based economy and society.
But there is a deeper meaning to knowledge. This is missed out in all our debates, both in the academic community and in the corporate rooms. Unfortunately, the academic community is beaten by the more arcane debate about material knowledge. Academic autonomy demands to keep the knowledge debate high at the philosophical level.
Philosophy, what? Today? Where is it? What relevance we, of this generation, have for philosophy, if at all? Yes, such questions would spring uppermost in all of our minds. After all we constitute the urban middle class, right? Even among the present generation, if anyone imagines that he or she had made the first millions or even the billions, might dismiss the use for philosophy and simply has use or time for such obscure thoughts!
There is too much of the present hanging on our imagination. Too much of the present preoccupations. Too much of the present, the 21st century developments. The technology revolution, the IT and the biotech revolution, the new generation entrepreneurs in India, the present day political pre-occupations, the middle class pressures impinge upon the intellectual deliberations, if at all, of the more articulate sections.
Yes, all this true and yet there seems to be some areas where there is a vacuum. I mean the present has to be balanced with the past. In what degree is for every one of us, the thinking sections to ponder over. It all depends upon where each one us, the concerned among us stand.
As far as I am concerned that what is uppermost in mind today is where India counts in the intellectual debate. The current preoccupations with the international terrorism have raised the debate about what the basic premise is about the rise of this Muslim terrorism. There is the talk of a “clash of civilizations”. Where does India come in, if at all?
It looks we in India don’t matter much in the intellectual debate at all. But it seems to me that at a time we are talking about the creation of material wealth, we also seem to be talking of knowledge creation. So, a Knowledge Commission is working on the subject. Subject of what? Knowledge? What knowledge? The terms of reference of the Commission are: build excellence in the education system to meet the knowledge challenges of the 21st century. This is rather deceptive for what constitutes knowledge can be debated. It is not the knowledge in the sense of knowledge that can be commercialized into intellectual property rights. Also, now there is the debate on the OBC quotas. Or, the talk of knowledge economy I am having in mind. Yes, I am very well aware the context in which I raise such questions. This is India, India of today, India of the rising middle class, India of the vast opportunities thrown up by the globalization, the opening of the economy, the IT revolution and the new generation or the first generation lower middle class making the first millions and the billions. This is plainly the era of materialism and its many visible benefits, good and rising salaries, lifestyle changes, the cars, the bungalows or apartments and good schools for your kids and there is everything is here, there is every opportunity to grab, every reason to forget about the rest of the things!
I am talking of knowledge in the sense of the philosophy of knowledge, in the more philosophic jargon of “Epistemology”. Yes, there is 20 odd pages in the Encyclopedia Britannica on “epistemology”! The original word for epistemology is Greek episteme, “knowledge”. It is the study of the nature and validity of knowledge, what we can say precisely we know. It is a long subject, a tough subject and the debate is not yet over, there is no end to such debates, the debate is relevant even today if we bother to know what is all about and how it lies at the very basis of our knowledge pursuits.
The point is that we in India have a long philosophic tradition and as such the time is always there to know and integrate and have an international perspective on such momentous topic. Unfortunately, there has not been much serious thought on debating philosophy after Dr.S.Radhakrishnan.But there are philosophers, even now, like J.N.Mohanty and others who can be invited to give a philosophical face to our current high academic pursuits.
Philosophy, the study of philosophy, not in any West-East syndrome but with an open mind is the need of the hour when India seeks to establish itself as a software super power. Unless you are respected as a knowledge super power, you have no standing at all. We seem to be so enamored by the current Indo-US relationships, the political, nuclear and the IT; ITes linkages now blind us from thinking of abstruse subjects like high academic philosophic issues. But such a serious topic that grips men’s beliefs and beliefs system have to be a top priority if we want to raise India’s image in the world of high culture and intellectual standing.
It is all about jobs and security!
A middle class obsession with a long history.
Middle class mercenaries are resorting to more corrupt practices and this needs attention from intellectuals and educators. Until our education philosophy evolves to give an enormous confidence among the students, this demand for social protection will continue. This is the price a democracy has to pay. It is also a fulfillment of social justice.
Colonial hang-up that haunts a subservient national mentality!
The Knowledge Commission member Dr.P.M.Bhargava has rightly puts the blame for the anti-quota agitations by the medicos to the gross selfishness of the Indian middle classes! He is both right and wrong. Right in diagnosis. Wrong in prescription! The Indian middle class has a long history. Indian middle classes emerged owing to the British regime to give concessions to the educated Indians and we see that the first ICS job went to one member of the Tagore family. It was a time when even the great, very prosperous “Prince”Dwarakanath Tagore took up the job of Srestadar under a district collector simply because it gave great prestige and social standing.
See, even today the well-educated and even engineers and doctors who after passing the stiff exams and employed, seek to pass the IAS and IPS and even the Revenue Service tests and go to join this old style slavery! Under some illiterate politicians! Why? Simply because of the colonial past social habits.
The TN’s 69 per cent quota has its origins in the older Non-Brahmin movement started by very well-off sections, land owners, successful professionals like doctors and ICS members under the British Raj wanted to get a fixed share in education and government jobs under the alien government. The movement was justified at that time as the government services were monopolized by the Brahmins; the Tamil Brahmins thus became an object of intense jealousy. So, the forward community had to pay a heavy price.
The Dravidian parties under the Self-Respect movement progressed much. Now, the demand for the creamy layer being excluded from the current quota system is brushed aside by the beneficiaries. So too the caste-cum-economic criteria, advocated by the CPI (M) is not taken seriously. Casteism is deeply rooted in our present political ideologies. To the exclusion of the OBCs’ interests.
So, some sort of a quota-cum-economic criterion is a must for admissions to higher education in government institutions. The entrance exams must make room for quotas on a reasonable basis. But the final merit of the students in the final exams and the final selection for highly sensitive jobs like special.
Now, to cut the story short, today our new and prosperous middle classes, even amenity medicines etc has to be taken into consideration only to win the public confidence. who made it big as the IT and BT czars have this same old Indian mindset, to seek status through their association with the Government, not to participate in any policy-making or nation-building but seek some service or recognition, with no questions asked, so long it is an award or a recognition! Indian middle class, be they bureaucrats, experts or technocrats or simply any other “processionals” they all want to ser the governments of the day by seeking favors.
That is why India has no basic independent intellectuals’ base even after all these years of English education and even having got Independence for more than 60 years. See any big idea or policy, we seem to seek from outside, the experts from outside India always commands a premium!
Our national mindset as such is only of colonial hang-up with the intellectual and knowledge base seeking justification and legitimacy only from our colonial masters or the new masters like the US government and academic establishments. In a much more intellectual sphere, we see even today, either we seem to be operating on secondary sources of authority or we never dare to ask original questions for ourselves. Even the best of India brains are based either on these colonial sources of authority or we simply migrate and seek to make our living abroad and sitting out there as NRIs, we seek to give advice to India and Indians here!
The National Knowledge Commission of which Sam Pitroda is the chairman got much rebuke from some politicians for the simple reason the chairman lives and makes his money in the USA and yet thinks fit to lecture to Indians on what constitutes knowledge! Even our great Nobel Prize economist and thinker Prof.Amartya Sen gives me the impression that so long you dispense wisdom by quoting the British sources like James Mill and Edmund Burke, and then you are world class. I found in his latest two books James Mill’s India history figures prominently, Mill who was a clerk in the East India Company and he wrote a much prejudiced view of Indians and their civilizations and yet we, Indians, continue to quote him and we don’t even bother to counterbalance Mill with the much more erudite Max Mueller who was venerated by Swami Vivekananda and other prominent Indians of his time!
Why all these preliminaries?
Even our great Dr.S.Radhakrishnan who did much to elevate Indian philosophy to the attention of the Western world, didn’t bother to confront his Oxford counterparts and I find no mention of the fierce philosophical debates that were going on at Oxford when he (Dr.Radhakrishnan) was very much a part of the All Souls establishment.
I often used to wonder: why Radhakrishnan avoided taking up the Oxford philosophy debates into his own discourses. That question even now hangs on inside my mind and I don’t think I can find an answer, any quick or thought out answer so easily. It is a riddle, nevertheless and we Indians or those who are much more competent than me have to come out with a suitable answer. Readers of this column might have found such references even earlier and yes, we Indians have a knack of evading uncomfortable truths and uncomfortable questions! This is one such instance. Another question that often troubles and amuses me is the fact that we Indians rate the officials, the bureaucrats who write books as intellectuals. This is another falsehood!
One more point before we proceed to our main topic. There is also the simplistic and uncritical view that our great leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru wrote much and their writings can be considered as authoritative. They are not! We need more searching enquiries, be it ethics or morals or philosophies or political philosophies in the tradition of the history of the Western intellectual traditions.
The important point I want to raise here is that when it comes to serious basic intellectual and philosophic issues, we have to follow the history of such ideas. This we can do only from the Western, I mean the ancient Greek and Roman sources and the Greek and Roman civilizations only gave rise to basic and fundamental philosophic and political thoughts.
So, we start here: it is only after Plato and Aristotle talked of philosophy and politics, philosophy was born and political philosophy started dominating the minds of man. Greek and Roman traditions we call the Western traditions. If we trace the history of ideas we see again that after the middle Ages, there is the continuity of the tradition, starting with the Italian Renaissance and then gradually ideas migrate towards the Western European countries. So, England and Europe come to the forefront of developments.
Of course, we have to have a sense of history all through if we are to get a balance. This is more so for Indians who are much conditioned by the British connections and our educated generations were largely tied to what was given by the British masters! This trend even continues today! Our media, the mainstream English media even now mindlessly imitates and reproduce much content that originates more and more from UK and now increasingly from the US writers and columnists!
This may be unavoidable in this age of globalization and the Internet web media era. It is easy to quickly fill the pages in our newspapers and magazines by searching through the web pages and whatever content we want we can fill it almost instantly! That is why even our much-rated financially more established national newspapers, coming out of the national capital, is just junk reading material! The much-hyped TOI is simply unreadable and much more serious unreliable sources of news and information!
Down South, the colonial hang-up is rather heavy. We read more about the British royal household’s goings-on, rather than how some of our states like TN or Gujarat are going down in civilized governance norms, be it revenge politics or communal frenzy!
Even our larger political perspectives are marked by sheer political survival opportunism and we, as politicians or honorable professionals in politics rather choose to look the other side when it comes to the sensitive questions of what constitutes truth or morality or even holding to some of our basic convictions!
So, now back to the original topic! Philosophy from thievery beginning always led to political philosophy! That was because philosophy was always concerned with truth, morality, freedom etc. For Plato and Aristotle were advisers to the kings, they wrote political constitutions, they advised the monarch, Aristotle tutored the young Macedonian king, the future Great Alexander!
So, let us recognize the fact that any great philosophy, worth its salt, is basically political philosophy and it concerns with the people, the citizens and the masses. The great Pedicles whose Funeral Speech after the Peloponnesian War exemplify the points I have made here. Even a cursory reading of any of the Greek histories would give us the fullest feelings of a great civilization, the great mind and the great ideas of everything we are talking about even today! There were citizens, masses, slaves, the Popular Assembly, the wars, too many, the rise and flowering of the great Greek art, literature, history, philosophy and everything we can think of today, had already been thought of by the Greeks. I would dare say our modern very vocabulary I find there in Greece and Rome just thousands of years ago!
So, in short, I want to say this: you can’t build a great nation, a great society or a great independent base for new ideas and philosophies, have to base our fundamentals on the Greek, Western intellectual traditions. Plato had been shown by successive scholars as a revolutionary of the Left, had also been shown as a forerunner of Fascism and yet he remains the first proponent of the pure idea of the Good and an authoritarian of pure reason!
Louis Fischer, the famous American journalist who knew Lenin and Gandhi personally so well and who wrote memorable biographies about them says Lenin” was profoundly Russian. He sensed Russia had made exact studies of its conditions, literature and history. But Western Europe was his spiritual home. He had lived in it during many years of exile and he respected its attainments”(Men and Politics, An Autobiography, 1941, page 67). When in Kremlin Lenin spoke to the Third International-the Comintern, to representative of the Communist parties of the world, all nationalities, religious sects, Lenin spoke, his speech was in German and Lenin often searched for equivalent Russian word!
So too Trotsky who was much more proficient in German, French and Russian, he could” speak non-stop in German for two and a half hours in exquisite German, immediately thereafter he delivered the same address again in fluent, rich French and then gave it a third time in Russian”(Louis Fischer, page 56). Ideas and philosophies spring forth out of an atmosphere for c contemplation and leisure. The universities and academies and the educated elite play a role in the emergence of ideas and opinions that cyst lies into deeply held principles and beliefs. There also other developments that matter, history, politics and the sort of society all matter. In the case of India the historic context of India having been a long time colonial dependent country makes our mindset conditioned to a sense of dependency and sense of lack of a confident outlook in a wide variety of matters.
As we have seen that even men like Lenin and Ttrosky,so widely read and so experienced could not do much in what they set about achieving. Their Communist dream went off-track very much when Lenin was alive and very much Trotsky was in full control of the affairs. Any politics is always like that and more so when a Revolution of the magnitude of 1917 was enacted with all its imponderables. In India too we saw the same unpredictable politics under Mahatma Gandhi with his own reading and instinct for the varying situations as the Freedom struggle gathered momentum. There were so many learned men when Gandhiji was leading the struggle, they were all learned in the Western traditions, in the Congress, in the Communist and Socliast parties,M.N.Roy was a notable example of how such a great intellect could not go further than he went in realizing his utopia. The point is that historic moments come rarely and often unexpectedly. And when it comes, it can’t be said that most leaders of nations or parties do the right things.
That is why so much blood is shed and so many wars erupt, so much misery is witnessed. Even today with so much of positive good things have come about, the spread of modern knowledge, sciences and technologies, the IT, Internet and much of the wealth creation for the first time in human history, we cant still say that human misery if far from minimal.
Wars are still being wages, nations and nationalities are being divided and so much mutual tensions are engendered by terrorism, religious intolerance and much by the older and bigger powers.
America is a big democracy and by fairly reasonable assessment had been a force for the world peace. But there are any number of smaller and older countries that are still farm from areas of peace and stability. It is noted that the European Union, once the sources of all political instabilities and all political madness even now is not a source of light and human wisdom. The latest to emerge is Montenegro, the smallest country with all so many ethnic populations. As one modern historian notes, it is the small countries that don’t start wars, the big ones, Germany, France, along with UK had been sources of arrogance and causes of wars. The smaller ones like Portugal and Spain had a glorious past and as a result they today even have world’s largest population, 210 million people speaking Portuguese language! And also an enduring stake in transatlantic perspective.
Colonizers and the colonized nations! That must gives us another perspective, more so for the Indians as to what we can claim as part of the world legacy as our own and that part of legacy or legacies that are the disadvantages with us as the colonial legacy. This is a line of argument that could produce much new light and much new perspective to form or revise our own mental hang-ups, be it independent thinking or dependent thinking, in areas of intellectual and practical policy spheres. The study of English language as we do now might need a radical change so as to become an independent people with our own languages and also as part of the new globalize priorities where Indians have to take advantages of the new market opportunities for our human resources skills in other languages as well.
India is an old country, admitted. But India is still not a confident country in its own new perspectives. There is no point in look past to our glories like the discoveries of ancient Indians in some of the ancient sciences. We have to come to terms with the modern sciences and also with the modern world’s own perspectives of what constitutes as knowledge in the modern world. Starting from the First World War which led to disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and split the empire into many bits of nations. Austrian Empire, with Vienna as its historic capital was the source of much of the 20th century’s intellectual genius and much of originality of ideas and philosophies, Sigmund Freud is only one of the new geniuses; the others were too many to list here.
The only such international philosophical convergence we can see is the European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. This was a movement of intellectual currents encompassing a wide spectrum of man’s knowledge of different disciplines: ancient roots, from Greek and Roman times, the Italian Renaissance, the scientific revolutions of Descartes, Galileo(1632) and Newton(1687) all swept away the old Ptolemic astronomy, Aristotelian natural philosophy etc. Yet, Galileo has to face the Inquisition, get the pardon of the Pope etc. New knowledge didn’t find approval easily. Enlightened religion, the Christian faith had to be redefined. It is like now the evolutionary biologists training their guns towards creationism! Then, the whole subject can be studied under what constituted Enlightenment.
The modern world and its knowledge base can be traced back to the Enlightenment.
The very international perspective of today’s knowledge base can be so traced back to the rise of modern knowledge where reason, secularism and science come to dominate our current thinking processes.
The subject is vast and I can write pages after pages, as I had been taught and my thought processes were molded by some of the great philosophers and thinkers of the Oxford philosophy. I had already in previous issues indicated some of the names. The ones I had not mentioned, or not mentioned in sufficient length and depth are many. Bertrand Russell,G.E.Moore, Wittgenstein (they were all at Cambridge)and at Oxford A.J.Ayer(Language, Truth and Logic),Gilbert Ryle(The Concept of Mind),H.H.Price( Thinking and Meaning) and Lord Quinton and many others who taught me philosophy and ethics, political ideas are too many and they have all given me ,if I can say so, basically a Western, rational and a cosmopolitan and amore secular view of the modern life and times.
So, when we use such words like secularism (Prof.Amartya Sen in his latest book writes a whole chapter on secularism) we or rather our minds immediately rush to find some current meaning. Yes, this is right and yet there is the more thoughtful question as to how to reconcile our religious beliefs with our more detached secularist positions on a wide number of issues.
Here, the more academic writers like Prof.Sen are no help. Nor, our present or past political leaders who formulated secularism in our Constitution are also no help. We have to come out with a new formulation where we would intelligently lead a citizen’s life more responsibly and where we can contribute to the cultivation of a more sensible socially harmonious life.
My religious belief
It is well-said that religious belief is a conundrum. In our everyday we often find ourselves to make some decisions that impinge on our religious beliefs. India is a deeply religious country and society. So, the dominant religion of Hinduism is almost comes into our general Indian belief system at many levels.
So, I say that I have religious beliefs in a rather cultural manner. Not for the outwards religious rituals for me. But deeper inside me I am part of the religious culture, I think more and more in a rational and secular way. My Indian identity is deeply religious identity also. This doesn’t mean I have no sensitivity to the multi-religious character of the Indian society.
But then even after our evolutionary biologists like Richard Dwakins have made religion so impossible in the modern day evolutionary knowledge paradigm founded on the” selfish genes”, I believe that we are not just vehicles for our selfish genes, we yet have our own religious behavior, we show charity to strangers, submission to the will of the community and even martyrdom. Says a latest article on belief (The New Scientist)”No self-respecting baboon or chimpanzee would ever willingly kowtow to the good, the bad or the ugly in quite the same way humans do”.
The writer himself is an evolutionary biologist and he says religion might have functional advantage. If a biologist trait has evolved, we want to know what use it is, whether such trait makes an individual better adapted to survive and pass their genes on to the next generation”. The point is made. That religion is there to play a role in man’s life and evolution, as religion was there since the beginning of the evolution of man. So, there is a strong case for religion and the study of it in the context of the rise of modern knowledge, science and the various branches of knowledge.
All philosophies, all great philosophies at any rate have been or become political philosophies. We mentioned in ancient times, the role of Plato and Aristotle in politics that is practical politics’ modern times too we see the same phenomenon. To cite the two well-known names, Hegel and Marx, were two very influential philosophers who changed the way the modern world evolved. The subject is vast and at many points controversial. Hegel gave rise to the rise of modern Germany as a powerful nation which also led the world to disaster in the Second World War. So too Marx led the Communist Revolution which for 70 years in Russia led to much deprivation of man. Hitler, Staling and Mao are the three symbols of much of the outcomes of the great philosophical debates initiated by Hegel and followed up by his disciple Marx.
Germany perhaps is the most powerful nation in Europe for it had given rise to such greater thinkers and artists, Kant, Hegel, Goethe, Beethovan and the very foundations of European Enlightenment can be traced to Germanic sources. And yet, the greatest harm was also inflicted by such thinkers who somewhere went off track, so to say! In his time Hegel was so much crucial for the Prussian state that when he died his birthday, came on the day after Goethe’s, so a proud Germany celebrated a double holiday for them every year!
The same could be said for Karl Marx too!
So, there is a need to study philosophy and a history of philosophy and religion and the potential for our civilization(this we need to define) to give rise to modern day war mongers or dictators who could also inflict vast suffering, by launching wars, unilaterally or bypassing much evolved international institutions like the UN.
Yes, why academic knowledge is not enough is for the more serious question of when academic knowledge could fail us also. The world needs practical men of affairs, public intellectuals to warn and alert before the catastrophe occurs. Historian A.J.P.Taylor had shown brilliantly, how Hitler seized power, how Lenin seized power. But this wisdom is a post mortem. We also need foreknowledge, foresight to recognize the potential of a war or a large scale killing ,,be it war in Iraq or terrorist killings and be prepared to take precautionary action to prevent large scale killings. This is the task of public intellectuals and civil society everywhere. We need more peace movement, we need more NGOs networks and more peaceful demonstrations whenever the world’s rich and powerful nations meet and deliberate.
So too other philosophers like Jean Paul Sartre who sought to make Stalin and Mao heroes and yet the world had come to see otherwise. The human massacres the dictators perpetuated, all in the name of high philosophy and ideology is rather too much for the modern world to stomach. So, the point is that philosophy can be not all benign, philosophy or belief systems can be devastating for the people of the people.
So, even the current debate on the so-called clash of civilizations is not the end of the story, rather it is a beginning for a more thoughtful response from outside the US from where such a talk originates. What is the contribution of Indians to such a momentous debate? Nothing! This is worrying me.We in India seem to be totally unconcerned. It is, we seem to think, for others, from outside the country, to debate such momentous issues. Here as for our part we seem to be more content to debate a rather mandate, bread and butter issues, right? So, philosophy, however you want to look at it, as vital or irrelevant, is there for ever to stare at us.
No society or for that matter no polity of any significant value will be able to command the attention and respect and even obedience unless society or polity is grounded in much more searching self-analysis than what is handed down by our nation builders. This is for me the greatest challenge in Indian education.
Image Source: qualitydigest.com