Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rejecting the Dialectic of Western Materialism

I would caution very strongly against applying such categories as "Capitalist", "Socialist", "Liberal", or even "Right-wing" and "Left-wing" to anything within the Indian system. Not just because they are foreign, but because the very assumptions from which these classifications derive are completely disjointed from an Indian worldview.

For example, there is a pernicious idea that the traditional Vaishya Dharma, or the relationship of Indian mercantile classes to wealth, is essentially "capitalist." This could not be further from the truth. "Capitalism" is a form of sophistry developed by the apologist Adam Smith to philosophically justify the accumulation of wealth as a natural outcome of Protestant work ethic, in the face of pre-existing memes in Western thought that glorified poverty. Socialism is a response to Capitalism that re-establishes the glorification of poverty without the earlier tone of overt religiosity. This entire back-and-forth proceeds across a playing field whose geography is dictated by the contours of Western Materialism. The precepts of Western Materialism themselves could not be further removed from the way in which Vaishya Dharma regards the concepts of wealth and prosperity.

Indian Vaishya Dharma is nothing at all like Capitalism, because in our view, the accumulation of wealth is itself a task consonant with divinity; there is no sophistry required, and nothing to apologize for. To cast one thing in the mold of the other, is like asking Pt. Bhimsen Joshi to sing Raga Maalkauns in "F sharp minor, allegro moderato". It's meaningless.

It's well known that Hindu civilization produced a nation with a quarter of global GDP share, even as late as the 1750s when Islamist colonialism and plunder had shafted us for a thousand years ( I wonder what the figure would have been in Skanda Gupta's day.)  History as written by Abrahamic Materialists will attribute this simply to the fact that India was blessed with natural resources and a convenient location on many trade routes; meanwhile, it will characterize the Indian people themselves as lazy and detached from worldly reality, as opposed to the hard-working Europeans whose enterprising spirit made them colonial masters of the planet.

The truth, of course, is that Indians have always had a civilizational sense of what constitutes a  healthy relationship with artha. It is one of the purusharthas, an aim of human existence whose fulfillment enhances an individual's proximity to the supreme. Artha-shastra, or economics, is the science of managing God-given resources, and hence an entirely noble pursuit. The idea of wealth as an abstraction of these resources is a concept sparked by divine inspiration, and wealth itself a manifestation of divinity. Some observers correctly allude to this when they mention that Lakshmi is worshiped in India, but it would be entirely wrong to conclude that such traditions have anything to do with "capitalism."

While this view of artha is what continues to inform many Indian businesspersons and business families as they go about their work today, it is not what defines any discussion of economics at the social or political levels... not even, sadly to say, in India. Those discussions are completely overwhelmed by the Neo-Abrahamic worldview of wealth, wherein an imposed dialectic of "development vs. social justice", "capitalism vs. socialism", "rich vs. poor" underlies any argument made by *both* sides of the debate.

I say "Neo-Abrahamic" here because to give credit where it is due, the original Abrahamics-- the Jews-- have always had a healthier relationship with the concept of wealth, much more like our own albeit with different philosophical grounding. Together with the fact that Jews don't engage in predatory conversion, this trait is a saving grace of their civilization which will make the Hebrews quite possible for Indic civilization to co-exist and even cooperate with, in the long run.

With Christianity, Islamism and Marxism, the very notion of wealth has been twisted into something so vastly different that it is quite incompatible with the way India has traditionally regarded prosperity, and the way in which we need to regard it once more in order to achieve success on our own terms.

Beginning with Christianity, a new dialectic of Western Materialism was imposed upon all social, political and historical narrative. By controlling this underlying dialectic, religious institutions in Christianity and Islam assured their own supremacy over the debate at both ends, and positioned themselves as ultimate arbiters of justice between the opposing camps. Later on, the youngest of the Abrahamic spawn... Marxism... may have done away with "God", but it still held on to this fundamental philosophical mother-lode from which both "Capitalism" and "Socialism" sprang, under the name of "Dialectical Materialism". That's how powerful it is, as a lever for the control of historical narrative... and therefore, of history itself.

So what are the principles of this dialectic, and how are they incompatible with Vaishya Dharma?

1) The Transference of Responsibility:

In the Indian view, karma ensures that ultimately, every individual is responsible for his or her own actions. For this reason, the accumulation of wealth, the pursuit of Vaishya-dharma, the generation of artha are noble pursuits as long as they are conducted as all good work must be; i.e., without falling prey to the egotistical temptations of raaga (craving) or dvesha (repulsion.)

Karma has no place in the neo-Abrahamic worldview; for, if individuals were to be considered ultimately responsible for their own actions, how could any institution claim a privileged position as the authoritative narrator of history (including the authentication of specific "divine interventions")? Also, what need would there be for messiahs, prophets and revelations if individuals were capable of achieving their own salvation?

For this reason, Western Materialism transfers the "responsibility" for sins to the object of raaga/dvesha... wealth itself... from those who succumb to these foibles. Hence, "money is the root of all evil." Hence, Jesus "threw out the money changers from the temple".

In the final analysis, the promise that the power-brokers of Neo-Abrahamism hold out is that of "salvation" by an external "saviour". The Christian Judgment Day, its Muslim equivalent, and the Marxist revolution to bring about a "stateless society" are all manifestations of this empty promise... follow us, and we will bring about change, because there is no way you can hope to save your puny selves. Individual responsibility has at best a limited temporal role (to live a life free of doctrinally-mandated "sins") , and no ultimate role at all. The Transference of Responsibility is therefore fundamental to all Neo-Abrahamic doctrine, and in its economic form, manifests as Western Materialism.

2) The Fetishization of Poverty:

The concept of the "beautiful poor" is something that the Church, the Ulema and the Marxists have always held out to less deprived classes as a romanticized ideal of the human condition. This can be observed in century after century of cultural references from the neo-Abrahmic world, such as in literature or poetry, wherein the poor are invariably romanticized as somehow "noble", "simple", "honest", "good" and otherwise characterized by an idyllic homogeneity.

From the Christian point of view, the "beautiful poor" represent an opportunity for the "haves" to achieve salvation through that most insidious of socio-economic processes: "charity". The rich were told that to go to heaven, they had to give money away to the poor: Jesus even spoke some sage words about how it was easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter heaven (this has to be one of the worst mixed metaphors in the literature of Western civilization, but anyway.)

Charity, as defined in Neo-Abrahamic doctrine, is a terrible thing for any society. It isn't the same thing as upliftment; in fact, it is the enemy of upliftment. When pursued for its own sake ... as the power-brokers of neo-Abrahamic civilizations have invariably mandated... Charity fosters dependency, and ensures the need for more Charity in turn, generation after generation. The power-brokers of Neo-Abrahamism, be they Church, Mullahs or Socialist Parties, are the only real beneficiaries of Charity. They alone retain the power to grant approval, salvation or absolution to the "haves" who hand over their wealth to the "have-nots". It is through their agency alone that the mechanics of Charity must be implemented.

Everyone from the early Christians to the modern Left has needed a "beautiful poor" as the objectified focus for their programs of "charity".  It is integral to all of their schemes that the poor be kept poor for exactly this purpose.

Consider what Aatish Tasseer has said about Arundhati Roy in this regard:

" I don’t think she’s a friend of the poor at all. She would like to doom them to a permanent state of picturesque poverty. They are beautiful to her–the poor–beautiful, benign and faceless. And that is exactly how she wants them to stay. Let me say also that it is not the poor who animate her politics. Oh, no! The people who get her into the streets are the new middle classes. This class, still among the most fragile in India, people who have newly emerged from the most dire conditions, are despicable to her. She mocks their clothes; their trouble with English; she hates their ambitions; when India wins the cricket and she sees them celebrating, her skin crawls; she wants, more than anything, to do these people down. And it is her overwhelming hatred of them that allows her to be a friend of movements that are seemingly far apart. The jihadists, the Maoists, the Kashmir movement, the anti-development people…they’re all her friends. Anyone who can prove a credible threat to the future of India is a friend of that woman. I would go so far as to say she has a prurient fascination with the enemies of India. And where do they love her? In Pakistan, and in the faculty rooms of Europe and America. No surprise there.

Also, this business of pretending she’s a lone voice in the wilderness. What rubbish! At least have the good grace to admit that not one thing she says is provocative or new; it is perfectly banal. And we know how well the universities Europe and America reward this bogus cant!"

Because they fetishize poverty, and use Charity as a mechanism to reinforce their own power... the power-brokers of Neo-Abrahamism are fundamentally against upliftment. Of all social classes, they hate the rising middle class the most.

3) The Absolution from Guilt:

The Fetishization of Poverty is one side of the Western Materialist coin, facing the poor; on its other side is the promise of Absolution from Guilt, offered by neo-Abrahamic power brokers to the rich.

By maintaining a "beautiful poor" class, the neo-Abrahamics are able to justify Socialism. By offering Absolution from Guilt, the neo-Abrahamics relieve Capitalists of any qualms they may feel about the accumulation of wealth, and yet maintain a philosophical environment in which people who become wealthy automatically feel guilt that needs to be absolved. Invariably, the process by which the rich are offered Absolution involves the same old scam... some form of Charity... in which neo-Abrahamic power-brokers always play a central and privileged role.

In Vaishya-Dharma a clear distinction is made; it is not money, but raaga/dvesha that is the wellspring of adharma. Wealth itself will not make you evil simply by possessing it. In Western Materialism, wealth itself carries a taint; yet, that taint can be removed by the intercession of neo-Abrahamic institutions on behalf of a doctrinally-mandated "saviour." 

This is what turns Capitalism into essentially a justification for greed... a means to accumulate wealth with as much dvesha as you like, as immorally as you wish... because the Church, Ulema or Party will absolve you of that guilt ultimately. It is this strange, self-perpetuating cycle of guilt and justification that has enabled the West to countenance colonialism, imperialism, slavery, and genocide as acceptable methods of material expansion. In Neo-Abrahamism, there is no need for personal responsibility in your pursuit of artha because, no matter how much suffering you cause to others in acquiring it, you will eventually be absolved by the intercession of an external "saviour." The only caveat is that you must "keep the faith"... i.e., admit the supremacy of the neo-Abrahamic power brokerage concerned.


The entire dialectic of Western Materialism, then, is rooted in philosophical assumptions that have no basis whatsoever in Indic thought. This is why it is not simply meaningless, but dangerous for us to transplant notions of "right", "left", "liberal", "conservative", "socialist" and "capitalist" into considerations of Indian society, politics and economics. If we internalize this nonsense, we are implicitly granting credence to the very streams of thought whose adherents pillaged our prosperity for a thousand years.

A debate premised on Western Materialism is exactly what has spawned the "pro-poor" sophistry that the Indian National Congress government  instrumentalizes as a justification for its platform of plunder. Our insistence on buying into the terminology of this debate ultimately condemns us to what is known, with infinite irony, as a "Hindu Rate of Growth".