A critic on Blind Conservatism.

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2008 at 3:11 pm

“Preserve our {culture|faith|values}”

Every time this quintessential conservative and right-winged argument gets hurled into public arena, a pang of fear+concern wave rips over me. The surprising fact is that I do not have a major disagreement with a community expressing such a sentiment. In-fact, in a good number of ‘specific’ cases I can empathise with such a statement. `Apprehension to change things that are traditionally and historically found to be working reasonably well, providing an order, structure and support system’ is a valid and an essential one. However, the problem with the typical main-stream right wing arguments are their unwillingness to specify what they need to preserve.

Whether it be the RSS/VHP’s attempt to ‘conserve’ the Bharatiya Sanskriti (Indian Culture) or be it Islamic terrorist’s attempt to wage Jihad to ‘conserve’ Islam or be it Raj Thackery and co trying to ‘conserve’ the Marathi pride or be it American right-wingers attempt to ‘conserve’ the American and family value; what is lacking is a good enough specification of what they are trying to ‘conserve’ (and why).
Let me take Sangh Parivar as a case study. The question that I want to raise is what do you mean by Indian Culture and Tradition ? (and the second question is why do you want to preserve it; however this question is irrelevant if the first is not answered). There are off-shot questions like `What constitute the act of conservation ? ‘, `Why should a majority remain a majority and minority a minority ?’. However, I am not going into such sub-questions.

I came to IIT around 5 years ago. Almost all of the 23 years of my pre-IIT life I lived at Kerala. So suddenly, I was thrown into a cultural and traditional landscape totally unknown to me. The belief systems, traditions, festivals that are celebrated, food habits, language dialects all were alien to me. Now isn’t it natural that when someone calls for the preservation of the culture of India, I find it extremely ambiguous and confusing!

Is it the culture of Kerala (if it may be defined) or is it it culture that I see around at Mumbai (if it may be defined) or some other place, say Delhi our national capital that I need to preserve!!! In fact, personally I found that I connected with a western (Australian) culture more easily than I could connected to the Mumbai culture. In my personal metric (dare I generalise to upper-middle class internet age south-indian) cultural distance between South Indian culture to North Indian culture. super-seeds the cultural distance between South Indian culture to Western culture (dare I generalise again!).

But to make my argument more concrete, let’s start by asking ourselves, what do you mean by the term `culture’ ? Wikipedia gave me two related definition

  1. “Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning “to cultivate”) generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance. Cultures can be “understood as systems of symbols and meanings that even their creators contest, that lack fixed boundaries, that are constantly in flux, and that interact and compete with one another”
  2. “Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called “the way of life for an entire society.” As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief as well as the art.”

We will take the second argument, since the first definition innately writes QED for the non-conservative argument.
Similarly, what do you mean by the term `tradition’

  • “On a basic theoretical level, tradition(s) can be seen as information or composed of information. For that which is brought into the present from the past, in a particular societal context, is information. This is even more fundamental than particular acts or practices even if repeated over a long sequence of time.”

Now, the starking common feature from the both these definitions are that, culture as well as traditional are multi-dimensional in nature. So let’s break down by dimensions.

Can we (or the right-wingers) defined what qualities are measured in each dimensions ? Let’s for the time being assume we can. The next question is can we sort out these dimensions according to a relevance score based on amount of preservation that we need to do. Again, let’s assume we can do so. What are the optimal value (positions) that we should set as bench-mark ? Note, here I am not questioning the rationale of converging to a particular value (which opens up another huge lot of moral arguments), I am merely asking to specify what is that we need to converge.

The hate-mongers does neither of these three. The lack of specification is an effective tool, in-fact it is when the extremes of two social forces meet, anarchism packaged as conservatism; nothing can be more potent that that! It is dis-heartening to recollect that how in past couple of decades our nation has ripped apart; by poisonous and under-(nil)-specified {political|religious|geographical}-bogus arguments.
ps: I wish a wikipedian order can transcend to our public political and debate space where I can express my [[citation needed]] tag freely and liberally.


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