In this day and age when political labels are liberally applied and some impossible categories, such as left-liberal, it's really confusing where anyone stands.
Indeed, the wise opportunists of our age know the true value of these labels: Labels for them are keys to offices. The only other use of them is on opponents to undermine their arguments and question their integrity.
And, yet, when someone isn't being labelled, they are being asked. A middle-class education predicated on ideas of truth and integrity may still instil a sense of commitment to one idea or another; the quest for belonging may club one with fellow-travellers who still believed in belief.
So is indeed my predicament: It's hard for me to avoid some labels, given my ethnic origin and the particular time of my birth. Besides, my indulgence in reading widely and failure to strictly adhere to the cult of one or the other great men make me for any true believer category. Indeed, lumpers will put me in the Liberal basket, given that such intellectual promiscuity befits only the liberals, but my shaky faith in the voodoo of the market makes that a strenuous categorisation.
But if I am asked - and indeed, I am asked often - I say I am an Indian Conservative. I don't particularly like the 'conservative' label, of course. To start with, there is a nasty imperialist ring to it; and besides, in its modern usage, Conservatives are those true revolutionaries pushing the twin agenda of monetisation of everything and advancing a barely concealed Anglo-American imperialism. I am perhaps more Indian than Conservative, or an Indian-style conservative.
Because this isn't a usual category and can be defined neither who I vote for nor which dead thinker I worship, because I am an eclectic voter and I read Marx and Burke with the same enthusiasm. My claims of being a conservative rest on the way I see certain issues. Indeed, the Indian Conservative label has many claimants, particularly as India's ruling dispensation runs their regime with a traditionalist garb; the other side, the opposition in India, is led by a party which treats Indian voters as children in the need of paterfamilias and keeps a family in control. But I argue that conservatism is neither about radical traditionalism nor servile pseudo-monarchism, but rather a way of understanding the world around communities, culture and individual's place in it.
So, here is my Conservative Test, five interrogative perspectives of seeing the world that make me act in the way I do.
First, I believe that society is a complex mechanism made of overlapping cultural, economic, linguistic and political relationships. It can't be fully understood through a single interpretative tool, such as Class, and neither the members in it define themselves, at least most of the time, through a single dimension, such as religion. This means that there is no single lever to pull to bring social change about. This is not to claim that social change does not happen or shouldn't happen (more about this later) but this is usually a complex and longer-term enterprise than the revolutionaries would want us to believe.
Second, I believe that the economy is a social phenomenon and not a technical one. Because the phenomenon of the economy is usually seen through a limited set of perspectives (like GDP, Stock Market, price indices or per capita income) and understood to be driven by a set of powerful economic actors (the treasury, the bankers, the entrepreneurs or the trade unions), its ungovernable and deeper aspects are only visible periodically through crisis. In short, there is no single lever of the economy, visible or invisible. The reason why I think it's a deeply social phenomenon, rather than a distinct type (as in the Homo Economicus idealisation), is because it represents, at the aggregate level, our labours and our desires. We can be manipulated, by a vast symbolic-cultural system of money and education, to direct our labours and desires in a certain way for a certain time, but despite that, these remain inalienable from our social selves.
Third, I believe, after Simone Weil, that obligations precede rights, and even in an imaginary world where there may be no rights, there will always be obligations, at least to ourselves. Recognition of these obligations is central to our role in human society. Performance of these obligations is critical to the production and maintenance of that currency - trust - that makes the world function. The role of the individual, for me, is different from the acquisitive being imagined to be engaged in an endless pursuit of happiness; rather, a good life is defined by harmony, of recognising the obligations and of carrying them out, not as the solitary act of individual duty but within a vast network of interconnected human enterprise.
Fourth, I believe that while social change is inevitable, it's a continuous and dialectical process. Great men don't bring these about, nor cruel leaders stamp them out forever. On the other hand, there is no destination, nor a necessary direction, of social change. There will never be any heaven on earth, no perfect society, and there are no guarantees that tomorrow will be better than today. Change, instead, is natural, like from a day to another, and the aggregate of many little changes, some human but a vast amount of it lying beyond our capacity or comprehension. Our lives, lived around the performance of ritualised cycles, come bundled with an obligation to search for a better, kinder and harmonious future, without any promise that these could be ever attainable or any rewards. But it's that collective enterprise of living harmonious lives is at least as important as the millennia-long transformations of earth's surface temperature or the minutiae of its orbit around and tilt towards the Sun - and the two together shape the future for better or for the worse.
Finally, I believe that all progress comes from understanding, rather than creating ex nihilo. The journey of science is for me is a journey of understanding, of discovery, rather than creating new things altogether. No one makes a dent in my universe, but rather a few curious and humble few are, through pain-staking, generations-long exploration and engagement, gain a better understanding of the laws that govern us. This science is always provisional, a method rather than the fount of final answers. In this world, books balance, sooner or later.
Now, these ideas provide me with answers which will be close to a conservative's. For example, this makes me shun mortgages and overpriced houses, keeping in line with my childhood maxim of 'cut your coat according to your cloth'. It makes me suspicious of the Gurus who promise a better world, in this life or next. It makes me recognise that 'free markets' can not exist without a compassionate state, as without it, only the rights of few, and not the collective obligations, are really protected. It makes me see family as the starting point of responsible engagement with the world, but recognise the variety of human relationships can not be solely contained within it. It makes me recognise our obligations to nature and to take into account the full cost of our actions, present and in the future. This is not a world where progress is the objective but harmony is; it is not defined by a quest of happiness for self but rather for a greater understanding.
And, finally, I follow John Dewey's advice: Ideas should not become ideologies.
Should I not call myself a conservative?
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.