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Category Archives: Rationalism

The Red94 Podcast: On the Boogie Cousins trade – Red94

Posted: February 20, 2017 at 7:04 pm

by Rahat Huq | February 20, 2017 at 02:50 PM

As I said in the episode, we probably will never know how much Daryl Morey was willing to give up for Boogie Cousins. All we know is from reports that the other offers on the table were embarrassingly low. Did Morey even make an offer? If he didnt, was it out of a fear from the lessons learned from the Dwight Howard experience? Would he have been willing to include Clint Capela and Sam Dekker in a potential deal? It might not have mattered as reports have surfaced regarding Kings ownerships infatuation over Buddy Hield. I still maintain that objectively speaking, what the Rockets could have given was a better offer than what the Kings got for Cousins. But the normal rules of objectivity and rationalism do not apply.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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The Red94 Podcast: On the Boogie Cousins trade – Red94

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Hindi, Hindu, Horror – Economic and Political Weekly

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Filming Horror: Hindi Cinema, Ghosts and Ideologies by Meraj Ahmed Mubarki comes at a time of friction. The established Indian film studies, largely concerned with popular films (mostly Bollywood, with niche response towards major alternatesTelugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi and Bengali), stands refractory with the new European cinema studies, the latter dedicated to the aesthesis of the revival of art films in Europe. The first school treats the Indian popular as a pre cinematic narrative (Prasad 1998: 69)cinema as a part of a mutating ideology governed by the political through time. The second treats extant theory as a corollary to the film textthe text not as a tool of larger sociopolitical machinery; its existence warrants its appreciation, not the other way around. Mubarki apparently pledges fealty to the former, takes up a slice of the Indian popular and posits it as axial to a shifting culturalpolitical modernity, yet his frequent incursions into disparate contexts like aesthetic theory, Anglophone studio horror and a partial refusal to relegate the film text as a stooge of the social narrative entirelyall make the book under review a moderately important addition to the canon of Indian Film Studies.

As a book with clearly academic aspirations, it however faces a greater challenge from within its geo-specificity. Judging the worth of this book in scholarly terms can never be separate from mapping its context, since the near-saturation of the Indian popular film scholastics is dependent on an immensely established canon. Any new work is to be judged in retrospect. What is, for example, the popular Hindi canon? How inclusive is it regarding world cinematic elements, or elements from the parallel Indian film industries? Is the popular film genre (action, melodrama, romance, horror) hermetic or overlapping? This book, of about 196 pages spread through five chapters, seeks to understand the emergence and contemporary articulations of the genre made possible by larger social forces at work (p 1).

Mubarki starts with the assumption that the Indian horror film is hermeticwith a definitive arc of evolution from the Nehruvian polity to a shift towards a Hinduist, right leaning governance. Apart from the introductory chapter Indian Cinema and Ideology there is an attempt not to mirror the schematics of the larger filmic world into the appreciation of the Hindi horror. To an informed reader, this is reminiscent of Ashish Rajadhyakshas theory of the Indian popular owning its aesthetics by distancing itself from other industries. Bollywood has been around for only about a decade now. The term today refers to a reasonably specific narrative and a mode of presentation he says (Rajadhyaksha 2004: 119). Mubarki likewise talks about the individualistic difference that a genre must maintain, referring to sources as diverse as Freud, Andrew Tudor and Julia Kristeva to suggest the specificity of genre codes of Hindi horror: of the general recognition of traditional spirituality that must happen in horror films before any meaningful skirmish with evil can take place (p 37). Again, canon speaks of another Bollywood that is a non-monolithic text: the popular Hindi cinema that has its history written all over its body. The film ceases to be the ubiquitous song-and-dance-routine replica and starts to speak of complex ideological facets through its apparently simplistic, straightforward plotting. The difference notwithstanding, the Indian film genres share a common ground, a set of aesthetic concerns, certain dominant tendencies (Prasad 1998: 5) as a result of being governed by the same mutating nation state.

Mixing Elements

Hence, although much of the book (pp 72172) traces the ideological coherence of the Hindi (Hindu) horror cinema, Mubarki takes the middle way approach. Chapters 1 to 3 display the strain of commonality emerging from the Nehruvian secular cinemaa more rationalistic/scientific outlook towards horror giving way to faith and a scriptural reverence to the evil/good dichotomy. Throughout his argument, he talks exclusively of horror cinema, but does not cease to draw references from other genresnative and foreign. Mubarkis ambivalence, ironically, is the greatest flaw and/or the most discerning quality of the book, because although convincing the reader of the superstructural genre boundaries by the first 40 pages it has dedicatedsomewhat digressivelyconsiderable space for a seamless filmic convention that mixes elements of social cinema, psychoanalysis, emergent forms of critical traditions and romantic melodrama. So, is the horror genre exclusivist or latently colluding with others? Mubarki keeps this alive, as the book declares that the popular Hindi films ideology is the outcome of the same sociopolitical elements that govern other film texts, resulting into a different hybrid every time they are summoned to generate a guiding principle. This does not mean that there is a prevailing parity that cripples any chance of radicalism or subversion. Bollywood is other/unique/conforming/subversive, and such hyphenated existence is prevalent amongst all the elements of Indian cinema. The book, by its limitations, proves this perennial point about the Indian popular films through the making/unmaking of the horror genre. Whether Mubarki intended that effect, is the purview of a more detailed critique of the book.

Notwithstanding the chapterisation, this book can be divided into three discursive categories: (i) the making of the genre; (ii) the juncture of the rationalism/uncanny; and (iii) the evolution of religiosity and sexual dogma. This is treated as a subtext of the mutating political dominance in India, temporally spanning the entirety of the postcolonial nation (Mubarki starts with Kamal Amrohis Mahal (1949) till Vikram Bhatts Haunted (2011) as textual mainstays), while frequently digressing into various critical traditions (possibly in an attempt of mediating amongst film studies canons) with variant degrees of success. In his attempt to flash on (sub)generic possibilities. Made possible by larger social forces (p 1), Mubarki provides a brief overview of the visual tradition of the Indian cultureSanskrit theatre, Parsi theatre, the more indigenous nautankis and ramlilas, and how they affect the emergence of the Indian film experience in the British raj, primarily, appealing to the collective reverence to (Hindu) mythologies (this theme shall recur as the closing argument of the book). Mubarki also talks about the colonial policy to keep the indigenous away from the Western liberalismthat is Hollywoodconsidering the preferable spatiotemporal distance between the Empire and its subjects (p 10). Ergo, the Hindu cinema thrived, other-ing the larger Muslim populace. Moreover, Mubarki mentions the works of V Shantharam, M Bhavnani et al to nod at the fictive unity the Hindu cinema tried to evoke by imagining a shared experience of national pride through films primarily concerned with one religious identity. Other identities are/were welcome, as long they share the Hindu nationalist reverie.

Making of the Genre

What makes horror, horror? Moreover, what makes Hindi horror deserving of its moniker? Mubarki reverts to the previously stated ambiguity while addressing issues raised in Chapter 2 (pp 1446): Genre, Codes and the Horror Cinema. Mubarki attempts a significant excursus into a variant and atemporal critical canon structuralism, auteur theory, Freudian psychoanalysis, Stephen King, theories by Robin Wood and Julia Kristeva, and Hollywood Horror since the 1930s. Such inclusions, Mubarki claims, serve to track the heritage of the Hindi Horror genre. Horror is the repressed, it is also the secret bestial urge of psyche, it can still be the abject that defies conventions and sticks out in the face of normativity, but not before it aligns itself with the sexually aberrant, morally depraved (pp 2528). This befuddling tendency of the author still begs some spatial relevance: why does this occur right after a chapter axially devoted to the making of the Hindu cinema? How was the Hindi Horror (as Mubarki will show, the Horror tradition started from a secular, rationalist approach) derived from this (un)filmic wont at all? Why is not more space given to a proper analysis of this mammoth undertaking? Mubarki meanwhile continues his dissemination of genre conventions, quoting Bakhtin (p 34) that generic attempts are pastiches, never originaryyet analysing how Hindi horror is less ambitious than its Hollywood counterpart in matters of world domination and corporeal monstrosity, how the evil here is mostly eldritch. Mubarki believes that reverence to traditional spirituality is what defines the genre of Hindi Horror, yet he declares that the foundational horror moments of Hindi cinema adhered to Nehruvian secular rationalism.

There is no denial that genres come quite simply, from other genres (Todorov 1990: 15), yet the Hindi horror genre revolves exclusively around the concerns of the majority Hindu community (p 42). While unclear about the transition between ideological compunctions (How and when the Hindi film skewed towards Religiosity Rationalism Religiosity), Mubarki does indeed maintain this strain in the latter part of the book, unfolding his argument of the socio-rationalist nature mutating into Evil/Good binary pretty much seamlessly in the last three chapters (pp 47171).

Juncture of Rational/Uncanny

The Nehruvian drive to create an ideal nation state made an easy alliance with secularism and rationality that, we may assume, tried to subvert the earlier religious dogma. The aim was to regulate social life in accordance with the principles of reason and to eliminate or to banish to the background everything irrational from the conscious (p 48). Is there a God and perennial Evil? The Horror cinema of the 1950s1960s does not give/have an easy answer, often leaving conclusions open, much in the vein of German expressionist films which influenced films like Mahal, Madhumati (1958) and Kohraa (1964) stylistically. Mubarki takes these three films as case studies, providing details of their plot, and explaining how they are concurrent to the vogue of rationalist approach to the unknown. For example, the eldritch is either not present, or selectively appearing to specific characters, creating a legitimate confusion whether the horror is of the mind. Yet, there is a negotiation with the Nehruvian rationality, Mubarki argues. The irrationalthe Ghostis present in Madhumati, and characters feel its vengeful presence and flinch away from the apparition akin to the visceral depiction of the monster movies. Yet the ghost never oversteps the boundaries of the state machinery, and helps the unmasking of the culprit to the eyes of the law.

The complex relation of the conservative blocs to an increasingly centralised state machinery is thus rendered clear, Mubarki argues (pp 6061). If there is a poetic, divine justice, it must occur through the secular states agency. If not, then the apparition must remain within the boundaries of the psychethe shadow line that may signify both real and unreal, as happens when the ghost of Poonam is visible only to Raj and the audience in Kohraa. The supernatural either stays within the boundary of explainability, or it surpasses such boundaries through the liminal zoneat the end the audience is unsure whether the Ghost really ever was. The genre was testing the doctrinal boundaries of the nation statethe seeds of its later subversion into spirituality was intact, yet its tryst with the scientific dogma harnessed the spectral presence, and deals with the temporal affairs (p 66).

Mubarki concludes this strand with a few examples of a purported reversal of the Nehruvian sentiments, in films like Bhayanak (1979) and Bhool Bhulaiya (2007) that reinforce rationalism behind seemingly supernatural occurrences or banishes the evil through secular, multi-religious approach: The demonic fiend is entrapped inside a church and divinely impaled … [by] … a sacred cross (p 68). What remains unclear is the reason of this reversal. Is there a dissidence within the Hindu film genre? Is this dissidence cyclical, surfacing once in every decade? Is there such a metanarrative present at all?

Religiosity and Sexual Dogma

The third and largest part of the book re-affirms the extant hypotheses of Indian film studiesgenre films thematically mutate with the political shift. Mubarki calls the change subaltern, and describes it as a resistance against the hegemonic formulations of the Nehruvian state, which ignored the underworld about gender, society and social relations for a modern secular, post-colonial modern Indian entity (p 76). The most explicit aesthetic manifestation of this shift towards deep religiosity is its unambiguitythe luminal is rejected in favour of direct transaction with the supernatural: it exists, it is hostile and it can only be banished by Hindu rituals. Mubarki traces the genealogy of such films from the 1970s to 2014, aligning it with the rise of the slums point of viewthe dominating aesthetics of the mass seminally analysed by Ashis Nandy. A greater number of case studies occurfrom Jadu Tona (1967) to Haunted (2011). What is interesting is Mubarki dedicating a sub-chapter to the depiction of the monstrous feminine other that turned out to be a recurrent subject of the horror movies of this era.

In fact, Mubarkis argument in this part of the books can further be divided into three broad categories. The first constitutes the emergence of overt spirituality in banishing the evil. Films like Gehrayee (1980) or Phoonk (2008) seek a decisively Hindu deux ex machina to battle the demon possessing an innocent victim. The spirit of Nehruvian rationalism thwarted thus, the Hindi horror film shifted its gaze to the pervasive effect of Science. Chehre Pe Chehra (1981) reiterates the effect of Science on the cohesion of a placid, non-conflicted personality by showing Sanjiv Kumars character suffering terrible fate because of his scientific curiosity that leads him in discovering a personality-altering serum. At the end, the character remorsefully affects reconciliation with faith. He dies at the altar of the very church whose spiritual proficiency he had earlier denied (p 107). In 13B (2009) characters are haunted by vengeful spirits who use the television as the portal between worlds. The third phase is the monstrous feminine where female agency is wilfully submitted to an overarching patriarchal structure, eager to conserve the placidity of the home and motherhood. Mubarki also points out how the sexually unrepressed female body often turns into the stooge of evilby possession or postmortem.

Conclusions

This book is an easy read, with enough scholarly inflections to warrant a research-driven analysis. Mubarki deftly handles the shift in the genre, while struggling to maintain the middle ground between canons explained earlier. A discerning reading may point out two major devices that stall an organic readingMubarkis habit of resorting to critical traditions (filmic, philosophical and literary) is often digressive and does not add to mainframe argument; an overall lack of analysing the point of transition between thematic mainstays. His attempt to preserve a critical ambiguity and transcending the barriers set by a saturated school of thought is commendable. The book is recommended for serious non-academic audience.

References

Prasad, M Madhava (1998): Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish (2004): The Bollywoodisation of the Indian Cinema: Cultural Nationalism in a Global Arena, City Flicks: Indian Cinema and the Urban Experience, P Karsholm (ed), Calcutta: Seagull Books, pp 11339.

Ray, Dibyakusum (2014): Self, Other and Bollywood: The Evolution of the Hindi Film as a Site of Ambivalence, Bollywood and Its Other(s): Towards New Configurations, Vikrant Kishor, Amit Sarwal and Parichay Patra (eds), Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp 216.

Thacker, Eugene (2011): In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy, Vol 1, Hants, UK: Zero Books.

(2015): Tentacles Longer than Night: Horror of Philosophy, Vol 3, Hants, UK: Zero Books.

Todorov, Tzvetan (1990): Genres in Discourse, Catherine Porter (transl), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Hindi, Hindu, Horror – Economic and Political Weekly

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Will the Science Community Go Rogue Against Donald Trump? – Truth-Out

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Petition Delivery and Climate Teach-In at Trump’s Transition Office against the Climate Denier Cabinet, December 20, 2016. (Photo: betterDCregion)

“Please let us remember that to investigate the constitution of the universe is one of the greatest and noblest problems in nature, and it becomes still grander when directed toward another discovery.”

In the age of Trump, the person writing those words has much to teach us about the impending scientific struggles of our own time.

So spoke Salviati on day two of his debate with Sagredo and Simplicio in a hypothetical discussion imagined by the great scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, for his book Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632.

In the Dialogue, Galileo puts forward his heretical view that the Earth and other planets revolve around the sun in opposition to the Catholic Church-sanctioned Ptolemaic system in which everything in the universe revolves around the Earth.

Galileo hoped that by adopting a conversational style for his argument, it would allow him to continue his argument about the true nature of the universe and evade the attentions of the Inquisition, which enforced Church doctrine with the force of bans, imprisonment and execution.

However, Galileo’s friend, Pope Urban VIII, who had personally authorized Galileo to write the Dialogue, didn’t allow sentimentality to obstruct power. Galileo was convicted of heresy and spent the rest of his days under house arrest — the Dialogue was banned by the Inquisition, along with any other book Galileo had written or might write.

Typically portrayed as the quintessential clash between religion and science, Galileo’s conflict with the Papacy was, in fact, just as rooted in material considerations of political power as it was with ideas about the nature of the solar system and our place within it.

Amid parallels to today’s conflict between Donald Trump and the scientific community over funding, research, unimpeded freedom of speech and the kind of international collaboration required for effective scientific endeavor, neither situation exists solely in the realm of ideas.

***

Galileo’s controversial and extended trial on charges of heresy coincided with the political and military problems faced by Pope Urban VIII.

Under pressure from what came to be known as the Thirty Years’ War raging across central Europe between Catholic and Protestant armies, Urban was attempting to shore up and re-establish the might of Rome through the Inquisition, racking up massive Papal debt from increased military spending, while promoting rampant nepotism and corruption.

The analogy with the U.S. of 2017 and the political and economic situation is quite striking, as today’s right wing seeks to assert its authority and impel the country politically and socially backward by launching attacks on immigrants, Native Americans, women and reproductive health, unions, and the gains of the LGBTQ, environmental and civil rights movements. These attacks have been extended across a broad swathe of society, encompassing both the arts and sciences.

After reports emerged in the first days of the Trump administration that he intended to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities — responsible for 0.01 percent of the federal budget — Suzanne Nossel, writing in Foreign Policy, called this “an assault on the Enlightenment.”

Meanwhile, with the election of Trump and his comments on climate change, scientists in charge of the Doomsday Clock moved it another 30 seconds closer to midnight. This is the closest it’s been to midnight since 1953, at the height of the Cold War and following the decision by the U.S. to upgrade its nuclear arsenal with thermonuclear weaponry.

“The Trump administration needs to state clearly and unequivocally that it accepts that climate change is caused by human activity,” theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss said at a press conference announcing the Doomsday Clock time change. “Policy that is sensible requires facts that are facts.”

Unfortunately, fact-checking website Politifact has shown that 71 percent of Trump’s public statements range from “mostly false” to “pants on fire” levels of absurdity.

***

Within hours of Trump’s inauguration, rumors began to circulate that government agencies such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been ordered to scrub references to climate change from their websites. There were other reports of gag orders on the Department of Agriculture and a freeze on EPA grants.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen was famously gagged during the presidency of George W. Bush, along with hundreds of others at seven different federal agencies who were ordered against using the term “global warming.”

However, scientists at the EPA say Trump’s mandate that any data collected by them — including information that is of direct consequence to people’s health and that of the planet — must first undergo political vetting before being release to the public takes things much further down the road to outright censorship.

As far as gutting the EPA entirely, it’s certainly not beyond possibility, considering that a key adviser to Trump and his head of transition for the EPA, Myron Ebell, called environmentalists “the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world.”

One wonders if he had in mind an editorial in Nature, one of the world’s leading science journals, which, under the headline “Scientists Must Fight for the Facts,” described Trump’s energy plan as “a product of cynicism and greed” for its adherence to talking points taken directly from the fossil-fuel industry.

As bad as our air, water and soil is today, we know before the EPA’s creation under Richard Nixon in response to a wave of gigantic pro-environment marches in the 1960s and ’70s, things were much worse.

***

In response to these attacks — and the resulting increase in stress and anxiety over job security — scientists have called a March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, in Washington, D.C. Like the giant Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration, the science march has already spawned calls for solidarity protests in other cities across the country.

One-fifth of scientists in the U.S. are immigrants, meaning the lives of thousands of scientists and science students have already been affected by the travel ban, leaving people traumatized, but also mobilizing for the protests. A petition drawn up by academics against the anti-Muslim immigration ban, Academics Against Immigration Executive Order has garnered more than 20,000 signatures, including over 50 Nobel Laureates.

The head of the largest professional science organization in the world, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, physicist Rush Holt described the change under Trump as taking long-standing attacks against science in the U.S. to another level: “In my relatively long career I have not seen this level of concern about science…This immigration ban has serious humanitarian issues, but I bet it never occurred to them that it also has scientific implications.”

But resistance from scientists is emerging from all quarters. As Republicans tried to pass a bill to sell off more public land to corporations and fossil-fuel interests, workers at the National Park Service went rogue around the country, setting up their own social media sites to combat disinformation and let the public know what was happening.

***

Predictably, the March for Science has drawn controversy for “politicizing” science, even though scientists have signed a range of open letters calling for stronger action to combat climate change, and climate scientists have already held a rally in San Francisco in December last year protesting Trump’s election victory and his anti-science rhetoric.

By selecting Earth Day, the march is clearly connected to Trump’s specific and highly political attacks on government bodies and scientists associated with climate change research and other environmental concerns.

Despite this, renowned Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker tweeted: “Scientists’ March on Washington plan compromises its goals with anti-science PC/identity politics/hard-left rhetoric” — apparently because the website included information about the importance of diversity and intersectionality.

Meanwhile, science writer Dr. Alex Berezow, who penned a blatantly political book about the supposed anti-science proclivities of the left, tells us he won’t be on the march because it doesn’t mention white men, Christians or privately-funded science research.

More seriously, Robert Young, one of the co-authors of a report on rising sea level and its impact on the coastline of North Carolina — which drew the ire of the real estate lobby and conservative politicians, along with scathing humor from Stephen Colbert — argued in the New York Times that the march is a bad idea:

A march by scientists, while well intentioned, will serve only to trivialize and politicize the science we care so much about, turn scientists into another group caught up in the culture wars, and further drive the wedge between scientists and a certain segment of the American electorate.

On the other side of the debate, biologist Christina Agapakis tweeted, “Is it going to be a fuck yeah science facts march or a science is political and made by humans march?”

Agapakis importantly went on to argue that not having political demands doesn’t make any sense nor help achieve the goals of the scientists: “If 300 years of scientists pretending to be apolitical wasn’t enough to convince someone that climate change isn’t a hoax, then erasing political issues from the march isn’t going to change anyone’s mind either.”

As far as the substance of this discussion is concerned, one immediate and obvious question would be to ask who is “politicizing” science?

Given Trump’s rejection of climate change, his attacks on science, his appointment of the former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and his intended appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA — a federal department which Pruitt spent his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma suing over a dozen times — if anyone is “politicizing” science, surely it’s already being done by the president.

Indeed, when the editors of the thoroughly mainstream USA Today issue a statement calling for Pruitt’s rejection as head of the EPA because Trump “couldn’t have nominated someone more opposed to the agency’s mission,” you know you’re involved in politics.

Although Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith might disagree. The inveterate climate denier and anti-science champion — but nevertheless somehow chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology — has said that listening to President Donald Trump, as opposed to the media or scientists, was likely “the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”

***

To talk of a supposedly apolitical science is wrongheaded to begin with. Science has been political since its modern inception with the Scientific Revolution, which began in part with Galileo’s experiments on projectile motion for the highly political purpose of launching more accurate cannonballs.

Science is as much a cultural artifact of society as art, music or fashion. Of course, science is about investigating the natural world through rationalism and empirically verified investigation, but the questions asked by scientists, what they obtain funding to investigate, and the methodology they use are all contoured and distorted by the society within which they are embedded.

We can see that contradiction with climate change research itself.

The reason we know so much about the atmosphere and climate is because climate research grew out of the military’s need in the 1950s to track wind currents so it could predict where radioactive fallout would be most severe following nuclear war (which scientists working on the Manhattan Project had made possible in the first place).

In the U.S., that research gave rise to the building of the interstate highway system to facilitate military transportation and the evacuation of population centers — which in turn generated the phenomenon of the suburbs and the growth of a culture centered around the automobile and fossil fuels.

There is a difference and a contradiction between the philosophy and method of science based in empirical evidence and rationalism and how it is practiced in a class-stratified society, by people just as subject to social prejudices and norms as anyone else.

Though some individual scientists may profess and even believe they are disinterestedly studying the way the universe works merely for the sake of it, science is part of class society. As such, it is faced with the same contradictions as any other facet of an unequal and exploitative social system.

However, because scientific explanation for the way the natural world works needs to correspond to objectively observable and experimentally verified facts and rationality, the contradictions inherent to it and the field’s intrinsically political nature are often more clearly expressed than other areas of human culture.

***

As has been repeatedly shown through history, science can be used to bolster the political status quo or help tear it down.

Famed American sociologist of science Robert K. Merton argued in the 1940s that science was a collective endeavor for the civic good, in which sharing of ideas within the scientific community and the wider public was a paramount consideration.

“The communism of the scientific ethos is incompatible with the definition of technology as ‘private property’ in a capitalistic society,” Merton wrote. “Patents proclaim exclusive rights of use, and often, nonuse.” According to Merton, science would come into conflict with rulers whenever efforts were made to enforce “the centralization of institutional control.”

One of the most infamous stories in the history of science is scientists’ role in justifying the characterization of racial superiority of the so-called “white race” with the rise of scientific racism in the 19th century — a precursor to Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies of the 1930s.

Another example of science justifying the status quo: Social Darwinism is rooted in the idea that we are genetically predisposed to behave in greedy and selfish ways — these human attributes are naturalized in modes that just happen to coincide with the values necessary for capitalism to survive.

And of course, it was scientists and engineers who developed atomic weapons, nerve gas, pesticides and fracking.

Conversely, a better understanding of the natural world through science also gives us wondrous things: birth control, modern medicine and vaccinations, to list only a tiny fraction of the vast contribution to socially useful knowledge and technologies we have obtained through scientific experiments and theoretical development. We are going to need to apply this knowledge and technology to avoid dangerous, human-induced climate change.

***

These examples illustrate what really irks Trump about science — and why the March for Science in Washington is such a crucial development.

Here it’s important to be clear about what Trump isn’t doing. He’s not saying corporations or private funding for science should be cut, only government funding of science — particularly climate science, while carefully exempting the military. The question Trump is ultimately posing — and what scientists and everyone else need to understand — is this: Should there be any science in the public good?

Trump is not telling businesses to stop doing science. He wants the federal government to stop doing science in the public interest. He wants an end to fact-based discourse wherever the facts run counter to right-wing ideology.

Understanding his assault on science in this manner connects it to the wider Republican and corporate attacks on public education and health care. It is the logical endpoint of capitalism in its most unrestricted form.

As such, it is an intensely political attack that can only be successfully repelled by a similarly political response.

We want and need more funding for all branches of science in the public good and an increase in research into areas of climate change, agro-ecology, renewable energy technologies, medical research and so on. We can only justify these on the grounds of our values, values that emerge from our political orientation and desire for just social outcomes with regard to health, clean air, and unpolluted soil and water.

This is really what scientists who are genuinely opposing the “politicizing” of science — as opposed to those with conservative politics using the complaint to oppose protest — mean: science can furnish us with facts about the way the physical world works, but it doesn’t tell us anything about what to do with those facts once we have established them.

For example, science and technology have furnished humans with the ability to hunt down and drive whales to extinction. But it tells us nothing about whether we should or not. Which is to say, science tells us nothing about what is right or wrong — that comes down to our values and is therefore an ethical and political question.

But most people would decry such a rigid attempt at fence-sitting, particularly when people’s lives and the health of the biosphere are at stake. And especially when one considers the already highly political nature of scientific research, grants and so on under capitalism. As radical educator Paolo Freire commented, “To sit on the fence in the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor means to take the side of the oppressor, not to be neutral.”

***

Though is clearly attempting something even more extreme, we can learn much about state repression of publicly funded scientific knowledge, research and communication from the behavior of the conservative administration of Canada’s former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Under Harper, Canadian scientists were followed, threatened and censored, while libraries were closed and science research programs cut.

Noting that 24 percent of Canadian scientists reported being required to exclude or alter scientific information for non-science-based reasons, Robert MacDonald, a Canadian federal government scientist for three decades, commented:

That’s something you would expect to hear in the 1950s from eastern Europe, not something you expect to hear from a democracy like Canada in 2013…And I think, by all indication, that’s what our sisters and brothers are going to be faced with down in the United States.

The attacks, cuts and muzzling of scientists by the Harper government, particularly in any field even remotely connected to climate change, were extensive and systematic, undermining any claim to a democratic, truth-oriented administration.

Highlighting the purpose of the censorship, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations explained in the run-up to Canadian demonstrations by scientists in 2013:

In the absence of rigorous, scientific information — and an informed public — decision-making becomes an exercise in upholding the preferences of those in power.

In Canada today, as in most of the developed world, power has become increasingly concentrated in fewer hands — hands which are inevitably attached to the bodies of big business and the state. And in light of Prime Minister Harper’s agenda to rebrand Canada as the next energy superpower, it would seem that both the corporate interests and the state are focused on the expansion of the resource extraction industry in Canada.

In the federal capital of Ottawa, hundreds of scientists clad in lab coats carried a coffin in a funeral procession to mark the “death of scientific evidence.” This and dozens of smaller marches elsewhere had an observable impact on people’s perception of the Harper government.

In a lesson U.S.-based scientists should take to heart, the decline in popularity of the Harper government — and the subsequent electoral victory of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, signaling a more positive, less hostile approach to science, if not a break with big business, including the energy industry — can be traced in part to the 2013 marches by scientists.

Hence, for all the naysayers in the scientific community who want empirical evidence about the efficacy of a political protest, look no further than the Canadian experience. According to one of the organizers with the group behind the protests, Evidence for Democracy — which is advising U.S. scientists on their march — commented, Trump’s attack on science:

absolutely echoes what we saw under George Bush in the States and what we saw under Harper, except it’s so much swifter and more brazen than what we saw under Harper…But at the same time there’s been a huge resistance coming out of the scientific community and that’s been really heartening to see.

***

Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, has written that “scientists are, in general, a reticent lot who would much rather spend our time in the lab, out in the field, teaching and doing research.” Nevertheless, Mann went on to call for a “rebellion” against Trump, due to the severity of Trump’s assault.

As Dr. Prescod-Weinsten, a cosmologist and particle physicist at the University of Washington, commented: “What history has taught us is that…[w]hen we work with extremist, racist, Islamophobic or nationalist governments, it doesn’t work for science.” Nor one could add, for humanity.

The assault on science must be recast and seen as entirely political. It is being made in order to further the interests of fossil fuel-based corporations. Beyond that, it is part and parcel of a larger political project to drive society back and call into question all forms of publically funded scientific, fact-based research, data gathering and dissemination in the interests of ordinary people and the public good.

Which brings us back to Galileo and what should be the purpose of scientific endeavor.

One of the other things that so angered the Inquisition was that Galileo chose to write his treatise not in Latin, the language of academia and the well to do, but in the language of common people. Galileo quite deliberately wrote his book in Italian so that it would be widely read — before being banned, it was a best seller — and discussed.

Galileo was doing science for the common good — presenting a fact-based, better understanding of the world to more clearly inform people of how their world worked. As Bertolt Brecht wrote in his essay on “Writing the Truth,” “The truth must be spoken with a view to the results it will produce in the sphere of action.”

Scientists must be political in order to be more effective scientists, not less effective. The struggle is really about the question and need to further democratize science. That means scientists seeing themselves as “citizen scientists” — in the mold of Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner, Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould.

For Commoner, scientists are obligated to rebel to fulfill their mission of science in the public interest and for social good. He wrote:

The scholar’s duty is toward the development of socially significant truth, which requires freedom to test the meaning of all relevant observations and views in open discussion, and openly to express concern with the goals of our society. The scholar has an obligation — which he owes to the society that supports him — toward such open discourse. And when, under some constraint, scholars are called upon to support a single view, then the obligation to discourse necessarily becomes an obligation to dissent. In a situation of conformity, dissent is the scholars duty to society.

If science is all about taking a critical eye toward the investigation of natural phenomenon for the betterment of humanity, then rather than seeing protest and public involvement as somehow detrimental to that project, these should be seen as at the heart of the process.

We must pose the question: What are the goals we want for society? How can we help society realize those goals? To effectively answer those questions, scientists must necessarily dissent from those in power who seek to stifle empirical research and do so by informing and involving laypeople to aid their cause.

Making the March for Science on Earth Day big and political as possible is the best way to help further that process, push back Trump’s right-wing agenda and enlist more people to support science in the public good.

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Barnaby Joyce condemns WA Liberals’ preference deal with One Nation – Daily Advertiser

Posted: February 19, 2017 at 11:03 am

13 Feb 2017, 1:04 p.m.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has condemned the Western Australian Liberal Party’s unprecedented decision to preference One Nation ahead of the Nationals at the upcoming state election, a deal that has been defended by Mr Joyce’s federal Liberal partners.

Prime Minister and Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull with Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop. Photo: Andrew Meares

Trade Minister Steven Ciobo has defended One Nation’s record defending the government, while Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has warned the deal could cost the Liberal Party government in WA. Photo: Andrew Meares

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has condemned the Western Australian Liberal Party’s unprecedented decision to preference One Nation ahead of the Nationals at the upcoming state election, a deal that is splitting opinion in the federal Coalition ranks.

Striking a different note to Liberal colleagues, former prime minister Tony Abbott agreed with the argument that One Nation leader Pauline Hanson was a “better person” today than when she was previously in Parliament but said the Nationals should be preferenced above all other parties.

While Mr Joyce described the deal as “disappointing”, cabinet colleague and Trade Minister Steve Ciobosaidthe Liberal Party should put itself in the best position to govern and talked up Ms Hanson’s right-wing populist party as displaying a “certain amount of economic rationalism” and support for government policy.

Mr Joyce said the conclusion “that the next best people to govern Western Australia after the Liberal Party are One Nation” needed to be reconsideredand the most successful governments in Australia were ones based on partnerships between the Liberals and Nationals.

“When you step away from that, there’s one thing you can absolutely be assured of is that we are going to be in opposition,” he told reporterson Monday morning.

“[WA Premier] Colin Barnett has been around thepoliticalgame a long while and he should seriously consider whether he thinks that this is a good idea or whether he’s flirting with a concept that would put his own side and Liberal colleagues in opposition.”

The deal will see Liberals preference One Nation above the Nationals in the upper house country regions in return for the party’s support in all lower house seats at the March 11 election.

The alliance between the more independent WA branch of the Nationals and the Liberals is reportedly at breaking point over the deal, which could cost the smaller rural party a handful of seats.

“Pauline Hanson is a different and, I would say, better person today than she was 20 years ago. Certainly she’s got a more, I think, nuanced approach to politics today,” Mr Abbott told Sydney radio station 2GB.

“It’s not up to me to decide where preference should go but, if it was, I’d certainly be putting One Nation ahead of Labor and I’d be putting the National Party ahead of everyone. Because the National Party are our Coalition partnersin Canberra and in most states and they are our alliance partners in Western Australia.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined to criticise the deal, stating that preference deals in the state election were a matter for the relevant division who “have got make their judgment based on their assessment of their electoral priorities”.

Mr Ciobo joined the Prime Minister and other federal Liberal colleagues in defending the WA division’s right to make its own decisions.

“What we’ve got to do is make decisions that put us in the best possible position to govern,” he told ABC radio of the motivations of his own branch in Queensland.

After Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos called the modern One Nation more “sophisticated” now, Mr Ciobo also praised the resurgent party.

“If you look at, for example, how Pauline Hanson’s gone about putting her support in the Senate, you’ll see that she’s often voting in favour of government legislation.There’s a certain amount of economic rationalism, a certain amount of approach that’s reflective of what it is we are trying to do to govern Australia in a fiscally responsible way.One Nation has certainly signed up to that much more than Labor.”

When in government, former Liberal prime minister John Howard declared that One Nation would always be put last on how-to-vote cards.

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What ‘The Seventh Seal’ Tells Us About Life And Death – The Federalist

Posted: at 11:03 am

Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman produced The Seventh Seal in 1957. As with all great works of art, it still speaks as clearly to us today as it ever did to folk in its own time and place. The movie is a profound meditation on man, God, and the relationship between them. Looking at the film through existential philosophy can help draw out its main implications about the meaning of being human.

First, a short synopsis of the plot. The main character of the film is a Knight who is returning home, disillusioned and exhausted, from the Crusades. While he is resting on a beach, he runs into the figure of Deatha man dressed in a black, monkish cowl. When Death asks the Knight if hes afraid, the Knight responds: My body is afraid, but I am not. Then he challenges Death to a game of chess.

The rest of the film is just about the Knight encountering different people and trying to find some meaning with what time he has left as he continues to play for his life (with the rule that he can keep living as long the game is in progress).

The first scene itself is enough for you to see that theres something strange about this guy. When the average person runs into Death, he would probably lose his mind with fear. But this Knight stays perfectly calm, and greets Death as an old friend. So, whats going on?

The philosopher Sren Kierkegaard, whos often thought of as the father of existentialism, can help bring some insight to this situation. Kierkegaards main motto is that subjectivity is truth. Hes not looking for objective, scientific knowledge, but starts with the individual human soul, and that souls first-person experience of the world.

This point becomes clear in Kierkegaards view on the question of immortality. In his major work, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, he says:

The very moment I am conscious of my immortality, I am completely subjective, and I cannot become immortal in partnership in rotation with two other single gentlemen. Subscription collectors who produce long subscription lists of men and women who feel a need in general to become immortal receive no benefit for their trouble, because immortality is a good that cannot be obtained by bullying ones way with a long list of signatures.

As it is with immortality, so it is with God. In a way, theres no question of whether you believe in him or not. You either know that God is real or you dont, in the same way that you sense your own immortality or you dont. Its kind of like being in love, as well: if you need to ask ten of your friends if youre really in love, then the odds are, youre not. Scientific confirmation from a multitude of other gentlemen (as Kierkegaard might put it) isnt going to help. Either your soul knows or it doesnt, and thats all there is to it.

Kierkegaard would call the first kind of person the aesthetic type, and the second the ethical-religious type. The aesthetic type thinks any talk of immortality is just silly, since that kind of person cant see anything other than the surface of the world as it appears to his senses. The ethical-religious type, though, has deeper intuitions in his soul. Maybe the Knight can look Death square in the eyes because he is this type of man.

The Knight starts off in despair. He confesses: I live now in a world of phantoms, a prisoner of my own dreams. He also yells at God for making himself so difficult to understand and be sure of. According to Kierkegaard, though, most people are in a state of despairin fact, theyre so far in that they dont even realize theyre in despair. The Knights self-awareness of despair thus becomes a key step toward his redemption. The Knight spends the rest of the film overcoming this curse, trying to do a good deed and treating others with unpretentious kindness.

If you want to see why this makes the Knight special, consider a scene in the film of a brawl at some tavern. It reveals the way the average, aesthetic (as opposed to ethical-religious) person tends to conduct himself. As Death himself says: Most people give no thought to death and nothingness.

At the tavern, the whole crowd picks on a Jestera socially awkward dreamer with a kind heart. They act with collective, wanton cruelty and self-abandon (led by a morally bankrupt theologian, no less). Of course, they think nothing of this: they neither know nor care about whether they even have souls, let alone what their actions will do to their souls.

The Knight, on the other hand, befriends the Jester. By the end of the film, the Knight is able to say the following words to the Jesters wife, after her family treats him to a picnic: I will remember this moment: the stillness, the dusk, these wild strawberries, this bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Ill hold this memory between my hands like a bowl of fresh milk full to the brim. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. Ill try to remember what we spoke of. And it will be a sign, for mea source of great satisfaction.

Afterwards, he laughs in the face of Death. Thats his redemption, his reward, for being an ethical-religious man.

Ever since the Enlightenment, the meaning of the word God has become fuzzy. Ren Descartes is a key culprit. He developed a philosophy of reason in which God turned into nothing more than some vague and abstract ideaa premise that was needed to fix the argument, but without having any inherent value; a figure for purely logical thought.

Descartes did try to anchor his argument on the idea that this world must be real and meaningful, as opposed to some monstrous deception, because God is good. But this is weak, weak stuff. (In his defense, at least he lived long before movies such as The Matrix or The Truman Show.) In Descartes philosophy, God is just a placeholder; he might as well not exist. It makes sense, then, that many later rationalists just dropped God altogether.

This is very different from the proclamation of the Gospel, which insists the Lord is a specific, actual person: not some pie-in-the-sky abstraction, but a truly living presence. Not a figure for logical thought, but a relationship for the passionate heart. This can be called the existential, as opposed to rationalistic, conception of God. It can also be called the idea of the true God, if you believe in the Gospel; and this idea underlies the worldview of The Seventh Seal.

Kierkegaards motto that subjectivity is truth has been all but lost. A lot of people, especially millennials, have an actual belief system where they refuse to trust anything but their physical senses, or what can be verified with the scientific method. But God and immortality and love have nothing to do with the scientific method; you cant ask ten gentlemen to verify them for you.

Thats because these are not objective things. These are things you can only see for yourself, on the basis of individual, subjective courage. If we start with the premise that our souls intuitions are nothing but delusions, theres no hope of getting anywhere.

When you face Death, a vague idea isnt going to save you. Nor is the agnostic weakness of saying you just dont know. Whats really needed is a living presence within the heartsomething that your soul knows to be at least as real as anything else in this world.

The Knight had that, and its why he could carry himself the way he did. Its like the presence of Death outside of him was outweighed by the presence of Life within him. Its Kierkegaards existentialism, and not Descartess rationalism, that well all need in the end, if we want any real answers to the mortal problem of meaning. Thats at least one thing to learn from Bergmans film.

Sethu A. Iyer went to school at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a freelance writer and the author of “Testament: An Invitation to Lucid Romance.”

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‘Modi combines Savarkar and neoliberalism’: Pankaj Mishra on why this is the age of anger – Yahoo News

Posted: February 18, 2017 at 4:02 am

We live in a disorienting world. In West Asia, the Islamic State uses displays of cruelty and religious fanaticism as a propaganda tool. In large swathes of Europe, far right nationalism is rearing its head for the first time since after the defeat of fascism in World War II. The worlds only superpower, meanwhile, has a president elected to office on an explicit programme of racial and religious bigotry, attacking Muslims and non-White Americans in his campaign speeches.

And, of course, closer home in India, the ideology of Hindutva, which considers India to be a Hindu nation, grows ever stronger, assaulting Muslims and Dalits in its wake.

In his new book, intellectual Pankaj Mishra tries to explain this fury enveloping the world. Titled Age of Anger: A History of the Present, the work traces traces todays discontentment to the rapid changes of the 18th century, when modernity was shaped.

You say that the enlightenment gave rise to some irresistible ideals: a rationalistic, egalitarian and universalising society in which men shaped their own lives. So why do so many people disagree with the way in which you see the enlightenment? Youve shown it to be a very positive thing. So how are, say, Islamists looking at it differently? Why do they disagree?Well, I am not sympathetic to their critique and I am not sure that theyre directly critiquing the Enlightenment rather than the consequences of the kind of thinking introduced by the Enlightenment philosophers in the late 18th century. And lets be careful here: many of the consequences werent anticipated by these philosophers themselves.

What they were talking about was a polity. And for them a polity was the church and then the monarchy. And they thought individuals could use reason since there had been enough scientific breakthroughs, enough revelations about the nature of reality out there. They did not need intermediaries like the church to tell us what to think about the world, what to think about reality. We could use our individual reason to construct our own worlds essentially and shape society. That was the fundamental message they had. They had no idea what would happen in the 19th century.

What happened in the 19th century was something very different: large nation-states came into being, the process of industrialisation started, the use of individual reason expanded, science took off, all kind of new technologies came into being, and large political and economic webs were built.

The Islamist critique of that would be: too much responsibility for shaping the world was placed upon the extremely fallible minds and sensibilities of the human individual. That this was going against centuries of custom, tradition and history. Human beings had always been seen as being very frail and weak creatures who needed some kind of constraint and that was the role of traditional religion.

Religion reminded humans being of the severe limitations that life imposes on everyone. Whereas the promise of freedom and emancipation sets off all kinds of unpredictable processes that result in actually more oppression and more pain.

So that would be or has been the modern critique of the Enlightenment which is shared by a pretty broad spectrum of people, not just the Islamists. Mahatma Gandhi himself voiced many of these critiques of modern science, modern industry and the modern nation-state. You have to remember that Rabindranath Tagore himself expressed those critiques. So we also have to look at these other critics of Enlightenment rationalism.

You go into some detail in describing Savarkar in the book. In many ways, a very good argument could be made that Savarkar was a rationalist. He said Hindus should eat beef, for example. How does a Savarkar then map to the more modern forms of Indian conservatism? How do you go from Savarkar to the current-day gau rakshak?I think Savarkar is essentially a child of Enlightenment rationalism despite all the claims made for an unbroken Hindu tradition. The important thing to note about the Savarkar variety of Hindu nationalism is that it is deeply European and deeply modern. Which was one reason why Gandhi was so opposed to it. He said this was the rule of Englishmen with the English in his book Hind Swaraj.

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So Savarkar does not partake of a critique of the Enlightenment. He, in fact, in very much a product of 19th century Europe, which advances Enlightenment rationalism in unexpected directions. He starts to think of a national community of like-minded individuals. He starts to think of a past which can be recruited by the present, that can be deployed politically. Savarkar subscribes to everyone of these political tendencies which are elaborated most prominently by [Giuseppe] Mazzini. So he comes out of that particular tradition.

So this whole reverence for figures and symbols from the past which the gau rakshak seems to manifest is a total 19th century fantasy. People did not think of the past in that way before that century. The past was very deliberately enlisted into a nationalist project. Every nationalist and I write this in the book had made some sort of a claim upon the past, made some sort of connection.

We are now looking at history as a series of ruptures and new beginnings. In Savarkars case, the rupture would be the Muslim invasion of India. Thats also the case for [VS] Naipaul. That was the big rupture that violates the wholeness of the Hindu past. And now we are invested in a new beginning, which is the revival of Hindu glory.

This whole way of looking at time, of looking at human agency and identity is a product of the European 19th century. And thats where Savarkar should be placed. I think we spend too much time comparing him to the Germans and the Italians of the 1930s. I think we should go back and look at the 19th century more closely. And also look at Savarkar which Ive done in the book together with various other tendencies such as Zionism.

But its not only Savarkar whos doing this, right? Theres a whole galaxy of Indian leaders, right from Nehru to Jinnah, taking off from the Enlightenment. In your book, you quote Dostoyevsky, who underlined a tragic dilemma: of a society that assimilates European ways through every pore only to realise it could never be truly European. Is there anything that can be done to break this dilemma?The short answer would be a pessimistic one: that there is no way to break this. Because once we make that original break from pre-modern/rural/traditional society, break away from belief in god, from belief in a horizon that was defined by transcendental authorities, once you stop living in that world, then you are condemned to finding substitute gods. And the national community and the nation state has been that substitute god or transcendental authority for hundreds and millions of people for the last two hundred years.

And one reason it endures even though in many ways the nation state has lost its sovereign power after being undermined by globalisation is that as an emotional and psychological symbol, and as a way to define the transcendental horizon, the nation state is still unbeatable. So once we make that basic move away from the pre-modern modes of life into this modern, industrialised, urbanised mode of existence, we have basically embarked on a journey where theres no turning back. Theres no breaking out of that.

Where do you situate Modi on this scale?I think Modi is an interesting case. Hes not only someone who incarnates the tendencies that we identify with Savarkar who is a model for Modi but also mirrors many contemporary tendencies which one can identify with a sort of aspirational neoliberalism. The man from nowhere who makes it big: thats the story that Modi has tried to sell about himself. That hes the son of a chaiwallah who has overcome all kinds of adversity including violent, vicious attacks from the countrys English-speaking elites who wanted to bring him down but failed. And he has overcome all these challenges to become who he is. And he invites his followers to do the same.

So, in that sense, he not only is a Hindu nationalist in the old manner of thinking of India as primarily a country of Hindus and as a community of Hindus which needs to define itself very carefully by excluding various foreigners, but also someone who is in tune with the ideological trends of the last 30 years, which place a lot of premium on individual ambition and empowerment, not just collective endeavour. So he is a very curious and irresistible mix, as it turns out, of certain collectivist notions of salvation with a kind of intensified individualism.

You used a very interesting phrase there: aspirational neoliberalism. In the book, you use another term, neoliberal individualism. In my opinion, you take a negative opinion of this sort of individualism. Could you tell us what neoliberal individualism is, how is it different from, say, Enlightenment individualism and why are you taking a negative view of it.Individualism really is synonymous with modernity, which is all about individual autonomy and reason. The most important difference is that the previous forms of individualism had certain constraining factors. There would be religion, the nation state, the larger collective.

When [Alexis de] Tocqueville goes to America and begins to describe individualism at work in the worlds first democratic society, he is aware that all of this is made possible because religion is a very important factor. There are many intermediate institutions there to mediate between individuals and the larger reality of society. So these factors were extremely important for individualism to actually work properly.

What neoliberal individualism proposes, though, is essentially that we dont actually need these intermediaries. It buys into a kind of extreme libertarian fantasy of the kind we see people like Peter Theil [co-founder of PayPal and vocal Trump supporter] expressing. Theyre saying, we dont need government, we dont need collective endeavour of any kind, we dont really need notions of collective welfare, general welfare or common good.

They believe individuals pursuing their self-interest can create a common good. And the marketplace would be where these individual desires and needs could be miraculously harmonised. So its a kind of mysticism, really, neoliberal individualism. It basically argues that we dont need any constraining factors. We do not need any intermediate institutions of the kind Tocqueville argued for in America. Neoliberal individualism says, all we really need is individual initiative, individual energy, individual dynamism and, of course, individual aspiration. So this is how neoliberal individualism is different from previous forms of individualism.

It is interesting that you mention Peter Theil, a major supporter of Trump. Is neoliberal individualism then powering Trump?Well, no. Thats the thing. There are many contradictory elements in this mix. To go back to Modi, he comes from a party which has as part of its extended family the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The Manch believes in Swadeshi but Modi wants to attract foreign investment.

I think we have to start thinking of a world where archaisms, modernity, post-modernity all exist simultaneously yet differently. You can think of it as different territories. Trump can therefore mobilise a whole lot of disaffected individuals who have believed in the neoliberal ideology and have felt themselves victimised by various technocratic elites and attract a figure like Theil, who claims to be a libertarian, and at the same believe that economic protectionism is the way to go.

I think there are many different contradictory tendencies that have come together to produce events or personalities like Donald Trump and Modi. I think if we were to follow this old analytic method of either/or we would miss many of these contradictory aspects of modern politics and economics. In the same way, Erdoan mixed in neoliberalism with Islamism and Putin mixed in Orthodox Christianity with Russian Eurasianism. There are all kinds of mixtures on offer.

The central argument being that they correspond to the acute, inner divisions of human beings. Of people wanting individual power, expansion and at the same time wanting identity, longing and a sense of community. So this is, in a way, a little snapshot of where we are a kind of endless transition.

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Age of Anger: A History of the Present, Pankaj Mishra, Juggernaut Books.

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Biography examines political motivations of Montaigne | UChicago … – UChicago News

Posted: at 4:02 am

Prof. Philippe Desan has spent most of his academic career studying the life and work of French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne. When he set out to write his definitive biography, Montaigne: A Life, Desan intended to complete the image of Montaigne as a great philosopher, but also a shrewd politician.

The biography is really meant to balance our perception of Montaigne today, said Desan, the Howard L. Willett Professor in Romance Languages andLiteratures.

The English translation of Desans landmark 2014 French edition book was published in January by Princeton University Press. Montaigne the author was created in the 19th century, but there was a much more political motivation for Montaigne to use his book to play the political cards he had in mind at the time, Desan said.

That book was Montaignes Essays, a collection of writings first published in 1580 that reflected on a variety of topics including war, government and even cannibalism. Often regarded as one of the most important thinkers of his time, Montaigne fell out of style in the age of rationalism and reason in the 17th and 18th centuries. His popularity exploded in the 19th century as Romantic writers like Emerson and Nietzsche embraced the imagination of Montaignes writing and the image of the solitary philosopher, locked away in his tower.

That myth, however, eschewed a major aspect of his life, Desan said.

Montaigne was the mayor of Bordeaux for four years, which is the fifth-largest city in France in the 16th century, Desan said. Its a big deal, and people have historically underplayed that in order to see him as the first intellectual removed from the world contemplating the human condition.

Desan said that Montaigne purposefully cultivated that image late in his lifebuilt on the ruins of his political ambitions, and embraced by thinkers who chose to ignore the earlier aspects of his life.

Shortly after the first edition ofEssays was published, Montaigne retreated to Rome, which most scholars have attributed to the need for a vacation. But Desan discovered during archival research in Bordeaux, Prigueux, Paris and Rome that Montaignes trip had real political motivations.

This is a totally absurd conception, Desan said about the idea that Montaigne was tired and needed a break. I found documents that he went to Paris to give his book to the king, and he begged the king to give him a position in Rome. He went to Rome waiting to be named ambassador. That fell through, and Montaigne was recalled to Bordeaux to become the mayor, which was a consolation prize.

In 2015, lAcadmie Franaise honored Desan for his scholarship on Montaigne. Reviews for his new book have appeared in The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal, and the book topped Amazons bestseller list for French literature. While some have been critical of what is perceived as Desans effort at disenchantment, which Desan said misses the point of the biography.

I like Montaigne a lot, Im not bashing on Montaigne, Desan said. I tried to show the evolution of Montaigne.

Montaigne scholars have praised Desans biography for illuminating the complete picture of the writer. Philippe Desans biography offers a refreshing corrective to thosethat have underplayed [Montaignes] political activities and aspirations, said Richard Scholar, professor of medieval and modern languages at the University of Oxford.

Desans next project will pick up where this book ends and will look more closely at the myth created in the 19th century of Montaigne the isolated author. As for todays world, Desan thinks he knows what Montaigne the politician would recommend.

Skepticism about everything, Desan said. Certainly he doesnt make the mistake of having only one point of view for everything. Hes always trying to go to the other side and see himself from the others eyes. I think this is the great lesson of Montaigne that might be helpful today.

Desan will discuss Montaigne: A Life at an April 5 event at the Seminary Co-op bookstore.

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Arrival – slantmagazine

Posted: February 17, 2017 at 1:07 am

Denis Villeneuve is a filmmaker torn between the figurative and the literal, who’s drawn to emotional subjects (frequently the death of children) which he dramatizes with a mathematical painter’s eye. There’s poetry in his films, far more than one’s accustomed to finding in mainstream American cinema, but this poetry is often corralled to serve a pat purpose. One senses Villeneuve’s consciousness of this constraining tendency and his eagerness to break free of it, such as in Enemy, which strives to be free-wheeling and hallucinatory, achieving these qualities only in fussy dribs and drabs. It’s logical in this context, then, that Villeneuve would make a film featuring an artist-type and a rationalist, as they embody the dueling tendencies of his sensibility.

Adapted from Ted Chiang’s short story The Story of Your Life, Arrival is about Earth’s first encounter with extraterrestrials. At the beginning of the film, 12 half-spherical metal craftswhich suggest the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey if it were shaped like a skinny egghover above major countries, inviting us to discern their intentions. The narrative is set on the American site of contact in Montana, where the United States military has recruited Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist, and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a mathematician, to decode sounds that could be alien speech. A telling bit of dialogue encapsulates how Louise and Ian respectively approach this mind-bending opportunity: Louise claims that language, which is somewhat open to interpretation, is the foundation of civilization, while Ian counters that society owes its existence to theoretically more concrete science. With this contrast between intuition and rationalism established, Louise and Ian venture into a great unknown oft plumbed by science fiction and horror films.

Of course, aliens have been visiting Earth in the movies nearly since the inception of cinema, and mediocre filmmakers, viewing tropes merely as tropes, often forget to evoke the unimaginable awesomeness and terror of actual alien contact. By exhilarating contrast, Villeneuve painstakingly communicates the aliens’ alien-ness. Louise and Ian’s first exposure to the spaceship isn’t tossed off as an inciting incident, but used as fodder for a set piece that suggests a merging of Steven Spielberg’s sense of wonder and Stanley Kubrick’s propensity for sinister visual symmetry.

Louise and Ian’s ascension into the spaceship, where they will speak with the aliens, involves an intoxicatingly immersive procedure that allows audiences to grasp, step by step, the characters’ transition from the realm of the mundane to that of the fantastic. Obsessive tracking shots follow a lift that bridges the distance from the ground to the entrance of the craft, which opens every 18 hours when the aliens are ready to convene. (This meeting time is signaled, in the military camp, by an ominous, pulsating horn that’s reminiscent of the blaring sound effects from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.)

Louise and Ian enter the ship, lose gravity, and proceed to stroll straight up a bare, surreally vertical passageway that suggests a hallway in a chic museum. Eventually they reach the aliens, who live in a tank of fog and resemble giant, standing squid and sound, poignantly, like whales. It takes only a few of these visits for the wounded, empathetic Louise to broker a huge discovery: that the aliens have a written language, expressed by ink that shoots out of their tendrils, forming floating shapes suggestive of circular Rorschach ink blots.

These details are irresistible, as Arrival’s unusually interested in the process of communicationat least for a while. For instance, while Louise is using English as the bedrock of her negotiation with the aliens, the Chinese are utilizing the symbols of Mahjong, a competitive game that colors their dialogues with a degree of conflict that’s inherent in the chosen symbology, paralleling a test that Louise proffers to the American military at the beginning of the film. She tells the military to evaluate her rival for this job by asking him for the Sanskrit word for war. The rival produces a word that Louise interprets, presumably more truthfully, as a desire to trade cows. The point is that language shapes our conception of reality and vice versa. (One recalls a plot driving George Orwell’s 1984, in which a hunger for freedom is to be destroyed by obliterating the word itself.)

Louise may have an artist’s comfort with intuition, but she’s also a lonely academic locked in a prison of intellectuality, analyzing life to death from a distance (as Ian says, she’s more of a mathematician than she might care to admit). Louise yearns for transcendence, which she correctly discerns as a point of commonality with the aliens she observes. And what the aliens offer Louise and humankind at large is a revolutionary circular language which ushers forth a reality of simultaneity, free of distinctions of past, present, and future. At a stage in her life, Louise lost a daughter to a rare disease, a tragedy which Villeneuve visualizes in woozy, rueful shards of imagery that evoke The Tree of Life. At the film’s climax, we realize that the heartbreak of Louise’s family isn’t in her past, but her now visible future, and she plunges into it anyway, understanding something that’s often tough for highly rational introverts to grasp: that ecstasy is impossible without loss.

As staged by Villeneuve and acted by Adams and Renner, this is all quite movingso moving, in fact, that it might take one a little while to discern that Arrival has neatly wedded the pacifist message of Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still with the three-hanky bombast of any melodrama with a dead child or alienated professional at its center. For all of the film’s considerable craftsmanship, one keeps tripping on the pop-cultural derivations and signposts. At times, Villeneuve suggests M. Night Shyamalan without the neurosis and self-consciousness.

Abandoned somewhere in Arrival’s third act is the interest in language as the fabric of our reality, as the catalyst for the blossoming of Louise’s new existence as she becomes a woman without time, a potential new Billy Pilgrim. The film ends just as it’s revving up, then, evading the formidable formalist challenge of breaking the barriers of beginnings and endings, causes and effects. Louise may find freedom, or a new prison, but the ramifications of that freedom are unimagined as anything other than a superficially uplifting punchline. Villeneuve is a near-visionary who can’t break free of formula.

The image’s blacks and browns are rich and varied, and the silvery autumnal tones that dominate Arrival are sharp. Details are appropriately subtle for a film that’s so occupied with tactile textures. Minute facial specifics are detectable (one can make out the nearly colorless hair high on characters’ cheeks), and grace notes abound, such as the interplay of the various shades of white light in the alien fog. The soundtracks, particularly the English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, offer plenty of requisite genre-movie bombast (like the bass-y approach of the spaceships) while preserving the fragile intricacy of the flutes and wood instruments that bolster the sonic bridging and rhyming of the score and sound editing. A gorgeous and attentive transfer.

The extrashereare strikingly sincere, offering an earnest portrait of gifted artists seeking to carve out their own niche in the speculative science-fiction genre. Five featurettes cover a variety of topics: the film’s inception, the sound design, the score, the editing, and a brief overview of the principles of time, memory, and language that drive the narrative. There are particularly choice bits with composer Jhann Jhannsson recording and manipulating choral voices, while claiming that he wanted to use vocals in the score to bridge the music with the film’s thematic emphasis on communication. The editor, Joe Walker, discusses the film’s tricky editing rhythms, particularly the honing required to coherently land that third-act twist. Ted Chiang, the author of Arrival’s source material, “The Story of Your Life,” discusses the concept of linearity, and the idea that the past, present, and future all already exist. Correspondingly, Chiang discusses the impetus of his story and his drive to explore the question of what a human would do if they knew their future and couldn’t change it due to the potential laws of physics. (This is a nuance that’s regrettably marginalized in Arrival, which implies that the heroine’s refusal to alter her life is a conscious, life-affirming act of bravery.) Like everyone else interviewed here, Chiang is passionate and erudite, offering thoughts that expand our understanding of the intentions driving Arrival.

Denis Villeneuve’s moving yet disappointingly cautious mind-bender is accorded a robustly beautiful transfer and surprisingly thoughtful supplements.

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Arrival – slantmagazine

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Americans ‘plain dumb’ – Hastings Tribune

Posted: at 1:07 am

After reading Saturdays Hastings Tribune featuring stories and letters about a Bigfoot conference, guns everywhere, a creepy Daddy/Daughter Date Night, media bias and some absurd political views, Ive come to the conclusion that many Americans are just plain dumb.

A recent Psychology Today article said Dumbness has been steadily defined lately, by a combination of irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video over print culture; a disjunction between Americans rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.

Yes, there has been a long tradition of anti-intellectualism in the U.S. Much of the reason is because of our declining state of education.

Im thankful we have a great learning environment here, including Hastings College, Central Community College-Hastings, and many scholarly public school teachers who place emphasis on science, research methodology and critical thinking.

Lets hope our teachers, friends and neighbors begin using their brains and the fad of increasing anti-intellectualism, now found in education, politics and business, and advanced by social media, is soon reversed and reflected in stories featured in the Tribune and elsewhere.

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Americans ‘plain dumb’ – Hastings Tribune

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‘Modi combines Savarkar and neoliberalism’: Pankaj Mishra on why this is the age of anger – Scroll.in

Posted: at 1:07 am

We live in a disorienting world. In West Asia, the Islamic State uses displays of cruelty and religious fanaticism as a propaganda tool. In large swathes of Europe, far right nationalism is rearing its head for the first time since after the defeat of fascism in World War II. The worlds only superpower, meanwhile, has a president elected to office on an explicit programme of racial and religious bigotry, attacking Muslims and non-White Americans in his campaign speeches.

And, of course, closer home in India, the ideology of Hindutva, which considers India to be a Hindu nation, grows ever stronger, assaulting Muslims and Dalits in its wake.

In his new book, intellectual Pankaj Mishra tries to explain this fury enveloping the world. Titled Age of Anger: A History of the Present, the work traces traces todays discontentment to the rapid changes of the 18th century, when modernity was shaped.

You say that the enlightenment gave rise to some irresistible ideals: a rationalistic, egalitarian and universalising society in which men shaped their own lives. So why do so many people disagree with the way in which you see the enlightenment? Youve shown it to be a very positive thing. So how are, say, Islamists looking at it differently? Why do they disagree?Well, I am not sympathetic to their critique and I am not sure that theyre directly critiquing the Enlightenment rather than the consequences of the kind of thinking introduced by the Enlightenment philosophers in the late 18th century. And lets be careful here: many of the consequences werent anticipated by these philosophers themselves.

What they were talking about was a polity. And for them a polity was the church and then the monarchy. And they thought individuals could use reason since there had been enough scientific breakthroughs, enough revelations about the nature of reality out there. They did not need intermediaries like the church to tell us what to think about the world, what to think about reality. We could use our individual reason to construct our own worlds essentially and shape society. That was the fundamental message they had. They had no idea what would happen in the 19th century.

What happened in the 19th century was something very different: large nation-states came into being, the process of industrialisation started, the use of individual reason expanded, science took off, all kind of new technologies came into being, and large political and economic webs were built.

The Islamist critique of that would be: too much responsibility for shaping the world was placed upon the extremely fallible minds and sensibilities of the human individual. That this was going against centuries of custom, tradition and history. Human beings had always been seen as being very frail and weak creatures who needed some kind of constraint and that was the role of traditional religion.

Religion reminded humans being of the severe limitations that life imposes on everyone. Whereas the promise of freedom and emancipation sets off all kinds of unpredictable processes that result in actually more oppression and more pain.

So that would be or has been the modern critique of the Enlightenment which is shared by a pretty broad spectrum of people, not just the Islamists. Mahatma Gandhi himself voiced many of these critiques of modern science, modern industry and the modern nation-state. You have to remember that Rabindranath Tagore himself expressed those critiques. So we also have to look at these other critics of Enlightenment rationalism.

You go into some detail in describing Savarkar in the book. In many ways, a very good argument could be made that Savarkar was a rationalist. He said Hindus should eat beef, for example. How does a Savarkar then map to the more modern forms of Indian conservatism? How do you go from Savarkar to the current-day gau rakshak?I think Savarkar is essentially a child of Enlightenment rationalism despite all the claims made for an unbroken Hindu tradition. The important thing to note about the Savarkar variety of Hindu nationalism is that it is deeply European and deeply modern. Which was one reason why Gandhi was so opposed to it. He said this was the rule of Englishmen with the English in his book Hind Swaraj.

So Savarkar does not partake of a critique of the Enlightenment. He, in fact, in very much a product of 19th century Europe, which advances Enlightenment rationalism in unexpected directions. He starts to think of a national community of like-minded individuals. He starts to think of a past which can be recruited by the present, that can be deployed politically. Savarkar subscribes to everyone of these political tendencies which are elaborated most prominently by [Giuseppe] Mazzini. So he comes out of that particular tradition.

So this whole reverence for figures and symbols from the past which the gau rakshak seems to manifest is a total 19th century fantasy. People did not think of the past in that way before that century. The past was very deliberately enlisted into a nationalist project. Every nationalist and I write this in the book had made some sort of a claim upon the past, made some sort of connection.

We are now looking at history as a series of ruptures and new beginnings. In Savarkars case, the rupture would be the Muslim invasion of India. Thats also the case for [VS] Naipaul. That was the big rupture that violates the wholeness of the Hindu past. And now we are invested in a new beginning, which is the revival of Hindu glory.

This whole way of looking at time, of looking at human agency and identity is a product of the European 19th century. And thats where Savarkar should be placed. I think we spend too much time comparing him to the Germans and the Italians of the 1930s. I think we should go back and look at the 19th century more closely. And also look at Savarkar which Ive done in the book together with various other tendencies such as Zionism.

But its not only Savarkar whos doing this, right? Theres a whole galaxy of Indian leaders, right from Nehru to Jinnah, taking off from the Enlightenment. In your book, you quote Dostoyevsky, who underlined a tragic dilemma: of a society that assimilates European ways through every pore only to realise it could never be truly European. Is there anything that can be done to break this dilemma?The short answer would be a pessimistic one: that there is no way to break this. Because once we make that original break from pre-modern/rural/traditional society, break away from belief in god, from belief in a horizon that was defined by transcendental authorities, once you stop living in that world, then you are condemned to finding substitute gods. And the national community and the nation state has been that substitute god or transcendental authority for hundreds and millions of people for the last two hundred years.

And one reason it endures even though in many ways the nation state has lost its sovereign power after being undermined by globalisation is that as an emotional and psychological symbol, and as a way to define the transcendental horizon, the nation state is still unbeatable. So once we make that basic move away from the pre-modern modes of life into this modern, industrialised, urbanised mode of existence, we have basically embarked on a journey where theres no turning back. Theres no breaking out of that.

Where do you situate Modi on this scale?I think Modi is an interesting case. Hes not only someone who incarnates the tendencies that we identify with Savarkar who is a model for Modi but also mirrors many contemporary tendencies which one can identify with a sort of aspirational neoliberalism. The man from nowhere who makes it big: thats the story that Modi has tried to sell about himself. That hes the son of a chaiwallah who has overcome all kinds of adversity including violent, vicious attacks from the countrys English-speaking elites who wanted to bring him down but failed. And he has overcome all these challenges to become who he is. And he invites his followers to do the same.

So, in that sense, he not only is a Hindu nationalist in the old manner of thinking of India as primarily a country of Hindus and as a community of Hindus which needs to define itself very carefully by excluding various foreigners, but also someone who is in tune with the ideological trends of the last 30 years, which place a lot of premium on individual ambition and empowerment, not just collective endeavour. So he is a very curious and irresistible mix, as it turns out, of certain collectivist notions of salvation with a kind of intensified individualism.

You used a very interesting phrase there: aspirational neoliberalism. In the book, you use another term, neoliberal individualism. In my opinion, you take a negative opinion of this sort of individualism. Could you tell us what neoliberal individualism is, how is it different from, say, Enlightenment individualism and why are you taking a negative view of it.Individualism really is synonymous with modernity, which is all about individual autonomy and reason. The most important difference is that the previous forms of individualism had certain constraining factors. There would be religion, the nation state, the larger collective.

When [Alexis de] Tocqueville goes to America and begins to describe individualism at work in the worlds first democratic society, he is aware that all of this is made possible because religion is a very important factor. There are many intermediate institutions there to mediate between individuals and the larger reality of society. So these factors were extremely important for individualism to actually work properly.

What neoliberal individualism proposes, though, is essentially that we dont actually need these intermediaries. It buys into a kind of extreme libertarian fantasy of the kind we see people like Peter Theil [co-founder of PayPal and vocal Trump supporter] expressing. Theyre saying, we dont need government, we dont need collective endeavour of any kind, we dont really need notions of collective welfare, general welfare or common good.

They believe individuals pursuing their self-interest can create a common good. And the marketplace would be where these individual desires and needs could be miraculously harmonised. So its a kind of mysticism, really, neoliberal individualism. It basically argues that we dont need any constraining factors. We do not need any intermediate institutions of the kind Tocqueville argued for in America. Neoliberal individualism says, all we really need is individual initiative, individual energy, individual dynamism and, of course, individual aspiration. So this is how neoliberal individualism is different from previous forms of individualism.

It is interesting that you mention Peter Theil, a major supporter of Trump. Is neoliberal individualism then powering Trump?Well, no. Thats the thing. There are many contradictory elements in this mix. To go back to Modi, he comes from a party which has as part of its extended family the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The Manch believes in Swadeshi but Modi wants to attract foreign investment.

I think we have to start thinking of a world where archaisms, modernity, post-modernity all exist simultaneously yet differently. You can think of it as different territories. Trump can therefore mobilise a whole lot of disaffected individuals who have believed in the neoliberal ideology and have felt themselves victimised by various technocratic elites and attract a figure like Theil, who claims to be a libertarian, and at the same believe that economic protectionism is the way to go.

I think there are many different contradictory tendencies that have come together to produce events or personalities like Donald Trump and Modi. I think if we were to follow this old analytic method of either/or we would miss many of these contradictory aspects of modern politics and economics. In the same way, Erdoan mixed in neoliberalism with Islamism and Putin mixed in Orthodox Christianity with Russian Eurasianism. There are all kinds of mixtures on offer.

The central argument being that they correspond to the acute, inner divisions of human beings. Of people wanting individual power, expansion and at the same time wanting identity, longing and a sense of community. So this is, in a way, a little snapshot of where we are a kind of endless transition.

Age of Anger: A History of the Present, Pankaj Mishra, Juggernaut Books.

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‘Modi combines Savarkar and neoliberalism’: Pankaj Mishra on why this is the age of anger – Scroll.in

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