No Ideologues...

Physics, Religion and Dogged Affiliations

Rana Bose

I will begin by saying that I have not known any of my close political friends dramatically switch sides from a left perspective to a right, although quite a few have been disillusioned enough to settle down to an extreme-centre perspective. Where is this difficult dilemma of being re-energised in this complex world of in-between-ness taking us?

In this essay I am going to avoid using quotations or refer to studies—philosophical, academic or historic documents and complex footnotes. This is because, during the pandemic and before, there has been a tendency to discover the words of sages, scientists, poets and philosophers to make a case for opposite sides of the argument based on both libertarian self-centeredness or hoodlum class-ism and digging up historical situations, as if in the debris of history lies the truth. This has become infinitely boring. History is debris. You only learn historical snapshots, but you cannot ever find a replication of a historical moment in the present or into the future. It is also a vindication of how attempts at winning arguments, even discretely and politely, reflect existing unconscious partisan affiliations. Making arguments for one side or the other has become a lazy exercise, especially in this era of social media frenzy and then go on to assume scornful, mocking positions behind a one-hundred-year-and fifty-year-old quote from Karl Marx, two statistical curves and three irrelevant quotes from Sagan, Tagore, Luxemburg, Martov or Brecht.

This is also not an essay on the intricacies of economic analyses, political power structures, global capital, reserve currency, geo-politics, wars and macroeconomic manipulations to stave off economic collapses. Nor is this about the history of colonisation or post-colonial philosophy. This is really about the growth of a post-Gramscian, post-Cold War era of paralysis. Where, a “no-matter-what” argumentativeness, that relies on entrenched affiliations based on decades of indoctrination, decades of blind affiliation to one book by Deutscher, one essay by Marx, repetitive invocation of the impact of inaccurate and false-flag incidents, or the contemporary effect of paid bots twittering away, have left their mark. Very simply—the uninformed, bigoted yes-but-ers, from both sides of the left and right spectrum, have triumphed. And they are a large population indeed.

And can we smash through this imbroglio and re-find our bearings?

No Temples, No Churches, No Mosques, No Synagogues, No Ideologues….

I have chosen to write about how my own mental processes have evolved and unfolded or changed from the time of my student years till now, when I am in my seventies. It takes a lot; stumbling is life-giving, although the pain and injuries can be bloody. I am old enough, to firmly assert that I have changed my mind on certain affiliations and have realised how my conscienti-sation process was unfortunately always based on binary dichotomies. Many things have come up lately, in discussions with friends and they all point to an unfortunate sense of binarisation or a somewhat lazy affiliation to the concept of “Ah! That is good! Or, Ah! That is bad! Knew it would happen!”Simplistic affiliativeness. It becomes a case of archaic intellectual suicide… and I consider myself lucky, that I have passed that stage—where taking sides or simply supporting a “side” without a detailed study of all aspects, is naivety and somewhat akin to supporting your favourite super league football team. China Bad! Russia Bad! India Great! Ukraine Ok! Putin terrible! Europe is hypocritical! Modi-ji is great! The entire history of post-colonial India must be rewritten. Jaishankar makes more sense than Biden! And what a charmer Tharoor is! This is such a religious, sycophantic, binary swamp! Everyone is up to tricks, up to games, distractions. In fact, it is not even a roll of the dice. India knows how to play the game! A card has two sides only. So, what is to be done, really?

There came a period in the sixties and onwards, of reading it all in books and blogs on science, political debates, philosophy and history; but things changed, as one neared retirement. Of course, inherent to that process of acquisition of knowledge there have been physical experiences, as well—but not like the apple falling from the tree and bonking Newton on the head straight; and why did it not follow a curved path and then there is Archimedes, the mathematician, running out of his bath tub, screaming Eureka… when he realised the theory of buoyancy, displacement and volume—these are not what I am sticking to as necessary encounters that we must all have to become knowledgeable. With great respect to all physicists from the era of Newton, General theory of Relativity and Quantum theory, I am not going to practise walking into a Gyproc wall to convince myself that it exists. That is done with! It is of applied value. But one does have close physical encounters and knowledge does get enhanced; but the question is, does one change one’s mind as a result? Does one change one’s affiliations? Because changing one’s mind and then changing one’s affiliations is really a quantum leap of consciousness. Do physical encounters change our consciousness?

So, the starting point for more and more of my friends has been to acquire basic knowledge, most often through conscious study. From childhood till now. And that knowledge has not been acquired in temples, in churches or anywhere else where religion is offered as the basis of knowledge. That I am done with. Not Temples, not Churches, not Mosques, not Synagogues. Religious texts could be another matter. They have to do with a hodge-podge of conjecture, combined even with enormous study of materialist phenomena, cosmology, astronomy and the introduction of estrangement from materialism and some kind of hibernation and physical/mental isolation. To me formal religious practice is a massive construct to explain and codify or justify the need to structure society into the good, the bad, the ugly, the stupid, the useless, the wise, the foolish, the underclass, the upper class, the natural leader, the producers, the middlemen, the reapers and the rulers and the ruled. Every religion has carried out this task, with singular mendacity. This does not mean that every religious leader or person is evil. In fact, some religious edicts and religious leaders have provided the most extraordinary insights for human liberation. The emergence of thrall and transcendentalism was not always meant to be ignored; the possibilities of intermediate complexities and even chaos that is not resting on Cartesian coordinates but on cloudy intermediate possibilities that hover for a while and then change as the social reality changes, are a challenge to certain European over-deductive reasoning systems. It is a separate subject, but it should not raise alarms bells.

I remember, as a child, I decided to stand up on a rocking chair, leaning on the back rest and the chair toppled over. I landed on my forehead and for months I had two bumps on my forehead. It taught me many things and I had not yet been introduced to physics and when I grew up to learn physics, I did learn about mass, weight, centre of gravity and of course gravitation. So, Experience? Knowledge? Conscientisation. Not only did I stop standing up on a rocking chair, I chose to sit down firmly on it, when I could. But I still had not realised that conscientisation is not interchangeable with Conscience!

When the Police happen to beat you up, arrest you, charge you on false cases …as has been the case with many of my friends… perhaps when you are at a demonstration for the killing of Indigenous people and the judge or jury cherry-pick the evidence and your lawyer is unable to fight back always—then you learn about the police, the legal system, the prosecutor, the judge or the jury—you are Conscientised about the System and systemicity—and you do develop a Conscience about the Origins of the State, the scions who run it, how did they get there and the nature of property and the origins of the Money or Capital and how it is extracted from the producers who produce value and also the changing realities of neo-liberalism. Even neo-liberalism has evolved and is sweet talking about social democracy, now! Neo-liberalism is talking about minimum living wages! Why did welfare capitalism start failing, some ask? These questions need to be discussed. As in the period of Slavery and the Settler Colonial economy—the Reagan-Thatcher era spawned the Globalisation period, introduced Slave labour elsewhere—bringing direct labour costs to near zero! Pretty profound impact I would say and the basis of the creation of a wannabe class between the haves and the have -nots. And if that population is verging towards 250 million, at least in India, it is definitely a physical and mental obstacle to enabling democracy for the 90% who do not see it and do not experience it—as far as living wages, housing, education and food go. Commodity fetishism and consumerism has taken a firm root in the conscientisation process, no doubt. But the business of compensation by a neo-liberal state has also been taken up with substantial effect. What exactly is this causing, for those who believe only in the inevitability of class struggle?

So, one must explore where we get our affiliations from and where do we get our Conscience? Is it a sense of justice, ethics, morality—that is inborn? Is it a sense of taking sides based on what one has acquired as knowledge? Or, have we all succumbed to a sense of “common prosperity,” when the level of absolute property hovers around 30 to 60% in most countries!

Could knowledge be influenced by inter-generational conflicts and rebellious hand me downs? In the sixties and for that matter several generations back as well, this was clearly demonstrated. Breaking out of parental conservatism had been quite prevalent. In this day and age pure conservativism has been replaced by a libertarian sense of freedom and knowledge is increasingly in the realm of warped hand-me-downs—worshipped by wanna-bes—based on misinformation, contrived and repeated; the basis of knowledge, the basis of developing affiliations, the basis of taking binary positions is handed down. And increasingly it develops into a mindset that cannot be changed. Self-doubt is suppressed and the capability to question oneself as to the authenticity of the news is becoming too difficult and one starts following and reading only what ones to like to read and what one feels comfortable with.

That is one reason why we have reached a point where the concept of multipolarity, although very quickly identified as a Russian/Chinese geopolitical chess move, is actually rooted in a non-binary, non-orthodox and non-tribal affiliation to history. That is why our past affiliations to a single correct line, a single leading organisation, a single definition of the stages of social change—invariably evolved out of the deductive reasoning of Francis Bacon or Charles Darwin—must itself evolve. Not everything has been written in the classic volumes we have devoured for so long. It is unwritten in the contemporary social media context. Chaotic slivers of brilliant ideas float around and mobilise new broad alliances for social change.

[Rana Bose is a retired professional engineer and author.]

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Vol 55, No. 14-17, Oct 2 - 29, 2022