Saturday, 22 October 2016

Prashant Keshavmurthy on Bedil's cow killing Brahmin.

Prashant Keshamurthy has written a thought provoking article about this couplet from Bedil
qatl-e arbāb-e havas bar ahl-e dil makrūh nīst
gar ba khūn-e gāv sāzad birhaman zunnār surkh

which I (very superficially!) translate as follows-
Killing of the Lords of Lust, for the people of the heart, is neither misguided nor a must
 If the like minded Brahmin, by the slaughter of kine, his sacred thread incarnadine.

Dil means heart, 'be-dil' would be 'without a heart'- i.e. a lover far gone upon its pilgrim path. Bedil took his takhallus (pen-name) from a line in the Gulistan which says 'be dil az be nishan cheh garid baz' (what should a man without a heart (a lover) say about the one who leaves no sign (God)'? The 'ahl-e-dil', the 'people of the heart' have not reached this stage of apophatic gnosis because their hearts remain with them though they already wish otherwise. They are like (Indians, even in English!, use 'if' not as a strict conditional but as a looser connective) the ritualistic Brahmin who has not yet slain his sacred cow and thus remains a captive of delusive Duality. What should they do?

Qatl means killing.  Arbaab-e-havas means the Masters of 'havas' which, in poetry, generally means the overpowering longing for union- sexual or mystic- which, precisely because it is overpowering, is subject to a sort of Dialectical irony and reversal such that death on the path to the beloved becomes something to be more strongly sought for than even sexual union as in the Hubb al Udhri tradition enshrined in stories like Laylah & Majnun or even (in my view), Devdas & Parvati.

Bedil himself wrote a more optimistic, 'liberal' (jadidi), archetypal romance- the basis of the Tajik opera Komde va Madan- and so 'havas', in his acceptation, has greater plasticity precisely because of his Akhbari imaginal power and philosophical depth.
By contrast, Iqbal- who appreciated Bedil and invoked Akhbari barzakh, but whose belatedly bidungsburgertum proclivity was of a decidedly philologically underpowered or psilosophically paranoid, or nihilistically Nietzchean, cast- could write-
Majnoon Ne Sheher Chora Tu Sehra Bhi Chor De
Nazare Ki Hawas Ho To Laila Bhi Chor De

Majnun quit the Town, quit thou thy Sahara too
Desert that very Lailah, Desire burns to but view
(The word 'Majnoon' means mad and refers to Qais, a pre-Islamic Sun worshiper, who loved Laylah (her name means Night). Heine has a poem on the Banu Udhra.)
Bedil, however, in one of his most famous couplets, offered a different resolution to the Udhri hajj to an incompossible havas-
Ba hazār kūcha dawīdam-am, ba tasallī narasidam-am
Zī qad khamida shinīda-am, kī chū halqa shud ba darī rasad

No talker reached tranquility, through a thousand streets running, ten thousand more to explore

Till I heard from an elder, who turns into a ring reaches, as its knocker, her door.

I have said 'havas' is that ever mounting yearning for Union- though Eros and Thanatos change places. However, in ordinary parlance, havas also means greed of a type which is not forbidden by religion but is 'makruh'- i.e. detestable or ill-judged because it arises from egotism, caprice, weakness of the will, a materialistic disposition etc.
In Turkish, there is an additional connotation of something fraudulent- including a type of self-deceit brought on by extreme passion. Thus a false pregnancy, claimed by a woman of the harem who is so desperate to become a mother that she herself believes she is with child would be termed 'havasak'. 
Clearly, extreme passion- whether it arise from lust or greed or self-aggrandisement- can result in behaviour which though not against the letter of the law is nevertheless 'makruh'- something to be avoided.
The problem we have is that our passions are what fuels our engagement in things which are necessary from the biological, social, economic and even political and philosophical point of view. How are we to place reins upon the ego within us which constantly pushes us onward, thus raising the risk that we go too far, while guarding against lapsing into apathy by reason of too repressive a curb placed upon one's instinctual drives or 'animal spirits'?
 Even if we scrupulously observe every article of the Law- Religious or Secular- still, many of our actions will be 'makruh'- detestable- because the Law does not cover every contingency nor can it, by reason of its generality, prescriptively regulate every inward state.
One apparent solution is to subject our passions to a punitive regime- an incessant self-flagellation- and then believe ourselves to be saved when these 'inner demons' appear to have been killed by our austerities.
However, this killing of something within us- though not against the letter of the Law- nevertheless may be 'makruh'. Rather than becoming better people, we might present as self-righteous zealots and work a mischief within the commonwealth. Moreover, there is the problem of self-deceit. One who claims to slain all his inner demons, to have cut the throats of all his passions, to have converted to the true Religion even his daimon or Qarin, may be like the woman with a a hysterical pregnancy- merely  'havasak'- full off wind, not quick with child.

For spiritual personalities like Bedil, who himself underwent harsh austerities in youth, a mystical 'non-dual' philosophy enabled 'ahl-e-dil'- people of the heart- to walk a 'middle way' that was also the 'barzakh' or isthmus between two seas- one salt, one sweet- in which the power of the imagination was harnessed to the true soteriological logic of Creation which unfolds through paradox and bewilderment.

Turning to the second line of Bedil's couplet- which, Keshavmurthy says, makes the condign killing of one's inner demon of lust or egotism conditional upon an oxymoron- viz. the existence of a Brahmin who kills cows (we might say, a Chief Rabbi who eats pork, or an Ayatollah who gets drunk, or a Pope who sodomises Donald Trump on Fox News)- we are initially tempted to think that Bedil is prescribing an antinomian course a la Omar Khayyam.
After all, it is not even permissible to pray that one's Qarin (daimon, the inner voice which counsels bad actions) to be converted to Islam- how much greater is the sin of trying to kill this indwelling creature which the Creator has specifically licensed to torment you!
If Bedil himself had been a wine-bibber, not a spiritual savant and mystic genius, this would be an acceptable interpretation. We would say, 'Bedil is a malamati Sufi. He is saying 'why struggle against your passions? Society would only consider it not 'makruh'- abominable- to slay that portion of yourself if the Brahmin slays his own Holy Cow!'

This raises the question, under what circumstances would a Brahmin kill a cow? When would a Rabbi eat pork or an Ayatollah get drunk? Leaving aside simple mistake or mental infirmity, there are three possible answers
1)  a direct command by the Creator- e.g. Abraham must kill his son. Notice that there was at least one other Semitic community where this practice was not makruh. God didn't say to Ishmael, sodomise your Dad, as Ham did with Noah. Also, tear his dick off while giving him a reach-around.
Though there is a Talmudic source for this notion, no such command has ever been granted divine legitimacy. The thing is too bizarrely distasteful.
2) exigent circumstances . Here an equitable exception to the rule is granted based on a consequentialist calculus. Thus a Rabbi may eat pork if it averts a holocaust of his people; an Ayatollah, in the absence of any other anaesthetic, may get drunk on brandy so that a life-saving medical operation can be performed.
3) legalistic compulsion.  An over scrupulous Brahmin may slaughter a cow, in the hope of gaining Heaven, relying upon an religious injunction in his Revealed Scripturem but this action, in Bedil's India, would be 'makruh' by 'common knowledge' and also illegal under many secular jurisdictions then obtaining- Hindu or Muslim.
Interestingly, in Bedil's native Patna, the learned Brahmins point to Rishi Kapila's refusal to entertain the piteously pedantic plea of a cow (actually controlled by another Rishi named Syumarashmi) to be sacrificed in accordance with Shruti (Revealation). The context is Nahusha- a mortal King, exemplary in legalistic Justice- gaining the throne of Heaven through an election necessitated by a crime committed by Indra, the Indian Zeus. Nahusha's lust causes him to demand sexual union with Indrani- Heaven's Queen. She enlists upa-shruti (rumour but also what Jews know as 'bat kol') to topple the new King who rose by his legalistic adherence to Shruti. Interestingly, it is Nahusha's refusal to deny that cow-slaughter is required by Scripture which is highlighted in the story of his fall.
Still, cow slaughter is not the real issue here. Nahusha falls because, though his actions were legal in the sense of conforming with indefeasible Revelation, they overshot the mark (hamartia) by reason of ungovernable lust or egotism thus triggering his own downfall.
All legalistic traditions understand that proceeding on the basis of Revealed, or otherwise indefeasible, Texts involves what Sir Edward Coke called 'artificial reason'. Thus, even if 'the wisest fool in Christendom' had a superior 'rational' argument, it is inadmissible. In Economic jargon, we say say 'agenda control' has to be endogenous to prevent McKelvey chaos. Moreover, this 'artificial reason' must be applied only in a dispassionate and impartial spirit.
Similarly the Sanhedrin barred 'bat kol'- the voice from Heaven- because any system of reasoning based on indefeasible prescription must be protocol bound. Even if the All High directly confirm an argument that appeals to our rationality or our passions, it must be rejected because both our intellect and our passions, being raw and imperfect, can lead us astray.

Notice that in every case listed above, though the action in question may be legal or even obligatory in context, it still remains 'makruh'. At first blush, it might appear that Bedil is saying, killing the 'arbaab-e-havas'- our own Lordly desires- is abominable no matter what Scripture or esoteric Soteriology enjoins. However, this is not the case. Suppose Kapila & Syumarashmi had engaged in what Shantideva calls the quickest and most efficacious of soteriological techniques- viz. paratman parivartana- i.e. they had swopped selves- then the Shrauta cow slaughter could have gone ahead without being 'makruh' or causing scandal. Why? Well, rather than a priest killing a helpless cow for a private benefit what we would be viewing would be something like 'informed consent' whereby a patient quite properly licenses a surgeon to do something which, from the ordinary point of view, would be the crime of mutilation. Here 'Dialogic' has created a new class of objects to which ordinary deontic logic does not apply- indeed, is reversed.
In plain language, setting aside the sort of immemorial esoteric soteriology Bedil imbibed in his youth in Shantideva's old stamping ground, the fact is 'people of the heart'- including Bedil's own ecumencial following- should 'put themselves in the other's shoes'. However, it must be said, ipseity and alterity feature differently here- for giving rise to a positive sum 'Dialogic'- than in the shrill Identity Politics of availability cascade based Academia.

 Keshavmurthy- perhaps part of a wider academic availability cascade based on a systematic and wholly stupid misprision of Sarah Strousma's 1985 essay on 'the Barahima and early Kalam'- ignores the fact that Bedil's Uncle chased away the Arabic Grammarians who turned up to teach the young prodigy- precisely because it is common knowledge that a proclivity for kalam type disputation is the hallmark of the meretricious sophist- in order to say something utterly false and foolish.
'the Brahman of the Persian literary imagination was continuous with the Brahman of the earliest texts of kalām or rational theology in Arabic, whether Muslim or Jewish. This Brahman was purely a debate opponent invoked by Muslim and Jewish theologians to defend the necessity of prophecy. These heresiarchs  presented him as a proponent of the sufficiency of human reason and thus of the redundancy of prophets. Sarah Stroumsa, a scholar of early Islamic-Jewish theology, has argued that early Muslim-Jewish theological debates were shaped by encounters with Brahmans and that these debates were conducted solely on the shared ground of logic, avoiding reference to theological doctrines specific to each side. The polemically simplified picture of the Brahman this left behind in the archive of early Muslim-Jewish heresiography was perhaps what allowed him to pass from theology into literature, where he congealed into a stock character'

If Keshavmurthy is correct then Bedil has used the word 'Brahman' as a proxy for the phrase 'a votary of Natural Law and the sufficiency of human reason'. Now, it may be that Keshamurthy, as a person of Hindu origin, believes that a reasoning human being would not slaughter a cow. Yet, this budding savant went to St. Stephens and J.N.U and  now lives and teaches in Canada- a country where plenty of reasoning human beings are involved in the slaughter of cattle. Speaking generally, no opprobrium attaches to their profession. Scarcely anyone considers their actions 'makruh'.

If Keshavmurthy believes that Bedil thought cow slaughter was repugnant to Natural Law and Human Reason he would need to produce evidence. Even if he could do so, he would be dismissed as a Hindutva crank because no argument current in Bedil's day would hold water today because of our greatly expanded Scientific knowledge base.
The curious thing is that he has published his article in The Wire- a left-leaning Indian webzine- which accuses Narendra Modi's Govt. of using the widespread Indian ban on beef to harass and oppress minorities. Is Keshavmurthy actually a closet Hindu supremacist slyly subverting The Wire's editorial policy?
I'm pretty sure the answer is no.
So what is actually going on?
Let us look at Keshavmurthy's text which I give in italics, my remarks being in bold
Among the many Persian literary incarnations of the recalcitrantly prophecy-denying monotheist Brahman, the subtlest by far are those of the great Persian language poet of Delhi and Patna, Abdul Qadir ‘Bedil’ (1644-1720).  Is the Brahmin 'recalcitrantly denying' any prophetic injunction in this couplet? He is shown as slaughtering a cow- an action conformable with the injunctions of every Prophet venerated by Islam. Moreover, in Keshamurthy's view, his performance of this action is the condition for 'slaying the Lords of Lust' being permissible. If the votary of 'natural reason' does the same thing as what the Prophets have enjoined it is an argument to follow Religious injunctions faithfully. Clearly, on this view, 'slaying the Lords of Lust' is a supererogatory duty enjoined by Religion.
If Keshavmurthy is correct than the meaning of Bedil's couplet would be 'Slay the Lords of Lust, oh People of the Heart! Look, even the stupid Hindu- if he rises up to the position of a true Brahman as the term is used in our Arabic and Persian literary tradition- even he will be seen slaughtering his Holy Cow! You are not stupid and ignorant like the Hindus. If Faith won't guide you, at least use your brain! Slay the 'Lords of Lust'! Do it now! 

Keshavmurthy, it must be said, applies a different meaning to 'havas' - viz. 'crazed lust or madness'. Unfortunately, in English, 'crazed lust' may be of a fetishistic sort- the lover may want to copulate with the shoe belonging to the object of his pursuit while wholly avoiding her presence. By contrast, in Persian, though 'havas' can be a cause of such madness, by itself it remains focused on Union. It is true, however, that physical Union may be sublated by something more perfect and metaphysical but Keshavmurthy is not interested in metaphysics or mystic soteriology.

Instead, Keshavmurthy offers this translation-
The killing of the crazed by the lover is not odious
If the Brahman stains his sacred thread crimson with cow’s blood.
Does this make any sense to an English speaking person? A lover can kill the crazed if the Brahman stains some thread of his with cow's blood? This isn't translation, it is crazy shit! How does our Professor justify writing such nonsense? 
His explanation is as follows-
The first line appears to permit the lover the killing of the crazed – here to be understood by ghazal convention as love-crazed – on the condition that the Brahman “stains his sacred thread crimson with cow’s blood”. But this is in fact an absurd condition, for it is culturally improbable, Bedil is implying, that the Brahman would do so. The negation in the first line therefore turns out to be an affirmation that it would be odious for the lover to kill the love-crazed. 
So, Bedil is saying 'don't kill love-crazed people if you are a lover unless Bhramins- or, indeed, the poet whose takhallus  (pen name) was Brahman- start killing cows.'
This raises the question, was it really the custom for lovers to go out killing the crazed in Bedil's time? Perhaps it was the policy of the Taliban or ISIS of that day. The Professor assumes we know this coz he covered it in his last lecture. What he is now telling us is that there was this guy called Bedil who opposed the practice by saying 'dudes chill. Don't kill crazy guys till the Brahman does such and such.' Hey, I just say on Wikipedia that them Afghans love Bedil.  We'd better get Donald Trump to quote this couplet to them rag-heads. That will stop them going round killing everybody. We just need to make sure those 'Brahmans' don't kill cows meanwhile. Wow! This sure is a cool course!
In the Sufi code of the ghazal of Bedil’s age, the breaking of rules of social propriety by the divinely possessed lover was permitted.
What?! So the lover still gets to kill the crazed coz he's crazed himself? And the only way to stop all these crazy towel-heads killing each other was discovered by this Bedil dude? Why was General Petraeus not informed. A lot of our G.I's wouldn't have come home in body-bags if he had known. Come to think of it, why didn't you just do the thing yourself.  Or is that what you are doing now? Well, how come it aint working Prof? Or have you just been bullshitting us all along?
But less apparent is an allusion to an elliptically told tale in verses 67-73 of ‘The Cow’, the second chapter of the Qur’an. Read alongside the commentary on them by Ibn Kathir, the Qur’an commentator of 14th century Damascus, the verses in question appear to refer to the Jews of Medina who failed to immediately heed Moses’s command that they do God’s bidding by slaughtering a cow.  Instead, they stubbornly first posed questions about its appearance and kind. Only when Moses had answered them did they slaughter it, “but they could hardly do it”. That they eventually heeded Moses nonetheless distinguishes them in the Qur’an as a people who accepted the prophet God sent them. The Brahman of Bedil’s verse stands in implicit contrast to the Medinese Jews by serving as a limit to prophecy, a limit the transgression of which is an absurd condition on which the Sufi may kill the love-crazed.
In Jewish law there was a provision that if the corpse of a murder victim was discovered then the local people were obliged to offer a cow in sacrifice and swear they had no hand in the killing. Obviously, this gave an incentive for local people to prevent or detect such crimes in their vicinity.
The Quranic story adds the detail of a sacrifice of this sort done in a reluctant or hypocritical manner which resulted in the murdered man regaining the power of speech to accuse his assailant. The Jewish custom was not incorporated into Muslim law. The Jews of Medina were expelled.  There is simply no relation between this story and the Brahmans or the Magians or the Greeks  or the votaries of Natural Law or sufficient reason or anybody else at all.
Keshavmurthy thinks otherwise. He says Bedil's Brahman serves 'as a limit to prophesy.' This is false. If a guy says 'I'm a rationalist. I only believe on the basis of reason.' no curb is placed upon prophesy at all. There are some types of utterance- e.g. oneiroscopy- where belief is required for efficacy to be assured. By its nature, Prophesy is not such a field.
Think of the 'Turing Oracle'.  Algorithmic Rationality itself proves there can be no limit to prophesy. Indeed, it uses its possibility to establish 'meta-mathematical' results of great utility to our burgeoning Knowledge Economy.
Even if this were not the case, a couplet of Bedil- a Sunni Turk writing in a milieu where even Persian speaking Brahmans- like Chandrabhan 'Brahman'- were second class subjects- simply can't be received by any sane person as saying, essentially,- 'well, the Brahmins only believe in Natural Law. Thus, there is a limit to prophesy coz it is important to keep Brahmins on side'.

Everybody knows Sufis can't make a practice of killing the love crazed coz, at least in poetry, they all spend so much time pretending to be love crazed themselves.  
So, they'd just end up slaughtering each other and would almost immediately, like the Circumcellions, disappear from the world.

Is there any way to redeem Keshavmurthy's binary of 'crazy Sufi/ rational Brahman' as applying to our sabak-e-hindi heritage? 
But that method has nothing to do with philology and everything to do with, as so often happens on this blog,  the theory of computational complexity.

Before saddling my favorite hobby horse, and riding off into a crepuscular horizon, let me first quote the truly interesting, the truly creative, portion of Keshavmurthy's brief article.
It is where Keshavmurthy reads 'havas' as actually being 'haus' in which case he can translate the couplet as-
The killing of night pasturers by the lover is not odious

If the Brahman stains his sacred thread crimson with cow’s blood.

Here, haus or ‘wandering at night, as cattle when pasturing’ alludes to a tale in verses 78-79 of the Qur’an’s chapter ‘The Prophets’. Read alongside Ibn Kathir’s amplification, the tale relates to a dispute between a sheep owner and an orchard owner. The sheep had wandered into the orchard and eaten the grapes. The prophet David adjudicated the resulting dispute, ruling that the sheep be given to the orchard owner. But his son Solomon, divinely inspired, proposed a more equitable judgment. 
What was the Solomonic judgment Keshavmurthy alludes to? How does it relate to the Brahman as a votary of 'Natural Law and Sufficient Reason?'
A guy with an orchard suffered a tort at the hands of some sheep belonging to some other guy. King David's solution was to hand over the offending animals to the orchard owner. Solomon's was different. He hands the orchard over to the shepherd and the sheep to the other guy. They are to swop back once the injury is made good.
On the face of it, Solomon's judgment is bad law, bad 'mechanism design' and utterly fucked in the head coz the orchard guy might not know how to look after sheep and the shepherd might be shite at horticulture.  However, if Solomon (as is commonly believed)
1) is interested in Justice
2) possesses all relevant information by some occult (i.e. not 'common knowledge' means)
this is a superior 'Aumann correlated equilibrium'.
If both parties share an information set and are rational then there can be an 'Aumann agreement' between them such that we know (thanks to a result from Maskin & Tirole) they immediately switch back to their original roles on the basis of an 'incomplete contract' without worrying about residuary control rights . This is a 'Coasian solution'. It is also, by the Myerson Satterthwaite theorem, the equilibrium solution, absent coercion, in a repeated game of a particular sort.
If 'Brahman' for sabak-e-hindi means 'Rational guy' then he'd have hit on the Solomonic solution himself, despite the seeming problem of residuary control rights, just like this year's Econ Nobel Laureate, Oliver Hart coz some Maskin & Tirole type argument would convince him. 

Nobel Laureate Aumann, as many economists will know, has shed light on the rationality of certain rules found in the Old Testament or which are known to have been applied by the Sanhedrin.  If Brahman means guys who are rational, then there must be Aumann agreement amongst them to observe those rules even though they don't believe in prophesy.
Things like the Turing Oracle or Gibbard's 'Revelation Principle' are very useful which is why rational people use them.
Okay, full disclosure, I'm as stupid as shit but still think I'm a Brahman coz under Knightian Uncertainty (for which Maskin & Tirole don't actually have a workaround coz it is regret minimizing to have both incomplete preferences and an ontologically dysphoric (i.e. featuring negative probabilities) world view) worthless shitheads like me actually provide a specific sort of hedge or desirable type of capacitance diversity.
Fuck it.
I think I'm drunk now. 
In any case, mathematically, I'm out of my depth.
Let me go back to beating up on Keshavmurthy. 
This is what he says-
“The killing of night pasturers” then alludes to the killing of the sheep or the sheep owner. 
WTF, Keshavmurthy dude!
Neither David nor Solomon nor any Judge or Religious Authority in the history of the Universe has ever said that animals or their owners should be killed just coz someone's orchard or garden or whatever suffered damage.
There was a time when medieval Christendom had a concept of 'deodand' for domesticated animals. So if you fell in love with my sheep coz it was making eyes at you and you fucked it so vigorously you keeled over dead, it might happen that my sheep would be declared 'deodand'. It might even be tried and put to death the way that wolves were tried and put to death. But I would not be killed unless there was proof I had maliciously set my sheep to ensnare you in a fatal erotic plot.
'Such killing would be odious because the condition for its permissibility – “If the Brahman stains his sacred thread crimson with cow’s blood” – is a sheer improbability. 
Fuck off!
Killing the guy who owns an animal coz it did some damage is odious coz... it just fucking is okay? It is not odious coz the Rabbi hasn't yet bitten into his bacon sarnie, or because the Brahmin hasn't yet killed a cow, or the Pope hasn't yet fucked Trump to death on Fox News.

In fairness to Keshavmurthy, he has one final translation of Bedil's couplet to offer. Let us see if is as foolish as his previous attempts.
A third translation:
The killing of intellectuals by the lover is not odious
If the Brahman stains his sacred thread crimson with cow’s blood.
Here, vocalising the word as hūs or “intellect” lets us read the first line as permitting the lover-mystic the killing of “intellectuals” – also translatable as “lords of the mind” – on the absurd condition that the Brahman stain his sacred thread crimson with cow’s blood. That is, we may read it as forbidding him such killing. On a superficial reading, the couplet is then not saying much more than that Sufis, conventionally understood as abandoning reason in their amorous frenzy, must still let men of the mind be.
OMG! Why are you writing in a webzine mainly read by Hindus that Sufism is compatible with killing intellectuals? How fucking stupid are you? Even the most rabid Islamophobe has not gone that far!
But a more interesting if less obvious sense catches our attention when we recall that, perhaps unlike the early Muslim and Jewish theologians, Bedil who was surrounded by his Hindu students in Persian poetry also knew the word “Brahman” in its Upanishadic sense as “universal Self”. What’s more, he wrote in a period when Persian-language poets in North India also composed poetry in Urdu and routinely enriched the poetic practice Amir Khusro inaugurated of bi- or tri-lingual punning. He and his readers would thus have seen or heard in the second syllable of “Brahman” – man – both the Persian word for “I” as well as the Sanskrit-Hindi-Urdu word for “mind”. Finally, the absence of a definite article in the original Persian lets us translate the second line thus: “If Brahman stains its sacred thread crimson with cow’s blood”. Reading the couplet with an attention to these puns and the eliminability of the definite article lets us propose that the second line explicitly states the absurdity of the ego ever relinquishing its heretical self-worship. It is on this absurd condition, again, that the lover is permitted the killing of lords of the “mind” or “ego” – which is to say that he is forbidden such killing.
WTF?! Are you completely bonkers? Sufism, like Saivism, says a human being can gain gnosis in this life- i.e. a 'jivanmukta' can exist. That's why a properly declared Jihad or Dharam Yuddha or a Crusade is not incumbent on at least one possible believer in every Sect. Why? Because even if the Creator caused you to be born subject to a certain doxastic or deontological 'artificial reason', there is no logical entailment of a duty to kill anybody at all because at least one possible person in the same situation is not bound by it.
I have not addressed, for reasons of space, yet other translations that result from the grammatical ambiguity of the genitive construction ‘qatl-e’, translatable as “killing of” and “killing by”. Nor have I spoken of this couplet’s place in the structure of the ghazal that contains it. I will conclude by noting that it is not only the figure of the Brahman that makes this verse continuous with the earliest Islamic theological figurations of the Brahman. It is also its syllogistic structure: the couplet’s conditional assent to a certain action recalls what Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, the renowned Arabic philologist of 16th century Egypt called al-madhab al-kalāmi, the construction of logical proofs in the manner of kalām or rational theology, a manner of speaking that he said was found in the utterances of prophets.
Fuck is wrong with you, Keshavmurthy? Have you never heard of Jorgensen's dilemma- viz. the superficial resemblance of ALL imperative statements or deontic arguments to alethic ones? Do you really not know that Islam took the bull by the horns long ago by establishing a firm 'insha/khabar' distinction which is securely embedded in the ontological hiatus between 'alam al amr' & 'alam al khalq'?

Is Bedil claiming the mantle of prophecy and implicitly refusing that of poets who, as the Qur’an says, “say what they do not do”? 
Do you really not know what mystic station Bedil was claiming?
How fucking illiterate are you?
If so, is this claim to prophetic unambiguity implicit in the couplet’s syntax not contradicted by the ambiguities we have just uncovered in its single words? Can we read Bedil today with the recognition that it was once possible to experience the emotional intensity of faith even as you took pleasure in the shimmering ambiguity of the signs of religious difference?
Keshavmurthy, by your meretricious misprision, you have merely added noise to signal.
That aint Empson ambiguity.
It's just random, dude.
Fuck me!
Just realized something.
This fucker Keshavmurthy just pranked me.
I sent him one of my books.
This ridiculous article is his revenge.

Okay Professor dude.
You win.
You can write more stupidly about Bedil than even I have about Ghalib.
Bloody Stephanians!
Even this small prize they have snatched from me.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Why the Human Rights based approach to Development is either unnecessary or counterproductive

The Human Rights based approach to Development stipulates that all human beings have inalienable rights to what Rawls called 'primary goods' including food, water, sanitation, education, due process of law and so on. These rights create a corresponding obligation on the part of the State with respect to all residents within its borders.
Some, if not all, primary goods are scarce (i.e. their use has an opportunity cost) and thus come within the purview of Economic Science. This raises the question, is Rights based Development compatible with Economic theory?

A sanguine response might go as follows- 'If Society treats human beings decently, they will be more productive. Society will be better off. A virtuous circle would be created. Furthermore, wealthy countries could help poor countries. As these poor countries rise up, they will buy more from the wealthy thus enabling their economy to expand. War and Religious intolerance and institutionalized Misogyny and the stigmatizing or scapegoating of minorities will come to an end. The World will be peaceful and prosperous.'

The problem here is that if human beings are rational and if the above arguments are empirically valid, then there is no need for a 'Human Rights based approach' at all. People and Nations would spontaneously follow the policy prescriptions of this approach without any need for a costly bureaucracy to enunciate its precepts.
What they wouldn't do, however, is to Legally enshrine human rights to scarce primary goods.
Well, if all human beings are granted a legal entitlement to scarce primary goods, then it follows that the obligation bearing party must either have been granted legal rights of control over scarce resources so as to fulfill these entitlements or else have appropriated such control by some means, fair or foul. If the obligation bearing party has no control over the allocation of scarce primary goods, legal or appropriated, it can't fulfill the 'vinculum juris'- the bond of law- between it and the rights-bearers. This does not mean that primary good entitlements will definitely not be fulfilled. Private charity or Exit by the Poor or a self-help program may fill the gap. However, the law in this respect would be a dead letter.
Let us now look at the sort of legal rights of control which the obligation-bearer may be awarded in order to comply with Laws granting a Human Right to a particular primary good- let us say drinking water, which, clearly, is essential to human functioning.
Imagine you are an invalid living in the Kibera slum in Nairobi. You pay up to 50 times as much for drinking water as the wealthy residents of Muthaiga. Clearly, your human right to water is not being met because you have no income. Your health is in danger because you are probably using less water than is compatible with health and hygiene.
What happens if the State not just passes a law assuring you of sufficient water at a price you can afford but, what's more, enforces this law against the Municipal Water Company?
The answer depends on whether the Municipal Water Company is granted a corresponding legal 'right of control' over available water resources. Ideally, the Water Company will calculate how much water it has to distribute for free, or at a very low cost, and find the most economical method to distribute it to the poorest and most vulnerable. They will then calculate how to sell their remaining water so as to generate a surplus. This is called 'price discrimination'. It works if the market can be segmented at low cost such that people who can afford the high price can't buy at a low price.

If the Water Company is run by benevolent people of the highest integrity, the story ends here. However, in that case, there would have been no need for the law. In fact, the law has created a problem for the Water Company which it didn't have before. What is that problem? It is that it now has a residual right of control over a scarce resource. Bad people, who previously weren't interested in this form of social work, want to get control over the Water Company. If they succeed, by hook or crook, they can borrow money on the strength of their property right over locally available water and use that money to bribe poor people to leave Kibera. In other words, the creation of a property right to offset an obligation to satisfy a human right can skew wealth distribution in a manner which creates a runaway process unfavorable to the poorest and most vulnerable.
From the Economic point of view, it may look like a 'fair' exchange- a 'Hicks-Kaldor' welfare improvement- if a poor man takes money to leave a place where he has an entitlement. Actually, it is nothing of the sort.
Human rights have created a Property right inimical to the very human beings in whose name it was created.

What if we don't create any new right of control to water? We could say to the Water Company- 'we don't care how or from where you procure the water. We certainly aren't going to give you any legal right to any water anywhere. You buy your water from wherever you like and sell it at whatever price you like but just make sure everybody's human right to water is met.'
In this case, though the Water Company gains no new 'right of control', it can appropriate such a right without legal backing. How? Well, it can ration water such that rich people are told that their taps will stay dry on certain days so that the poor can get their share.
This may sound like a good thing. Why should the rich not suffer a little?
The answer is that a 'parallel market' will develop based on a mix of technologies. The very rich will bore their own tubewells and have ample underground reservoirs for their own gated communities permitting them to exit the Water Company's network. The middle class will have to make do with storage tanks replenished by tankers. The working poor will take the brunt- paying high prices for jerry cans. The destitute may initially still get their legally mandated entitlement. But, at the margin, their condition deteriorates. Why? Well, even if ground water is non-depleting or there is plenty of riverine water (i.e. water isn't scarce, only the distribution network uses up scarce resources) then, though no ecological crunch occurs, it is still the case that Man does not live by any one primary good alone. When the poor, as a group, have to pay more for an essential item the whole ecology of their neighborhood changes. Niches which permitted the poorest to survive can suddenly disappear.
The effect of 'appropriable rights of control' turn out to be the same as that of residual rights of control. Both end up enriching the few and pushing the very poorest towards the wall.

In practice, there is a middle way. What is it? Well a mixture of residuary legal rights and de facto appropriable rights can create an opaque rent seeking environment- it may look 'privatized', it may appear 'public-private', it may be wholly State owned- in which there is no accountability, no efficiency, some people get rich and either some nationalized banks or funding organizations get stuck with bad loans or else the whole thing is buried in the Public Sector's Borrowing Requirement. Once again it is the poorer and less sophisticated element of the working population which pays the price for the inevitable macroeconomic day of reckoning.

Finally, let us mention what actually happens in many 'illegal' slums across the world. Here public provision of stand pipes or water trucks creates an economic rent which is captured by the local slum-lord or 'water mafia'. This by itself can lead to the political instrumentalization of disorder from which once again it is the poorest who suffer most.

Let us leave water aside. We are nowadays all too aware that water is scarce over large parts of the globe. What about a different type of Primary Good, one free from ecological constraints- what about the Right to Education as promulgated in India? What is wrong with saying that the Schools for the Rich should admit a percentage of poor kids from the neighborhood? After all, many of the leading families in India are descended from very poor kids who managed to get a scholarship. Poor kids are just as good as rich kids- in fact they are more likely to be of good character and to have a thirst for knowledge.
The answer, of course, is that this reduces the incentive of the more vocal and socially conscious poor families to apply pressure to their elected representatives to ensure that State Schools are fit for purpose. Indeed, India's R.T.E legislation is premised on the notion that State Schools are worthless and nothing can be done about it because Govt. School teachers- who are far better paid than those in the sort of private schools which have enabled the urban poor to rise up- count the votes in Elections.

Still, leaving aside the issue of getting State Schools to perform, what great harm does it do to force good private schools to admit a portion of poor kids? The answer is that good private schools have only become good by making students pass rigorous exams. Students who fail exams are kept back or expelled. This isn't allowed under R.T.E because otherwise the fear is that elite schools will get get rid of unprofitable or underachieving students from economically weaker sections of society.
What has the outcome of R.T.E been so far? The answer is that it has failed utterly in at least 90 percent of cases. On balance it has reduced life chances for the poor because good unaided schools lacking infrastructure were closed down while bad aided or Govt. schools were exempt from the requirement to have adequate infrastructure.
Going forward, some good unaided schools may actually honor the 25 percent quota- but they would have done so anyway- while the vast majority will flout its provisions by paying a bribe or using their influence. Aided schools will either become indistinguishable from the State Schools they compete with- i.e. worthless- or else game the system to capture rents.
In theory the Indian RTE act was the best in the world because, unlike America, it was the Government's duty, not the parent's, to ensure every child got an education whether or not they had money to pay. Yet, it is a miserable failure which has made things worse for everybody concerned.
No administration will repeal it but it will be ignored like Vinobha Bhave's crackpot 'Bhoodan' scheme which led to almost all the land in Bihar being gifted away to the poor. The result of that piece of nonsense was Bihar's decline into anarchy.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Philip Cole on Ethics and Migration

Why is it we live in a world of Nation States which give some coalition of their citizens or subjects the right to decide who can and can't migrate and take up residence within their borders?

Economic theory can give us quite a good account of why this should be. Indeed, for all we know, this is also the 'regret minimizing' strategy for humanity. It so happens that Economic arguments can be marshaled, at the margin, to decide on the loosening or tightening laws and procedures concerned with migration. Indeed, there is a specific sort of Jurisprudence- that of Coase, Calabresi and Posner- which can relate these Economic arguments to what Coke called 'the artificial reason' of the Legal system.

What of 'natural reason'- more particularly what might be called Ethics based on 'natural Rights'? Can it give a coherent account of why the World is as it is and likely to remain so, or does it have to turn back in horror from Reality to engage in bogus breast-beating?

Phillip Cole, in an article in the Eurozine, addresses this question. Unfortunately, he appears to be unaware that Britain is a democracy and working class people have votes. Thus they are part of the coalition which decides migration policy. Cole might think it immoral that working class people can be decisive within the relevant coalition. However, he does not actually come out and say so.

Instead he writes- 'Let us accept, for now, the concerns about the impact of immigration on the working class in the United Kingdom. Despite these concerns there are clear moral arguments against using immigration controls as a means of protecting workers from these impacts. 
A clear moral argument against a specific policy action can either impugn the method by which it was done or the act itself. In this case, impugning the method also impugns the right of working class people to be members of a decisive coalition regarding at least one policy action. Impugning the act also impugns the working classes' 'Agency'- its right to act in its own self-interest even if its actions have uncertain results. 
In my view, no clear moral argument obtains because Cole has not produced any argument for why the working class mustn't have Agency.

But can we appeal to some kind of special connection to our workers which justifies us in prioritising them over outsiders? Particular connections and loyalties often push against the universality of ethical principles, and it is not always obvious which should take priority. Some would say that national loyalties have to carry some weight here, and that to insist on the priority of some vague idea of universal ethics is to inhabit a realm of cosmopolitan moral fantasy. The standard example is that there are two children in a burning building and you can only rescue one of them. If I ask you why you rescued this child and left the other to die, and you answer 'because she is my daughter', this reply carries immense weight. Any ethical theory has to make room for this kind of reply. But on the other hand we need to see that you made a tragic choice, not an ethical one, and that we should all be haunted by the child you left behind.
What's more, while family ties are important to many of us, others may reject them for good reason, and in many cases following family loyalty is clearly ethically wrong – if my daughter murdered someone and asked me to conceal her from the legal authorities, for example. Family and other loyalties can sometimes pull us in a particular direction but it is not necessarily the right direction, and universal moral principles help us to see that. Furthermore, the kind of loyalties we (often but not always) find between family members cannot be used as a model for national loyalties. If we return to the burning house and this time your answer to my question is 'because she is English', then not only does this fail to carry the same weight as the previous answer, it may actually strike us as morally repellent. And so we cannot reject the universal pull of moral principles by arguing that ethics begins 'at home' – very often what happens at home is shown to be deeply morally wrong in the light of universal moral principles.

The problem here is that if I save my daughter from a burning building, one reason I do so is coz everyone knows my wife will beat the shite out of me if anything happens to that precious lump of fat. Cole thinks families are composed of moral beings motivated only by love and altruism. They aren't. A guy who doesn't stand up for his wife or daughter will get a reputation as a coward. Nobody will have his back. He will suffer the social death of ostracism.
Human beings have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. They know 'cheap talk' is enough if there is no reciprocal bond. You weep over the kid you couldn't rescue. But, if you failed to rescue your own kid- or that of someone with whom you have a reciprocal bond- you are going to have the shit kicked out of you. The reciprocal bond, to be worth anything, requires a 'costly signal'. There is a 'separating equilibrium'. 'Cheap talk' ethics can pretend there is a pooling equilibrium, but there really isn't.

British soldiers and sailors and diplomats and so on have a duty to save British people. It would be nice if they also rescued non Britishers. But if they don't rescue a Britisher and that fact becomes known, they may face very personal consequences. Why? Well, they live in Britain, their wages are paid by British people, if they don't honor the terms of the relevant 'separating equilibrium' then they will be penalized. Not to do so is 'incentive incompatible'. It will crash the system.

In the short run, of course, things might not work out like that. Thus British soldiers were persecuted for supposed war crimes because the Govt. thought this was the best way to prevent the European Court sticking its oar in. The Govt. acted foolishly. Long term, the unwritten rule has been re-established that no viculum juris, no bond of law, exists such that a British official must treat non Britishers exactly the same as British people for any purpose for which a separating equilibrium exists. Econ. theory predicts this will be the case iff scarcity obtains.

Cole admits that the British working class is justified in demanding stricter controls on migration- even at the price of Brexit. He says-'So while in general immigration, all things being equal, tends to bring economic benefits, there is evidence that people in vulnerable and weak positions can lose out.
But to use immigration controls to address this problem seems odd, because they leave in place the structures of power and inequality that make those groups weak and vulnerable.
Cole thinks that the 'structure of power' which brought in migrants to directly compete with the indigenous working class for congestible or otherwise scarce resources was somehow benign. It wasn't. It answered to the bosses, not the workers. It remains to be seen whether Brexit will actually result in the 'structure of power' genuinely reducing wage competition for the unskilled. However, the depreciation of the currency has by itself had a deterrent effect on migration. It has made it cheaper to make things in this country. There remains a lot of uncertainty as to how things will eventually turn out. Who knows? Perhaps Exchange Controls will be resorted to if the pound goes to parity as a result of fears of a 'Hard Brexit'. If so, controls on Capital, matching those on Labor, can certainly improve the latter's share of National Income according to conventional Economic theory.

 It is not immigration that causes their social position, but their position that makes them vulnerable to competition from new immigrants. If we were seriously concerned about their vulnerability then we would surely address it in the name of social justice, and immigration controls will not help us do that.
No Working Class British person believes that any one is now, or has, in the recent past, been offering 'Social Justice' as opposed to a Credentialised Ponzi Scheme whereby young people get into debt so as to earn worthless degrees and couch-surf till they are in their Forties.
Before the financial crisis, some people bought into the notion that our infrastructure and Social Capital would grow by leaps and bounds thanks to our Visionary Leaders having been the first to throw open the gates to East European immigration. 
I personally love the Polish plumbers and Romanian dentists and so on- they are likely to more than pay their way. The problem is that Merkel suddenly decided that genuine Refugees- of whom there can never be an end- who need massive help to rebuild their lives, should be admitted en masse. Germany might just possibly manage to pick up the tab- they have a demographic problem- but Merkel's insistence that the rest of Europe shoulder an equal burden was simply more than the British people could swallow. One reason is that many migrants will prefer to move to the UK because of English's international standing. Europe, in any case, appears to be imploding.
Immigrants may be participants in a global economic order that creates poverty and hardship for many throughout the world, and some of those who suffer poverty and hardship are in the United Kingdom. But we are all participants in that global economic order and some agents are more powerful and more responsible for the creation of that poverty and hardship than others. To pick out immigrants as somehow the main culprits, such that we are justified in using coercive power against them, seems clearly unfair. This, then, is the key argument the left has to address – immigration controls would seek to protect certain sections of the poor and vulnerable by punishing other sections of the poor and vulnerable, leaving the rest of us untouched and evading the question of who is really responsible for global poverty and hardship, and who, although not responsible, is complicit in it.
Cole thinks the Left has a problem if Working Class people act decisively in their own best interest. Why? Has the Left stopped caring about the standard of living of the less skilled or less wealthy section of the population? Or is it rather the case that Ethics, as propounded by Professors, is wholly irrelevant to mundane reality?

Friday, 30 September 2016

Horace Epistle V- Quid non ebrietas dissignat?

What Promethean elixir does Epimethean inebriety not unseal? What occult malaiseNot heal? What dim and festering secret not with Jovian laughter erase? Chiron's mentor, Bellerophon's mount; upon Laocoon's eels to the more daintily supToasting itself, Drunkenness drains Hope's Tantalus cup. Ah! Torquatus don't you see?Tho' aught I indite but invite to Ind's Poverty- Dionysus conquers only to set free 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Tagore updated

& the Thekedar sells such Whiskey as duty-free we might buy
Where the world is not dissected by narrow domestic walls
From Tripoli's shore to Montezuma's halls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Like a bollock naked old Sadhu to abash prurient youth
& tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
which e'er must elude or succumb to infection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
& only loiters by the school-yard with itself to yet play
Where Thought is led forward to, in ever widening faction, partake
Rot thy 'Heaven of Freedom', Father : let my country awake!

Note- the first couplet is adapted from  one by Sanjay K. in an earlier comment on this blog.
In this context, the Thekedar is the Govt. appointed contractor for the sale of alcohol in a given area. TAMSAC, the monopolist in Tamil Nadu, was professionally run but appears to be selling sub-standard stuff. The 200 ml bottles bought by the poor appear to maximize negative externalities without boosting revenue much.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

For Paul Murdoch

Here too is that Healing whose beginning was the Word
Helping Voice Hearers gain a Voice to be Heard
Whether treading the tight-rope or tumbling in free fall
Within each is the web, all spin to save all.

'To meet in combat' is the original meaning of 'to cope'
A war of attrition allowing its conscripts little scope
For mutual caritas. The baby-birthing 'Proletariat'
Set up only to war with 'Welfare's' Commissariat.

Tikkun Olam- Cosmic Repair- commences in a tick's nurture of tock
If Kairos is Beauty's camera, Parrhesia is its aperture & dock
Paranoia its own Wailing Wall- a perpetual Tisha B'Av
Metanoia, St. Paul, blither laughter at failing Love.

Prince!  The greatest tribute you will ever earn
Is just to live & Love, to its Lord, return

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Did Vishvamitra eat dog meat? Bibek Debroy's theory.

Bibek Debroy, one of our less objectionable Economists, has written some tendentious volumes on the Mahabharata. In 'Sarama and her Children', he makes two ludicrous claims which any ordinary Hindu reader would immediately know to be false.
These claims are-
1) that Vishvamitra stole dog meat because he was hungry but did not actually eat it. This was because it rained and so plants began to grow and, by the Economist's standard assumption regarding a one period economy, this meant they became available to eat immediately. 
If Debroy is right, the meaning of the relevant Mahabharata episode is not 'break religious taboos only if life is in danger' but rather 'steal dog meat and offer it in holy sacrifice if there is a drought'.
2) Every Hindu knows that Vishvamitra means  'World Friend' or the World as the theophany of the God Mitra. Why? Vishva means 'World'. Mitra means 'Friend'. Just as 'Ashvamitra' means 'Friend of Horses' so too does Visvamitra mean friend of all the World. 
Debroy however thinks Vishvamitra means 'enemy of the World'. Why? Well 'amitra' means not-friend. So, Vishv- amitra would mean 'enemy of Vishv'. However 'Vishv' does not mean World. That is Vishva. What does Vishv mean? Nothing. Well, I suppose, you could have a cod etymology in which it is the root of 'Vishva', which has the acceptation, more especially for Advaita, of  the gross, as opposed to subtle, aspect of perceptual reality. However, since this gross aspect is sublated by subtle 'taijasya' type soteriological knowledge, it forms no part of Vishva once the latter is properly perceived as 'prajnya' (blissful, all pervasive and unsublatable). To say Vishvamitra is the 'Friend of the World' means the same thing as saying he is the 'Enemy of a gross perception of the World as material, temporal and self-contradictory'.
(This is to simplify things a little. There are paramparas, lineages, where Vishva is used for Vishv- e.g. in this passage (from Wikipedia)
(The significance of the word, Vishva, in Hindu philosophy, is revealed in the Upanishads. In the Āgama Prakarana of his Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad Gaudapada explains that in the three states of consciousness, the one and the same object of experience and the experiencer appears in three-fold forms (त्रिधा भोगं) as – विश्व (Vishva) ('gross'), तैजस (Taijasa) ('subtle') and प्राज्ञ (Prajna) ('the blissful').)

Why does Debroy say Vishvamitra means the 'enemy of the World' when all Hindus know the opposite is the case? The answer is that he wants to prove that the name actually means 'Special lover of dogs'- Vi-shva (dog)-mitra. The problem here is that according to Debroy's eccentric sandhi, the meaning would actually be 'special enemy of dogs'.

Judge for yourself-

 Debroy is too shy to tell us that Sunahshepha means 'dog's penis'.
This is illuminating for adepts, because the subtext to the whole episode of Vishvamitra and the Chandala is a comparison of the Asvamedha ritual (in which a dog is sacrificed for a specific reason) which Visvamitra alone among the Vedic Rishis had completed, and its esoteric counterpart in Upanishadic praxis.
Debroy, of course, being an Economist, is deaf to any such 'dhvani'.
He thinks that the Mahabharata was a text lying around in philology phase space which suffered random interpolations. No redaction of the Mahabharata is internally consistent. It's a book with no organizing principle. Even when it uses a name whose meaning is immediately understood by all knowers of Sanskrit and most Hindus- e.g. Vishvamitra- the 'usual fashion' of interpreting it- at least if the writer is an Economist- turns out to be the opposite of what is universally known and acknowledged. But the fun doesn't stop there. Not only do words mean the opposite of what they were intended to mean and are accepted to mean, they don't mean that either but something else entirely, logic be damned, grammar be damned, because, hey!, hermeneutics is an 'anything goes' General Equilibrium.