03 November 2011

The radical must be wary of ‘logic’

These notes on radicalism, based on our Budun Wahanse’s Charter on Free Inquiry, the Kalama Sutta, are based on certain assumptions about the creature under consideration, namely the radical.  The ‘radical’ relevant to this discussion is one endowed with integrity and an aversion to sloth.  He/she would not shove into footnote, ‘superstructure’ and other convenient dismissal-categories such as imponderable and externality that which doesn’t fit theory but rather seek to explain and failing which return critically to text and equation, adjust or even abandon if these prove to be wanting in explanatory and predictive power. 
The slothful will always twist and turn to fit fact to theory, typically getting by and away with turn of phrase, half-truths, irrelevant quote and such.  Rhetoric is useful in political practice but a rhetorician is no radical. 

The true radical will eschew convenience and will constantly question premise and assumption and moreover subject theory to the scrutiny required by each and every piece of information encountered. 
It is in this context that Siddhattha Gotama’s discourse on inquiry can be of use to radical and would-be radical.  The constant call to question is a striking feature of Buddhist philosophy and indeed is unique in that it openly invites critical consideration of the philosophy itself.  The Kalama Sutta by suggesting that a person should not take as logical or true or wholesome something just because some wise person said this was the case, immediately invites a dissection of this very claim as well as the entire corpus of the Buddha Vacana.  

Typically, the radical, once enamoured with a particular doctrine and sufficiently acquainted with relevant quotes, truisms, the if-thens, either-ors etc., ceases to take into account the possibility that the theoretical body is framed by a set of assumptions, which may or may not be completely true or universally applicable across time and space.  The relevant ‘logic’ naturally persuades the radical to see mismatch and contradiction in other doctrines and equations that are based on different sets of assumptions and/or flow from different logical apparatuses.  A couple of examples might be useful at this point. 

Marxism is a grand narrative that is replete with grand constructions.  In its more puerile articulations (which are what radicals reference for the most part, or at least are referenced most frequently by those who believe ‘revolution’ is coterminous with regime-change and tend to be fixated with altering names and the structures of exploitation and suppression but typically end up replacing one set of thugs by another), Marxism spawns lots of quote-buffs who are fascinated by and frequently trip over binaries.  So we have structure and superstructure, culture predicated on economy, production modes bleeding into production relations and an ‘inevitable’ movement from feudalism through capitalism to communism.  This determinism has buried many ‘revolutions’ but at great cost in terms of human life, cultural vandalism and intellectual suffocation. 

All doctrines tend to come with or develop along the way magnificent archives that hold both fundamental teachings as well as interpretive narratives.  Those fixated with relevant doctrinal logic are automatically burdened by blinders which make for tunnel vision.  They tend to throw chapter and verse at adversaries, often paying no attention to the relevance of context. 

The same holds for other ‘radicals’ as well.  History is full of ‘radicals’ who draw from the ‘logic’ of revolutionary text, religious dogma and political philosophy, convinced that these are error-free and reliable. 

The problem is often exacerbated by the fact that the interpreter, hampered by human frailty, is prone to erroneous reading of what may be a reasonable proposition (relevant of course to time-space specifics).  It is hard to believe that Jesus Christ would have condoned the Crusades or what some of his followers did and do in terms of ‘spreading the good news’. It is hard to believe that Prophet Mohammed would bless those who wage Jihad in the name of Allah. It is hard to believe that Siddhattha Gotama, our Budun Wahanse, would condone those who attack ill-intentioned individuals hell-bent on converting people to Christianity in the by-any-means-necessary mode of operation.  But all these individuals do take refuge in doctrine and the ‘logic’ therein, often violating many fundamental tents of the very same teachings. 

Even if, for argument’s sake, one believes that The Teacher relevant to the particular politics/radicalism was all-knowing or spoke/wrote with astral authority, there is no escaping the fact that follower is in the final instance a ‘reader’ and that reading is necessarily done through the blurred glass that is location in the matrix of culture, aspiration, ego, preferred-outcome, intellectual capacity, personality quirk and so on.  Even ‘logic’ is read through such flawed interpretive lenses, which is why the same equation is differently read by different people in different contexts.  All the more reason, then, for the radical to treat with healthy suspicion and to inquire and interrogate relentlessly the logic he/she subscribes to.

Pierre Bourdieau, the French Sociologist put it nicely when he said ‘that which goes without saying, comes without saying’. It is a call for inquiry, for treating the ‘givens’ critically.  Bourdieau’s proposition refers to something that is perceived to be external and externally pernicious, something which can tweak mind-set and grow within.  The Kalama Sutta suggests that the principle can be applied not only to the invasive ‘logic’ by the subscribed-to logic as well.  An excellent rule of thumb, I believe, for the young radical as well as to the more mature practitioner who has to sooner or later comes to terms with the fact that life has a wicked way of tripping word.

Let us reflect awhile on the crux of the Charter:
Kalamas, when you yourselves know [that] 'these things are unwholesome, these things are blameworthy; these things are censured by the wise; and when undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill, abandon them.  Kalamas, when you know for yourselves [that] these are wholesome; these things are not blameworthy; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness, having undertaken them, abide in them.’

Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitatta. May all beings be happy!