Sunday, 27 November 2016

Sanskrit and the Clash of Civilizations

(via Rajiv Malhotra)

"Sanskrit and the Clash of Civilizations
Contrary to the wishful thinking of postmodernist literary theories and trends in pop culture, the competition among major civilizations is intensifying. Sanskrit phobia must be examined in the broader context of geopolitics today and not in the narrower context of local Indian sociopolitics only. Each of the main three contenders in the clash of civilizations – USA, China and Islam – deploys its own culture as a form of social and political capital, and each has a unique language in which its civilization is rooted.

There are pragmatic reasons behind the intensifying clash of civilizations, and ideology may often be a weapon rather than the underlying cause: Only one billion out of the six billion people in the world today live at Western levels of consumption, but by mid century most of the ten billion people (projected population level by mid century) will mimic Western consumerist lifestyles, and this will further pressure the environment, resources, capital and labor markets.
This global competition is deploying collective assets, such as identities, cultural capital and soft power. France, USA, UK, China, Arabia, Japan, etc. each wear their respective civilizations with great pride, and use it as a vehicle in international diplomacy, foreign soft power and cultural capital.
Every ancient civilization has had its social abuses, but the proud cultures named above do not throw out the baby with the bathwater, i.e. they each insist on reforming their tradition internally rather than demonizing it in world forums to gain legitimacy in foreign eyes or abandoning it in the name of “progress.”
The West (especially America), China and Pan-Islam are, therefore, each asserting themselves in this inter-civilizational competition for intellectual market share, projecting with pride their respective rich heritages which include languages. For instance, the rapid globalization of English language culture has privileged Western paradigms that are implicitly embedded in its literature and thought:
1- Despite the numerical expansion of English speaking people in non-Western countries, the certification and legitimization of English and of its modern thought are controlled by standards established by Western institutions.
2- These control mechanisms are diverse: prestigious awards, elitist institutional affiliations, jobs, financial grants, foreign travel, access to media channels, etc.
3- The intellectual capital includes Eurocentric historiography, literature, philosophy, sociology, human rights theories, art history, and school curricula.
4- The institutional backbone of the West that propagates this superiority includes government agencies, multinational religious institutions, academic establishments and private funding agencies.
5- In this new inter-civilizational competition, everyone is equally invited to play; however, the rules, referees and rewards are often controlled by a few.
6- In some instances, the dominant culture also selects and props up proxies to represent the third world in a fashion acceptable to the dominant religious and secular ideologies of the West.
If one were to apply this to a hypothetical scenario of Western intervention in China, the components might be as follows (not necessarily in this sequence):
a- Attack on China’s human rights
b- Demands for internal reforms
c- Critiques of Mandarin as hegemonic
d- Denigration of Chinese culture and the hierarchies embedded in Confucianism as the basis of China’s human rights abuses.
e- Social re-engineering of minority groups to promote separatism
That this trajectory is not currently in vogue in the Western academy is an indicator of China’s strength as a geopolitical force. But let us not forget that the linking of China’s traditional culture with backwardness and the scapegoating of Confucianism as anti-progress and promoting inequality, led Chinese patriots using imported Western Marxism to the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and the murder of millions of innocents. There are many ways for Asian cultures to be taught to hate themselves, but the consequences are always the same – genocide and cultural devastation.
Unfortunately, India’s domestic relationship with its Sanskrit-based heritage is mixed up in petty short sighted politics:
1. Sanskrit phobia has become a weapon for identity based vote banking, often under the guise of imported ideologies and funding for “human rights.”
2. India’s social schisms, cleavages and centrifugal forces have been exacerbated by interventions from the three global civilizational powers – the West, Pan-Islam and China – each of which has made heavy investments in India’s intellectuals, media, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and other mechanisms of influence.
3. While powerful top down economic forces (such as foreign capital in business, infrastructure development and export growth) are integrating India, simultaneously, other sociopolitical forces are potentially trying to downgrade India’s geopolitical influence by breaking apart its social fabric and identity at the grass roots.
4. Such fragmentation has energized the anti-Sanskrit movement."

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