Saturday, 7 June 2014
A theory of Hinduism
Suppose India were an isotropic plane of the Christaller (Central Place Theory) type. In fact it isn't but a lot of the rain fed agricultural areas are actually quite easily inter-connected for purposes of migration and let this be the topos of the Median Hindu.
Furthermore, this area is also suitable for cattle rearing but not particularly good for horse breeding. Pastoralists create one type of pecuniary asset (indeed, the word pecuniary derives from the Latin word for cow) and can quickly achieve linguistic hegemony of a particular type if they solve the coordination problem for Commerce by providing focal points (which Mauss misunderstood as potlatches). In this scenario, instead of a white shoe law firm, you have a 'kavi' intermediate your transactions and he gets to pretend his poetry is super-duper and there is a Textual availability cascade which later on gets mistaken for a Prophetic Religion by shitheads.
No doubt, the elite (Margi) form of the Religion, which the Literature holds as normative, may actually derive from privileged locations- e.g. a riverine 'Hydraulic' elite society, or a Maritime Center or a Caravan hub or some sacred Mountain or Forest- and no doubt the actual vyayahara (customary) laws obtaining at any point (desh) of the (economically) isotropic portion of India are going to show marked variations- still, the dynamics of that vyavahara are going to obey the same laws in the long run because
1) arbitrage type inter-migration dampens hysteresis effects- i.e. path dependence vanishes after a couple of iterations (rather like epigenetic effects)
2) changes in relative wealth distribution would give rise to Invasion/Exodus type events militating to the same end.
Now let us identify the primary driver for Social Geography (i.e. hierarchy) in this idealized rain-fed Agricultural plain. Can it be 'Accumulation'?
No because stuff that can be accumulated is also stuff that can
1) be stolen or taxed or become the object of seditious or fraticidal contestation
2) lose its utility as a store of value because either trade collapses, and hence comparative advantage based industry is extinguished, in which case both Credit and Fungibility dries up- or else the asset is simply eaten by rats or ends up taking the form of like those ugly mo'fo Easter Island Statues or is expended on White Elephant Courtiers and Public Intellectuals and Amartya Sen getting appointed Chancellor of some Nalanda University which will never come into existence coz like, dude, which ultracrepidarian Careerist gobshite (as opposed to genuine Scholar) wants to go live in Bihar?
Indeed, the moment you speak of Accumulation, you open the Pandora's box of Chrematistics- i.e. you are confronted with all the Mental torments involved in the question 'how do I get to keep what I have?'- in other words, how do I trade stuff which depreciates over time for other stuff which is guaranteed to appreciate or keep its value? The problem here is that, even if we have perfect information regarding all agents and all Social Change is uncoerced and Muth rational and so on- still, we don't know the future fitness landscape so we can't predict which asset vendors will be able to fulfill their contract with us.
No doubt, nowadays, we have a branch of Theology called Mathematical Economics which is supposed to exorcise this ghastly specter, whose stark reality no one doesn't secretly recognize, to wit the fact that the real rate of return on every portfolio is negative because the future fitness landscape is unknown.
Currently there is a sort of panic that only the very rich are getting richer and, certainly, it is true that those with the greatest elasticity of response w.r.t. signals relevant to Portfolio Choice get to keep something of value rather than suffering total impoverishment servicing White Elephant assets, still, the fact remains that the first guy to get totally ruined and, stochastically, to hit on the right sort of asset to hold might end up with descendants at the top of the tree in the future fitness landscape.
Thus, instead of speaking of 'Accumulation' which is linear but imaginary (and thus gives rise only to Paranoid theories of History) we need to speak of 'Security' which itself relates to notions of Habitus-as-Conatus and takes us directly from Secular to Sacred discourse without the need for postulating either a Conspiracy theory of Religion (Priests were crooked Shamans in league with 'Stationary Bandit' Princes) or some Racist nonsense about Noble Aryans or Spiritual Semites or Pure Blooded Red Indians (no, I don't mean Ranajit Guha) or the mermen of Atlantis or the mages of Shangri La or whatever.
Of course, the above is way too simplistic. Essentially, I'm assuming an isotropic topos such that ergodicity prevails and Econ type (well, Mechanism Design type) Analysis can yield something useful. However, since Religions are about 'costly signals'- i.e. irrational shibboleths which impose a high barrier to entry- as well as 'cheap talk', of a Preference Falsification type- and since, moreover, India exhibits numerous privileged and non isotropic sacred topoi and associated Availability Cascades, 'epigenetic' type effects, i.e. path dependence, might well be more than transitory. Indeed, given a sufficient number of privileged topoi we can predict that there must be long periods of non ergodicity such that either
1) Marxian stagnation obtains - 'unchanging India' where Hinduism is not a Religion but 'a way of life' normative only to the curator (who, of course, would be the ideal comprador for a foreign Ruler) of a Social Jurassic Park
2) Tardean mimetics (stuff like Srinivas 'Sanskritization') or its reverse (Barrister Gandhi deciding he's actually a village dolt of a Bhangi- coz them guys are just too cool for school and all the hot chicks dig them)- but this cashes out as the same thing as (1).
I suppose one might also mention
3) Girardian mimetic rivalry such that a scapegoat is constantly being sacrificed, some random sample of the poorest and least offensive are callously put to death in the name of defeating 'Imperialism' or 'Capitalism' or 'Casteism' or whatever.
However, just because you can have a longue duree like the above doesn't change the dynamics of the system which predicts that endogenous saltations will arise only during brief spells of ergodicity- i.e. the longue duree captures nothing about the essence of the system and has no utility or instrumental value for Progressive Public Policy. This is another way of saying the more a guy knows about Hindu History the more worthless his advise. Of course, I mean History the academic subject not Hindu Itihaas which was specifically written for 'fools, drunkards, women and working class people' like me (well, I score two out of four on that list and, no, I haven't had gender reassignment surgery, my 'man boobs' just naturally look this way).
Let us now, if only to briefly distract you from the sort of lubricious thoughts which mention of my 'moobs' must inevitably have set in motion in that sewer you call your mind, consider the dilemma of the agriculturist who has settled in a rain-fed area. He could simply be a subsistence farmer and, in bad monsoon years, depend on roots and nuts and small game from uncleared forest land. However, unless he is well entrenched in a 'Zomia' uninviting to other more enterprising agriculturists, he faces the danger of being displaced from more fertile land by Iron age farmers who grow a sufficient surplus so as to not merely have superior technology but also to arm and maintain a warrior cohort . In other words, to be Secure, you need to always aim for a surplus, which means you need specialised Artisans like Blacksmiths and Carpenters and leather tanners and rope makers and so forth, but also a dedicated Warrior cadre.
True, this poses the risk of being enslaved- of being turned into a helot caste- by the very warrior cohort you hire. Thus you need to hedge against 'Agent Principal hazard'. Indeed, hedging against Mechanism Design type risks, in my view, of the essence in any theory hoping to connect Secular and Sacred or Kantian Morality and Hegelian Sittlichkeit or Vyavahara and Dharma or my man boobs and Marilyn Monroe. What? If she were still alive, they'd probably be as low hanging and hairy nippled as mine. Anyway, could we please stop talking about my moobs? Like, dude, u r making me seriously uncomfortable.
It is tempting to take a sort of sanctimonious 'Manuvadi' line here and say that Hinduism is the solution to Mechanism Design hazard. For example, after the Godhra riots, Prime Minister Vajpayee (a scholarly Brahmin) pointedly ponitficated, during a Press Conference, that Modi (a 'Shudra' from a 'Service caste'- his ancestors were oil pressers) should observe 'Raj Dharma' - i..e. the Religious duty of the King to render Justice to all irrespective of their caste or creed- and Modi, grinning and chuckling, cut his Chief down to size by saying 'Wohi to kar rahe hain Sahib!' - 'that's what we are doing, Sir!'- using the Muslim term 'Sahib' (which derives from the word for the Companions of the Prophet s.a.w) and thus dismissing the comprador Priesthood as worthless windbags whereas true 'Raj'- Rulership as arising indigenously- is always the work-in-progress solution to the multiple Agent-Principle type hazard problems facing the productive classes.
Anyway, as a Brahmin myself- I no longer call myself a Brahminbandhu, which is all Vajpayee was, because I am now both the only Rishi as well as the only Acharya of 'Sura Veda' such that, like my Sama Vedic udgatr ancestors, people pay not to partake in but put a term to attendance of the, now incessant, Soulful Song of my Symposia- I feel emboldened to say that Modi, true to Ghanchi Dharma, was able to extract some useful oil- jet fuel more like!- out of that oleaginous Vajpayee who offered the Nation only the dubious Vajapeya (elixir) of Appeasing impenitent Aggressors, Aggressively Advertising imaginary achievements and incessantly talking such tripe that Sonia and Rahul appeared the Hindi voice of Sanity, by comparison.
Returning to the topic of this post- viz. seeing Hinduism as an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy- there are a couple of myths that first need to be disposed off
1) Jati/Caste as a sort of Trade Unionism such that 'Service castes' (i.e. tanners, carpenters, oil-pressers etc) gain countervailing power by recourse to 'boycott'. Westerners like this idea. Sir Mark Tully's defence of the Caste System is based on it. But is it true? Fuck no. Indian production functions aint convex. There are just too many 're-switching' type possibilities. True, there is Preference Falsification the other way. But, for the Median Hindu, or the isotropic median Indian topos, reswitching rules.
2) Supposed Social Conservatism and/or Weberian characteristics of the Trading Castes. To my mind, this artefact arises from rational Portfolio Diversification in favor of Credentialized Education/Religion which can be entered into from different motives (Like how becoming a Minister of Religion, in England, was more often a strategy to arrest downward mobility rather than enabling upward mobility, as in America at the same period.)
In India, at times of Grain surplus, it makes sense to get your kids some Bhramin/Shraman/Whatever Credential both as a matter of 'just in case' as well as of 'WTF, let's roll the dice on this'.
This is the true driver of what appears as 'Sanskritization', or 'Gandhization' or 'Nehruvian consensus' or our contemporary Technocratic 'Great Moderation'. But, a hedge is a hedge is a hedge. It can't drive dynamics except in so far as it fails in which case it definitely can't drive dynamics.
Now, I'm not denying that something like Tiebout model manorial rents exist and extracting them can look like Social Conservatism or 'Liberalism' or whatever. However, contested rent extraction too can't drive dynamics except in a 'no escape' strip of fertility- which India aint.
What, then, is my theory of caste? Um...turns out I don't have an actual theory- just a Verstehen and a caste based one at that.
For which, as I needn't tell you, I personally blame David Cameron.
That boy aint right.