A True Marxist would...

2020, Sep 15    

“Eating from the trashcan of ideology” is a phrase that stuck with me from Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Žižek’s film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. To summarize - one should be very careful when they believe they are imbibing something pure or outside of ideology since that is when ideology functions most powerfully. We cannot escape the meta-frame that we are in, but we can talk about it.

Palantir is a tech company that is going public soon. Its CEO, Alex Karp, is a self-described socialist. It might seem confusing - why/how is a potential (paper) billionaire also a socialist? Clearly he must not be. He’s virtue signalling. If he was truly a socialist, shouldn’t he be organizing workers in a factory somewhere? Writing poetry and speeches? Arguing on Twitter about pronouns?

ISIS/Daesh claims to be a traditionalist Islamic state, but it is, in my opinion, completely modern and I’m not the only one who thinks so. If they were truly a traditional Islamic state, shouldn’t they hold People of the Book in high regard?

Sadhguru insists that Muslims listen to Mohammad’s original words and Marxists listen to Marx’s original words, not Stalin’s. Unsurprisingly, he is a traditionalist, originalist and literalist insisting on a traditionalist, originalist and literalist interpretation of the words of YOUR OWN RELIGION’S FOUNDER. Sadhguru has a particular way of relating to the divine and insists that all humans relate to their divine in the same manner. That would solve all problems.

Ultimately, Sadhguru’s meta-frame is anti-change and anti-growth, in the sense that Harari would use it. He believes that the ancient ones had it right and if we just listen to them, we’ll be fine. This is a way of tapping out and ignoring the ways that faiths, ideologies and practices develop to face new challenges in a changing world. North Indian Hindus changed their practices by incorporating purdah first as part of survival during the raids of Tamerlane and later as status-climbing under the Mughals. Islam within India is far more based on the shrines of Qalandars than other parts of the world - partially since converting Hindus wasn’t as easy as converting Iranians - the Bhakti movement 400 years before Moinuddin Chisti already democratized religion across India in a way that Zoroastrianism didn’t. Chisti and the Order composed around him are so deeply respected across South Asian Islam that Afghan tribesmen to this day want to visit India if only to see the dargah of Moinuddin Chisti, the Ajmeri Khwaja. A religion, no matter how rightly guided cannot survive if it isn’t flexible.

When questioned by reporters about the sudden flip in family planning policy following the victory against Saddam Hussein, from 5 children per women to 1 child per woman, the Iranian Deputy Health Minister Husein Malek-Afzali responded:

Islam is a flexible religion From Sciolino, Elaine, Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran, Free Press, 2000, 2005 (p.282)

Sadhguru and his ilk are among the better versions of people who use this originalist, literalist argument - they’re universalists who hope to tap into something common among all the religions and bring them together to end violence. I suspect there’s an authoritarian impulse underneath but it isn’t blatant. Their way of achieving universality is to point out the ‘hypocrisies’ of the ‘other’ and convince them to change. This is a frustrating tactic to face and I imagine to employ as well. “Why don’t those stupid idiots do what they claim to be doing?” It’s prescribing how others should act based on their professed faith. Good luck with that. Of course, it’s super annoying to be the person who receives such ‘feedback’. How can you respond to this cocktail of fallacies - a combination of No True Scotsman, slippery slope and non sequitur? Usually the folks who employ this argument seek to roll an ideology back to an impractical and ideal “Eden” state, which renders it ineffective. Going back to first principles to understand why we do anything is such a laborious task that anyone who requests you to do so is essentially running a Denial-of-Service attack on you.

As anyone who has developed a web page can tell you - web browsers are all supposed to implement the specification for HTML published by the W3C - a consortium of stakeholders who agree on what things like the ‘b’ tag should mean - but none actually do. The specification is signed off by all - including the browser makers such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, et al. - before it is released. Once implemented however, nearly every browser deviates from the specification. Some of this is certainly each stakeholder pushing their own agenda to the detriment of the general open web. However, due to reality being reality, the specification itself is too restrictive to be meaningfully implemented in some places and too vague in others, leaving multiple undefined behaviors. Naturally, someone comes along and tries to universalize them with expected results. This principle of nature, to fragment, and the human desire to unite mean that there is often someone uniting standards (note the polysemy between standard as in flag and standard as in specification). It’s what Alex and I tried to do for our satellite business too!

I read Sadhguru’s argument as “We wouldn’t have cross browser compatibility issues if we merely go back to the specifications, my child, and all will be clear!” We also wouldn’t have a browser! But, sure, go live in specification land - the rest of us have to ship a browser. The rest of us have to put food on the table. The rest of us have to produce converts to satisfy the Church that funded our mission, and if we have to co-opt a native deity and claim they were a Catholic saint all along, we’ll do it. Standards, religions, are guiding principles and sometimes nothing more than symbolic unifiers that almost certainly morph when they contact the real world. Theory and practice are the same in theory. To folks like Sadhguru who live a theoretical existence, all is one and one is all. In practice, theory and practice are not at all alike. You do you.