Left-Liberals, Bhagavad Gita and Social Media
Observing Left liberals is a favorite pastime of mine. Given the fact that I am Right of Center in my disposition, I like to track and understand the opposing view. To paraphrase Russell, I make it a point to read the views of the people who I don’t agree with.
There is in fact quite a range, of Left liberals out there, from the extremely sophisticated, intelligent and articulate, to the uncouth, unintelligible and rabid. (These descriptions, apply to the people on the Right too). While often times one gets upset with the comments they make, on further reflection, it has actually helped me become more objective and look at the world with a more detached view. So in a way the Left Liberals have helped me in my spiritual sadhana.
While I will not take the names of people at the bottom end of the spectrum, the top five Left Liberals at the front end are Ram Chandra Guha, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Shekhar Gupta, Ashutosh Varshney, and Siddharth Varadarajan. As much as I disagree with their views and what they stand for, I have to admit a trace of admiration for their intellectual horsepower.
Considering that all of them are regular columnists who participate regularly in TV debates and are also on Twitter, one can get a fair sense of their thinking on various issues and events that confront our nation.
In Chapter 10 Verse 32 of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna extols to Arjuna that of all the arguments, he is Vadah. Here is the translation of the verse:
“Of all creations I am the beginning and the end and also the middle, O Arjuna. Of all sciences I am the spiritual science of the self, and among logicians I am the conclusive truth”
As per our scriptures, there are three kinds of arguments. Jalpa, Vitanda and Vadah. A brief explanation of each of them is given below:
Here the tactic adopted is to destroy the opposing hypothesis through ‘chhala’ or circumvention and ‘jati’ or false generalisations.
In this form of argumentation, one focuses on fault finding or undermining the opposing hypothesis without ever establishing their own position.
Both Jalpa and Vitanda are exercises in mental gymnastics. Attempts are made to falsify, distort and misrepresent the truth for the purpose of inserting their own deceptive hidden agenda.
Here both the parties are open minded and argue for the sole objective of establishing the truth as enunciated in the pithy verse, vade vade tatvabodah, which can be loosely translated as “through correct argumentation, one arrives at the philosophical truth.”
There is no duplicity or deception here. Both the parties are willing to accept the opposing point of view if they are convinced that other’s interpretation is based on sound premises, and follows logical rigour to arrive at the conclusion they seek to establish.
The integrity with which both the parties approach ‘ Vadah” can be seen from the fact that Ubhaya Bharati, wife of the renowned Mimamsaka, Mandana Misra was appointed as the judge in a debate between Adi Shankara and Mandana Misra. Once the arguments were concluded, (after 18 days) Ubhaya Bharati declared Shankara as the winner.
Such was the level of objectivity. There is absolutely no ego at play during such debates. Having lost the debate, Mandana Misra readily accepted to become a disciple of Shankara. Such was the open mindedness with which debates were conducted, the sole objective being discovery of the Truth.
Debates on Social Media
Thanks to the advent of social media, it is now possible for engaging in debates with public intellectuals of all hues, who choose to be on Twitter and Facebook.
The opportunity for expressing one’s opinion in a public forum on any topic and engage with other intellectuals has opened up interesting opportunities to understand each other. While before the advent of social media, we could chose to keep our opinions to ourselves or only share it amongst our friends or at best write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or a magazine on any issue that agitated us enough to express our opinion, now with the “share” and ‘tweet’ button, our opinions on events are much more freely and widely expressed.
By the very act of sharing a link on any topic or event, we are giving our view either by endorsement or by opposition. The ease with which this can be done has obviously increased the frequency of our expressing our opinions as well as the number of topics on which we all seem to have an opinion about. The digital trail of thoughts we now leave exposes us even further as every one can observe a pattern in our behavior and easily conclude where we stand on various issues. Surprisingly this has resulted in a loss of objectivity amongst public intellectuals as a majority of them are now adhering to a self-reinforcing pattern of public behavior. The topics on which they comment or share their own opinion on various events has become increasingly partisan.
90% of the debates on Social Media fall into the Jalpa and Vitanda category and only 10% in the Vadah.
Silence as the fourth type of argument
Coming back to the different kinds of arguments mentioned above, I would like to add ‘ Silence’ as another form of argument. In the earlier days, a debate meant exchange of ideas where both the parties were phyically present at any given time and therefore silence could not be a method of argument.
In the context of 24/7 social media where one can participate in a debate with anyone in the world or initiate a debate oneself by making a comment or sharing a link, silence is increasingly being chosen as a method of expressing one’s opinion by public intellectuals of both sides of the divide.
[pullquote]Surprisingly this has resulted in a loss of objectivity amongst public intellectuals as a majority of them are now adhering to a self-reinforcing pattern of public behavior.[/pullquote]
RT’s may not be an endorsement but silence surely is
Almost every one on Twitter has a disclaimer “RTs are not an endorsement”. I could never understand the need for this as I never RT something that I do not endorse and if I do RT something that I don’t, I make sure to add my comment so that people know what my opinion on the topic dealt with in the tweet or link actually is. I have never blindly tweeted something that I don’t agree with and am yet to come across somebody who did the same.
Be that as it may, this caveat continues on most people’s Twitter bios, perhaps given some legal or historical background that I am not aware off.
The reason I raise it here is that even though RT’s may not be endorsements, silence by someone who regularly expresses opinions on all important events to a positive event that occurs on the side they oppose or a negative event occurs involving the side they support, is an endorsement albeit a silent one. The key qualification I make to the rule is that it only applies to public intellectuals who regularly opine on all current affairs. This will not apply to people who only occasionally express their opinions as a discernable pattern cannot be made and hence no opinion can be formed of their opinions.
[pullquote]Mr Guha, for example can call himself a ‘lapsed’ objectivist instead of ‘lapsed’ Marxist. [/pullquote]
Let me illustrate this with a matrix. Let’s assume that there are two kinds of public intellectuals: Left & Right, and two kinds of events : Positive & Negative from the perspective of their respective political dispensation. The behavior of a Left Liberal can be mapped as follows.
Though this matrix can be made equally applicable to both sides of the divide, for the present lets look at it from the perspective of the Left.
As can be seen from the matrix, one remains silent when a negative event occurs involving the Left or a positive event involving the Right. People who are actively expressing opinions suddenly become quiet and act as if the event never happened.
By choosing to remain silent and not comment on any particular event (in contrast to our expressing an opinion on events immediately before or after an event that we chose to remain silent on), we are communicating something about ourselves and our opinion on a given topic.
Silence can be described as a form of argument where you know the truth, but refuse to acknowledge it, or for that matter, express it in public.
The trigger for this blog was the complete silence of Ramchandra Guha to Narendra Modi’s speech on 15 August. While every Left liberal had some comment to make, either a positive comment with a cautionary rider (Shekhar Gupta/Sid Vardarajan or a negative comment by Prof Ashutosh Varshney), Ramchandra Guha chose to remain completely silent.
This is what I tweeted to him when I noticed that his first tweet on the afternoon of 15 Aug (when the whole world was raving/commenting/critquing the speech by Narendra Modi) was on a totally different topic from Mr Modi’s speech.
There was something strikingly out of place in his online behaviour that made me ponder over the concept of “Silence” as a form of argument. Such nonchalance to the most eagerly looked forward to event bordered on arrogance. It was as if he was cocking a snook at the rest of us. In any case, he has still not commented on this speech.
As a person who has chosen to be a commentator on political affairs, I strongly believe he has an obligation to comment on the speech.
Objectivity is a value that public intellectuals should strive for
Here I make a distinction between public intellectuals and party members. While the dharma of a Party member is to uphold their Party view by subsuming their individual opinion to that of the Party they belong to, public intellectuals are not bound by any such duty. Therefore objectivity is a value that they can and should strive for.
While they may have formed their political view after due consideration, and therefore need not change the same based on a single event, they must and should react to an event involving the opposing side based on the merits of that event alone and not color it by looking at the event through the prism of their long term view or bias.
[pullquote]Silence can be described as a form of argument where you know the truth, but refuse to acknowledge it, or for that matter, express it in public.[/pullquote]
They should set a standard of objectivity for others to follow and comment on all events (because they have chosen to be public intellectuals expressing opinions on current affairs) and not just on those events which are convenient to their worldview.
In the current environment, where the Right is riding high, I can dare say that Left liberals are far quieter when positive events that do not suit their world view occur or negative events involving their side are exposed. A number of events over the last year bear testimony to this.
Public intellectuals like Ramchandra Guha, who follow and write about cricket perhaps can take a leaf out of the gentleman’s game and applaud the opposing team member(s) for a winning performance. As a historian, I am sure he has read enough legendary tales of the sportsman spirit for him to imbibe this quality. Modi’s speech was flawless and did indeed warrant a positive comment. At worst, Guha could have added his standard rider on the omission of mention of Muslims in Modi’s speech.
[pullquote] Ramchandra Guha, who follows and writes about cricket perhaps can take a leaf out of the gentleman’s game and applaud the opposing team member(s) for a winning performance.[/pullquote]
Whether it is the Right or Left we all have our inherent biases. It is difficult for us to publicly acknowledge that we may have erred in forming our earlier opinions. However we are better served to adopt “Vadah” and discover the truth rather than adopting the tactic of ‘Jalpa’, Vitanda’ or ‘Silence’. The other option naturally exists: of not posing as a public intellectual. Mr Guha, for example can call himself a ‘lapsed’ objectivist instead of ‘lapsed’ Marxist. No expectations of objectivity then.
Today, the Right is on the ascendant with Narendra Modi seemingly not making any mistakes and therefore not testing our sense of objectivity. Surely a day will come when he will perhaps falter for he is only human. He will make mistakes. There can be no doubt about that, but that should be the day when we must not choose silence as a form of argument.
Meanwhile, one fervently hopes that Rama (Chandra Guha) will listen to Krishna and learn a thing or two on the pursuit of truth.