Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Intellectual treason

/ superstition / collaborators /
Meera Nanda, an Indian biologist and progressive, writes with passion about the complicity to the re-sacralisation of science and the aiding and abetting of various strains of extreme Hindu nationalism by postmodern / "multiculturalist" critics of "enlightenment values":

As a student of the history and philosophy of science, I have been watching with concern how modern science itself — perhaps the single most powerful force for secularisation — is being re–coded as sacred, either as affirming the Bible or the Vedas, or as ‘lower knowledge’ of ‘dead matter’, in need of spiritualisation. As an old–time partisan of the Enlightenment and scientific temper, I have been watching with concern as my fellow intellectuals and activists, in the United States and India, who identify themselves with social justice, anti–imperialism, women’s rights and sustainable development, have themselves paved the way for re–enchantment or re–sacralisation of science...

...Long ago, Julien Benda wrote in his La Trahison De Clercs, that when intellectuals betray their calling — that is, when intellectuals begin to exalt the particular over the universal, the passions of the multitude over the moral good — then there is nothing left to prevent a society’s slide into tribalism and violence. Postmodernism represents a treason of the clerks which has given intellectual respectability to reactionary religiosity. With the best intentions of giving marginalised social groups — especially if they were women and if they belonged to the non–western world —the right to their own ways of knowing, western academics, in alliance with populist Third Worldist intellectuals, have succeeded in painting science and modernity as the enemy of the people. Rather than encourage and nurture a critical spirit toward inherited traditions, many of which are authoritarian and patriarchal, postmodernist intellectuals have waged a battle against science and against the spirit of the Enlightenment itself. As the case of Vedic science in the service of Hindu nationalism in India demonstrates, this misguided attack on the Enlightenment has only aided the growth of pseudoscience, superstitions and tribalism.

This was posted by MadOwl in Metafilter... My reaction there was the following, in reply to a post about the different epistemological objectives of Science and Religion:

Science is primarily concerned with HOW.

Religion is primarily concerned with WHY.

Well, no, if we really must make such a distinction, philosophy is primarily concerned with WHY. Religion is a system that strives to control peoples ethics through the evocation of a (quite possibly) fictional superior being, a being whose existence is but a small, secondary, and IMHO rather boring, area of philosophical inquiry. Why people believe that a series of organized, institutionalized superstitions, have a major role to play in determining any aspect of whatever they're referring to when they talk of "truth" is beyond me.

Anyway the linked article is a magnificent exposition of the reactionary character of the whole pseudo-leftist post-modernist maelstrom. The "cultural studies" world view is, when judged by its own standards, an ideal philosophy for the advertiser: A system where all statements are equally valid, is a sales person's natural intellectual habitat. It's also the religious fundamentalist's last escape and the exploiter's excuse. For a similar complaint from an Islamic background, see here...

An aside: Note that the article also hints of the deep reactionary character of the Indian religious zealots (idealized in certain western circles) - something that was amply evident in the recent Gujarat massacres....

Coming from a country with a less than perfect separation of church and state, I think I have ample justification to say that people who think that religious superstition is in any way liberatory or empowering - or provide pseudo-intellectual excuses that aid the various authoritarian, dangerous, powerful kooks that support this sort of ethno-religious nonsense - have as much to do with the emancipatory project that the left supposedly upholds, as the "traditional" wise men and women that perform clitoridectomy, or the assorted wingnuts of the American creationist fundamentalist right.

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