REVISITING NATIONALISM – 4
Prasanna K Choudhary
The viewpoint that gets manifested prominently in European nationalism seeks to think in terms of absolutely opposing categories, in terms of dichotomies like God vs Satan, Good vs Evil, Civilized vs Barbarous, Right vs Wrong, White vs Black, East vs West, High vs Low, Us vs Them, etc. ( In social sciences, such categorization theories were first formulated by R Dunnet in England in 1896 and in 1902 in France by Professor Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917, and his nephew Professor Marcel Mauss. ) Obviously this viewpoint leads towards launching aggressive campaigns against ‘satanic forces’ in order to establish the ‘kingdom of God’, against ‘barbarism’ in order to ‘civilize’ the world, against the ‘backward East’ in order to establish the ‘modern West’, etc.
Followers of this viewpoint emphasize on the binary basis on which computers or neurons in human brain operate ( 0-1, on-off ). They emphasize on differences, ‘irreconciliable differences’, and in such situations suggest and effect division or partition. Hence, European nationalism miserably failed in building societies consisting of different nationalities and faiths – in effecting unity amidst diversities.
The other viewpoint that chiefly manifested in the writings of a number of thinkers belonging to the colonial and oppressed countries, seeks to interpret things and phenomena in their relative perspectives. Any phenomenon or object can be viewed from a number of ( say, infinite) perspectives – no observation is final since observation never ends. ‘There is no Truth,’ said Flaubert, ‘there are just ways of seeing.’ All observations are relative truths and they cannot be posited as opposing categories. Confrontation or conflict takes place only when one relative truth claims to be the only Truth, and hence strives to eliminate all other truths – in short, when one relative truth tries to become the absolute Truth.
This inclusive viewpoint does not believe in exclusivist outlook of fundamental dichotomies; instead, it emphasizes on the coexistence together of many ( relative ) truths at the same time. It means that every relative truth should be recognized and accorded due respect in its space-time context. It means rejection of illusory, all-encompassing absolutes. As in the Star Wars, in reply to Anakin Skywalker’s poser, ‘ You are either with me or you are my enemy,’ Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi replies, ‘ Only Siths ( the Dark Side ) believe in absolutes.’
Yes, nerve signals in the brain are normally taken to be ‘on or off’ phenomena, just as are currents in the electronic circuits of a computer, which either takes place or do not take place. But now neurophysiologists, in search of consciousness, are going beyond the neurons into the subtle world of microtubules in the synaptic clefts where they believe the phenomenon of quantum coherence ( of Bose-Einstein Condensation, BEC ) occurs and relate this to the phenomenon of consciousness. From the binary world of on or off in the neurons, we enter into the world of quantum coherence ( where large number of particles collectively cooperate in a single quantum state ) of microtubules. (22)
Since the advent of the humankind, both these viewpoints have played important roles in human progress. Hence they are found in every society ( and even in every individual ).
Given the immense diversity ( in ever walk of life ), the second viewpoint stands at the core of coherent Indian society and has been predominant in the Indian thought. However, in the smriti tradition of our society, the first viewpoint of binary oppositions takes the prominent place. After the formation of the European Union, even western thinkers have become aware of the incompatibility of the first viewpoint with the idea of a unified Europe. Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, says, ‘ But one thing is certain: Europeans have learned that to live together peacefully, many points of view need to coexist. ….’
As noted earlier, the viewpoint of binary oppositions constitute the core of European nationalism, while the thinkers of oppressed countries seem to veer around the second viewpoint.
NATIONALISM AND THE NEW AGE
The most potent challenge to nationalism has arisen from a very different source. For the first time in the history of humankind, unseen high energy particles have become the chief instruments of production and communication. Although this transformation has been going on for the last 150 years, it was only in the last decade of the previous century that these particles had acquired their prime role in the day-to-day production and communication. These micro-particles can only be globally appropriated in a productive way ( in contrast to the old, gross instruments of production, be it palaeolithic stone tools or modern industrial machines which were appropriated either individually or collectively in the production process ). The more the instruments of production are subtle, the more universality they inhere ( and the vice versa ). The universal/global appropriation of subtle particles ( molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, positrons, photons, quarks, gluons, etc.) forms the objective basis of the current globalization, and it delineates the difference between current and previous globalizations.
Nationalism today is challenged by nanoparticles. Nationalism promotes single, homogenous, unidimensional identity. Nano-particles are creating multiple, heterogenous, multi-dimensional identities. Nationalism constructs stereotypes, nano-particles generate diversities.
New instruments of production and communication are forging new socio-economic relationships which manifest itself in newer forms of community. These developments have been the subject of many recent studies on knowledge economy. (23)
Quantum science and knowledge economy both are pushing the humankind towards new forms of community that are open, flexible, diverse and based on mutual respect towards their components – communities comprising of multiple identities and a variety of pluralities in a coherent whole. Even individuals today are becoming more and more conscious of their own multiple identities. All internet sites ( be it blogs, various file-sharing sites, YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, Second Life, Facebook, Twitter, etc. ) create around themselves global communitities consisting of people of different nationalities and orientations. These newer virtual forms of community are actively interfering in real world affairs. Real and virtual are constantly changing their places. How will the ‘coherent virtual world’ impact the ‘binary real world of conflicts, wars, and terror’ and how will they interpenetrate, remain to be seen.
For the western nationalist thinkers, the unity of India amidst immense diversities remained an enigma. In an age when economic and political power-centres are shifting, and for the first time in the last three hundred years, western powers are face-to face with losing their hegemony in world affairs, this enigma is again attracting their attention, albeit in a different perspective.
In today’s world, singularity of identity is reserved only for the ‘black holes’. The unique selling proposition of any individual, institution or of society is its plurality. The very features – ‘million mutinies’ and ‘functioning anarchy’ – that were once regarded as sure signs of India’s disintegration, are today its greatest selling propositions, and to use Joseph Nye’s words, its most surprising ‘soft power’. India’s million mutinies are constantly creating its million unities, and its functional anarchy is continuously adding vitality to its dynamic political order. Whether Einstein’s ‘universal constant’ exists or not, there is certainly an enigmatic Indian constant keeping the Indian universe thriving amidst mind-boggling diversities, and mutinies and anarchy. Enigmas, like Shakira’s ‘hips, do not lie’; formal logic of straight identities does. In the post-independence period, Indian people have time and again rejected the ideologies and organizations that have tried to create a singular identity for India.
In spite of innumerable binary conflicts in history, Indian society historically evolved as a social equivalent of ‘quantum coherence’ or of Dadaist collage. Revisiting nationalism is an occasion to celebrate and re-assert this social realization.
1. The Treaty of Westphalia reduced the power of the Emperor to a shadow and recognized two long accomplished facts, the separation from the Empire and the complete independence of both Holland and Switzerland. France acquired Alsace and its border extended upto the Rhine. One German prince, the Hohenzollern Elector of Brandenburg, acquired so much territory as to become the greatest German power next to the Emperor. It became the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701.
2. Catlin, George; ‘ A History of the Political Philosophers ‘, London, 1950.
3.Engels, Frederick; ‘ Letter to the Editor of The Commonwealth’, No. 160, March 31, 1866. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Vol 20, Moscow, 1985.
4. Braudel, Fernand; ‘ A History of Civilizations ‘, London, 1995.
5. Kincaid, Jaimaica; Foreword to Guy Endore, ‘ Babouk ‘, New York, 1991.
6. Braudel, Fernand; Ibid.
7. Brafman, Ori and Beckstrom, Rod A ; ‘ The Starfish and the Spider ‘, London, 2006.
8. Jean Bodin ( died 1596 ): French political philosopher. Councillor of State, attached to the Court of Henry III of France. Authored ‘ Les Six Levres de la Republique ‘ (1576)
– ‘ Six Books of the Commonwealth ‘ ( translated by M J Tooley, 1955 ).
9. Giambattista Vico ( 1668-1744 ): Italian philosopher and sociologist.
10. Johann Gottfried Herder ( 1744-1803 ): German philosopher of enlightenment, writer and literary critic.
11. Emanuel-Joseph Sieyes ( 1748-1836 ): French revolutionary.
12. Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio; ‘ Empire ‘, London, 2001.
13. ‘ True Levellers ‘ or Diggers: Diggers broke away from the democratic republican Levellers’ movement during the English bourgeois revolution of the mid-17th century. Representing the poorest section of the population suffering from feudal and capitalist exploitation in town and countryside, the Diggers, in contrast to the rest of the Levellers, who defended private property, carried on propaganda for community of property and other ideas of egalitarian communism, attempting to establish common ownership of land through collective ploughing of communal wasteland.
14. Thomas Munzer ( 1490-1525 ): Leader of the urban plebeians and poor peasants during the Reformation and the Peasant War in Germany ( 1525 ); advocated egalitarian utopian communism.
15. Anabaptists: Anabaptists or rebaptists belong to one of the most radical and democratic religious-philosophical trends spread in Switzerland , Germany and The Netherlands during the Reformation ( 16th century ). Members of this sect were so-called because they repudiated infant baptism and demanded a second, adult baptism. Under the name of Mennonites, prospered in Britain, and went to America, founding a colony in Providence, Rhode Island, and became a powerful Protestant sect in the United States.
16. Francois Noel Babeuf ( Gracchus ) ( 1760-1797 ): French revolutionary. Advocate of utopian egalitarian communism. Organizer of the ‘ conspiracy of equals ‘. In 1828, a companion of Babeuf, Philippe Buonarotti had described in his ‘ History of the Conspiracy for Equality ‘, known as the Babeuf Conspiracy, how the ‘ Equals ‘ had planned a sort of ‘ plebeian Vendee ‘, how they had failed and been executed. Babeuf stabbed himself on 26 March, 1797 to escape execution.
17. Quakers ( or Society of Friends ): A religious sect founded in England during the seventeenth century revolution and later widespread in North America. They rejected the Established Church with its rites and preached pacifist ideas. The ‘ wet ‘ Quakers, so called in opposition to the orthodox ‘ dry ‘ Quakers, were a trend which emerged in the 1820s and sought to renew the Quaker doctrines. In 1681, the Quaker William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania in the United States.
18. Toynbee, Arnold J ; ‘ A Study of History ‘, Vol I , London, 1945.
19. Wang, Chaohua; ‘ One China, Many Paths ‘, ( ed. ), New York, 2003.
21. Pamuk, Orhan; ‘ Other Colours ‘, London, 2007.
22. Penrose, Roger; ‘ Shadows of the Mind ‘, London, 1995.
23. Some of the recent studies on knowledge economy include D Foray’s ‘ Economics of Knowledge ‘, MIT Press, 2004; S Weber’s ‘ The Success of the Open Source ‘, Harvard University Press, 2004; Eric Von Hippel’s ‘ Democratizing Innovation ‘, London, 2005; …. Hippel studies the trend towards democratization of innovation, ‘ innovation communities ‘, ‘ intellectual commons ‘, user-centered innovation process and the open-source software movement beginning with Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation created in 1985 upto the founding of the Open-source software movement by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond in 1998. Foray argues that the radical changes in the information and communication technologies are creating major changes in the economics of knowledge production and distribution. Foray positions users at the heart of knowledge production. He says that one major challenge for management is to capture the knowledge being generated by users ‘ on line ‘ during the process of doing and producing, and to integrate it with knowledge created ‘ off line ‘ in laboratories. …. The increased capabilities of information and communication technologies tend to reduce innovators’ ability to control the knowledge they create. He proposes that the most effective knowledge management policies and practices will be biased towards knowledge sharing. S Weber maintains that ‘ the conventional language of industrial era economics identifies producers and consumers, supply and demand. The open source process scrambles these categories. Open source software users are not consumers in the conventional sense…. Users integrate into the production process itself in a profound way. ‘ He then argues that this new mode of production can extend beyond the development of open source software, to an extent and a degree that are not yet understood.
( Translated from the original Hindi text by the author himself. )
Written in May, 2009.