The following Post was composed by Shivoham. You can follow him here on Twitter.
This blog is about contemporary India, but we start with a bit of European history.
Part-1: 20th Century Europe
In 1939, ace computer scientist, mathematician, and cryptanalyst Alan Turning decided to solve the challenging problem of cracking the German Navy version of the Enigma code. Why? In his own words: “because no one else was doing anything about it and I could have it to myself“. Thus, the great Alan Turing and his intrepid team at Bletchley Park, through hard work, intelligence, and ingenuity were able to crack the Enigma code, and helped turn the tide of World War 2. The story is well known today. At first, they were resource-strained, and by the time the intercepted messages were decoded and sent up the chain of command, the relevant events had already passed into history. However, thanks to an increase in human and computing resources, and equally important, by upgrading their own game, the cryptographers were able to eventually decipher the messages fast enough to reliably predict what would happen in the future. They had turned information on enemy movements into actionable intelligence. Pure gold dust. By closing this gap between interception and decoding, they were able to have a significant impact on the course of the war between the Allies and the Axis powers. So precious was their operation, their work was rated ‘Ultra’, even above ‘Most’ secret. Some of Alan Turing’s research findings were hidden from public view for 70 years and only published recently. Even beyond WW2, it appears that Enigma machines were sold to 3rd world countries that were unaware that their information could be tracked by the west.
The Nazi analysts themselves believed their Enigma encryption to be fool-proof, and it is acknowledged that in principle, they indeed were. However, overconfidence, and bad operational practices gave away enough clues to Bletchley Park, who were smart enough to take advantage of these lapses. Turing’s team was able to make risky predictions that turned out to be right. The allied command subsequently bet the lives of thousands of soldiers on their predictions. Theirs was a solid scientific approach supported by rigorous math and empirical testing, which allowed them to be confident in their predictions. However, if their predictions were wrong, many lives would have been in jeopardy due to faulty intelligence and their work would’ve been dismissed as pseudo-science.
What distinguishes Science from Pseudo-science?
Around 1919, Karl Popper, a western philosopher, began to actively ponder this demarcation. He narrowed down the distinction to one of testability. According to Popper, a scientific theory must be able to make somewhat risky predictions about the future. Others would try to falsify this theory, and if this falsification failed, the theory would gain credence. If the events did not happen as predicted, the theory would be weakened, and efforts would be made to either rectify the theory and re-test, or abandon it entirely. 97 years ago, Popper applied his principles to identify at least two theories popular in the West during that time as pseudo-science: the Marxist theory of history, and the Freudian psychoanalysis. Why? These theories simply did not fail! They could explain everything in the past with 100% accuracy, and were irrefutable. First-time viewers, to this day, find this ability to confirm quite irresistible. However, within a few decades of Marx’s theory, it failed the risky predictability test not once, but several times. Freudian analysis met the same fate. From this western perspective, it was classic pseudo-science (although, apparently Marx was confident enough to crown himself as ‘the Isaac Newton of Social Sciences‘). Arguably, Marxist theory or Freudian theory did not become obsolete over time, but were born blind. By brushing away these glaring failures to predict, scientist Karl became prophet Karl. As contemporary events show, ‘propheteering’ is much more lucrative and unimpeachable (compared to the scientific alternative of forecasting, where a 5% increase in error in predicting product sales may have your client pulling the plug on your project). Well, what on earth has all this to do with India? We discuss this in the next section.
Part-2: 21st Century India
Welcome to western Indology (India study). The major theoretical foundations of western Indology over the last few decades are, as you may have guessed, Marxist theory of history, and Freudian psychoanalysis! Completely unchallenged, totally unhindered by any need to test predictions, many (but not all, there a few good ones) Indologists have combined to build up an entire body of Indology literature based on these pseudo-sciences. Let us examine the nature of this literature constructed.
The western approach to knowledge-building via math models employs rigorous theorem proving starting from a bunch of ‘self-evident’ statements called axioms. A ‘purva paksha’ of the way mathematics historically developed in the West would reveal, at least at a very high level, the contrast between the Euclidean western way of theorem-proving versus the Paninian Indian approach of rule-generation (refer to the talk and work by M. D. Srinivas and others). Infallible Western mathematics versus the explicitly fallible Indic Ganita (science of computations) is an interesting topic in its own right, which we will explore in-depth in this space later. The theorem-proving approach allows us to reliably extend existing results, without having to start from scratch each time. By maintaining rigor and by subjecting new ideas to rigorous predictive testing, one can minimize the fallibility of the entire system. Of course, if one of those axioms or proofs were to be found wanting in some future scenario, it can open up a can of worms.
This incremental approach of knowledge generation used in the hard sciences has been borrowed and applied by the west to social sciences as well, which as we have seen from the time of Prophet Karl, are pseudo-sciences. So we have journal papers quoting and extending the work of previous papers, results building on prior result, producing an incestuous body of Indology writing that can plausibly confirm any and all prior data about India, but is largely useless as far as reliably predicting ‘risky’ future events. Therefore, not only has this body of work not been useful, but these highly innovative, imaginative and intellectually engaging models have been harmful when used outside academia as a predictor to develop solutions in a real world. If, by chance, a future event does conform to a theory, they can claim credit; if it failed, then of course, “the cow and goddess worshiping, caste obsessed, curry munching Hindus” weren’t smart enough to understand Marxism properly. At its core such social sciences are largely a ‘Heads I win, Tails you lose’ proposition. Thus, when decades of Marxist-inspired methods of planning in post-1947 India inevitably failed to yield results, it was explained away as the “Hindu rate of growth”. This also justified the need to continue inflicting Marxism on Indians until they fully understood it, i.e., when enough successive ‘Heads’ were observed!
Indology Theory versus Hindu Practice
Recently, I visited Columbia University in New York City to attend a science conference. The STEM departments in such universities are top-notch. Genuinely curious and good scientists and wonderful human beings. I have learned from them, and my interactions have been beneficial. Only in the last decade did I learn that in these same campuses, in their humanities and social sciences departments, there are other smart professors who are invested in Western Indology and Hindu studies. From nine thousand miles away, they were and are doing a whole lot of theoretical model fitting using materialist Marxist and Freudian interpretations of Sanskrit texts that would appear utterly nonsensical to actual practitioners in India. The dharmic content of Hinduism that actually guides its practice is summarily rejected!
On the other hand, some Western thinkers outside the ivory tower who internalized Hinduism’s ideas were able to practically adapt it to solve some of the biggest challenges of the 20th century. For example, the approaches of both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, borrowed from the Satyagraha of Gandhi that is fundamentally rooted in Sanatana Dharma. The positive and pervasive influence of Swami Vivekananda on Western thought is stunning to read, and has never really been acknowledged either.
The Indology Enigma Machine
In an earlier era, there were the ‘orientalists’ from a Europe that had colonized and ruined India, who studied India from the perspective of a superior ‘teacher’ race. These earlier Indologists have been thoroughly exposed and the new generations of Indologists that are based in the United States are much smarter. They are trained in Sanskrit, have learned from the mistakes of the Orientalists, and have proceeded to cleverly write lengthy papers and analyses using extremely convoluted English (search for example, the pomo generator). Their writings virtually became a code that only their peers, who were part of a mutual back-scratching network, could review, read, understand, and build upon. Alternative new approaches to Hindu studies in the US would be branded as “communal” and “Hindu extremism” by their gatekeepers and shut down. If you, as a graduate scholar, wanted to study Hinduism and get funding, you would have to learn their code language, and thereby also adopt the encoded views about India.
Simply put, these Indologists had succeeded in creating their own virtual Enigma machine. This Indology enigma machine is then shipped to third-world India, safe in the knowledge that only the encoders in the US, and their elite disciples in India, would truly know what the messages meant. It became their ultimate inside joke on India. This Indology Enigma in principle is also a fool-proof system like the earlier WW2 model and cracking this code would require sustained, single-minded effort, enormous resources, and a high degree of intelligence to break. They progressed, unhindered for decades, until the breakthrough came in the form of a trained physicist named Rajiv Malhotra.
American Orientalism Decoded
Rajiv Malhotra has lived in the US for more than 40 years and his is another successful Indian immigrant story – he studied physics, but got into IT and Telecom and eventually became the multi-millionaire owner of 20 companies. However, it is what happened afterward that is quite extraordinary. He gave it all up (for one dollar) at the age of 44 to devote his life, full time, to Hindu and Indian studies from an insider perspective. He used his personal funds to set up a research foundation and has over the last few decades, given grants, built up a dedicated home team, and done a deep and thorough study of the Indology landscape from an Indic perspective (and this is really key). While others too have attempted such studies earlier, there is really no one else who approached this problem in a single-minded manner, applying scholarly rigor, comprehensive research, and thoroughness. Rajiv Malhotra decided that he would take this up as part of his sva-dharma. He became the perfect storm that was required to crack this Indology Enigma code. Based on more than 20 years of painstaking research, and at a high personal cost, Rajiv Malhotra has authored five epic books on related topics, and we will briefly examine a specific trilogy among them, noting that the very first book, ‘Invading the Sacred‘ demolishes the Freudian psychoanalysis applied to Hindu studies in America.
The first book in the three we examine here is ‘Breaking India’, which analyzed the prior Indologists, mostly from Europe, whose theories from the 19th century have devastated Indian politics and sections of society (including in my own home state) for more than a century now. Thus, the initial decoding of Indology by Rajiv ji, while being amazing and successful, is associated with a large time lag between when these virulent messages were encoded and when they were fully decoded. However, his next book ‘Indra’s Net’ that focused on newer but equally diabolical Indology theories reduced this time lag. Here, he was able to expertly decipher the more recent discourse around the spurious idea of ‘Neo-Hinduism’ being propagated in India over the last few decades. Finally, his latest book, ‘The Battle For Sanskrit‘ was released in India a couple of weeks ago. While this book is yet to release in the US, I have studied several video overviews of its content to realize that it has exposed the ugly face of an ‘American Orientalism’, a new form of Orientalism.
It is clear that today, Rajiv Malhotra’s systematic approach has been able to decipher the output of American Orientalism as it is happening in the US right now. In this desperate intellectual and civilizational Kurukshetra, for the first time ever, practicing Hindus will have actionable intelligence that will enable them to proactively mount a defense before these destructive theories fully percolate into the Indian discourse that is controlled by sepoys – the paid native intellectual gunmen of these western masters.
A new generation of dedicated Intellectual Kshatriyas are needed to carry this work forward. Who will join this Battle for our Sanskriti?
Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.