Book Excerpt: ‘Indian Philosophy, Indian Revolution’ by Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan

Book Title: Indian Philosophy, Indian Revolution: On Caste and Politics
Author(s): Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan
Publisher: Westland Non-Fiction
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 978-9360450625
Date Published: Apr. 19, 2024
Price: INR 585

Indian Philosophy, Indian Revolution On Caste & Politics by Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan Book Cover

Book Excerpt


Pg 177-181

By 2019 the public sphere of India had already accepted the total dominance of upper caste supremacism which continues to be called ‘Hindu nationalism’.There were gestures of meek demands or requests which appeared to pass for debate, an atmosphere of pleading with the upper caste supremacist organisations for a little tolerance for culture and values. This text, published in the Outlook magazine, only two days after ‘Courage to Begin’, analyses the relation between tolerance and intolerance in politics. It is a philosophical reflection with a certain underlying complexity that is masked by its humour. With indirect references to Bergson, Kant, and Francisco J. Varela among others, it provides a novel affirmative account of the journey of Ulysses. The argument is something like this: if something is destructive for the very system which is tolerant of that destructive force, then it should not be tolerated. This is a revolutionary thesis which is valid for all liberalist justifications of far right actions everywhere. The far right and fascist movements everywhere are working hard to destroy the liberal or tolerant state. Dwivedi and Mohan call for a great intolerance towards such forces.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same

– ‘Achilles’s shield’, W. H. Auden

The meaning of dissent is implicated in the meaning of tolerance. We dissent when something is intolerable—‘I just can’t take this anymore … enough is enough’. No one has the power of infinite tolerance. The liberal doctrine of politics expects these two concepts, dissent and tolerance, to lead parallel lives such that they never encounter one another. But it is imperative that we introduce them to one another through the theological lessons of M. K. Gandhi.

Gandhi allows us to ask if it is necessary to assent to and obey all that passes for ‘Law’. Is it our obligation to receive all that the rulers give us: imprisonment (Yervada jail), illegal occupation (of India), banning of books (of Hind Swaraj), mass murder (Jallianwala Bagh), and economic catastrophes (the Bengal famine)? Gandhi had something of an answer, ‘But there come occasions, generally rare, when he considers certain laws to be so unjust as to render obedience to them a dishonour; he then openly and civilly breaks them and quietly suffers the penalty for their breach’.

The term dissent denotes in our everyday use, especially today, the act whereby we publicly express disagreement or shock over something illegitimate implemented by the government, or blatant acts of political crime tolerated by the legal system. The asperity of the present can be seen in the slogans we raise these days and the responses they are met with: ‘not in my name’ with ‘who are you?’; ‘I wasn’t there’ with ‘so what?’; ‘take back my awards’ with ‘where is the rest of you?’ We must not forget that three rationalist philosophers and a journalist were assassinated in recent years in the same way that M. K. Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist conspiracy in 1948; death looms over dissent and tolerance.

Infinite suffering is death Dissent is possible only when something is capable of receiving or feeling some other thing. One must be able to receive sound in order to say that ‘it is too loud’, or see light to say that ‘it is too bright’.

One must be able to assent to the very thing up to a certain degree inorder to dissent from it at another degree. The ability to receive the world and respond to it is called sentience.

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Sentience is the power in the living to feel and inhabit a certain range of the world. The sentience of animals can be observed in the way they move into or away from the gradations of heat; the ectotherms such as turtles are cold and slow in the mornings, and they seek the sun. If a living being suffers more than the tolerable range, it would perish. Increase in suffering is terminated by death such that there is never something like absolute tolerance. A rock on the other hand receives everything without movement and complaint, in the same way that a cadaver surrenders to the surroundings. Living is assenting and dissenting in every moment to what is received from the world as sensations. This explains why there is no such thing as absolute dissent either. If we dissent from everything it would be suicide, the way the philosopher Simone Weil died of hunger through her dissent from the world. Absolute dissent and absolute tolerance both find death. Here we must depart from Gandhi who said, ‘There is no time-limit for a Satyagrahi nor is there a limit to his capacity for suffering.’

Tolerance, understood as the limits of the sentience of the living, shows us the range of the world—its heat, poisons, pressure, hardness, sharpness—over which something is able to live. These ranges vary from animal to animal, and from human to human. The range of sound waves that a bat is able to receive is different from the range of the human ear. The super-rich can withstand environmental disasters more than the poor, which makes the former more tolerant of environmental changes.

We can already see that dissent is a function of tolerance, and that at the level of sensations as tolerance increases dissent decreases. Tolerance can be altered and regulated through external means. This is what we do when we cook our food and thus externalise digestion.
Gandhi experimented with the limits of digestion without external means when he consumed raw food over long periods and learned that the range of food sources available to us decreased as a result. A system of tolerance, such as winter clothes and internal heating, makes the world bearable for those who can afford it. In a way, it has been the work of the human species in all these millennia to make the world more and more bearable in order that we become Atlas himself. The name ‘Atlas’ meant ‘to endure suffering’, which comes from the Greek ‘ἔτλην’ meaning to tolerate, and from which the Latin ‘tolero’ and ‘tolerance’ itself descend.

Absolute dissent is death

Everything we found so far refers to the survival of the living at what can be called the biological level. However, politics is never the matter of mere survival; if one finds oneself in the survivalist nightmares of dictatorships and camps, where each thought and action must be considered in its possible relation to death, then one is already embalmed in the cadaver of politics. Assassinations and genocides eliminate not just the people they kill, but also, through the inception of fear in the survivors, they kill the possibility of any fight. In other words, if a few words spoken—‘this law is a crime’— can kill, then politics has already died.

Politics begins with the expulsion of the fear of death when we come together to form institutional means and fight for freedoms. There had always been men who had less to fear and more to inspire it. Politics, ideally, develops an egalitarianism of fearlessness. This explains why those who would like to inspire fear destroy the political institutions first. The creation and implementation of an idea, such as the internet, is impossible in the condition where all men are afraid of death. In fact, a shared life of ideas which creates the future—the sciences, metaphysics, poetry, bionics, calculus, human rights—is possible only on the condition that politics remains at work.

Then, politics relies on a different kind of sentience which is made possible through the expulsion of the fear of death. It is founded on the creation and maintenance of the conditions under which one is able to give and receive ideas—a world made up of the sentience of thought. Sentience of thought sets its own limits through thoughts alone, and not through the conditions of biological nature. The intolerance we feel towards those legislations and state actions which, though they do not affect our own wellbeing, do harm some others, is founded on the sentience of thought; we feel these thoughts occurring in someone else’s mind as unjust, uncouth, repulsive. By dissenting in such instances, as Gandhi said, ‘The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law.’

There are ranges over which bearable and unbearable thoughts are distributed just as there are ranges for tolerable sensations. The thoughts of genocides and of the destruction of people’s democratic institutions are unbearable. On the other hand, when Emily Dickinson writes ‘And that is why I lay my Head / Upon this trusty word’, we assent to the poeticality of this thought. Gandhi knew that thoughts can develop into worlds of technological exuberance or of murders. The sentience of thought involves the ability to learn of the range of events that thought can achieve in the world as it unfolds, therefore Gandhi said, ‘We have known of murders committed by words. Therefore, just as our hands and feet should be kept under control, so should our tongue be’.

Gandhi conceived a different set of conditions to judge his own limits of tolerance for the thoughts of others. Of these conditions, the most important was the act of taking a vow. Once we set the limit of permissible thoughts, we take a vow in order to bind that limit. Gandhi had a simple definition of the vow: ‘The “vow” I am thinking of is a promise made by one to oneself’. We do know that one must not break one’s promises. Then, ‘the vow’ sets the limits of one’s sentience of thought. In this regard, Gandhi practiced great intolerance when he refused to break his vows for the sake of the others. This is the lesson to learn from Gandhi, that one must be intolerant in order to protect thoughts and ideas, such as the idea of a peacefully shared world.

Extracted with permission from Indian Philosophy, Indian Revolution by Divya Dwivedi & Shaj Mohan, published by Westland Books.

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