Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Gate Keeping in the Interest of Capitalism

This is that time of year when examinations hold centre stage in India, not only for students but for their parents also. There are a plethora of examinations with the most important being the school leaving and college entry ones. Primarily because these are the ones that control the gates to a well paid career in the global capitalist system of which India is an insignificant but gradually more significant cog. These examinations themselves occur once at the end of the school phase of a child on the threshold of adulthood but since they are so important from the point of getting a decent toehold in the capitalist system, children have to prepare for them well in advance. Indeed the whole school education system, supplemented by the ubiquitous coaching institutes, has now become geared to training students to crack these examinations and the content has consequently become encyclopaedic and the learning rote. Huge amounts of information have to be memorised and the answers to questions have to be in pre-determined formats. The well publicised end of this education is not the gaining of knowledge and insights per se, even though that may happen by chance along the way, but the cracking of examinations that will ensure entry into good colleges, which in turn will later ensure jobs that promise pelf and power as minions of the global capitalist system. Such is the power of this system that very few students and parents are able to ignore it and so become victims of it, even when they crack these exams and gain entry into elite educational institutions by losing their childhood in order to compete to get ahead of others. Understandably, performing well in these examinations requires huge investments in schooling and coaching and so it is mostly the rich and powerful who are able to get their children to succeed and even after that a considerable number from these privileged sections are left out in the cold. Those children from the under privileged sections, who do get in to the elite institutions as a consequence of scholarships and reservations, also become part of the capitalist system and rarely pose a challenge to it.

Earlier, the better educational institutions at the college level were all government ones but over the past decade or so given the huge demand for such institutes that are gateways to the capitalist world, many private colleges and universities have come up, which while promising great placements to their students are prepared to relax the entrance cutoffs for a hefty fee. This has further vitiated the already skewed access to elite education tuned to landing plum jobs in the capitalist system. Not surprisingly students who have slogged from an early age to get into the capitalist system and often have to take loans to pursue higher education, are in no position to question and rebel against this system and at the most any student unrest that does take place these days is with regard to getting scholarships to defray the high expenses of college education and not about the content of this education and the fact that this education is geared to producing meek cogs of the capitalist system. The Central Government has now proposed that the University Grants Commission, which controls both the course content and funding of universities both public and private in this country, is to be discontinued and replaced by a Higher Education Commission of India. The government funded universities and colleges are to be provided more autonomy with regard to deciding on course content and securing funding and this has been construed by many as an attempt by the Government to further reduce its already meagre funding of higher education under the figleaf of allowing more autonomy to decide on course content. Of course most univeristies are hopelessly outdated in their course content in terms of the needs of the capitalist system and also totally irrelevant from the point of view of the needs of a people centred socio-economy but it is unlikely that without Government funding they will be able to improve their capabilities and relevance in this regard. Faculty and students of universities have already begun protesting this move as it comes on the heels of a sharp decline in funding of higher education both in terms of reducing faculty and research funds and also cutting down on scholarships for students. Government funding of school education is already pathetic and consequently most school education in this country both public and private is in a shambles already resulting in an elitist private education system that produces encyclopaedias but not critical thinking individuals.
In the midst of all this a storm has arisen with the West Bengal Government dictating that the Jadavpur University in Kolkata, which conducts special entrance examinations for its humanities and social sciences courses, including English Literature, will have to discontinue these tests and instead rely on the performance of students in the school leaving examinations to select its intake. The university faculty and students are up in arms in Jadavpur, saying that humanities and social sciences and especially literature, require many subjective skills which are not tested by the school leaving examinations and so are not taught in schools. These skills are better in those students who disregard the school syllabi and teaching and pursue their own reading and so do not perform as well in the school leaving examinations as those students who study to crack these examinations and so a special test is required to identify such true lovers of the humanities and social sciences. Whatever may be the merit in this claim, which needs to be independently and rigorously verified before arbitrarily ditching the current selection system as the West Bengal Government is doing, this has made me reflect on the education system as it exists which I have increasingly become critical of over the years.
I too was initially a victim of this system and so studied with gusto for examinations and cracked them to get entry into an elite institute all of four decades ago. However, when we were in school it was still possible to read outside of the syllabus as the competition was not as cut throat as it is now and so I did a lot of extra curricular reading, especially of literature, humanities and social sciences despite being formally a student of science. Moreover, in our time, college education was very cheap and so there wasn't the kind of pressure there is today when students have to pay in lakhs of rupees to get educated. Then in college I began doing quizzing in which one has to know almost everything about everything if one is to win the competitions. Consequently, I began reading philosophy also since often questions would be asked regarding this or that philosopher. However, on reading philosophy, both eastern and western, I became critical of the formal education I was receiving to become an engineer. So I began reading much more of philosophy and politics and very little of engineering. Eventually, I did become an engineer at the end of five years of study but by then I had become an anarchist questioning the need for huge centralised systems controlled by capital and kept running by the products of an education system geared to perpetuating the dominance of capitalist industrialism to the detriment of both society and the environment.
The first question that I asked myself was the relevance of most of what I had been formally taught in school and college to promoting a more sustainable and equitable social and economic system in the country. Throughout my formal education I had never once been prompted to critically review the received wisdom even though this is a basic desideratum of both natural and social science. All the great philosophies, regardless of whether they are western or eastern, are circumspect about knowledge and stress the importance of critical review. Yet throughout my school and college education I had never been taught to be critical of what I was being taught. This has become even more so these days when students have to score 100 out of 100 in their school leaving examinations and crack arcane and extremely difficult math and science questions in two minutes to get into elite engineering and medicine colleges. When in life one continually faces intractable problems which force one to be critical and spend hours and days to solve them, what is the point of wasting years together studying how not to be critical and to solve problems in two minutes flat. Thus, it is not surprising that humanity as a whole and we Indians in particular are beset with insurmountable problems that we are not being able to solve and are instead serving out time as lackeys of a global capitalism that is running singlemindedly towards an ecological apocalypse.
So anything of value that I have learnt in life, primarily after college, is from critically reading content required to solve problems that I have encountered in pursuit of my goal of establishing a sustainable and equitable human system. I have also learned how to live minimally from the Bhil Adivasis with whom I have spent the most part of my life. I was surprised to find after this reading that despite Gandhi being eulogised as the Father of the Nation and being accorded the status of a saint for advocating ascetic village centred development, there was neither an attempt to place him in the context of both ancient Indian and modern Western anarchism from which he had borrowed considerably nor a critical review of the obstacles that capitalism places in the path of anarchism and had in Gandhi's. There is a near complete silence about the fact that Gandhi was heavily funded by Indian capitalists and so the policies that were eventually followed by the Indian National Congress both before and after independence were such as to favour the growth of these capitalists at the expense of the rural masses for whom Gandhi shed so many tears and advocated the revolutionary oceanic circle anarchist development paradigm. Even though I believe that a more equitable and sustainable civilisation must be an anarchist and so decentralised one I nevertheless realise that given the industrial development that has taken place it is difficult to go back to a less industrial system which involves more physical labour and lesser extraction of resources. This is the biggest challenge of our times - to bring about a sustainable and equitable development system but the education system is not addressing this challenge at all.
The major problem is that even if one rejects the formal education system it is difficult to sideline it. Simply because it is next to impossible to raise resources in the capitalist system without a certificate of  having completed such an education. Such is the devastation wrought among the masses by the capitalist system that it is difficult to pursue anarchist goals through voluntary contributions from them. A classical Catch 22 situation where one must reject the capitalist education system to be able to build up a challenge to it but if one does so then one is left without resources to mount this challenge!! Throughout my activist career I have had to source funds from the capitalist system and I have done so by flaunting my degree in engineering from an elite institute. Later, to enhance my earning capabilities I did a Phd too. Initially, I did not get entry into any university because they insisted that I would have to do course work for two years before I could start my research. My plea that I had already done considerable research and published it in reputed journals and so did not need any further training, which is another cooked up criteria to perpetuate capitalist control of education, fell on deaf ears. Anyway I finally managed to wiggle in to a new Phd programme started by a private university but even there I finally had to write my thesis in a pre-determined format even though I found it to be very restrictive. The only advantage is that I can now more forcefully present my anti-capitalist and anti-statist views because of the fact that I am a Phd!!
Coming back to philosophy which is what started my own true and joyous educational journey, all the great philosophers were free thinkers totally unshackled by the kind of regimented learning that takes place in schools and colleges these days. The university system of the twentieth century onwards has not produced a single philosopher of any weight as compared to those of the ancient and medieval times. What the philosophers of our times do, is just chew the cud of what has gone before!!! Even celebrated ones like Russel, Sartre and Camus. Though there is something to be said for the critical theorists, especially Marcuse, Marxism generally has degenerated into a farce!! Therefore, there is an urgent need to free education from the straight jacket that it has been transformed into. Instead of wasting time learning tons of subjects which people rarely use in life later on, we have to let children learn what they want within a broad framework of sustainability and equity. Unfortunately, unless children and their parents can throw off the yoke of capitalist job seeking, this will not be possible. One has to take the risk and do one's own thing. Especially since these days with the internet one does not have to rely on formal enrollment in a brick and mortar college anymore. I don't see many young people doing this even though I did it in college at a time when the opportunities for such educational moonshining were limited, mainly because of the kind of regimented schooling that they have received and also because of the huge expenditure of higher education which forces them to think of earning money after graduation instead of doing something worthwhile. I have offered many young people the opportunity to work at the grassroots and live minimally while trying to learn about the problems there and finding solutions for them. Till date not a single one has taken up this offer. The lust for joyous and free learning seems to have been killed by capitalist gate keeping.

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