Saturday, May 29, 2010

How human societies developed

The idea of evolution of human societies has today been severely questioned. That all societies are fated to follow the same line of development seems rather absurd. Not only was this idea incorrect, but it also played host to a host of notorieties. It set forth the final aim of all societies- those who created it, the Western scholars- and demonstrated that which they considered the nascent stages of man in general- the "savages", "primitive peoples", etc. as found in the newly explored areas of Asia, Africa, Australia, Oceania, Latin America, and even the fringes of North America and Europe.

However, giving up such an evolutionary view of societal development need not mean giving up a linear view of it. In fact, it is a linear view that makes a historical appraisal of a given society possible and without which one would have to remain mum about how any given group of people are living today as they are.

For this kind of an approach, it would suffice to look at our own society at the outset: from the right to adult franchise at one point of time, we moved towards a right to get information about what had been classified government documents. These two points (though it is too simple like this, considered in isolation) give a certain direction to the kind of life that we are living and will live in the future. Take, as a more plentiful example, the development of communication in our society. From telegraphs and letters to the radio, newspapers and telephone, then the cable TV along with emails and today social broadcast networks. Along with a technological development, we can see a linear development in the amount of comfort that one could afford, in the amount of roles one could have played, in the amount of exposure to information (and misinformation) one has had and also the amount of time one can waste. This is the case of our society. How about finding such 'points of interests' in other societies, and seeing how they join together? For example, for aboriginal Indian people, the British caused a drift towards alienation from what was considered legitimate living. Though they were close to the rest of the nation in the independence struggle, one sees them, today, again as the scapegoat of many govt. laws and policies. Is it not possible to construct a linear flow from that point to this?

Linear patterns need not be altogether difficult to see through time, but they need not be cosmically predetermined too.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Kinship terms: age or relationship?

Kinship enjoys a special place in anthropology. Understanding how people are bound into a family is considered the first (and most certain) step towards understanding how people are bound into a society. Such relationships, because of their structure, acquire regular patterns in regards to the age-relationship interface or the gender-relationship interface as far as consequences of the relationship are concerned (like flow of respect, roles allotment, etc.). If a relationship broke this pattern in structure, it gives curious results.

Having recently attended a wedding, I found myself left with such a peculiarity: my maternal uncle (mama) had come too; he was only sixteen years old. I, being almost twenty, couldn't bring myself to call him mama. At least not seriously, as one usually does by force of being related in that way, unaffectedly. Nor could he give any credulity to my constant addressing him as mama and found it shameful at best. Relation-wise, he is superior to me, meaning one generation ahead. But age-wise, he is far younger. So is it that one's age determines the relationship that one assumes with others, on the spot? This reminds me how people spontaneously enter into relationships on streets, in trains, during economic transactions, etc. Chacha, kaka, bhau, bhaisaab, taayi, Sir, boss- each call, along with other factors, has a consideration of age involved. Misplacing these factors could give funny but insightful results (the epithet dangerous is not altogether ruled out). Age is more active a factor in setting up the relationship between two people, at least more so than formal expectations, which evaporate in front of it.

Further thinking about this provisional leads us to another question: how well can one know someone's age at first glance? Mostly, the answer to this depends upon the situation. For a sixteen year old encountering a sixty year old with white hair and loosened skin, the age difference would be most apparent. However, we must not consider loosened skin and white hair the same as old age. Its only too apparent that age never comes at the same time to all. Attributing predicates to subjects is always a tricky thing if left to speculation. To a three year old girl, a boy seeming ten year old could be anything from a nephew to a brother to an uncle (even a grand-uncle, if one could but stretch one's imagination), though he may invariably be interpreted as one of these (grand-uncle being the least likely, brother being the most). Given that it is impossible to make such lengthy calculations (due to lack of means of thought that are precise) , one makes do with available modes of reasoning (approximate precision from appearance). So further sharpening our idea, its the momentary appearance of age that plays a more important role in this entire business.

However, if we were to put formal relational ascriptions completely out of the picture, we would find it difficult to confront certain questions: how do those attributes invoke precisely those kinship terms? Why does appearance get tagged with age? I think at play is a scenario in which the mind has certain basic relational indicators to operate with, imbibed with growth and association, which one puts to a pass or fail test during active situations. Because appearance is something that holds more certainty than age in mere situations (as opposed to situations with knowledge), the relation-building process follows its lead more than that of accurate relations in the network of the family.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Use this diversion....

It be too hard,
aye it sure be
with the same vision
all things to see..
Whence let me keep
two ends of a stick away,
if politics by the night,
then uncoloured thought by day.....

This blog is specifically to publish that which is not political in nature, as opposed to that which is, which I intend to keep here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ways of teaching/learning

Things may be explained in more than one way. I remember when I was in school, I and many of my friends used to find text-books tiresome. It somehow became a task which ought to be done, simply for its sake. The tone of discourse is somewhat like this: there is something in the text which is true. Your job is to take that truth, imbibe it fully and be able to revoke it when required. It is, in a way, something that begins with the reader from the book, and goes back to the book. Take for example the last time I felt this happen. I was reading Linguistics when I suddenly started getting bored. I had started with bright prospects, and had shown some interest in the early stages. But soon, I started giving up. It got progressively boring and sleep-inducing. I was reminded of the impervious school texts and was rather disappointed that Linguistics, which had an aura of nobility and intelligence to me, was actually the same as that. I made, in fact, a decisive stand that Linguistics is not made for me. In fact, I proclaimed that no formal discipline is made for me, and I need something like writing fiction throughout my life, which is allegedly without any formal necessities. As you might have imagined, I met with failure there too. For if nothing else, writing fiction requires that disciplined regularity and concentration which other 'formal' pursuits do to. Underlying moral was that one would have to work hard for anything, and thus obviously, the problem was in my approach of finding the right bird to nail, meanwhile finding faults in every bird that came one's way. I could see an underlying snobbishness in my approach to things and it was that which was preventing me from confronting them reasonably.

This idea first struck me recently twice: one was when I was reading Premchand's Pratignyaa. In a way, it seemed that I had come out of a fast moving whirl-wind of fiction, and had entered a very calm sea which belonged to the same world, but a different hemisphere. When I try to account for the difference, this is what I arrived at: most of my reading in the past two years had been of 'modern' or 'post-modern' or 'magical realist' or some other nature which had been contrived into a movement. The idea of a movement is a curious one: it seeks to find the ideal in everything (what should be) and, once found, seeks to propagate it, in a way that reminds one of conquests. Usually though, in art, unlike warfare, the ground to be covered in endless, and thus there isn't any prescribed way that this is directed in. As a result, it is impossible to think of art as having one aim. What happened with Pratignyaa is this: having to read in Hindi meant having to pay special attention to the words (Hindi being relatively newer to me) and that automatically led me to understand it more carefully. Suddenly, it dawned on me that a text wasn't something to be read and conquered, but was like nutrition that had to be taken in spoonfuls and absorbed. The idea of time for me changed: previously, I lived in a world wherein there were loads and loads of books, and too little time to read them. As a consequence, I felt need to rush on with books. After this episode, it came across that skimming through a book is not exactly reading it; and once I followed its implications, I have now realized that I have all the time in the world to read. In fact, what is necessary to read is not speed, but consistency. The story of the hare and the tortoise would hold true here.

Similarly, would an education exercise in which the students study out of fear of exams at the month's end provide them with an opportunity to understand with a moment's peace ? Is it possible that the 'need' to assess a student's performance has now become cause for the student's shift of focus from studying to that need ? I think that is presently the case; and the shift is caused not only in students, but also in their parents. Parents have endorsed all sorts of ways to make sure that assessment comes out good: tuitions, indoctrination, beatings, etc. In a way, at all corners of discussion, the student is mostly given all ends in sight except the simple one, namely, understand what is in front of you. What is needed is that first of all the parents and teachers must take back all force from over the student. Secondly, it is necessary that as studies, they imbibe the habit of uniting the text with the world to the student. Thirdly, they must not make the assessment an object of their performance, but must simply act as disinterested mentors.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Obviously, it has been a while since I last wrote. Let me attribute this fault of mine to a tendency far more greater than me: its called the maelstrom effect. For every time that someone finds life as something that has to be enjoyed only, one loses an ability to think beyond that enjoyment. Enjoyment, I am led to believe, becomes an end in life. To think, I am also led to believe, requires a sense that everything one does is not for itself, but a means to other things. A good example to clarify with- one could board a local train for a trip to wherever one wants. Depending on what the local train gives, one could either enjoy it or find it distasteful. This approach is binary and leaves no choice. If approach were altered a little, we could find a neutral mean, which means something that would broadly be liked, but not dependent on temporal, sensuous stimulations. The braoder principle at work is: I write because I think.