Friday, August 5, 2011


As one who has spent a major part of his life in the production and dissemination of knowledge classified as higher education I can enter the current debate on LOKVIDYA only through the detour of raising the question of what, if any, can be considered to accord privilege to one knowledge system over the others.

Any knowledge system on pragmatic, if not on epistemological or ontological, grounds, may be considered to be nothing more than an ever revisable series of space-time marked judgments occasioned by the dialectical encounters between our ‘imperfect’ intellect and’ imperfect’ senses. Our intellect is necessarily ‘imperfect’ because only a transcendental intellect, being necessarily self-sufficient, can never make a wrong judgment. Our senses are ’imperfect’ because ‘pure’ senses never make judgments and there is no figure to be seen without an implicitly postulated background.

All knowledge systems, to varying degrees of effectiveness, transform our understanding of ourselves and our relation with the world of which we are inescapably a part at least as long as we last. Suppose, counterfactually, the transformation afforded by a particular knowledge system is so thorough going that some amongst us can no longer recognize their former selves, the world they left behind and the rest of us who are not so transformed. In other words, by virtue of the knowledge they produced, they have totally forgotten their past. To us who have not forgotten their and our past, their current cognitive dispositions and material practices must appear ‘strange’ however ‘desirably’ or ‘undesirably’ effective those dispositions and practices may be in matters pertaining to them or us or the world at large. And equally to them our cognitive dispositions and material practices must appear ‘strange’. This situation may appear somewhat similar to the familiar anthropological problem of one culture encountering another. However it is different. In our situation, there is no spatial or time shift involved before the encounter. This counterfactual account of two knowledge systems encountering each other may help us to see that stagnant tradition is the eternal refusal to forget the past at all costs and modernity is the incessant anxiety to forget all of one’s past. And therein lies the' false' binary between (stagnant) tradition and (neurotic) modernity. The two faces of this abstracted coin of strangeness constitute two forms of life. There is no epistemic way of privileging of one form of life relative to the other. For all extant forms of life are conjointly real and the ontological power of the real always already excludes the claim of epistemic privilege. But strangeness makes communication(derived from the Latin word,’ Communicationem’ – to share, not merely the legitimacy of our judgments/knowledge but whole host of other things without sharing which one cannot share such legitimacy)between different forms of life difficult and rules out the practice of politics. The failure of our contemporary communitarian or liberal or post-enlightenment politics, even without the counterfactual premise of total 'forgetting' , already points to the complexity, if not the irrelevance, of any attempt to resolve the issue of according privilege to one knowledge system over the others. Colonization, globalization, hegemony, apartheid, exploitation and appropriation of resources, displacement, resistance, revolution, anarchy and violence are some of the manifestations of total ‘forgetting’. To say this is not to suggest that in the absence of ‘forgetting’ history will necessarily unfold differently.

Fortunately or unfortunately, for us, as historical beings, ‘forgetting’ is never total. It is unfortunate because as Hannah Arendt had noticed we are unable to forget what we cannot forgive and we are unable to forgive what we cannot forget. It is fortunate because ‘memory’ helps us in ‘recognizing’ what we cognized in our accustomed ways without losing our imaginative capacity to‘re-cognize’ everything in the world including ourselves in as yet unknown ways. If this ubiquitous tension between recognition and novel cognition is the marker which separates the past from the future it is also the inaugural moment of the political. For politics is the unceasing recognition of the necessity of owning up responsibility for decisive action which, even as it is informed of the human condition that cannot erase its past, is open to a future which is not yet made. A responsibility that has to be owned up prior to any knowing of the determinate content of putative knowledge claims or even of the possibly differing principles of organization underlying the various systems of knowledge production. A decisiveness that has the competence to straddle the salience of the past with the uncertain promise of the future in ways which can induce trust amongst those who are going to be effected by that decisiveness for better or for worse. An action which is based on the firm belief that solidarity and autonomy are not mutually exclusive and indeed realizing the former can facilitate securing the latter.

It seems to me that the enthusiasm for privileging LOKVIDYA over other systems of knowledge is as much an expression of the frustration with the specific form of the oppressive power exercised by the knowledge system of modern science and technology as it is due to the unwarranted belief that LOKVIDYA is innocent of coercive power because it is knowledge produced by 'people'. As if other systems of knowledge are not produced by 'people'. That enthusiasm, even more consequentially, seems to assume that LOKVIDYA has the generic capacity to equip people for political action in the sense elaborated above. I also suspect that according privilege to LOKVIDYA may be traced to the somewhat well deserved mistrust of ‘intellectuals’ indicted by W.H.Auden thus:

To the man-in-the street, Who, I’m sorry to say Is a keen observer of life The word intellectual suggests right away A man who’s untrue to his wife.

Sadly, we have partitioned integrity, into private and public domains. Be it as it may, as regards their apathy in respect of the recognition of necessity of owning up responsibility for political action and their indifference to forging solidarity both the ‘intellectual’ and the man-in-the street are on par. Perhaps, in the intellectual’s case, they are further aggravated by the excusable theoretical reflection captured in Pascal’s succinct pronouncement: ‘I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man’s being unable to sit still in a room’. But the fact remains that existing institutions in contemporary societies do little to cultivate in the man-in -the -street and in the intellectual the capacity for political action. No wonder, Adorno lamented: ‘For millennia, man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question’.

Prof. P. R. K. Rao

International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Hyderabad

1 comment:

  1. "It seems to me that the enthusiasm for privileging LOKVIDYA over other systems of knowledge is as much an expression of the frustration with the specific form of the oppressive power exercised by the knowledge system of modern science and technology as it is due to the unwarranted belief that LOKVIDYA is innocent of coercive power because it is knowledge produced by 'people'. As if other systems of knowledge are not produced by 'people'." ------- Prof. P R K Rao

    In engineering we say 'Every Design is Good Design unless Otherwise Specified'. It means that unless the design meets with the desired specifications, it is useless as it is irrelevant to the situation. It also means that no matter how modern & advanced tools and techniques may have been used for designing, it is useless if it does not meet with the specifications. So the basic requirement is to meet with the given specifications; philosophy of design, its mathematics, tools & computers; hand made or automated, etc, etc; notwithstanding.

    The same is true for the down to earth world, its dynamics and the conduct of the Man who is a part of it, the preachings of Srimadh Bhagvat Geeta, the Holy Qur'an, the Guru Granth Sahib, and other religious scriptures, notwithstanding.

    When Lokavidya is talked about in the context of the Lokavidya Jan Andolan, it is not for claiming any kind of superiority over any other existing systems of knowledge. It is talked about because it assigns unique identity to Lokavidyadhar Samaj. It is important because the Samaj derives its strength from the vidya that is inseparable from them, no matter how much scattered or in a decimated state it may be on date.

    The shame of democratic India is that models of 'growth' & 'development' based on modern science & technology have not met with the specification that every citizen of India shall have a dignified living by virtue of his/her enterprise as an important and inalienable contributor to the over all growth and development of the Indian society. The measure for dignified living is certainly not in terms of wealth accumulation, but in terms of the respectability accrued as an eligible and intelligent contributor to the growth and development of the society one is part of. Having fallen woefully short of meeting with the specification, it is irrelevant, bad & hopeless design.

    Therefore, the choice that has to be made is whether to allow the contemporary exploitative machinery to roll on or to think, introspect, and combine in various ways to initiate the process that does not alienate a vast multitude of people from the paradigm of growth and development, but makes them its active and intelligent partner. In this kind of endeavour obviously design methodologies based on modern science and technology have no role whatsoever because they have failed for 67 years now.

    Since Lokavidya is not only an inseparable part of the Lokavidyadhar Samaj, but also affords it a unique identity, obviously it has to be the starting point. The Lokavidya cannot remain untouched by the dynamics of Lokavidya Jan Andolan and therefore is bound to evolve. Nobody can profess what form and content shall it acquire while it evolves.

    The greatest threat is stagnation of mind, however.

    Lalit K Kaul