Friday, June 18, 2010


Vajra gets long-winded, and shiv replies

Very well, Shiv, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Correcting this nonsensical story is an aggravating waste of time,
Thanks. From the viewpoint of rhetoric, a story that cannot be corrected is one that is true.

This is your usual style of argument, a small distortion to give yourself a handle.
A correction that is a waste of time is different from a correction that is not possible.

It is unlikely that you don’t know, perhaps it is that you choose to shelter behind these little subterfuges. We are told that the leopard takes refuge in the branches of trees, and merges perfectly with the surroundings, but forgets to tuck its tail up, not being able to see itself. I am afraid this particular trick is your own instance of merging with the surroundings; the tail hanging down is likewise your own instance of the leopard’s mistake.

The (his)story has been written deliberately to pose a “Heads I win, tails you lose” dilemma” to anyone who seeks to argue with the story. It is a mix of fiction and innuendo of a type that typifies the writing of Martha Nussbaum and Arundhati Roy who are both better at it than I am. But I’m trying to get there and become as irritating as those two icons.

Pathetic. Seemingly. You would have us believe that this is your point of view, so that we arrive at a particular place where you wish us to be. Let us first take a look at your apparent position, before examining your real position.

History is not written by one individual – ever. It is not one individual’s opinion – ever. As Popper has pointed out, the nature of enquiry, discovery and proof in a social scientific environment, or in an historican environment, is different from the nature of enquiry, discovery and proof in a natural scientific environment. The biases and prejudices of the observer are far more important, although this has been found to be true in the natural sciences also, and these have to be taken into account explicitly. Historians are aware that the recorders of facts, in writing, typically, are prone to subjective errors; they are equally aware of the fact that their own subjective errors influence the view they take of the facts reported, and that these errors need to be kept in mind.

That apart, there is some tendentious theorising, which confuses the issue, accidentally, or, I suspect, otherwise.

I do not know where you get your view of history as journalism, which you have reported as a mixture of fiction and innuendo. That is a typically woolly approach peculiar to the sub-continent, which led to the situation that of all the peoples in the world, it is only in India that the earliest history even approaching any validity as history is Kalhana.

What you have written, and your citation of Arundhati Roy and Martha Nussbaum – neither being an historian of any importance – is presumably intended to sucker us into thinking that you are unable to distinguish between journalism and polemic on the one hand and history on the other. Martha Nussbaum is a philosopher; Arundhati Roy is, well, Arundhati Roy, a full-time profession. Neither is an historian; both may irritate you, history may irritate you, but that does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that they are therefore, as a consequence of this effect on you, historians.

To use your elegant turns of phrase, you may find it difficult to pass a motion; you may find rough toilet paper rough on your delicate skin. But rough toilet paper does not cause constipation.

Such an egregious error of fact makes it difficult to engage even at a simplistic level. But of course, that will turn into a monstrous perversion of being ignored because you cannot be refuted, so we must go through every minute idiotic mention and quote chapter and verse, cross every t and dot every i. So be it.

If the story is accepted as being true as a whole, and is not refuted, that also tells a tale. History can be written any which way you like. If I write history and you argue with it, it gives me the information I need about you. I know exactly what irritates you so that I can construct an even more preposterous tale the next time just for you.

There are several ideas jostling for expression, and the strange thing is that they are contradictory; apparently these contradictions are too minor for you to consider.

No historical account, to date, has been accepted as being true as a whole without questioning. The emphasis is on the questioning. There are numerous instances of the vast bulk of the expert opinion on a subject being on one side, and of one or two publicity-seeking or totally motivated accounts on the other. A classic example is the faux-historienne Sarmila Bose and her account of the Bangladesh massacre. If you study her career, her claims about what really happened, the terms she uses about the normal reports that most of us are familiar with, and her frequent and unsuccessful encounters with the facts, presented in public, you will find an eery sense of familiarity. She did all this before you, so these tactics are not exactly unfamiliar, I regret to inform you.

Having started with the claim that history is fiction+innuendo, a claim that seems – only seems – to lay bare a lack of knowledge of the historian’s profession and the way in which the historian comes to conclusions, it is inevitable that you should claim that it can be written in any way that the historian likes.
That is because your arguments tend to be a judicious mixture of fiction+innuendo. No examples, no evidence, just an opinion. Now we begin to see the glimmerings of your strategy. But first to the details.

Would you like to cite one single example of an history that is accepted as being true as a whole, and has not been refuted?

First, let us deal with the application of this to the exclamation that your rigmarole elicited from me. You are already aware of the ‘standard’ account of the pre-history of South Asia. Perhaps you are under the impression that the accounts that held true three or four decades ago, even when you debated this very subject on a popular mailing list within the last three or four years, still hold current. Perhaps that is what you hope will emerge – an account of the so-called Aryans that will seem to be immutable and unchanging. I am sorry to disappoint you. History has moved on, though you have not, and there is a wealth of additional information about those events which may surprise you if you were to go into them. I suspect, like last time, you will tend to depend on your finely-honed intellect rather than on evidence and the evaluation of different sources. A pity.

There is always, in a serious history (not one that is a preface to a political manifesto, the only sort you seem to be familiar with) citation, sources, evidence; it is in the footnotes and in the end-notes, not entirely in the body of the text that history is ‘done’. You mistake, perhaps, the ability of some contemporary historians to write well, in a popular and pleasing style, with the integrity of their accounts. Times have moved on; we do not necessarily have to plough through the prose of Ranke; Geoffrey Barraclough is just as good. In both cases, the scholars concerned have gone to original sources, their own and those cited by others, and have carefully weighed these one against the other, until they came to their conclusions.

Your apparent lack of awareness of this process, your lack of knowledge of how much effort goes into a simple monograph, your inability to gauge why an outstanding teacher such as Sushobhan Sircar, Sumit Sircar’s father, never produced a major work in his life, shows very clearly what sort of a flippant, half-baked notion you would have us believe that you have about the subject.

This is all an elaborate sham, of course. We are being led to a conclusion carefully prepared at the outset.

As for your concluding lines, one would laugh if one did not feel like crying. Try to come to a sense of reality. History is written to write an accurate and balanced account of a period that is past. It is not written, except in the feverish delirium of some pretty unusual minds, to ‘irritate’ others or to write a more preposterous tale than you have already written. What does that nonsense mean? that nobody does any historical writing except for the sole purpose of irritating others? or that all historical writing irritates you? or that this particular historical thread, on the Two Nation Theory, irritates you so that you go completely berserk?

The best way to deal with one version of History is not to argue, but to inundate “intellectual space” with alternate versions. I am merely helping to inundate this discussion with my version of events. People who come later will never know what is right and what is not.

That reveals more than one secret. From this very accurate description of any historical debate, it is apparent that you are not wholly unaware of the historians’ profession, it is just that you think that you will gain maximum attention and applause by saying outrageous things. All that preceding stuff about fiction and innuendo was garbage, as neither fiction nor innuendo can be contradicted, not by rational debate and by a comparison of sources and evidence. If you believed that, you would not be stating this. So can we talk without those fancy twists and turns of rhetoric, please?

The one thing wrong with your presentation, and the core of it seemingly, is that you don’t have the knowledge and learning needed to refute an historical case which you have decided to dislike, for whatever reason.

Right, you can’t do it the normal way. Now it all settles down and begins to make sense. The only way that a well-reasoned presentation can be combatted by your own personal prejudice is by first leading evidence to the effect that your way is actually the historical way, and that there is nothing more to it than that. Then it becomes easy. It’s Ayesha Jalal’s fiction against yours, it’s her own prejudice against yours.

Of course you can inundate us with versions. I have no doubt that you will inundate us with versions. All that I am pointing out is that being a quack (in historical terms only), you can only resort to printing out masses of verbiage with no backing, no source, no evidence, only paragraph after paragraph of prejudice. And to prove to yourself and to everybody else that this is meaningful, and that a keen, Pharisaic intellect outweighs all else, you are forced to prepare the ground carefully, with apparently artless explosions of very natural emotion.
Well done, you would have done well with Mr. Goebbels. Or the New China Times might have a position open. Just remember, that with them as with you, people coming after will look for references, for sources, for evidence, find that these are faked or absent, and they will know exactly what to think.

And finally, all knowledge and discovery, surprising though it may seem, does not come down to your story of ‘You farted.’ I am familiar with it, as is everybody else on Silk or on Bharat-Rakshak, and wish I wasn’t. Unfortunately, real life, as I have no doubt you already know, does not allow these cheap victories.
Now, if you want, we can go through each sentence that you wrote in your earlier childish post, and examine the reality and value of each. So do let me know. I had hoped that you would have better sense, and would stay away from a brutal denouement, but since that is not to be, please give the word.

And Shiv fires back, holding Vajra accountable for pakteahouse rubbish:

@ vajra
you can only resort to printing out masses of verbiage with no backing, no source, no evidence, only paragraph after paragraph of prejudice. And to prove to yourself and to everybody else that this is meaningful, and that a keen, Pharisaic intellect outweighs all else, you are forced to prepare the ground carefully, with apparently artless explosions of very natural emotion.
This of course is the secret of a lot of history that is written. Parochial trash that is made up and embellished with a fine vocabulary for the suckers who read it go rah rah rah and applaud. Here is some more guano of the same genre as the history that I have written. Why does my crap smell worse that someone elses’ crap? Your protestations are purely arbitrary and subjective.
Just like what passes for “History”
For Jinnah and the Muslim League, the Two Nation Theory was not an ideological position etched in stone. It was the restatement of the arguments needed to ensure national status for Muslims in a multinational independent India. It was also a vehicle to get parochial elements in Muslim majority provinces into line behind the Muslim League at the All India Centre. At the very least, Jinnah’s Pakistan did not necessarily envisage a partition, secession from or division of United India. This is why he jumped at the opportunity of the Cabinet Mission Plan, which did not even deliver 50 percent of what he had demanded. In the end, however, the idea of power sharing with the League and Muslims was too much for the Indian National Congress to gulp, even if Gandhi and Nehru could have been brought around to the idea. Maulana Azad’s grudging admissions in his book India Wins Freedom seal this argument.

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