Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hindu Studies Post 7 - some comments on Socratic Hinduism

Earlier this week, I exchanged some emails with John Laxmi (South Asian Journalists Association). That reminded me that I need to take my post on SAForum on the SAJA's website which has some comments on Socratic Hinduism, and repost it to this blog here.

The comments are in the context of Namit Arora's post on Three Quarks Daily.


It is interesting that Namit is planning to talk about how the epic was received by Nagarjuna and other people from pre-modern times. This is (part of) the usual methodology used by students of Hinduism, but I am not convinced that this approach (of looking at pre-modern commentaries) will yield significant, new conclusions given that these people knew far less than we do now. I am quite convinced that these "traditional scholars" lived such a long time ago that their opinions do not have much bearing on current theories surrounding Hinduism, and so it seems that this methodology has significant shortcomings. 

A particularly useful (and, in my opinion, a far more fruitful) approach to studying texts such as the Bhagavad Gita (and Hinduism, in general) is to use recent studies in neuroscience to see how the human brain has evolved ideas of morality, and to see how epics (and other religious texts) have contributed since premodern times in creating and imprinting various (perhaps different) notions of morality in us. This is (part of) the methodology I have used for the Socratic Hinduism framework that I have talked about before. 

Why is it useful to look at neuroscience to study how the human brain is wired for morality? Because it seems that some of the notions of morality we subscribe to seem to be pretty strongly wired in us. Milton Friedman once gave an example of how libertarianism works. He said that libertarians don't want to coerce other people into accepting some particular opinion as correct. However, he recognized that there were a few exception even for libertarians. The example he used, IIRC, was of a man who was going to jump off a bridge. Would a libertarian try to save him if he could? Probably. Now if the man proceeded to give reasons why he was committing suicide, would the libertarian then allow him to jump (because the libertarian, true to principle, would agree to disagree)? Probably not. No matter how strongly a person may believe in certain ideas not just politically but even personally, there are certain types of behavior that he may never be able to let go of. Another example of the resistance of people to killing others is evidenced in the trolley problem ( Both these examples would indicate that the human brain has certain notions of morality that it cannot easily let go of. (Note that none of this (scientific) discussion is considered in the least bit to be a heresy in Hinduism, and indeed, I consider the Socratic Hinduism a perfectly valid approach to view Hinduism for both Hindus and non-Hindus.)      

This methodological approach makes the Socratic Hinduism framework quite powerful. It makes it both academic and scholarly, thereby countering one of the major academic criticisms of "traditional" studies of Hinduism (such as by Wendy Doniger). In fact, we do not need to discuss our own beliefs regarding whether or not the events described in the Mahabharatha actually occurred. That is left as a matter of scholarly inquiry for historians. Instead, the idea is that the texts may be used as part of a Socratic discussion wherein by guided questioning, one delves deeper into some of the issues of ethics and moral philosophy that the epic presents. Indeed, the historical role of these religious texts has been to raise these question of ethics and moral philosophy and help people appreciate the complexity of some of these issues. That has always been the role of these texts, and that is what it continues to be under Socratic Hinduism.

Moving on to more pragmatic concerns : in America today, you typically don't find fundamentalist readings of these texts at any of the major universities. The text is generally taught with a spirit of 'tolerance'. In India today, the legal system defines Hinduism as one that recognizes 'multiple' ways (the legal status of Hinduism in India is a different discussion altogether). There is a real separation of religion and state in both countries, and so I don't see very much worrisome, or even concerning, about the particular opinions on war as expressed by the various religious texts of Hinduism (such as the Gita) as well as the various academic approaches to Hinduism (Socratic Hinduism, included). The Gita's impact on policy is likely to remain quite insignificant.