Class And Culture

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater. Those whose minds are established in sameness and equanimity have already conquered the conditions of birth and death. They are flawless like Brahman, and thus they are already situated in Brahman. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called adhyātma, the self. Action pertaining to the development of the material bodies of the living entities is called karma, or fruitive activities.

The Bhagavad Gita, circa 776 B.C.E

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

United States of America, Declaration of Independence,  July 04, 1776, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Extract from Emma Lazarus’ New Colossus inscribed inside the Statue of Liberty, 1883

I am settling into the life of a socially disadvantaged American. It is adaptation in mid-life. I have also decided that I would father my children to lower their aspirations in their lives. Hardwork, education and success, if success is luck, are uncorrelated. Ceilings in American life are predetermined by birth and by the rent, bright but those unlucky by virtue of birth, are willing to pay to America’s de facto establishment to carry water for it. There are Americans (such as the Bush clan), and there are Americans (such as the Kennedys, Clintons and now the Obamas). I am supposed to belong in the latter category: I am expected to be the affirmative action recipient of both liberal largesse and conservative religious evangelism to be able to play an explicitly influential role in the affairs of the American polis and oeikos, for this is the meaning of being socially disadvantaged ― Irish, Italian, East European, Jewish, Black, Hispanic or Asian.

My adaptation is not a crisis in mid-life that inflicts some men. It is an understanding of America, which is not exceptional but banal, that had seeped-in through experience. It is an American variation of the Buddhist enlightenment for a high-born Indian Hindu Brahmin who does not fit into the category of those welcome in America: that letting go of aspirations and settling for the material contentment that America’s high per capita standard of living brings to the American middle class is indeed the American reality and the true understanding of America. Needling Americans that it is not so but a limitless world of opportunity no matter who you are can make me seem naive at best and an anathema at worst, in a society of managed success for appearing to challenge the true status quo. Therefore, my reversion to the reality that America is: the Great American Ghetto consisting of largely unassimilated (meaning, not willing to carry water for the de facto American establishment but contended with what daily life brings) quasi-Americans feels good and peaceful. Youthful and idealistic aspirations of social equality and boundless opportunity, no matter how competent a person is, can be needlessly stressful.

The United States of America, a country conceived in Enlightenment (The Bhagavad Gita) by Lady Liberty on July IV, MDCCLXXVI, is a country for the underclasses of the world (Emma Lazarus’ New Colossus) where they can be relatively better off, materially, and free from the persecution of the upper classes. Of course, the Hindu society in India, also conceived in Enlightenment as an empire since 322 B.C.E was not free from persecuting its non-Brahminical classes who make up the majority of the country until today.

That the United States has indeed become a New Colossus, which it was not in 1883, seems like the foreboding of the Oracle of Delphi. After all, Socrates was a henpecked (Xanthipped, to coin a word after his wife) ordinary street wanderer in Athens who had attracted the attention of Plato, the aristocrat who went on to pen the dialogues of the philosopher to take them mainstream in The Republic, for his pupil Aristotle, who had died in 322 B.C.E, to tutor Alexander the Great who had helped found the Hindu Empire of Chandragupta Maurya, the prince, and Chanakya, his Brahmin adviser (whose Arthashastra had preceded Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince by more than a millennium) in the Indian Subcontinent in 322 B.C.E (Chandragupta’s grandson Asoka the Great had converted to Buddhism just as Constantine the Great had converted to Christianity about 700 years later).

The underclasses of the mostly English America circa 1776 led by the American enlightened separatists who were as inspired by the ferment of European Enlightenment as they were also pragmatic in their sense for the boundless possibilities the vast continent could afford them prove my point about the capacity for wealth creation in the masses unshackled from the monarchy, unlike the Marxist movements of wealth redistribution from the aristocracies and the feudal landed gentries of Europe which came more than a century after America was founded.

The paradox of American material well-being brought about by the anti-intellectual, anti-elite masses (a great risk the American Founding Fathers took when they created the first representative Democratic Republic) is the loss of behaviors (though not the loss of uneducated judgment) that are typically associated with the upper classes in other societies: a complete lack of social poise. And this, is being globalized, perhaps because the American underclasses ― the nouveau riche meritocrats ― are now in charge of its polity, while restraining the capacity of others to enhance their own material well-being: a typical underclass view of fellow human beings that sans the elitism of the mind which had founded the United States by pointing out the tyranny and the lack of nobility in the British monarchy of its day. Had King George III of Britain been a more competent monarch of his colonies, perhaps the United States would never have existed, a possibility that loomed through the American Civil War in the 19th century, for nearly 100 years after the founding.

Today, the American masses and its de facto elites are the undisputed monarch of a world whose masses far outnumber those who had made possible the American Revolution in 1776. And they want American revolutions in their backyards, including in Europe, but do not want to lose the richness of their cultures.

Can other countries raise their material well-being emulating America while preserving their cultural richness against the onslaught of American globalization, particularly since the end of the Cold War, which is both diluting their cultures and curtailing their aspirations?

After all, liberty is security, for only the free mind can survive.

“Oh! Ancient lands,” calls she

With silent lips, “your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

Need me to come to thee”

Chandrashekar Tamirisa

“It is never born, nor does it ever die; after coming to be, it does not cease to be; it is without birth, eternal, imperishable and timeless; it is not destroyed with the destruction of the body.”

The Bhagavad Gita 2.20


About Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa
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