July 30, 2007

My Dinner With Fabian

I did not know Fabian personally until then. My friend, an avid hiker, who came to visit me in my reclusive home near the Yosemite National Park, brought Fabian along to show him the Giant Sequoias and the rocky wonders of El Capitan and Half Dome. While they drove around in the Park, ruminating on what might be irrevocably lost to unbridled capitalism and consumerism, I busied myself at home preparing dinner. And, what a dinner it turned out to be!

I had been adequately warned of Fabian's political proclivities, and I am quite sure that Fabian was equally prepared to meet the rational fool. No shock and awe, therefore, as we gauged each other. The dinner started off well with naan, alu mutter, and coconut rice. While we munched on the naans dipped in the fairly mild alu mutter, Fabian and I introduced ourselves, and exchanged pleasantries about a few fairly innocuous similarities and the significant differences in our world views.

Erudite and scholarly, he is truly an expert in the field of education, not a dilettante. He has devoted his life to the goal of bringing education to every child in India, irrespective of their caste, gender, religion, and a myriad of other irrelevant differences that divide his nation, an objective that I concur with. A remarkable man, he is not only passionate about his ideas and world views, but also has lived a life that reflected his commitment. Not your garden variety social activist, living rich by selling poverty!

We are both atheists, but his disdain for religions is not quite as exhaustive as mine. He believes that Islam is an egalitarian religion worth emulating. When I pointed out that Kuwait, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, were by no stretch of imagination egalitarian, he conveniently ignored me. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Indian intellectuals, particularly on the left, have this uncompromising love for Islam, a religion that stands virtually alone today against freedom, reason, and peace.

We both swear by equal rights for women, but he seems to believe that without a vanguard to lead them to freedom, they do not have a chance. We agreed that education was the best way out of poverty, but disagreed on whether there was a natural right to formal education. By the time we got to the coconut rice, however, both the ambiance and the food heated up nicely to a toasty temperature.

Fabian is a Socialist, although he rejects such a label. He is quite popular in the same circles that are enthralled by Arundhati Roy, Anand Patwardhan, and the fiery speakers at the World Socialist Forum, but he protested that the association was nothing but casual and did not mean much. A Gandhian, perhaps, but not a Socialist, he asserted. I guess my antenna is not that well tuned to detect such subtle differences in the red end of the spectrum.

The conversation — and the dinner — lasted well into the night. It can be summed up in the few terse exchanges that we had near the end:

Fool: Fabian, you are not only an educationist but also a scientist by training. Don't you think that the system of schooling that you propose will lead to the politicization of education?

Fabian: Without politicization, education is meaningless! An education that does not promote political awareness among the oppressed classes is not real education. It will not accomplish the egalitarian society that we'd like to build.

Fool: Neither of us believes in god, Fabian, but let's suppose that we do. God, omnipotent as it is, designs an economy for India that is guaranteed to make everyone happy by meeting all their material needs. Will it satisfy the objectives that you have set out to achieve?

Fabian: What do the poor know? They have no idea how well they can live, if only they were freed from the clutches of capitalism!

Fool: Well, do you agree that I live well? Our friend here, too?

Fabian: Yes...

Fool: Let's say, god guarantees that everyone in India will live as well as I do. Will it make you happy?

Fabian: I don't want the world to follow in the path of American consumerism. It'd be an environmental disaster!

Fool: Oh, come on, Fabian. You know quite well the miracles that god is capable of. The Kamadhenu is an infinitely renewable source of energy and wealth!

Fabian: I think this is becoming a pointless discussion. Such an economy is an impossibility, and you know that as well as I do.

Fool: I do, Fabian. What do you propose?

Fabian: I'll not be satisfied, not until everyone is conscious of his or her class. Without universal class consciousness, we cannot achieve an egalitarian society. Increasing political awareness through education is the only means to create class consciousness.

Fool: Class consciousness towards what purpose? I suppose, it is the means to make everyone happy?

Fabian: No, material prosperity is irrelevant. Class consciousness is an end in itself. When the masses are made politically aware and conscious of their class and that of the oppressors — through peaceful and democratic means — then only they'll be truly free!

What a crock of ...! What is it that these people want to achieve, a social nirvana? I thought Fabian Socialist was an extinct species, and all this talk of class consciousness was passé in India. It seems to be quite alive and kicking in the likes of Fabian. Stupid me!

  1. It's definately alive and kicking especially in the arty circles. If someone plays the egalitarian card on you again have then read Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

  2. Harrison Bergeron is one of my all time favorites. Thanks.

  3. This is all new to me. I've never been outside of North America. But I am one that believes in education as the key to bettering your lifestyle.

  4. Certainly this country has suffered enough from the socialist agenda it adopted in the first 30 years after Independence, the effects of which still plague the way many government and administrative departments function.
    But when I see the kind of caste consciousness that seems to be getting stronger by the day effectively manufactured and fuelled by the politicians as their power base, I do tend to concur with your friend that certainly class consciousness can create a better identity and a context for their lives.

  5. How strangely ironic all this is! I have a socialist/communist (or perhaps Gandhian, lol, who knows) who is on my blog arguing vehemently against "class consciousness", saying that it is not a defining element of socialist theory!

    Fabian and the commentor on my blog should meet to fight it out! :)

  6. Usha:
    Class is a collective identity, as is caste. Both these concepts, like race and religion, subvert the identity of the individual and submerge or blend it with that of the greater collective. As such, I consider these collective nouns as a source of great grief to the rational man (fool or no fool), and to each country affected by the disease of collectivist identity.

  7. Oh, Ergo, I didn't read your comment here before I commented on your post!

    Regarding the Indian Left's 'favoritism' of the Muslims - I wonder if it is because the 'oppressed' burgeois in Communism harmonizes with the oppressed Muslim minority in India. I therefore am inclined to suspect that the favoritism is more political than ideological. But, I'm not an expert on the Left...:-)


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