October 27, 2020
Home  »  Website  »  Society  » Opinion  »  The Cartel's Politics
Discussing South Asia

The Cartel's Politics

How institutional ideologies and capital empower the scholars' cartel politically, and how Indian scholars perform in compromising positions for the cartel. Article #9 in the continuing dialogue.

Google + Linkedin Whatsapp
Follow Outlook India On News
The Cartel's Politics

For the on-going debate, please see the RHS bar under Also See

The companion article, The Cartel’s 'Theories', gave my response to one set of issues raised by Vijay. Additionally, this article explains how institutional ideologies and capital empower the scholars’ cartel politically, and how Indian scholars perform in compromising positions for the cartel.

It covers the following topics:

1) The US has replaced the British as the main funding source for India-related studies worldwide. This is natural and to be expected of any superpower, given the following needs: (i) to understand various areas of the world for the development of policy and (ii) to have a standing army of scholars-activists ready for deployment in a variety of ways. (See my columns: America must re-discover India and Preventing America’s Nightmare

2) The Pew Trust’s power in academe is described; but Pew is merely one of many multi-billion dollar private foundations that control the funding and pulling of strings to popularize certain themes and theories, as well as to influence the advancement of scholars indirectly through their proxies inside the system. Ford Foundation deserves a study by itself as to how it has influenced certain agendas over others in India. I invite Vijay to collaborate for a study on who funds what, and also to develop a process for scholars/activists to make transparent disclosures of all their grants and other affiliations.

3) These items then pave the way to address my main point here: that "resistance", "camps", and criticism of various kinds amongst scholars are merely managed and controlled forms of opposition, and are ultimately not real but virtual.

4) Contrary to their claims, the South Asian Studies NRI scholars are not India’s intellectual home team, as they are neither qualified (in the siddhantas and categories of Indian thought) nor truly free.

5) Using the very recent concrete example of FOIL’s mobilization against me, I illustrate that many of these scholars are part of the Sepoy Army to defend the fortress.

I also explain that it is not enough for Vijay to claim to have dealt with an issue that I raise, simply by giving some bibliographic reference to show that he already knew about it. This is not a TV game-show on who knows more. As long as the issue remains in the real world, it is still an issue no matter how much might have been written on it. This and some relatively atypical counter-examples seem to be Vijay’s common way of addressing many issues.

Academic whistle-blower

In the fall of 2002, a young, outspoken academic scholar in South Asian Studies - a whistleblower of sorts - posted the following on the internet list of the politically powerful academic group known as RISA (Religions In South Asia). He is Christian Wedemeyer, Department of Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen, and he also moderates the Indology list on Yahoo. He dropped the following bombshell:

a) Many (perhaps most) of the leading lights of South Asian Studies in the US today were funded at least in part by "National Defense Fellowships" (now FLAS) - money earmarked by the US Government in the frenzy of post-Sputnik paranoia, in order to train Americans to know the Others’ languages and so keep pace with the Soviet drive to world domination;

b) the American university system is now in practice (if not in theory) a branch of the governmental intelligence services (cf. Sigmund Diamond's important work "Compromised Campus", New York, 1992). As Diamond notes (p. 53): "When former national security advisor McGeorge Bundy said that all university area studies programs were ‘manned, directed, or stimulated by graduates of the OSS [Office of Strategic Services],’ he was writing more than history; he was giving a prognosis of the future and making policy. There always had been and always would be ‘a high measure of interpenetration between universities with area programs and the information-gathering agencies of the government of the United States. ’"

c) related to b), leading lights of US South Asian Studies (and mentors to many current members of RISA) like Norman Brown were (and, likely, are) up to their ya-yas in CIA and State Department contacts and (presumably) funding ; and

d) (As I noted in my MA thesis), "at the same time as all of the books and conferences such as Introducing India in Liberal Education, whose rhetoric speaks of integrating Eastern contributions into the great liberal educative tradition of 'the World' (i.e. the West), the political ramifications of 'area studies' were being encouraged and exploited . Interestingly, at this very conference, held in Chicago in 1957, at which these issues were being addressed, we see as attendees the names of 'Chadbourne Gilpatric, The Rockefeller Foundation ,' 'William Marvel, Executive Associate, Carnegie Corporation of New York,' and 'Cloen O. Swayzee, The Ford Foundation ' - all foundations implicated in connection with contemporaneous covert F.B.I. collaboration in Diamond's recent study of the collaboration between the government intelligence agencies and American universities. " (cf. "Orientalism is a Humanism: Materials and Methods for an History and Auto-critique of Buddhist Studies", Columbia, 1994).

Wedemeyer then challenged his academic colleagues to introspect honestly about whether they were, in fact, paid mercenaries:

"What does this mean for South Asian Studies (and "Religion In South Asia")? Are we merely to conclude that all these people (our colleagues and mentors, not to mention "we") are simply "bought and paid for"? Are we all guilty of a kind of ‘trahison des clercs’? Should we caution ourselves against accepting such money and thus giving "academic respectability" to the nefarious plans of the State Department, FBI, and CIA? I think (and I assume most would agree) that the situation is more complex than this. We seem to trust that our colleagues and mentors can accept money from such sources, perhaps telling them what they want to hear (and sending their lesser-quality students to work as translators and code-breakers), yet continuing with their critical, objective scholarship (or something approximating the same)."

The above post by Wedemeyer, was triggered by RISA’s attack against a conference in 2002 organized by The Infinity Foundation, co-convened by Prof. Robert Thurman of Columbia University and me, which Wedemeyer and many other academic scholars participated in. 

In the same internet debate, another academic scholar named Judson Trapnell (who, unfortunately, has passed away) wrote an honest admission of the academic scholars’ vulnerabilities in bringing personal biases to their work:

"Given our training in contemporary hermeneutical theory, why do we have difficulty in accepting that we, and those institutions who fund us, bring assumptions to our work--assumptions that may seem suspect to others? I am puzzled both by the claims to higher objectivity in Western academic research and by the criticisms of others for not meeting up to our standards - i.e., in bringing political agendas to bear upon such research. Who among us does not bring them? To be human is to have such agendas, to operate under certain beliefs. Inevitably we become defensive when someone dares to try to expose our assumptions. But once the emotions have cooled, it is our responsibility as scholars to consider carefully, even prayerfully, whether there is some truth in what the other says. Then we may engage in a mutual revelation of assumptions with our critic, rather than a heated and defensive attempt to condemn the other for having an agenda that differs from ours."

Compromised Campus

The excellent book by Diamond, "Compromised Campuses," (referenced by Wedemeyer above) uses recently declassified government documents to show how Ivy Leagues (he focuses on Harvard and Yale) were bastions of CIA/FBI surveillance of scholars who were branded as trouble-makers, and, in particular, the author shows the role of Henry Kissinger as a government agent when he was at Harvard. It documents how the government agencies and bureaus influenced academic selections by many covert means. This, according to the book, was a widespread infiltration, and was with the full knowledge and cooperation of the universities’ highest level authorities, including university presidents. The author also remarks that there is no reason to believe that things have changed today, because similar institutional strings, funding, agendas, and covert means remain intact.

In this regard, I quote (anonymously per request) from a private email that I received after The Peer-Review Cartel article appeared, from an academic scholar in another Western country:

"The problem of the abuse of institutional academic power is not restricted to Indology. It is present in much of the social sciences, since academic debate has political implications and is explicitly influenced by the dominant institutions of society. As a scholar in the fields of international relations and international political economy, it is clear to me that six US-based journals control intellectual output in the field worldwide. They directly or indirectly promote ideas that support US foreign policy interests - once you cut through the crap! Any 'dissent' itself is in fact self-legitimating because the real secret of wielding effective power and successful domination is to sponsor and control a 'critique of the self' ; a Gramscian phenomenon, in effect. Much 'critique' of Hinduism and India is to show that Hinduism is mumbo-jumbo and backward, and India a potential danger to the world because of its reprehensible Brahmin-dominated caste culture. Indian scholars, wishing to taste the joys of Western material comforts, cannot contest this, and once compromised, they cannot obviously admit that they are a whore while seeking to embrace purity and truth!

"A small number of white scholars have intimate ties with government agencies and conformity radiates from this core, via funding and positions in high status institutions, though obviously they don't control everything. Two of the world's leading anthropologists, working on India, report to the intelligence services in their own country and have intimate ties with the Church. They also have strong personal ties with some of India's leading leftist scholars. Unfortunately, I can't be more specific..."

Another email was from a medical researcher complaining about her field. It shows how widespread and deep-rooted these institutionalized prejudices run:

"The peer-review process is for academicians to keep their jobs and to keep truly innovative ideas out. It allows mediocrity to survive. This is not just in liberal arts but in Medicine as well. The hostility displayed by the peer-reviewers of Western journals for any innovative idea coming from a Third World country borders on savagery. The idea is run to the ground, and only after a certain ‘negotiation’ and compromise is it allowed through. The small coterie of controlling academicians (more correctly administrators) support each other, and are generally totally convinced that only people of European ancestry are capable of producing anything original. Their favorite method of rejecting new ideas from the Third World researchers include attacking the language or finding some technical ground to ridicule the whole effort. Some Third World papers are let through because they are somewhat stupid, so that they can condescendingly patronize."

In a future article on this cartel issue, I shall describe my model to interpret the above e-mail’s reference to the way the system deliberately selects "stupid" items from the third-worlders, in order to "condescendingly patronize." I refer to this as the Ganga-Din Syndrome. There are many scripts available in the Western Grand Narrative (WGN) for Indians to perform as deliberate-morons. The British actor, Peter Sellers, depicted such characters in some of his roles. Unfortunately, many Indians have become programmed to subliminally behave like morons in front of whites, as if they were enacting a script that was being expected of them. I will claim in my future article that many Indian postcolonialist scholars are, in fact, performing like Ganga-Dins in the Western Grand Narrative, because such roles come with carrots.

This is why I disagree with Homi Bhabha and others who characterize this behavior as "resistance," and I see it as a sellout. Much of what Bhabha calls "hybridity" is to glorify the sellout, by including a script for it within the WGN that makes it seem "progressive".

Who funds what?

I am glad that Vijay acknowledges that private mega-buck funding often compromises academic independence.

For example, Pew Trust is controlling the academic ("secular") Religious Studies discipline at not just one Davos, but many. Its Protestant evangelical mission is very publicly stated as follows (Religion and the Public Square: Religious Grant Making at The Pew Charitable Trusts, by Luis E. Lugo):

"During the first 30 years of religious grant making, certain patterns were established that continue to this day. Perhaps the most pronounced of these is the Trusts' distinct and continuous interest in the evangelical movement within American Protestantism. This was expressed during the early years primarily in the support that was extended to evangelical institutions of higher education, including colleges and seminaries, and to a variety of evangelical parachurch agencies, from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Christianity Today magazine to the American Bible Society and World Vision..."

"Some things are clear from this early period. One was the commitment of J. Howard Pew and others in the Pew family to support institutions that uphold historic Christian principles rooted in biblical standards. Another was their desire to see the Christian faith applied beyond the walls of the church to the great intellectual and social issues of the day..."

"[O]ne of the fundamental purposes of the J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust: ‘To promote recognition of the interdependence of Christianity and freedom...’"

"The Pew Evangelical Scholars Program has encouraged the most talented evangelical scholars nationwide to produce outstanding work from a Christian perspective on topics important to their disciplines, and the Pew Younger Scholars Program has recruited the most intellectually talented graduates of evangelical colleges and seminaries to enter into academic careers…... Pew-funded scholars have produced an impressive array of major-press books, journal articles, edited collaborative volumes, presentations at annual scholarly conventions, and university lectures. Networks of evangelical scholars have been formed, and fruitful cross-disciplinary, cross-generational conversations have been generated..."

Furthermore, Pew Trust controls the supply of survey research data on public attitudes about religion; it dominates in giving the grants for scholarships and post-docs in the "secular" academic study of religion; and it funds a variety of major programs at the top universities. It is also one of the top two funding sources of the American Academy of Religion.

The Henry Luce Foundation also has a very solid Christian leaning, and Luce’s family was Christian evangelists. It is a similar private family endowment operating in this space. Since Mr. Luce is in his old age, his successors and other appointed trustees have taken over, and are said to have Christianized it further. I was informed (unconfirmed) by a reliable person close to the situation that even his present wife (who is sympathetic to Buddhist causes) was turned down by the controlling Christian trustees when she wanted to give certain grants to Buddhism-related causes.

Too much of this is kind of political influence is unofficial, confidential or is simply never compiled systematically for public scrutiny. It is very important to do a report on who funds what: I would be glad to pool resources and information with anyone interested to inquire into every funding source pertaining to India-related studies. (Funding agencies are already required to file annual reports on who they fund what amounts and for what purpose, and it would be a matter of compilation.)

In parallel, I would also recommend to Vijay that we propose a code of conduct for scholars and activists to voluntarily disclose their funding sources and affiliations publicly, not because there is necessarily anything wrong in every instance, but for the sake of transparency.

This disclosure is especially critical in the case of scholars with dual careers: one career is inside the academy that serves to legitimize them, and the other un/semi-official career is in often some vague, undefined, unaccountable affiliations classified under a meaningless umbrella such as "peace activist".

Managed opposition

There are considerable mechanisms in the career maze that scholars must learn to get through to advance.

For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine
Next Story >>
Google + Linkedin Whatsapp

The Latest Issue

Outlook Videos