In defense of Academia
The academic community is used to standing on the shoulders of giants. It simply means that we build on the work of pre-existing scholarship. This allows us to base our claims on notions of reliability, if not objectivity. How else do we know that our perception of the world is true if it is not verified by a slew of scholars who think like we do?
I am writing this defense after bringing out the flaws of academia in my previous articles. In this written piece, I will bring forth where the biases of academia originate, especially with regards to understanding and dealing with Indic themes. Also, please be patient with my borderline Gen Z but definitely millennial personality: we do not abide by suppression of our personalities or our emotions.
The disruptive themes in academic scholarship literally have to go through the scrutiny of pre-existing scholarly biases, which can range from being obsolete, irrelevant, or completely valid. Hence, we can say it is a formidable institution to provide society with strong knowledge bases.
However, the scholarly traditions do not do well when it comes to dealing with the forgotten traumatic pasts of cultures and societies, especially when they are so coiled up in the trap of critical theory. We discuss this in detail in this video.
Imagine a giant wounded, fallen to the ground, but still alive through generations. I am referring to scholarly traditions that are not part of the mainstream. This giant is trying to rise from its dose of morphine and other anesthetics in several ways.
The rise of this giant expresses itself in some symptomatic ways in civil society. I will give you a hint: an ideology wins an election in a representative democracy. The academic community misinterprets this symptom as the rise of fascism, fall of democracy, end of the world, doomsday, hitler rising from the dead, Donald Trump winning spelling bee competitions, etc. I believe I have made my point.
The academic community simply doesn’t know that sleeping giants exist because they are too busy standing and oiling the shoulders of the giants they have dedicated their Doctorates to. Imagine the journey of a bright-eyed graduate student, who is exposed to this world of knowledge and textual data, eloquently written. We find that this human specimen has turned into a cynical but vociferous advocate of human rights as well as the rights of a common pumpkin (because we do not want to be anthropocentric). This bright eyed young lady or gentleman embarks on her mission to write a Ph.D. thesis inspired by their passion for all things justice and critical observation and objectivity and justice and equality and fraternity and so on. The collapse of the human brain has begun. By the time, the dude (or devi) is in their third/fourth year of doctorate, they think too much time has elapsed to completely overturn their perspective of the world, even if, in the words of Johnny Mercer, “There’s such a lot of world to see.” All that remains in the defense of the thesis, which continues for life, because our given human specimen really believes this is the way they have contributed to the planet. There are exceptions, of course, thankfully.
Anyway, getting back to the topic: we forget that sleeping giants do exist. And that it is time for some of them to open their eyes: wide awake.
Sleeping giants can be wounded or they might be completing their cycles of sleepfulness and wakefulness. We have discussed the concept of wounded giants in terms of societies under tyrannical foreign rule or colonial oppression. Hence, I hope my readers will be very familiar with what this metaphor implies: 1000 years of colonial oppression in India.
However, there is one other kind of sleeping giant that deserves our attention. I am referring to the turning of the tides in terms of ideas that have valid and strong roots that cannot be fathomed by the mainstream or even fringe discourse, because they have either been forgotten or buried or need to be re-imagined in the light of their wake in a new era.
This reminds me of the story of the fabled princess Revathi and her father, King Kakudmi, recorded in the historical text of the Mahabharata. The King, who is a formidable king in the Treta yuga, has a beloved daughter, and he wants to seek the advice of Bramha to find a suitable match for her in marriage.
The father and daughter travel to Brahmalok seeking advice from the Creator. They spend a day in Bramhaloka. When it is time for them to return to Earth, Bramha reminds them that an entire Yuga has elapsed on Prithviloka or Earth; hence, the suitable match for Revathi would be none other than Bhagwaan Krishna’s elder brother, Balarama, our very own beloved Sheshnaga Avatara. The father-daughter duo returned to Earth to find humans and lands changed. The humans have grown smaller with the passage of the Yuga, and the King doesn’t have his kingdom anymore. However, they meet Bhagwaan Krishna in due time. He was aware of their story. Balarama and Revathi get married.
This is a sleeping giant with a paradigm so boggling to the present eye that it cannot be fathomed using the rationality of today. There is no denying the existence of this giant and that it is slowly opening its eyes to the world today.
Only a mighty bridge, like Bhagwaan Krishna, can help us resolve the situation. The metaphorical challenges are, of course, reducing the height of Revathi and her Father-King to the Dwapar yuga (or, in this case, Kalyuga) situation. I am making a bold claim, dear reader, the giants of academia have been looking through a microscopic hole. This microscopic context has allowed us to build strong foundations of knowledge, which we then use to organize our societies.
The current discourse is begotten from what Europe called its “Enlightenment” (I, an Indian aware of her traditions,smirking at the term with the special Indian gesture of touching my forehead with my hand). The rational inspection on the basis of observable evidence and the insistence upon it as the scientific method have their origins in this tradition. Even the opposition to the methods in form of deconstructionist criticism and connected scholarship in the realm of post-modernism, post-colonialism, and the like are signs of this particular giant evolving to know more about the world and “include” more people, /ethnicities /genders /vegetables /plants /unclassifiable-objects-whose-feelings-get-hurt /objects-that-protest-against- identities, /brinjals-that-identify-as-fruits, etc. So, I would label it as more of an evolutionary move, and I would welcome it. And that is my defense of Eurocentric scholarship, which has been trying to be more humane and expansive.
However, sleeping giants exist. Some of them are also waking up. Some of these giants are strong enough to tear down the microscopic vision that has dominated our worldview.
If you are an unapologetic millennial empath (like me), and you have been sensing chaos, confusion, and instability in global consciousness, this is probably one of the reasons. I suggest we hold on to our horses, and wait for our very own Bharata’s Bhagyavidhata- Shri Krishna – to help us through it.