Online Journal
Front Page 
 Special Reports
 News Media
 Elections & Voting
 Social Security
 Editors' Blog
 Reclaiming America
 The Splendid Failure of Occupation
 The Lighter Side
 The Mailbag
 Online Journal Stores
 Official Merchandise
 Progressive Press
 Barnes and Noble
 Join Mailing List

Commentary Last Updated: Oct 10th, 2007 - 01:39:14

Praxis, not doxa
By Iftekhar Sayeed
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Oct 10, 2007, 01:34

Email this article
 Printer friendly page
�An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed . . . �


In his prayer for his daughter, Yeats disavows ideas. Most of us would do well to follow his example. Every shade and flavour of hatred must win our disapprobation, but for intellectual hatred a special venom must be reserved. The very phrase seems almost an oxymoron. How can the intellect be capable of hate? For one thing, hatred is an emotion, and the intellect is unemotional. For another, the intellect, whose food is information, cannot find room for hatred � it can only occur in the interstices of ignorance. Ignorance and hatred are dark regions alike of the mind and the heart.

And yet it is among the intellectually well endowed that we discover the most generous endowment of the emotion. I do not speak of great minds, such as that of Socrates, who entreated his enemies to persecute his sons when they were grown men, if they loved anything more than virtue, or if they pretended to be something when really they were nothing. Or of Spinoza, whose intellectual love of God removed hatred for any aspect of the universe, from personal disasters to major calamities, preferring to see these �sub specie aeternitatis� -- in the light of eternity. For, from the eternal vantage point, nothing is good or evil, only necessity prevails.

And it is not only among the great that such lofty emotional demeanour hides its modest visage; among ordinary people, in our midst, we have all known one or two (no more, alas!) noble natures who have blazed love�s meteor trail through the black firmament that surrounds us. How, we have marveled, could such souls retain their purity and nobility of spirit despite the opprobrium and malice that all of us, as a matter of course, are subject to? The answer I have found may be of interest to readers who have been similarly perplexed.

They were innocent of any ideas.

Ideas, all the �isms� and �acies� that our minds have accumulated like so much garbage over the years, inevitably create an adversary out of humanity. All those who do not share our views are �the enemy.' Hatred towards them is not only natural, it is even justified. No, it is a duty!

When I say they were innocent of ideas, I do not mean they were intellectually bankrupt. True, they were ignorant of the craft of life, and fully conversant with its art. They illuminated in their lives the complete triumph of praxis over doxa. They had some fundamental rules of thumb, such as the truism that the strong should never hurt the weak. Without these eternal and basic insights, civilisation would disappear, as it has in many parts of the world, and as it is in danger of disappearing in our own country. Indeed, a society where such axioms appear as revelation has almost eked out its natural life-span, and is currently enjoying the moral equivalence of Alzheimer�s disease.

In his monumental book, �The Study of History,' Arnold Toynbee has commented on the triumphalism of ideas. The proponents of an idea are carried away by their sheer enthusiasm; they feel they are at the vanguard of things, that all of history is on their side, that they cannot be wrong. He compared the triumphalism of Calvinists with that of communists; today the capitalists and Democrats are in a similar position. For I have personally encountered the intolerance of the westernising liberals in our society, both foreign and native alike. Their hostility towards any idea that runs counter to their cherished beliefs verges on the fanatical. And where one believes that one is absolutely right, any method, no matter how contrary to human standards of decency and decorum, is justified. There is no atrocity too great, no crime too heinous, no conduct too unbecoming for the success of the Idea.

Therefore, a dignified empiricism should guide our lives, both in great matters and trivial. Any overarching theory of life stands to offend principles of decency. One does not, of course, advocate an ad hoc approach to life. We need rules of thumb, and they are best furnished by writers and poets such as Yeats. This is where the benign influence of great art and religion works its healing powers. But nothing, even these influences when they threaten to excommunicate humanity, must be elevated above our concern for our fellow companions on the highway of life.

In this respect the influences that have emanated form the west over the last one hundred years have been most unfortunate in their consequences. Events that were peculiar to that part of the world have been raised to the level of ideas.

Take the experience of representative government. The destruction of the western Roman Empire, the thousand years of anarchy that followed, the renaissance monarchies that established central rule in the teeth of opposition from nobility, clergy, and bourgeoisie only to be toppled by these in their parliaments -- all this has been experience unique to the West. Yet, the experience became an idea, and the idea traveled, decapitated from the experience, to haunt the Eastern world, like an unquiet ghost. And the latest will-o�- the-wisp is civil society, which had its archetype in the mediaeval monastery during those thousand years. However, today the monastic workhorse has been put to many uses and the list of expectations from the overworked animal in a society bankrupt of all sense of decorum and decency impresses pity on the spectator of the tragedy. And civil society itself promotes and inspires violence and mistrust, as those monasteries revealed earlier, in their enthusiastic endorsement of the slave trade (black people, they claimed, bore the �curse of Ham�) and today in their downgrading of Arabs and other, lesser breeds like ourselves.

The particular hatred that Yeats had in mind was the hatred of nationalism, to which the woman that he loved, Maud Gonne, had dedicated herself. The beauty of poetry lies, of course, in its generality. Any �ism,' any doctrine falls under the injunctions of the couplet that stands at the head of this essay, the reasons for which are given here at the tail.

For arrogance and hatred are the wares
That are peddled in the thoroughfares.�

Iftekhar Sayeed was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he currently resides. He teaches English as well as economics. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in Postcolonial Text (on-line); Altar Magazine, Online Journal, Left Curve (2004,2005) and The Whirligig in the United States; in Britain: Mouseion, Erbacce, The Journal, Poetry Monthly, Envoi, Orbis, Acumen and Panurge; and in Asiaweek in Hong Kong; Chandrabhaga and the Journal OF Indian Writing in English in India; and Himal in Nepal. He is also a freelance journalist. He and his wife love to tour Bangladesh.

Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor

Top of Page

Latest Headlines
None dare call it genocide
Then again, maybe they�re just really slow starters
Baseball been berry good to me
US detention centers in Iraq, better than the Hilton?
Are heterosexuals really the best parents?
Peace summit: Historic moment or big yawn?
Praxis, not doxa
Darfur: Why should we care?
American lockdown: Law enforcement out of control and beyond the pale
Haider Abdul-Shafi: passing undefeated
An anti-imperialist case against a nuclear Iran
The Iraq occupation and the coming war against Iran: Political wickedness and moral bankruptcy
Are thugs who defend �American interests� lesser thugs?
For Iran, no nukes is not good news
Blackwater�s bullets over Baghdad
Who killed the antiwar movement?
9/11 isn�t �over,� Mr. Friedman
Dissenting at your own risk
Our Bonhoeffer moment
Let's try partitioning the US