Praxis, not doxa
By Iftekhar Sayeed
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Oct 10, 2007, 01:34
�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
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.
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