blows against the empire

Posted: 02-12-2005 03:33 PM

Dear friends,

In our discussion on Thursday, we talked about creating a "sustainability guide" and resource list for campus-bound students, staff, and faculty who want to boycott companies that should be boycotted. We agreed that our resource list should include the reason to boycott a company, for example, exploitation of labor, or donation of money to the Republican Party.

We promised in the autumn syllabus not to endorse any political party. I would like to boycott companies with poor labor practices, such as Coke or Neslle, but I see no reason why I should boycott a company which gives more money to Republicans than to Democrats. I have been a life-long (somewhat independent) Democrat, but I am increasingly unhappy with both major parties, and more inclined to vote independently. Not that it is any of your business, but I have considered joining the Green Party, at least until the Democrats get their act together, which I don't expect anytime soon. I don't want my money going to Democrats any more than to Republicans. So I would like a list of companies that give money only to the Green Party or the Nader campaign, or make no political donations at all. I would also like to support the efforts of Green Republicans. We tend to forget that not so very long ago Republicans were considered stronger environmentalists / conservationists than Democrats. I once had a Green Republican roommate, and I know many Republicans who are very concerned about the environment. (For a Green Republican website, please see: Republicans for Environmental Protection, I think it is important to maintain an open network, and to keep open minds.

I believe that any resource guide compiled by this class should be neutral, providing information without recommendation. This is my opinion. You do not have to agree with me just because I am faculty and you are students paying way too much tuition money to listen to my views.

I think we should avoid dualistic thinking, demonization of the political or cultural "other," Bush-bashing, Red State / Blue State stereotyping (this sounds like a Dr. Seuss book "One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State..."), religion-bashing, etc.

If we have to endorse someone for president, hear what Woody Guthrie has to say:


Let's have christ for president.

Let us have him for our king.

Cast your vote for the carpenter

That you call the nazarene.


The only way we can ever beat

These crooked politician men

Is to run the money changers out of the temple

And put the carpenter in


O it's jesus christ for president

God above our king

With a job and a pension for young and old

We will make hallelujah ring


Every year we waste enough

To feed the ones who starve

We build our civilization up

And we shoot it down with wars


But with the carpenter on the seat

Away up in the capital town

The usa would be on the way prosperity bound!


(This is from the album Mermaid Avenue, performed by Billy Bragg and Wilco; I always tell my students that I do not work for the record company, but is this really true? Whether I like it or not, I am selling CDs, and I wonder where the money goes?)

Woody Guthrie's favorite miracle is Christ's chasing the money changers out of the temple, a good example for us to follow. My patron saint and namesake, Saint Jerome, agreed. In one of his sermons, he dismissed vulgar miracles such as changing water into wine and walking on water, as mere trickery in comparison to what Christ did in the temple. He, with just his bull-whip and his righteous indignation, did what a mighty army could not do.

Some Jains and Hindus do not believe that Jesus, a yogi and a master of equanimity, would ever lose his temper in this way. Before I went to India, I was advised that "righteous indignation is culturally inappropriate." This is good advice for Americans, who are regarded in India as self-righteous, arrogant, and temperamental. However, even in India, righteous indignation is sometimes appropriate (as I discovered).

When you read the selections from Gandhi (soon to be placed on Eres), please remember that even the Prince of Peace once struck a blow against the Empire, instead of turning the other cheek (and then they crucified him, but he rose in glory on the third day....; according to the radical Biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan, "it never happened and it always happened"). Should we be radical pacifists, like most Jains, or should we be more like Christ? Should we always be non-violent? What would Jesus do? What would Karl Marx do? What would Gandhi do? Where did Gandhi find his inspiration? Would Gandhi's methods have worked against the Nazis?

As always, thanks!


Jerome Bauer'


blows against the empire

Posted: 02-12-2005 03:43 PM


Dear friends,

According to one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Richard Thompson, in his song, "Pharaoh":


Pharaoh he sits in his tower of steel

The dogs of money all at his heel

Magicians cry, Oh Truth! Oh Real!

We're all working for the Pharaoh


A thousand eyes, a thousand ears

He feeds us all, he feeds our fears

Don't stir in your sleep tonight, my dears

We're all working for the Pharaoh


Egypt Land, Egypt Land

We're all living in Egypt land

Tell me, brother, don't you understand

We're all working for the Pharaoh


Hidden from the eye of chance

The men of shadow dance a dance

And we're all struck into a trance

We're all working for the Pharaoh


Idols rise into the sky

Pyramids soar, Sphinxes lie

Head of dog, Osiris eye

We're all working for the Pharaoh


I dig a ditch, I shape a stone

Another battlement for his throne

Another day on earth is flown

We're all working for the Pharaoh


Call it England, call it Spain

Egypt rules with the whip and chain

Moses free my people again!

We're all working for the Pharaoh


Pharaoh he sits in his tower of steel

Around his feet the princes kneel

Far beneath we shoulder the wheel

We're all working for the Pharaoh


I tell my students I do not work for the record company, but every time I put a popular song lyric on an exam or class weblog. some of my students buy the CD. I work for, and you pay tuition to, what my father would call a scab university.

Is Richard Thompson right? Are we all working for the Pharaoh? If so, what should we do about it?

As always, thanks!

Jerome Bauer



intellectual property?

Posted: 02-19-2005 01:06 AM

Dear friends,

On my Telesis pages, I have quoted from Woody Guthrie and Richard Thompson, lyrics critical of the capitalist system. I have done so without obtaining or asking permission. In my judgment it would be inappropriate to do so, and unnecessary since in my judgment this comes under educational Fair Use as codified in US copyright law.[Note 1]

The 2003 Book of Common Readings had a long section about illegal downloading of MP3 music and other copyright violations by students. The point of the book was clearly to teach students to respect the concept of intellectual property. As discussion leader, I felt it was my duty to do just the opposite: to teach my students to question this.

Indians are outraged by the patent granted to an American pharmaceutical company for Ayurvedic medicinals. Ayurveda, according to Hindu tradition, is a gift of God. Ultimately, we are all One (Brahman), so "ownership" is an ignorant, selfish illusion, like the rest of the phenomenal world.

Who owns the earth? Who owns the moon, Mars, and asteroids? Who owns the water we drink, and the air we breathe? Who owns my genetic code? Who owns the thoughts I think, and the words I use? Who owns my memories and dreams?

Here are some questions from the 2003 Book of Common Readings (pp. 20-37), which I used for the freshman discussion I led:

1) Peter Givler, "Copyright: It's for the Public Good" (2003)

"Thoughts are ephemeral, but words, once written, become things and, as things, they acquire a power thoughts alone can never have." (pg. 28) Do you agree? Are written words really things that can be owned? What about words we know by heart, and speak as our own, without remembering whether we learned them from a book? Can you defend or critique this notion that words can become private property? Do other cultures have different standards?

2) Peter Givler, "Copyright: It's for the Public Good" (2003)

"Copyright law... created a system of maintaining textual integrity, a public record of the authorized text [e.g. Shakespeare] to which other texts claiming authority could be compared..." (pg. 28). Do other cultures have different standards of authenticity and textual integrity?

3) "One student... was stuck on the 'Hamlet' paper... So she went to the and found the perfect essay. 'I took a good idea that wasn't given much effort in the online paper and put it into my paper with correct grammar and clear sentence structure. Added a little quote. Touched up the final thought. And took credit for it,' she wrote in an e-mail. 'Is that wrong?'" (pg. 33) Do you agree or disagree with the author that this is definitely plagiarism? What should the student have done? What should the professor do?

4) Imagine the following scenario: two students submit an in-class short answer exam containing a nearly identical phrase. Both answers demonstrate the students' correct identification and understanding of the concept. The students were sitting on opposite sides of the classroom and were not observed copying from written notes. Apparently they had both studied, and partially memorized, the same source, most likely an internet encyclopedia entry. Is this plagiarism? What should the professor do?


reverse plagiarism and censorship

Posted: 02-19-2005 12:14 PM

Dear friends,

Just a short addendum to the previous posting: in India, there is a venerable tradition of "reverse plagiarism." Authors of texts will attribute them to the founder of the school, as an act of humble obeisance to the guru, guru-bhakti (see my "marriage and family values" thread, especially the posting, "utopian american kinship and hindu devotional theology). This is not considered dishonest or fraudulent at all; this is the highest form of honesty. Indian texts are notoriously difficult to date, and Indian history is notoriousy difficult for Westerners to write, partly for this reason. Indian tradition does not separate what we would call "history" and what we would call "mythology."

Ultimately, God is the author of all our works, because we are non-different from God, so why not give God the credit? God is the ultimate Guru. This is a very different theory of "intellectual property rights" than the one promoted by Washington University, perhaps for "legal reasons."

On another note, last night while I was working on these postings (more are on the way!), I wathched Bill Maher's "Real Time" on HBO (no, I don't work for the cable company, or do I?). In a segment entitled "Leave the Children Behind," Bill Maher cited a recent poll, according to which 50% of American high school students believe that the government should control the press, and 10% believe that unpopular opinions should be suppressed. Whatever happened to the Bill of Rights? Studs Terkel used to call himself a "conservative," at least on this issue: "conserve the Bill of Rights"!

As always, thanks!



Posted: 02-20-2005 01:03 AM

Dear friends,

One correction: according to the survey cited by Bill Maher, nearly one in five high school students believe that unpopular opinions should be suppressed.


[Student A]


Re: intellectual property?

Posted: 02-22-2005 10:59 AM

There are two ways to look at intellectual property. If I record my thoughts in a journal or diary, these thoughts belong to no one else but me. They are personal and private, and I, technically, own them. But what if I quote someone else's writing in my journal, do those thoughts belong to me now that they are placed in a new context? Now, another way of approaching intellectual property is that they are owned by everyone. I don't think anyone in Gaviotas kept the designs to inventions to themselves in hopes of one day profitting fromt them. "Mi casa su casa" right?

But that was in a cooperative environment. We, however, are immersed in capitalism. It's the frame we're in. We need to look beyond consumerism and competition. How are we ever going to advance when half the time, companies are trying to develop a new products to compete with their opponent's, instead of building and improving existing ones. As my kindergarten teacher used to say, "sharing is caring." The students in question weren't wrong in using online resources, if anything they enhanced the quality of intellectual thought. However, citations to acknowledge the other authors would have been appropriate.

And also, in response the study that Bill Maher cited, I think that America's youth are becoming more conservative. A lot of what conservatism has to do is maintaining the status quo. A huge percentage of the population belong to the middle class, it's like the 1950's all over again. We live leisurely, comfortable lives... even if the world could be better, why change? We are not currently afflicted by the chaos and disaster to come, why should be working to prevent something that may not appear in our lifetime.

This thread made me reflect on the post I submitted in response to [Student B]'s thread on character. I think that a lot of what I said was framed. Although, I still believe that one should live ethically, and try to improve character, the previous post makes the fine line between ethical and not even thinner. Also, the definition of character is different for everyone. It's probable that Hitler thought he had one of the most prestine character of all time. In such a case, do we try to live by our own set of ethics or fall into the frame set by society?


Dear friends,

Just a point of clarification: it is my duty as a faculty member to discourage you all from illegally downloading MP3 files using the Washington University system. If you do, you could get us all into trouble.

This having been said, we can go on to do what we are supposed to do in college, question everything, including the whole concept of intellectual property rights and private property itself...



[Student C]

Re: intellectual property?

Posted: 02-23-2005 05:09 PM

When I first read this thread on intellectual property my first reaction was that of course it is wrong to use other peoples ideas or writing, I didn't even consider the other side. That is because of the frame that I am in. My whole life I have been taught that "plagiarism", or the use of other people creations (music, ideas, art, writing) is bad. So bad that one could be kicked out of school for it or sued for downloading music. Back in high school 20 points of our essays were based on whether we cited our papers correctly. 1/5 of the points for our papers came from the act of giving someone else credit in our writing. It never really occurred to me that in other communities or cultures it didn't matter to whom the credit belonged. I agree with [Student A] that in a community like gaviotas or another ideal cooperative community where ideas are for the benefit of the whole and not for the individual than it doesn't really matter where the credit is due. But unfortunately we do not live in such a community. We live in a consumer driven, competitive society where everyone is working to do better than the other guy and make it to the top. In a society like ours I feel that it is necessary to give credit where it is due. But then the question is how far will one go? Because aren't all ideas influenced somehow by outside sources? So where does the credit end?


[Student D]

Re: intellectual property?

Posted: 02-24-2005 11:57 AM

Intellectual property as private property brings up an interesting question on marx' writing and the ideals behind communist societies. Because of 20th century history communist societies have been thought of, in every manifestation of the ideals, as an oppressive culture, supressing individual thought. From our tuesday night reading group I was introduced to the idea that by having one's family supported by the state, and everyone on an equal field of living a member of society has more time for hisself, to think, to be an intellectual, an individual, instead of having to work overtime to support one's family. But one of the major aims of the communist party is to get rid of private property. how does this effect intellectual property? is it society's views on intellectual property, that it is private with someone else as the owner, what forces modern ventures into communism turn into oppressive big brother societies with a family reporting their neighbor for individual thoughts?

My second question is how does this effect our creativity definitions? So many of our definitions said creative thinking was thinking in ways or coming up with ideas new to oneself. Does it count if it is new to you but is already someone elses property? It just popped into my head, and i haven't really thought through all the implications of it, but think about it a little.


Respect makes the empires fall.


marriage and family values

Posted: 02-13-2005 12:39 PM

Dear friends,

Last Tuesday we had a fascinating discussion of marriage and family, with special attention to the recent politicization of "gay marriage." You students noted how bourgeois the monogamous, faithful gay couples seen on TV seemed to be, and how threatening this seemed to the proponents of "traditional American family values."

You students then were asked to free associate on paper about "marriage." [X] had a lot to say, but I will recapitulate here only what I said. I noted that all of you defined marriage in terms of two people. Nobody considered polygamous forms of marriage such as polygyny or polyandry, practiced in other cultures and present in utopian literature and science fiction. We discussed co-wife rivalry and hierarchy in marriage, using examples from China, Islam, and the American Mormons. We then talked about sacramental versus contractual views of marriage and divorce, and separation of church and state issues. If marriage is a sacramental union between people, doesn't it belong in the religious domain, not subject to state regulation? Shouldn't the state stick to regulating civil unions and contracts of all kinds, and not regulate personal matters such as sex and religion? I asked the class if American marriage is sacramental or contractual, and someone answered, "both." Sometime in our discussion I mentioned the Hindu "Gandharva wedding," sacramental union by spontaneous consensual sexual consummation (which is how Shevek and Takver were "partnered" in The Dispossessed). We discussed the legitimacy, or lack of legitimacy, of this form of "marriage."

I have a few questions and observations to follow up. It seems that "gay marriage" as it is being defined replicates the "traditional American family," the nuclear family, only with two mothers or two fathers instead of one of each. When "gay divorce" follows "gay marriage," inevitable in a country that has always had very high expectations of marriage and a high divorce rate since colonial times, there will be "gay single parent households." But why replicate the nuclear family anyway, the source, it seems to many, of so many problems? Why not look back to the original "traditional American family," the extended family that was the norm before the middle of the nineteenth century? When several generations of family members, including also aunts and uncles, share in the child-rearing, the children have a wide variety of role models, and grow up better rounded. In India, extended families are the norm, and they work very well. The Indian extended family has also proven very resilient, well adapted to the twenty-first century. Such a model might work for Americans as well. Gay couples could be included in our extended families, sharing in the child-rearing and serving as role models alongside straight couples. As Hillary Clinton put it, "it takes a village" to raise a child. Her Republican critics responded, "it takes a family," by which they meant "nuclear family." But why couldn't we modify our traditional (patriarchal and hierarchical) extended family, to raise children, instead of letting the TV set, internet, or youth gangs do the job for us? How could we create a gender-egalitarian, non-hierarchical extended family?

As for the more unusual family and marriage arrangements, the Radical Reformation contained Protestant sects that experimented with plural marriages of many sorts. As heirs of the Radical Reformation, all these models are part of American cultural heritage. Last semester we read about the Mormons, the Oneida Community, and the celibate Shakers. There are many other models in American history, and in American science fiction (for a very complex and hierarchical polyandrous family system, see Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress). I personally don't endorse any of these, and wouldn't want to be involved in anything like this, because basically I am an old-fashioned square, a romantic monogamist like may parents, but when I am in my utopian social dreamer mode, I can think "outside the box," and consider all sorts of wild and crazy stuff that might work well on Mars. I encourage you to do so too, at least in the classroom.

When I was a graduate student in Pennsylvania, I received a visit from one of my families from India, a middle-aged married Hindu couple. They had been traveling around America, living on a very low budget by cooking their own vegetarian Indian food, and meeting all sorts of Americans, just for the experience. They told me about two couples they met, one a very traditional Indian-born Hindu married couple, the other an unmarried American couple. The Hindu couple cautioned them to stay away from the American couple, because they were not married and "living in sin." But the Indian couple were selfish and unhelpful, the Americans were kind and generous, and obviously in a long-term, committed relationship. My friends concluded that the American couple were really married; they had married each other, and needed no ceremony. They knew a marriage, that is, a sacramental union between two people, when they saw one, and they saw one here.

Most of us in the Focus class (because we all seem to be liberal on this issue) probably recognize committed gay couples as worthy of marriage, if not already married and not in need of any ceremony. But what about hierarchical, plural arrangements? What about a menage a trois? Does anyone recognize a threesome as a sacramental union? (I have never encountered such a "marriage," but perhaps they exist and I haven't met them yet). Are we by nature a pair-bonding species, when we are not simply promiscuous? (This is what LeGuin implies in The Dispossessed, but then again, the people in the story are supposed to be aliens).

What about so-called "serial monogamy," or even remarriage after the death of a spouse? I was told by many Indians (Hindus, Jains, and Christians) that they would never consider marrying another if their spouse died. One of my favorite writers, the Indian novelist R. K. Narayan, was married for only a brief time to a woman he loved deeply. She died of typhoid, and he never considered marrying another, because in his mind, he was still married to his departed wife, with whom he claimed to have communicated via a medium. (You can read about this in his best novel, The English Teacher, and in his autobiography, My Days). My Indian friends would frequently compare the American divorce rate unfavorably to that of India, until I got tired of it and started telling them that the Indian divorce rate is too low if abused wives cannot divorce their husbands without shame. Dowry death is the dark side of the low divorce rate; "sati" or burning widows to death on their husbands funeral pyres, is the dark side of romantic Hindu monogamy, or belief in "soulmates." (By the way, Hindu men are not expected to mount their wives' funeral pyres).

So, what makes a marriage? I guess we know it when we see it, across cultures. Or so we like to think...

These are just some thoughts and observations, to get some discussion going on the theme, "marriage and family values."

Thanking you as always for your interesting and diverse views,

Jerome Bauer


kinship bibliography

Posted: 02-15-2005 12:31 AM

Dear friends,

If any of you are interested in American kinship and how it might be remade, here are a few suggested readings, off the top of my head:

Schneider, David, American Kinship

Inden, Ronald B., and Nicholas, Rallph, Kinship in Bengali Culture

Both are very short and readable, and good introductions to the anthropological study of kinship. I read them both in college, about the same time I read LeGuin's The Dispossessed, and my views on how to reform the American family were formed at that time.

As always, thanks!

Jerome Bauer


utopian american kinship and hindu devotional theology

Posted: 02-16-2005 10:45 PM

Dear friends,

The two books on kinship I mentioned in my last posting describe very different views of family. Americans conceive of kinship as a type of social "solidarity," something solid or thick, "blood is thicker than water." We cannot choose our relatives, we are born with them. Our kinship is symbolized by "blood," and now, by "genes," something innate and biological.

Bengalis (and other Indians), on the other hand, conceive of kinship as a type of social "fluidarity," something liquid and changeable. We share substance with our neighbors, our friends, our partners in all kinds of relationships and activities. These exchange partners may relate to us in a wide variety of hierarchical and non-hierarchical ways, and these relationships may be defined in terms of proximity, interests, shared situation, knowledge, social class, caste, etc. Indian kinship is highly dynamic and transactional; kinship is never taken for granted, constantly in need of reinforcement and renegotiation. Anyone can be an Indian uncle, or perhaps a brother, sister, son, or daughter, under the right circumstances. Bengali (and Indian) kinship is conceived in terms of "rasa," literally "juice, sap, organic broth, essence," which "flows together" in the cycle of death and rebirth known as "samsara," (literally "flowing together").

This fluid, open kinship system affects every aspect of life in India, including health care. For example, when I was living in India. I was for all intents and purposes a member of two families, one high-caste, upper middle class Brahmin, the other working class Kshatriya [warrior caste]. I spent one four month rainy season reading karma texts with a Jain scholar-monk in a small town near the border with Pakistan. I contracted malaria (because I could not sleep cocooned head to toe in a heavy quilt in the hot, humid rainy season). My Brahmin family wanted to take me to their doctor, but I vigorously protested. In my country, people of my class do not go to a doctor unless we are practically at death's door, nor do we enter the door of a hospital for fear of being charged an exorbitant "facilities charge" and threatened by a collection agency. I nearly had to leave graduate school for this reason. My [Indian] family reassured me that they paid an annual (small) lump sum to their family doctor, which covered all health care for the entire family, including me! So I gratefully accepted, and was very pleased with the doctor's bedside manner and the prescription she gave me. I have many such stories to tell. As one of my Indian friends put it, "Here in India, everything is personal." I loved living in India, and did not enjoy learning to be an American again. Sometimes I still want to go back...

So, what can we learn from India? Could such a dynamic, extended, hierarchical kinship system serve as a model for the reformation of American kinship? How could we make it non-hierarchical and non-patriarchal, in line with our egalitarian ideals?

I don't know, but perhaps Hindu devotional theology may help us. In English, our word "love" has many meanings, often leading to confusion. The Greek language distinguishes between "eros" and "agape," but we English speakers use one word, and have to work out what it means according to the situation. Sanskrit has many words corresponding to our "love," with different connotations, but, like English, there is a universal term: "bhakti," which means devotion or spiritual love. There are many kinds of bhakti, some hierarchical, some non-hierarchical. Some kinds of devotional love may be transformed from a hierarchical to a non-hierarchical form, or vice-versa. All devotion may lead ultimately to moksha, total release from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth, and union with Brahman, the World Soul, the ground of all Being, the only thing there is. All love is one; ultimately, there is no hierarchy or inequality.


Some types of bhakti include:


MASTER / SERVANT (hierarchical)

[Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we don't understand this very well, having officially abolished slavery. It is better understood in India today, and is prominent in the Bible. By being a faithful servant, one can achieve moksha, union with God.]


KING / SUBJECT (hierarchical)

[We Americans do not really understand this type of devotional love, at least in our political domain, because we have officially abolished monarchy. However, in the religious domain, Christians regard God as King. In Hindu nations, kingship is an important political symbol, but the religious domain is egalitarian: according to Hindu monism, we are all non-different from God. So American Christians are political democrats, but religious monarchists; Hindu nationalists in India and Nepal tend to be political monarchists, but religious democrats!]


PARENT / CHILD (hierarchical, usually)

[God may be like one's parent, or like one's child. In the Hindu Bhagavata Purana, the God Krishna is a naughty boy who steals butter from his mother and shares it with a monkey. His mother pretends to punish him, he pretends to be afraid, and finally allows himself to be tied up as punishment. We surrender to God, and God surrenders to us!]


HUSBAND / WIFE (LOVER / LOVER) (non-hierarchical, ideally)

[Sexual love, like every other rasa (essential emotion), may be sublimated by a kind of emotional alchemy to a more pure rasa, serenity, leading to moksha, union with God. In the Hindu Bhagavata Purana, Krishna has sexual relations with several cowgirls, some of whom are married.[Note 2] This is not adultery, because ultimately, we are all non-different from Krishna, a manifestation of Brahman or God. The women are really having relations with their husbands, who are just Krishna in another form. Marital, premarital, and extramarital sex are all appropriate symbols (and, according to some, expressions) of bhakti, and all can be sublimated to lead one to moksha.]


SIBLING / SIBLING (hierarchical / non-hierarchical)

[Brotherly / sisterly love is one type of devotion, one expression of human and divine love. So is sibling rivalry!]


UNCLE / NEPHEW (hierarchical / non-hierarchical)

[Uncles are expected to spoil their nephews and nieces, yet are not expected to discipline them. Nephews and nieces know this, and use it to their advantage. I should know; I have a nephew!]


FRIEND / FRIEND (non-hierarchical)

[Platonic friendship is the most egalitarian of bhakti relationships, and can be the most intense. Spiritual (non-sexual) "marriage" of the sort practiced by Sri Aurobindo and "The Mother" may be classed as Friend/Friend relationships, if they are not merely symbolic (I will soon start a new thread, entitled "the yoga of cooperation," in which I explain some of Aurobindo's ideas about yoga, alchemy, and utopia, in lieu of the lecture on Aurobindo I decided not to give.) Some scholars, with an obvious "gay rights" agenda, maintained a few years ago that the medieval Catholic Church had, for all intents and purposes, gay marriages, in the guise of a blessing ceremony for Platonic male friends. The Vatican, with an agenda of its own, disputes this, but who can say?]


ENEMY / ENEMY (non-hierarchical >> hierarchical >> non-hierarchical)

[This seems counter-intuitive; how can enemies be lovers or devotees? You may have heard the story of the village atheist who goes to heaven. Having spent his entire life obsessed with God's non-existence, he has, in his own way, proven a more steadfast devotee than the conventionally religious person who never had any sort of passionate relationship with the Deity. So God, in his infinite and inscrutable wisdom and compassion, grants his denier the grace of salvation. Hindus have similar stories: Ravana, the demon-king of Sri Lanka, and the villain of the Hindu epic The Ramayana, plays his demonic role to perfection, and is rewarded by death at the hands of Rama (God incarnate), a great honor. God's arrow strips off all his karmic encrustation of conceit and evil, revealing his pure soul within, leading to rebirth in heaven and ultimate moksha. Jains and Buddhists have no God or devil "as such," so we humans have to play such roles to each other, here in the ordinary world of samsara. Jains in particular are fond of stories involving "yugalika twins," karmically linked "soulmates" who may be lovers but are often enemies. Such enemies serve as our worthy opponents, giving us opportunities to perfect such virtues as equanimity. In the end, they too are rewarded with moksha. Where would we be without our villains? What would Star Wars be without Darth Vader? Somebody has to wear the black hats in a cowboy movie. In the end, we are all equal. Gandhi says it takes a brave man to trust his deceitful opponent, but in the end, we have to trust each other, and become friends.]


TEACHER / PUPIL (hierarchical [>> non-hierarchical?])

[In India, the guru/shishya (teacher/student) relationship is sacred. A guru must always sit higher than his pupil, and pupils are expected to do humble obeisance to their gurus (a physical act called pranam, in which the pupil clasps his guru's feet, and, in the Jain community, receives yellow powder called vaskshep in the hair). God is our guru, and we are expccted to love and respect God as we do our teacher. In this Focus class, we are experimenting with a non-hierarchical guru/shishya relationship (although so far, with no pranams, at least not physical ones). The WashU Coop is also practicing egalitarian guru-shishya-bhakti, or at least attempting this rather radical idea. For example, in support of our "cooperative learning" pillar, we are starting reading groups such as the Marx/Mannheim/sociology of knowledge group, in which everyone, faculty, student, staff, or community member, has an equal say. Without the control issues that come from paying tuition and grading, the debate can be honest and lively!


[CONFESSOR / PENITENT] (hierarchical >> non-hierarchical)

[I put this one in brackets, because it is not an official part of Hindu bhakti theology. Hinduism is not an organized church with a bureaucracy to dispense grace, like the Roman Catholic Church. However, I have observed something similar in the Jain community in which I lived. Layfolk had a close personal relationship with their clergy, in this case the Jain scholar-monk with whom I was studying (Muni Jambuvijayaji). On the occasion of Paryushan, the 8 day fast, the monk would prescribe penances to the layfolk for specific sins. So something like the Catholic sacrament of Penance is present in an indigenous Indian religion. Whatever the case about India, the confessor/penitent relationship is prominent in the Catholic Church, and other Western religions. In fact, the maverick Catholic apologist, Father Andrew Greeley (author of sexy best-sellers, a champion of priestly celibacy, and a sociologist of religion at the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center) argues in favor of ordination of women partly on "men's rights" grounds. He argues that Catholic women have the benefit of non-sexual relationships with celibate men (priests), to whom they can confide their transgressions and from whom they may receive spiritual guidance, without fear that the relationship will turn sexual or romantic. (Most priests keep their vows). These relationships often turn into personal friendships. Catholic men would be better men, and better Catholics, if they could learn to relate to women this way, Greeley argues. Women priests, with full power to dispense sacramental grace, would serve a crucial sociological role for the Catholic community, and perhaps for communities of other sorts as well.]



The Great American Utopia:

When I was your age, I too had a dream. I too wanted to build a better world. I wanted to write the Great American Utopian Novel, and then build that world, and live in it. I would base this world on LeGuin's The Dispossessed, Bengali kinship, American kinship (extended and liquefied on the Bengali model), Hindu devotional theology (secularized), Marxist theory, and the classical Western tradition of utopian literature and community building. Just a youthful pipe dream, perhaps....

I never wrote my novel. Can you write it for me, and build that world, and live in it for me?

Thank you for your patience!



Selected Bibliography:



Schneider, David, American Kinship

Inden, Ronald B., and Nicholas, Ralph, Kinship in Bengali Culture

Marriott, McKim, selected short articles (ask me!)



Narayan, R. K., retold, The Ramayana

Hay, J. and Embree, A., ed., Sources of Indian Tradition, Vols. 1-2

Chetananda, Swami, ed., Vedanta: Voice of Freedom [edited by the local St. Louis Vedanta Society swami whom some of you met last semester!]

Gandhi, Mohandas K., The Story of My Experiments with Truth



Greeley, Andrew, The Catholic Myth


American Society and Religion:

De Tocqueville, Democracry in America

Thoreau, Henry David, Walden

Thoreau, Henry David, On Civil Disobedience

Bellah, Robert, et. al., ed. Habits of the Heart

Pitzer, Donald E., ed. America's Communal Utopias


Kibbutz Movement:

Spiro, Melford E., Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia


Utopian Literature:

LeGuin, Ursula K., The Dispossessed

Morris, William, News From Nowhere

Bellamy, Edward, Looking Backward

Wells, H. G., A Modern Utopia

Plato, The Republic

Manuel, Frank and Fritzie, The Utopian Tradition in the West



Re: marriage and family values

Posted: 02-17-2005 10:56 AM

I actually did consider polygamy. I remember my EComp teacher once mentioned in class, while immersed in a similar discussion, about his three friends who are in a "triad." This triad composed of two women and a man. Because of the legalities with the definition of marriage as between solely two people, and especially man and woman, they had no way of marrying or creating civil union, without one member deficient in rights and benefits. Perhaps we need to redefine the frame of marriage. Perhaps we can get rid of "marriage" all together, and solely form civil unions. Let marriage be about sanctity and religion, and civil unions will be the secular approach. Therefore, whether we are man and woman, or man and man, or man, woman, and man, we will all be joined under an inclusive "civil union."


~[Student A]


transmigrating threesomes

Posted: 02-17-2005 10:24 PM

Dear friends,

On the X-Files, Agents Mulder and Sculley are a pair of "yugalika-twins," who transmigrate together in life after life, along with the villain of the story, the "cigarette smoking man." In the American Civil War, they were buddies in the same combat unit (both male), while the CSM was the CO who tried to keep them apart. In this life, they spend many years developing a Platonic friendship, apparently working off their "buddy-buddy" karma, before they can finally be lovers. This is an interesting example of cross-gender incarnation from American popular culture.

The Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain tales usually involve two karmically linked souls. Here we have a threesome! Two are lovers/buddies, the other is the worthy opponent. This is an asymmetrical relationship.

Would a foursome be more stable? Would a menage a trois work better if we actually had three sexes? (Can you write a science fiction story about this?)


dogs and cats and mynah birds and cows...

Posted: 02-18-2005 12:01 AM

Dear friends,

I forgot to include one important type of bhakti in the above posting:


[MASTER/PET (hiearchical)]

[This is not traditionally recognized by Hindu theologians as distinct type of devotion, but in my opinion, it should be. Some Indians keep pets: for example, my Bengali (upper middle class Brahmin) roommate had a pet dog in Calcutta. Generally, at least in Ahmedabad where I lived, dogs and cats run wild on the streets, and Indians would no more make pets of them then they would adopt rats or mice into their households (but some Jains do just this!). However, in the Kama Sutra (not the sex manual we think it is, really a dharmasastra text prescribing the right way for a genteel urban man about town to behave), one of the sixty-four arts is the training of mynah birds to speak. These were kept as pets. Also, cows are adopted and pampered, as a very special kind of pet, worshipped as a being sacred to Krishna. Gandhi was a proponent of cow-worship, something left out of the Gandhi movie and the Sources of Indian Tradition chapter on Gandhi, perhaps because it does not translate well in America, the land of "beef: it's what's for dinner." (See the "blows against the british empire" posting, in the "blows against the empire" thread). However, cow-protection was an important part of Gandhi's program, and all his ashrams keep cows for this purpose, and for milk production as well. This is "sustainable agriculture," Indian style. By worshipping the cow, Hindus venerate all of "dumb creation." Americans include pets in our households, and this is definitely a bhakti relationship, of a hierarchical sort (although from a cat's point of view, we probably exist to feed and pamper them). How would pets be included in your utopian American kinship system?]


science fiction plural marriage bibliography

Posted: 02-19-2005 02:13 AM

Dear friends,

Here are some science fiction books about plural marriages, multiple sexes, etc.

Asimov, Isaac, The Gods Themselves [about an intelligent species from another dimension, with three sexes (if I remember correctly)]

Heinlein, Robert A., The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress [describing a complex and hierarchical polyandrous marriage system in a lunar penal colony]

LeGuin, Ursula, The Left Hand of Darkness [a novel in the Hainish series, like The Dispossessed and The Telling; describes a humanoid species who are physiologically androgynous, having functioning male and female genital organs, and an estrous cycle; asks the question, "If humans were not always capable of sexual arousal, would we be as violent?"]

Niven, Larry, Ringworld (and other books in this imaginary universe) [describes an intelligent race who are symbiotic with another species, rather like the way in which a digger wasp is symbiotic with a caterpillar; this species is regarded as the third sex. Niven's work contains interesting speculatons about the evolution of sex and parasitism]

These are all I can think of "off the top of my head." Can you science fiction fans in the class give us some more titles?





Note 1: When I wrote this I thought the reason for the temporary blocking of my Telesis sites may have been due to concern over copyright (after having considered the possibility that an electronic "gopher" had detected the reference to "scab," and alerted somebody). On the basis of a couple of conversations, and my "gut feeling" at the time, I now believe this is something different, personal and political.


Note 2: This informal posting was written for a Freshman seminar with no Hindu students, so I had to simplify a bit. I have heard that some Hindu students in my "Hinduism: an Introduction / Hindu Traditions" course have been upset with my claim that Krishna had sex with the gopis. As a non-Hindu, I am committed to a neutral presentation of all the Hindu traditions. I have no opinion of whether or not Krishna had sexual relations, in any sense, with anyone, nor am I entitled to an opinion. Hindus disagree on this matter, as anyone who attends my class regularly would have learned. Some say an avatar does not accrue karma. All Krshna's actions are done in leela, divine creative play. Krishna had no material body, so all his apparent erotic exploits must be interpreted theologically, as sublime love. Others say Krishna's ignominious death in a hunting accident was karmic payback for his having shot the monkey warrior Vali from hiding in his previous incarnation as Rama. The Jains are committed to a literal reading of Krishna's actions, and make a point of sending him to hell, and bringing him back as an exalted teacher in the far future. Please see my article, °"Hero of Wonders, Hero in Deeds: Våsudeva Krishna in Jaina Cosmohistory," in Beck, Guy, ed., Alternative Krishnas, SUNY Press, 2005. Incidentally, this article was peer reviewed, but I exercised my right to have a certain individual known to be hostile to my approach, and "anyone named by him," to be excluded from this process. This is unfortunate but necessary.

Respect makes the empires fall.