There are broadly three tools that are used in analysing information on this site: Epistemic validity assessment, deconstruction and counterfactual reasoning.
Epistemic Validity Assessment (EVA) is a process that checks whether statements made by a source are rooted in “evidence-based grounding”. Validity of a statement is based on the nature of the statement. In general terms, statements can be of three types: those that are based on perception through the sense organs; those that are based on conventions (naming of a person, a thing or a procedure); those that deal with tautologies (mathematics).
Conventions and tautologies are true by the logic of their very nature, whereas perception through the sense organs are not.
Tautology is an assertion phrased in two different ways to mean the same thing. For example, 2 * 3 = 6 is a tautology, where the number six is described in terms of two and three connected by the pre-established procedural convention of multiplication. This kind of formulation is always true, because it is essentially a convention that is developed based on predetermined procedures. However, the whole process of logic operations in-built in mathematics is powerful when applied to data from the sense organ world.
Statements involving material perceived through sense organs can never be absolutely true. Its truthfulness is only relative, varying with respect to the integrity of the sense organs. But people make more-or-less true statements based on data perceived through the sense organs, using a “communal trick”: consensus. Thus, if different individuals perceive an external object in a similar fashion they make a “consensual” statement about it. Science verifies this consensual statement by checking it for various confounding influences that could cause a misleading/ superficial consensus.
EVA involves checking the rigour of a statement based on the above principles of the nature of truth. It lends more integrity to the statement based on the author’s attempts to nullify various “risks of bias” and logical fallacies that can potentially confound their statement. We shall discuss this point in a dedicated article on the question.
Deconstruction is a useful technique to analyse a concept/construct/belief in humanities where we typically experience bias in our assessment. It is a technique for “debiasing” our frames of reference in discussions of themes involving an overdose of conflicts of interest. It can be applied to any discipline which deals with human agency, and is particularly relevant in historiography, geopolitics, diplomacy, conflicts and cultural studies.
Deconstruction involves playing the role of the devil’s advocate. It tries to reread a story from the point of view of the antagonist and juxtapose it against that of the original narrative. Reading the story from both the mainstream and alternative point of view helps the reader understand the hidden meanings and biases of the story. For example, a deconstructive reading of Ramayana involves reading it from the perspective of the antihero, Ravan, or that of his mutilated sister Shorpankha or even from the perspective of the wronged elder brother of Rama’s monkey-man ally, Sugreha. In the case of Ramayana, the very effort of diverging from the unquestioned belief that whatever Rama did is correct, would uncover hidden meanings and biases that are not apparent from a hagiographic reading of the text.
Reading a text in this manner, by alternating the perspectives, provides rich dividends in understanding many so-called intractable conflicts. This includes conflicts like that between India and Pakistan, India and China, and that between the Arabs and Israel. Deconstructive reading might help understand interpersonal conflicts better too. The trick is to understand the perspective from the other side of the divide, and put oneself in the shoes of the “other” to understand their motives and actions.
This blog advocates using deconstruction as a primary tool in analysing interfaces of conflicts.
Counterfactual Reasoning (CFR) is a technique that can clarify the significance of a historical event by assuming that the contrary event had happened. It runs a series of trials by examining the consequences of an opposite event in a similar socioeconomic and cultural scenario. CFR produces a fictional account, and therefore has its limitations. However it can help illustrate the significance of a seemingly mundane fact by showing – in a case-control manner – a turnabout of historical events.
For instance, in his novel, Fatherland, the British writer Robert Harris discusses an alternative history of the world by constructing a scenario where Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler wins the Second World War. Here, the Jewish holocaust is neatly covered up, the concentration camps are razed, and the world thinks the holocaust is only a “minor” human rights violation. The Soviet Union is defeated in the war, but a guerilla war continues in the Eastern parts of Russia. A small number of Jews who flee to Russia remain to tell the story of the Holocaust, which is dismissed by the general world as communist propaganda. The new generation Germans have some idea of the history of the Jews, but do not care much, and are well-adjusted in their consumerist world. The cold-war is reimagined between Germany and the United States, and by the 1960s, the United States believes it is pragmatic to make peace with Germany-dominated Europe. The guerilla fights of Russian and Polish insurgents simmer in the background, and they are considered “irritants” who frequently cause nuisance to the mainstream “civilised” people of Germany-dominated Europe.
Robert Harris’s counterfactual of the world after a Nazi victory sketches a picture of the modern world that bears a close resemblance to the present one. But one can have any number of counterfactual narratives of a historical event. For instance, it can be visualised that a Nazi victory realised a world that they originally envisaged – a completely suppressed Soviet Union is made a colony similar to that of the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent. The Aryan racial purist theory is legitimised and it becomes the dominant ideological theory of the world including in the United States. China is occupied by the Japanese; India and much of the colonised world continue to be under the combined British-German dominion. The Quit India movement is crushed and a puppet government under Subhash Chandra Bose is installed in Delhi. Communist insurgency spreads throughout the world, and they are considered “terrorist” minions that are a scourge to the “civilised” world.
CFR illuminates the nature of dominion and signals the cover-ups in the sociopolitical spreadsheet of the world. In Morris’s narrative, the Nazi holocaust is imagined as a “minor” human rights violation that can be forgotten for the sake of future peace. In the absence of a proper godfather, the Jewish outcry from the Russian East is dismissed as Bolshevik propaganda. This version is in contrast with “straight-history’s” hypersensitivity to the Nazi Holocaust, and is a reflection of the nature of victory in World War II. It also reflects upon the Jewish dominance of the power centres of the postwar world.
Genocides of similar or larger magnitude that happened before and after the world war are not given the same degree of political and cultural significance. For example, the United States’ attitude towards the genocide orchestrated by the Pakistani army in East Pakistan (Bass, 2013); the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century; or the Indian public’s response to the judicial fate of Gujarat riots after the successive electoral victory of Narendra Modi is a case in point. The Nazi Holocaust was a pivot on which world history turned around. Until then, holocausts were seemingly common-place phenomenons during a conflict, when armed forces tries to find punishment-solutions for “traitor communities”. This sensitivity towards the Nazi holocaust serves as a reminder to the horrors of the act.
Beyond clarifying the “signals” from cultural history, CFL allows to illustrate the significance of crucial actions that redirected the “natural course” of history. For instance, the evolution of democracy in India is often taken for granted. This has to be contrasted with the devastating course of democracy in neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma.
An important book that clarifies this phenomenon is Army and Nation:The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence by Steven Wilkinson. Wilkinson addresses how India’s founding leaders systematically nullified the democracy-destabilising potential of the Indian Army. This, they did, by modifying key tenets of the Royal British Indian army that based the organisation of army units on the assumed existence of “martial races” in India. This led to the British Indian army being organised as “racial regiments”, which led to a dominance of certain ethnic groups in the Indian army’s upper echelon. Nehru and Patel deftly reorganised it by demolishing the “racial” homogeneity of the upper echelon, while the lower strata was maintained in the organisational style of the British Army. They also created buffer units of a series of paramilitary troops to maintain regular security-keeping functions. The unified command system of the Royal army was removed, and they prevented the coordination of the three units of the military under a single command. All this “softened” the Indian army and made it subordinate to the civil authority.
In Pakistan, on the contrary, none of these measures were instituted, and in a matter of a few years, democracy was sabotaged by the military in favour of military autocracy. We can understand the significance of these moves by Indian founding fathers only when we realise that India is one of the very few countries that sustained a democratic regime out of the tens of nations that were decolonized in Asia and Africa after the world war. The real significance of India’s achievement can be understood only when you use CFR to analyse the actions of its founding leaders ( a point that will be discussed in detail in another dedicated article).
This blog will use the techniques of EVA, deconstruction and CFR to tackle a broad array of questions: analysis of political propaganda, cultural myths, geopolitical conflicts, historical narratives, rhetorical presentations and religious mythography. It underlines the fact that skepticism cannot be passively sustained, but requires active intervention using a whole range of sophisticated tools in a systematic manner.