Saturday, December 12, 2015

Conservatism and Purity

Here is a question to ponder: is there a mindset we could call "conservative" that exists across diverse cultures? If so, what is this character type, and what is its relationship to the actual past?

I have been wondering why India's Hindu party combines religious fundamentalism with nationalism, free market economics and hatred of special programs for disenfranchised minorities, just like many American Republicans.

Is this just a reaction to the self-proclaimed international left, which sought to create atheistic socialism around the world? Or is there more to it?

Aatish Taseer ponders another part of this conundrum in a Times Op-Ed:
When I was in Sri Lanka in 2013, the Bodu Bala Sena, a radical Buddhist nationalist group, had conjured up a prudish Buddha who scolded young girls about their clothes and told them what time they should be home at night. In reality, the Buddha, like many Eastern thinkers, was generally reticent on the subject of sexual morality. Sex concerned him only to the extent that it interfered with men realizing the fullness of their spiritual lives.

Similarly, in India, a breach has appeared between a sensuous and liberal past and an ugly, puritanical present. In my daily reading of Sanskrit poetry, there are women with disheveled hair, half-open eyes and cheeks covered in sweat from the exertion of coitus. But turn on the television and the minister of culture, who says that the Hindu holy books are ideal texts for teaching moral values, informs modern Indians that “girls wanting a night out” may be all right elsewhere, but it is “not part of Indian culture.” (He seeks to cleanse Indian culture of the pollution of the West, but if it’s sex the minister worries about, he’ll have to cleanse Indian culture of itself. No one did it better than ancient India.)
The belief that Hinduism was sexually puritanical until corrupted by outsiders, which is widespread among Hindu nationalists, is downright weird. Of course I recognize that the western fascination with the Kama Sutra et al. probably exaggerates the sexuality of traditional Indian culture, and ancient India no doubt had its puritans. But as Taseer says, ancient Indian art of all kinds was full of sex.

But somehow in India a longing for "traditional religion" has become allied to a drive for sexual purity. It seems that in the modern world those things just go together, whether that makes any historical sense or not.


G. Verloren said...

To me, human intimacy seems in many ways antithetical to behaviors like militancy and heirarchy. It's hard to embrace a philosophy like nationalism which divides people up, while also embracing sexuality which tends to tear down artificial barriers.

Toss in the insidious underlying influences of a long tradition of patriarchy, and you end up with a classic situation you'll find most anywhere in the world. Women are told they're immoral for wanting sex, while men wanting sex is ignored or rationalized away. Nationalist and religious values are simply being invoked to serve the needs of maintaining male dominance.

It's the same everywhere - the old "Close your eyes and think of England" trope. The Indian Minister of Culture doesn't actually want women to not have sex - he just wants them to only have sex on the patriarchy's terms, only when it's convenient or desireable for the men of the country. So if a young woman wants to have sex for enjoyment she's condemned, but if she wants to get married and have eight children instead she's held up as a virtuous example.

John said...

Interesting. So the key variable linking "conservatism" to these drives for sexual purity is defense of the patriarchy? That makes some sense.