Dev Raj Dahal
Social scientists’ deepest aspiration is about the search for an understanding of societal patterns, interactions and activities. They seek to generalise the recurring trend of actors and their cooperation, competition and conflict that make up dynamics of the social world. It is difficult to say whether their route to knowledge and the findings of social life are independent of themselves. One can cite the odd interpretation of budget by professional social scientists in Nepal which can easily baffle the public. This shows that their rules of inquiry are less detached from their own interests and ideologies.
Social inquiry is not value-neutral like the pursuit of natural sciences. It is culturally relative based on inter-subjective truth, not scientific truth. It can be a systemic inquiry about human affairs but in no way close to objectivity from the socially validated knowledge of people. The same applies to their judgment on Nepali democracy, progress and peace where less inner standards of rationality than external epistemological and practical canons are utilised.
Better outcome of Nepali social scientists inquiry rests on the production of relevant knowledge vital to expand the scale of reflective consciousness, use that knowledge for intergenerational transformation of learning and crafting public policy and deploy them for peaceful social transformation so that internal cohesion and adaptation of society to the zeitgeist do not become problematic. In the policy realm, Nepali social scientists, however, recoil and seem busy in the cycle of project exercise. Policy concepts are borrowed not from the native social processes and mediated by the language of everyday communication.
So far, social science games though aimed to fulfil the vital needs of people, address ecologically, socially, economically and politically-induced problems and set the path of overall national progress are devoid of fairness. This means any engagement in the game entails seeking consistent with various social aspirations and practices of diverse Nepali people and concrete generalisation for policy application and concentration. If social-scientific concepts and tools are solely rented, experience-distant and unreflective they hardly contribute to either relevant knowledge innovation, frame public policy or animate careful transformation of society.
In such a situation, Nepali social scientists cannot be seen as different from the native priests: the former interpret the borrowed knowledge and the later dry ancient texts regardless of modern relevance. Parroting and rote learning do not have emancipatory effects as both claims.
A parrot can sweetly speak complicated human language but it can neither derive its meaning nor reflect context nor even relate the feeling to human life as it is alienated from its own community, cannot speak its own language and imbibe natural instinct for freedom and emancipation from the bondage.
Both priests and social scientists lack critical reflection of human condition, knowledge of human nature and dynamic acceleration of change driven by science and technology. As a result, even after adoption of both the professions in Nepali life neither spiritual enlightenment nor social development has flourished. The key decision making elites are immersed in hedonism, materialism and atheism of Charwakian psychology. The partisan ruse of Nepali social scientists is, therefore, predisposed to guard the status quo. They reproduce consciousness only from external context and knowledge, like the alienated parrots and feel shy in using locally-derived ideas for the fear of being seen as outdated, tribal and customary.
In this sense, they are lenient to the corruption of rational self-interest and de-contextualised exhortation of rituals, not freeing knowledge from rituals as the Upandishads claim for fostering human freedom. Both lack collective wisdom of Rishis, statespersons and scientists’ conception of historical and systemic thinking and civic tradition of enlightenment.
Both are decoupled from each other, from people’s worldviews and the spirit of the constitution, the only vision to move the nation forward. Social scientists of Nepal have thus created a gap between knowledge and wisdom and know only the eloquence of chanting of thick ideas, ideology, power and interests and disconnected theories from native life.
The birth of social movements in Nepal can be attributed to the failure of the representational ability of social sciences, their institutions and constitution.
Its division of labour sought to create a highly disciplined society estranged from humanistic and scientific impulses. Nepali social scientists’ empirical and theoretical bent on understanding the society from rationalistic perspective and the priests from spiritual perspective failed. It is evident from the culture of impunity, poverty, inequality and multifaceted social crises. The former is spiritually blind while the latter is not used to apply scientific methodology even if they resort to defining the divine nature of human beings.
Immanuel Kant says that genuine knowledge of human nature can be obtained first through “one’s interaction with his/her community and that without this basis travel abroad is of limited value.” In this sense, Nepali social scientists, like native priests, are exiled from native history of human feeling and wisdom and acted only under the bounded condition devoid of any interest in changing local reality. Nepali people respond positively to social researchers’ query on the basis of how they interpret concepts and do not counter their disciplinary biases against their experience out of modesty, politeness and courtesy.
Michael Foucault says, “social sciences have served as instruments of the ‘disciplinary society,’ the connection between knowledge to power rather than that between knowledge and human solidarity.” Domination of Nepal’s economic statecraft and society by disciplinary, data-crunching social science experts marks the beginning of the alienation of state classes from social learning and national determination of politics, law and public policies. The decadence of the ancient sovereignty of knowledge caused by the forces of dialectical materialism and market materialism and their projects of social engineering marks mutual exhaustion while collusion in power bears no regenerative capacity of social sciences to build Nepali state-society interface.
The application of the power equation model of politics, top-down democracy and progress, personalised political parties and erosion of the autonomy of public institutions precisely opposes the constitutional spirit of the creation of an egalitarian society rooted in popular sovereignty.
What legitimates knowledge in the modern Nepali society is how well it performs and enables civil servants, leaders and business to perform in the roles needed for its upliftment. Organic intellectuals have to be nourished to repair this nation and strengthen the social capital to beef up the hard institutions of the Nepali state and renew soft power torn by political instability, social movements, caste, class, gender, ethnic and territorial determination of politics instilling in them the spiritual oneness, not reduced to only biological and rational definition of life buffeted by survival of fittest and instrumental reason but a movement towards equal and active citizenship.
Ironically, the democracy phase saw the alienation of Nepali social scientists from refreshing aspects of civic education, volunteerism and enlightened social discourse as they treated democracy in neo-liberal terms and muffled the power of the state to deliver public goods. This explains why invalid voting turnout and proliferation of independent candidates in the elections, including in the political heartland where a critical mass is concentrated. This is a jolt to Nepal’s prevailing political culture.
They need to discover the causal laws of how new politics of "personal is political" turned Nepali people self-interpreting persons on the basis of their own knowledge, belief and action. Nepalis have thus uncovered how the emotional distance between them and their leaders, urban and rural areas and rich and poor have increased pushing the helpless to the global labour market to meet existential needs.
Nepali social scientists have well analysed how much remittance contributes to the nation’s GDP, not revealing the ways of how the root causes of these problems can be sorted out for sustainable progress, guard against geopolitical and business biases and underline its implications for the nation’s society and politics for the long run. Democracy fosters the dignity of people and does not reduce them into consumers, voters and migrant workers or identity-crazy elements fostering atomisation of groups without the conception of self and national solidarity. Democracy also needs mass education, not class education.
The cohabitation of most of Nepali social scientists into the materiality of partisan games devoid of democratic flair infused a power-intoxicating culture which produced a weak state and society. Now, the demands of Nepalis for more rights, entitlements and opportunities without corresponding duties only spell policy failures. So long as the liberation of the state elites, political leaders and rights-based civil society from the clutches of reductionist social science narrative through the wisdom of the heritage of enlightenment ingrained in ground reality is offered, it would be difficult to repair the damages they have done to the Nepali state and its diverse people.
Enlightenment rests on inner vigilance, public reason, freedom and courage to defy the irrationality of violence, domination and exclusion which are essential elements in Nepal to build a modern society. Social science games hardly focus on atma gyan (inner vigilance) the character building of people and leaders and interdependence of living species. This means the moral imperative of social scientists is to work for simultaneous de-tribalisation, democratisation and nationalisation of Nepali society and open critical dialogue with the people to politicise them for an enlightened and democratic life.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)