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Interpretations of the Indian past . . . were inevitably influenced by colonial concerns and interests, and also by prevalent European ideas about history, civilization and the Orient. Orientalist scholars studied the languages and the texts with selected Indian scholars, but made little attempt to understand the worldview of those who were teaching them. The readings, therefore, are something of a disjuncture from the traditional ways of looking at the Indian past. . . .
Orientalism [which we can understand broadly as Western perceptions of the Orient] fuelled the fantasy and the freedom sought by European Romanticism, particularly in its opposition to the more disciplined Neo-Classicism. The cultures of Asia were seen as bringing a new Romantic paradigm. Another Renaissance was anticipated through an acquaintance with the Orient, and this, it was thought, would be different from the earlier Greek Renaissance. It was believed that this Oriental Renaissance would liberate European thought and literature from the increasing focus on discipline and rationality that had followed from the earlier Enlightenment. . . . [The Romantic English poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge,] were apprehensive of the changes introduced by industrialization and turned to nature and to fantasies of the Orient.
However, this enthusiasm gradually changed, to conform with the emphasis later in the nineteenth century on the innate superiority of European civilization. Oriental civilizations were now seen as having once been great but currently in decline. The various phases of Orientalism tended to mould European understanding of the Indian past into a particular pattern. . . . There was an attempt to formulate Indian culture as uniform, such formulations being derived from texts that were given priority. The so-called ‘discovery’ of India was largely through selected literature in Sanskrit. This interpretation tended to emphasize non-historical aspects of Indian culture, for example, the idea of an unchanging continuity of society and religion over 3,000 years; and it was believed that the Indian pattern of life was so concerned with metaphysics and the subtleties of religious belief that little attention was given to the more tangible aspects.
German Romanticism endorsed this image of India, and it became the mystic land for many Europeans, where even the most ordinary actions were imbued with a complex symbolism. This was the genesis of the idea of the spiritual east, and also, incidentally, the refuge of European intellectuals seeking to distance themselves from the changing patterns of their own societies. A dichotomy in values was maintained, Indian values being described as ‘spiritual’ and European values as ‘materialistic’, with little attempt to juxtapose these values with the reality of Indian society. This theme has been even more firmly endorsed by a section of Indian opinion during the last hundred years.
It was a consolation to the Indian intelligentsia for its perceived inability to counter the technical superiority of the west, a superiority viewed as having enabled Europe to colonize Asia and other parts of the world. At the height of anti-colonial nationalism it acted as a salve for having been made a colony of Britain.
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Sociologists working in the Chicago School tradition have focused on how rapid or dramatic social change causes increases in crime. Just as Durkheim, Marx, Toennies, and other European sociologists thought that the rapid changes produced by industrialization and urbanization produced crime and disorder, so too did the Chicago School theorists. The location of the University of Chicago provided an excellent opportunity for Park, Burgess, and McKenzie to study the social ecology of the city. Shaw and McKay found . . . that areas of the city characterized by high levels of social disorganization had higher rates of crime and delinquency.
In the 1920s and 1930s Chicago, like many American cities, experienced considerable immigration. Rapid population growth is a disorganizing influence, but growth resulting from in-migration of very different people is particularly disruptive. Chicago’s in-migrants were both native-born whites and blacks from rural areas and small towns, and foreign immigrants. The heavy industry of cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh drew those seeking opportunities and new lives. Farmers and villagers from America’s hinterland, like their European cousins of whom Durkheim wrote, moved in large numbers into cities. At the start of the twentieth century, Americans were predominately a rural population, but by the century’s mid-point, most lived in urban areas. The social lives of these migrants, as well as those already living in the cities they moved to, were disrupted by the differences between urban and rural life. According to social disorganization theory, until the social ecology of the ‘‘new place’’ can adapt, this rapid change is a criminogenic influence. But most rural migrants, and even many of the foreign immigrants to the city, looked like and eventually spoke the same language as the natives of the cities into which they moved. These similarities allowed for more rapid social integration for these migrants than was the case for African Americans and most foreign immigrants.
In these same decades, America experienced what has been called ‘‘the great migration’’: the massive movement of African Americans out of the rural South and into northern (and some southern) cities. The scale of this migration is one of the most dramatic in human history. These migrants, unlike their white counterparts, were not integrated into the cities they now called home. In fact, most American cities at the end of the twentieth century were characterized by high levels of racial residential segregation . . . Failure to integrate these immigrants, coupled with other forces of social disorganization such as crowding, poverty, and illness, caused crime rates to climb in the cities, particularly in the segregated wards and neighbourhoods where the migrants were forced to live.
Foreign immigrants during this period did not look as dramatically different from the rest of the population as blacks did, but the migrants from eastern and southern Europe who came to American cities did not speak English, and were frequently Catholic, while the native born were mostly Protestant. The combination of rapid population growth with the diversity of those moving into the cities created what the Chicago School sociologists called social disorganization.
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Nature has all along yielded her flesh to humans. First, we took nature’s materials as food, fibers, and shelter. Then we learned to extract raw materials from her biosphere to create our own new synthetic materials. Now Bios is yielding us her mind—we are taking her logic.
Clockwork logic—the logic of the machines—will only build simple contraptions. Truly complex systems such as a cell, a meadow, an economy, or a brain (natural or artificial) require a rigorous nontechnological logic. We now see that no logic except bio-logic can assemble a thinking device, or even a workable system of any magnitude.
It is an astounding discovery that one can extract the logic of Bios out of biology and have something useful. Although many philosophers in the past have suspected one could abstract the laws of life and apply them elsewhere, it wasn’t until the complexity of computers and human-made systems became as complicated as living things, that it was possible to prove this. It’s eerie how much of life can be transferred. So far, some of the traits of the living that have successfully been transported to mechanical systems are: self-replication, self-governance, limited self-repair, mild evolution, and partial learning.
We have reason to believe yet more can be synthesized and made into something new. Yet at the same time that the logic of Bios is being imported into machines, the logic of Technos is being imported into life. The root of bioengineering is the desire to control the organic long enough to improve it. Domesticated plants and animals are examples of technos-logic applied to life. The wild aromatic root of the Queen Anne’s lace weed has been fine-tuned over generations by selective herb gatherers until it has evolved into a sweet carrot of the garden; the udders of wild bovines have been selectively enlarged in an “unnatural” way to satisfy humans rather than calves. Milk cows and carrots, therefore, are human inventions as much as steam engines and gunpowder are. But milk cows and carrots are more indicative of the kind of inventions humans will make in the future: products that are grown rather than manufactured.
Genetic engineering is precisely what cattle breeders do when they select better strains ofHolsteins, only bioengineers employ more precise and powerful control. While carrot and milk cow breeders had to rely on diffuse organic evolution, modern genetic engineers can use directed artificial evolution—purposeful design—which greatly accelerates improvements.
The overlap of the mechanical and the lifelike increases year by year. Part of this bionic convergence is a matter of words. The meanings of “mechanical” and “life” are both stretching until all complicated things can be perceived as machines, and all self-sustaining machines can be perceived as alive. Yet beyond semantics, two concrete trends are happening: (1)Human-made things are behaving more lifelike, and (2) Life is becoming more engineered. The apparent veil between the organic and the manufactured has crumpled to reveal that the two really are, and have always been, of one being.