Tuesday, 29 August 2017
Yoga, Swastikas, and Pauline Hanson
Yoga is really old. Maybe not as old as Indian Nationalists say it is, but it's still very, very old. The earliest evidence we seem to have of it is cylinder seals and reliefs from the Indus Valley which appear to depict yoga practices as part of ritual activity. These date to roughly 3000BCE. In this time period, Yoga is intimately associated with ideas of universal order, the primary symbol of which, for the Indus Valley cultures, is the swastika. Some archaeologists date cave paintings of swastika to 10000BCE, and posit a link between yoga, tantra, veda, and paleo or mesolithic ritual and cult. I find all this kind of thing profoundly fascinating, but I'm well aware that in this I am practically alone. So I may as well get to the point.
Over the millennia, yoga transformed, adapted, and expanded into a wide variety of practices and applications to do with medicine, religion, and so on, but until about the turn of nineteenth century, it was very much an exclusively eastern product. The idiocy of Orientalism helped to bring an awareness of yoga to the west, with fantastic authors like Gustave Flaubert, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Roald Dahl being sucked in by its mystic allure and contributing to its popularisation. As for the swastika, I don't believe there's any real need to recount the story of its transmission to the west. The point is that the introduction of this alien cultural material was accomplished in a way which has rendered it practically unrecognisable with reference to the original.
I don't understand much about the detail of yogic practice, but what I do know for sure is that its original function is almost identical to that of gungfu - a form of moving meditation designed to link or connect the body with external, universal forces. Which is really not at all what it is today. For the most part, yoga in the west has shed its religious and ritual functions, and is now firmly entrenched in the self improvement/self management space. The key word being 'self'. Talking to practitioners and reading their promotional bumf reveals an overwhelming tendency to view yoga as a way to connect to inner aspects of the self, to improve or otherwise harmonise physical and mental components of the self, to engage with and learn to love the self. Self, self, self. Which is much more in the vein of being an observation, rather than a complaint. But the importance of the observation exists in the metamorphosis of the practice. When we in the west absorb an alien cultural product, we make it very much our own. A core element of pagan ritual and medicinal practice becomes, in the process of transmission, a leisure activity focussed entirely on individual well being, individualism and leisure activities being fundamental to western modes of life. This process can be seen over and over again through tea, pepper, potatoes, astrology, martial arts, curry, medicine, theatre, and writing... the list of appropriated (in the neutral sense of the word) cultural material is practically endless.
Which is what monocultural reactionaries simply don't understand. Idiots like Pauline Hanson and her fan club see the ingress of foreign cultural material as a threat principally because they do not understand the ways in which such material is transmitted or absorbed. To be fair, they also have trouble understanding primary school level civics and words of more than one syllable, but that's probably beside the point. The thing about anglophonic culture is that it is highly robust. We in the English speaking world have acquired the greater part of our cultures from outside, while the tiny original ethnicities forming our internal basis are arguably more mysterious to us than the cultures we have conquered, colonised, or otherwise absorbed. Western cultures in general are not so much under threat as they are in an accelerated phase of absorption and appropriation (neutral again).
It is only possible to view culture as safe when static and under threat when evolving if the viewer is suffering from some sort of serious mental deficiency. This could be ignorance, cognitive incapacity, or the delightful combination of both represented by Pauline Hanson. So really, we should basically leave immigration and other such issues alone, and focus on stealing ideas from a culture that refuses to allow intellectually stunted imbeciles to ascend to positions of power. Surely, there's some tiny country somewhere from whom we can appropriate this idea.