Sunday, August 25, 2013

Punishing Innovation

Today I listened to a talk by an archeologist who lived among Peruvian Indians for some years, and discussing the subject later he remarked "Innovation is punished." He added something about the fact that a lot of cultural energy is spent on building fences - fences between us and them. The trouble with innovation, whether it's making changes in the patterns of a traditional art form or allowing gay people to marry each other, is that it tears down those fences. Those breaches in fences alter a culture, usually in ways that cannot be mended.

In modern civilized societies we perforce tolerate a whole lot of innovation, so resistance may well be futile, but it seems to be pretty ingrained in human nature.

Ellen Barry, writing in today's NYT, reported the assassination of Dr. Narendra Dhoholkar.

For nearly three decades, an earnest man named Narendra Dabholkar traveled from village to village in India, waging a personal war against the spirit world.

If a holy man had electrified the public with his miracles, Dr. Dabholkar, a former physician, would duplicate the miracles and explain, step by step, how they were performed. If a sorcerer had amassed a fortune treating infertility, he would arrange a sting operation to unmask the man as a fraud. His goal was to drive a scientist’s skepticism into the heart of India, a country still teeming with gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs.

That mission ended Tuesday, when two men ran up behind Dr. Dabholkar, 67, as he crossed a bridge, shot him at point-blank range, then jumped onto a motorbike and disappeared into the traffic coursing through this city.

His assassins have not been caught, but it's a plausible guess that someone among the many enemies he had made among those mystical entrepreneurs and conservative Hindus might be behind the murder.