Perhaps not entirely a detour.

I am easily distracted by the appearance to what seem to be unexpected connections. Sometimes these take me somewhere interesting, sometimes not.

As part of ongoing work I’ve been rereading Thomas McEvilley’s The Shape of Ancient Thought, a book it took him thirty years to write. It’s an act of scholarship that undercuts some of the most fundamental presuppositions that still haunt both “Western” and “Eastern” culture and politics. Put very reductively, it demonstrates that the development of Greek and Indian thought, along with many religious practices, are in reality deeply interrelated; either because derived from common, more ancient, sources or from cross-pollination between them.

The book is, in short, an exemplary piece of post-colonial scholarship. It is, among other things, a tacit deconstruction of the separatist mentality implicit in the exaltation of “the classics” – Latin and Greek – by a British elite education for which these serve as a badge of cultural superiority. An article on Boris Johnson’s infatuation with “the classics” ( by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian Sunday 16th Oct. 2019) makes this point very neatly. His use of Latin and Greek was a show-off’s projection of superiority; something indulged in not least because ‘”the classics” carry disproportionate cultural capital’ among the Public School and Oxbridge educated political elite and those for whom such an education is supposedly a mark of “higher” intelligence.            

It’s not only in Britain, where the sense of superiority on which the neo-colonialist  mentality depends is linked to the acquisition of “classical” languages, that the lessons of The Shape of Ancient Thought are badly needed. The version of Indian history on which Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism is based is equally in need of such deconstruction if the BJP’s attempts to dismantle India’s secular constitution are to be resisted.

The sooner we all start to recognise and act on the reality of a fundamental human and more-than-human relationality that has very deep historical roots indeed – as McEvilley’s discussion of shamanism shows – the better chance we have of surviving our current socio-environment meltdown.      

Update 21/06/2024

Since I wrote the comments above about Modi’s BJP The Conversation has reported on is latest attempt to intimidate his critics.