Saturday, January 15, 2022

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 10a

Arundhati Roy says, '. . . it was Gandhi's business to accumulate power, which he did effectively.' What Gandhi accumulated was moral power not executive power. He was president of the Congress for only one year, was not even a primary member of the Congress from the mid 1930s onwards and did not occupy any official position in independent India. His political activities were characterized by what can be described as 'passionate detachment'. It is telling that when his political authority was at its lowest towards the end of his life, his moral power was at its highest. Louis Fischer writes in Mahatma Gandhi – His Life & Times:

Gandhi had more than influence, he had authority, which is less yet better than power. Power is the attribute of a machine: authority is the attribute of a person. Statesmen are varying combinations of both. The dictator's constant accretion of power, which he must inevitably abuse, steadily robs him of authority. Gandhi's rejection of power enhanced his authority. Power feeds on the blood and tears of its victims. Authority is fed by service, sympathy and affection.

In Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse defines finite games as the structures in our life – societies, nations, war, dating, careers – that have a clear beginning and end, willing participants, boundaries, opponents, winners and losers, and competition for titles or possessions. The purpose of finite play is to bring the game to a conclusion. It is competing for a ranking or status: to be the best lawyer or the best yogi. They are the familiar contests of everyday life, the games we play in business and politics, at home and in competitive sports.

This is in contrast to ‘infinite games’ which Carse describes as games played with the intention of continuing play (rather than ending it to declare a winner). The purpose of infinite play is to allow the game to go on and bring as many other people as possible into the game. Infinite players recognize that most of social hierarchy is a form of play (drama, performance, roles). “The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish.” The prevailing wisdom is to encourage finite play. Gandhi was the consummate infinite player. Carse writes that 

‘Strength is paradoxical. I am not strong because I can force others to do what I wish as a result of my play with them, but because I can allow them to do what they wish in the course of my play with them.’

Arundhati Roy makes a pertinent observation:

Gandhi always said that he wanted to live like the poorest of the poor. The question is, can poverty be simulated? Poverty, after all, is not just a question of having no money or no possessions.  Poverty is about having no power. As a politician, it was Gandhi's business to accumulate power, which he did effectively. . . If you are powerful, you can live simply, but you cannot be poor. In South Africa, it took a lot of farmland and organic fruit trees to keep Gandhi in poverty. 

Arndhhati Roy is seriously under-estimating Gandhi if she thinks that he was not aware of the unequal distribution of power in Indian society and modern societies in general (the loss of individual autonomy lay at the center of his criticisms of modernity with its worship of rationality and science.) His notion of swaraj was far more expansive than that of Congress or other Indian elites because of his concern about the unequal distribution of power in society. 

Machiavelli, whose name has become synonymous with the cunning and amoral use of power, wrote 500 years ago that “the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearance, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are”. Gandhi knew very well that those in power try to seduce others into conformity by forcing particular interpretations of the world down others’ throats. He contended that most modern systems of power are dependent on hierarchy and deception. 

Gandhi is not satisfied with conventional definitions of power which tend to concentrate on political power. Even here he sees political power hiding deceptively behind elaborate ceremonies and becomes visible only when power is abused. Gandhi saw power resting not only in the authority of the state but also in ideology (eg. the power of modernity), social practices (eg. Untouchability) and the structure of the economy. He saw democracy reducing but not eliminating the problem of power. He thinks that terms like efficiency, order, productivity, growth etc. erode the autonomy of people and he means to rob them of their self-importance. 

He insisted that merely overthrowing British rule and replacing it with an all-Indian government was not going to bring swaraj. It would only result in replacing white sahibs with brown sahibs. It would have to be a society where existing forms of domination like untouchability and the forces of modernity and modernization (which he believed caused large-scale unemployment) would have to go. According to Gandhi, complete Indian independence 'means the consciousness in the average villager that he is the maker of his own destiny'. That was why he spent a lot of time on social work and reviving village industries which the Congress considered a distraction from the main task of winning political freedom.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 9f

 The mandate to resist violence by non-violence is a general mandate, and, like all general mandates, it admits of exceptions depending on persons, circumstances, time and place. 'The fact is that the path of duty [dharma] is not always easy to discern amidst claims seeming to conflict with the other.' Gandhi  was called a 'practical idealist'; the 'practical' part should not be forgotten. The British conservative Michael Joseph Oakeshott said, 'Political action involves mental vulgarity, not merely because it entails the occurrence and support of those who are mentally vulgar, but because of the simplification of human life implied in even the best of its purposes.' 

We live in times when hyper-masculine nationalism preaches the ideas of violent masculinity among the youth. Gandhian politics of trust seems like a farfetched dream. The increasing demand for machismo placed on the young population by the current discourse on nationalism leads to lack of any regard for the affective coexistence and it breeds mistrust and competition as the way of life. Mistrust leads to fear of the ‘other’- the unknown. This fear leads to violence against the religious minorities, refugees, migrants and ‘others’ who cannot be trusted. 

We live in a world and a culture that celebrates and is constantly normalizing brutality by moralizing, legalizing, and popularizing violence. The political climate brings more violence to the forefront, as aggression has been continuously explained away and even celebrated. The narratives of importance of national security and glorification of warrior figures of the past normalizes militarism. Dehumanizing propaganda spread by planners of genocide help in violence. Almost every movie shows that violence is the best and final solution to every problem. Officially sanctioned murder is hidden under bland terms like 'collateral damage' or 'neutralized' the enemy. 

Every video game I am shown is about shooting and killing. There is a celebration of police encounters and military weapon displays and the militarization of the consciousness. From militarism to aggressive/hyper-competitive sports carnivals, we see the sanctification of violence. The divorce between producers and consumers in the modern economy aids in the social production of moral indifference. Our moral capacities have not been able to keep up with the rapid expansion of our cognitive skills. Anthony Parel says in Gandhi's Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony:

The factual presence of violence in social life forced Gandhi to adjust the scope of his ethics to that reality. Hence the goal of Gandhian non-violence was not the total elimination of violence from social life, for that was impossible . . . but the gradual reduction of its intensity and frequency. It would be utopian to think of the total elimination of violence. But to think of reducing its volume and extent would be realistic. 

With Gandhi, the notion of nonviolence attained a special status. He made us understand that the philosophy of nonviolence is not a weapon of the weak; it is a weapon, which can be tried by all. Nonviolence was not Gandhi's invention. He is however called the father of nonviolence because he was probably the first in human history to extend the principle of nonviolence from the individual to the social and political planes.

Antoinette Tuff was working in the front office of an Atlanta School when a 20-year-old gunman stormed in with an AK-47 assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition.  Rational actors say that ‘the only rational response to terrorism is police action’ and that negotiation is ‘fainthearted’. I came across one of these rational actors say, ‘Survival is impossible without police action in times of crisis, and the tacit threat of it at all times. This is the price we pay for civilization.’ Fortunately, Mrs. Tuff was not a devotee of such a ‘lifeboat ethics’ view of civilization. 

When Tuff met the gunman, she told him that she was also a troubled soul like him. She told him about her life struggles: how her marriage had fallen apart after over 30 years and her struggles with opening her own business. Tuff's response was very different from whatever response he had expected and he was not sure how to react. She convinced the gunman to put his weapons aside and allow the police come in to take him to the hospital, since he’d told her that he had not been taking some of the medication he needed to and that he was not mentally stable.

More than 800 students and 100 employees were at the school that day; not one was injured after the gunman surrendered peacefully to the police. In an interview, she said that she saw ‘someone that was hurting, and did not need me to judge or pass judgment on them, show anger or be frustrated or mad at him. But I seen [sic] a young man in an unstable condition mind needing me to show him love.’ There were two security systems in place that day: one was the expected, expensive, violent 'rational response' that failed and the other was a quiet old nonviolent lady who succeeded. (Of course, the incident was reported a lot less breathlessly than would have been the case if there had been a massacre.)

It has always been assumed that nonviolence is a wonderful ideal, but that if one wants to achieve results, violence is the means to choose. Nonviolence, it is said, is the weapon of the weak, to be employed only when violent options seem totally out of reach. In Why Civil Resistance Works : The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth assembled a comprehensive data set of 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns between 1900 and 2006 and their findings challenge this conventional wisdom.  They found that nonviolent campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as were violent campaigns and that the advantage for nonviolent campaigns held even when controlling for the authoritarianism of the regime. 

Nonviolent campaigns turned out to be more effective for both regime change and resistance to foreign occupation. The only purpose for which nonviolent campaigns were not more successful than violent ones was political secession. A campaign’s commitment to nonviolent methods enhances its domestic and international legitimacy and encourages more broad-based participation in the resistance by presenting fewer obstacles to moral and physical involvement and commitment.  The higher levels of participation contribute to enhanced resilience, greater opportunities for tactical innovation and civic disruption (and therefore less incentive for a regime to maintain its status quo).

They cause shifts in loyalty among opponents' erstwhile supporters, including members of the military establishment. Whereas governments easily justify violent counterattacks against armed insurgents, regime violence against nonviolent movements is more likely to backfire against the regime. Nonviolent resistance campaigns appear to be more open to negotiation and bargaining because they do not threaten the lives or well-being of members of the target regime. Given a credible alternative, the public is more likely to support a nonviolent campaign. Chenoweth and Stephan conclude that successful nonviolent resistance ushers in more durable and internally peaceful democracies, which are less likely to regress into civil war. As Lewis Mumford says in Technics And Civilization:

Physical power is a rough substitute for patience and intelligence and cooperative effort in the governance of men: if used as a normal accompaniment of action instead of a last resort it is a sign of extreme social weakness.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 9e

It is often said that Gandhi was not wholly uncompromising in his doctrine of non-violence, that he would make exceptions. Gandhi felt that the ethics of non-violence had to be applied differently in different theatres like family, political community, international community etc. It did not act independently of the forces acting in these areas. That is why Gandhi paid attention to social reforms. He felt that social life cannot be free of violence without these reforms. 

He was willing to make many qualifications in his theory of nonviolence depending on the context. He was not interested in an abstract moral attitude far removed from the realities of the world. He was far more concerned with moral conduct than with moral judgement. He valued justice more than mere abstention from violence, courage more than non-participation in war. 'Refusal of military service is much more superficial than non-cooperation with the whole system which supports the state.' He said that all violence is sinful, but violence that is inevitable may not be regarded as a sin. 

He knew that it was impossible to achieve fully what one set out to to do in any given situation. He believed in compromise and said, 'I ever compromise my own ideal even in individual conduct not because I wish to but because the compromise was inevitable. And so in social and political matters I have never exacted complete fulfilment of the ideal in which I have believed.' But he thought that there are always times when one had to say 'thus far and no further' but where one draws this red line differs from issue to issue. George Orwell says in an essay, Reflections on Gandhi:

He did not — indeed, since his whole political life centered round a struggle for national independence, he could not — take the sterile and dishonest line of pretending that in every war both sides are exactly the same and it makes no difference who wins. Nor did he, like most Western pacifists, specialize in avoiding awkward questions. 

He believed that states had the right to self-defense, if necessary, by military means. He stated at the Second Round Table Conference, 'I think that a nation that has no control over her own defense forces, and over her external policy is hardly a responsible nation.' An independent Indian state would have to follow 'some kind of mild war policy.' When he was criticized for his support of WWI, he said, 'under exceptional circumstances war may have to be resorted to as a necessary evil . . . an Ahimsaist [a practitioner of non-violence] may not stand aside and look with indifference, he must make the choice and actively cooperate or actively resist.'

The British disarmed Indians by passing the Arms Act of 1878. Gandhi was very critical of the compulsory disarming of Indians and he raised the demand for the right to carry arms from various platforms. It was one of the major demands presented to the Viceroy before launching the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930. Why was a man called the 'Apostle of Nonviolence' demanding the arming of Indians?

It was a difficult task for a handful of British to dominate a populous and vast country like India with only physical power. It was important to subjugate the minds of the Indians. Gandhi knew very well that there was a continuous psychological war going on between Indian and British men. The British colonial masters launched a 'propaganda' to impress the Indians that they were weak, effeminate and unfit to rule themselves. 

Gandhi believed that compulsory disarmament had made Indians unmanly and the presence of an alien army with deadly arms had made Indians think that they could not defend themselves against foreign aggression. So Gandhi demanded arms for Indians and in that context proposed nonviolence as a manly quality. Gandhi writes, "...I am not pleading for India to practice non-violence because it is weak. I want her to practice non-violence being conscious of her strength and power." As Gandhi saw it, weapons were of value only when used by persons of courage and restraint to protect innocent life. They were a menace when used to threaten the vulnerable.

He wanted Indians to develop 'nonviolence of the strong' i.e. Indians should have the capacity to retaliate but voluntarily renounce the capacity and opt for nonviolence. 'Nonviolence presupposes an ability to strike.' Instead what he found towards the end of his life  was that Indians had developed 'nonviolence of the weak'  or passive resistance i.e. they were using nonviolence as a temporary tactic because they didn't have the capacity to match the opponent's violence but the moment they have that capacity, they will use it. He had said on November 6, 1947:

What has, however, clearly happened in my case is the discovery that in all probability there is a vital defect in my technique of the working of non-violence. There was no real appreciation of non-violence in the thirty years’ struggle against British Raj. Therefore, the peace that masses maintained during that struggle of a generation with exemplary patience, had not come from within.

The pent-up fury found an outlet when British Raj was gone. It naturally vented itself in communal violence which was never fully absent and which was kept under suppression by the British bayonet. This explanation seems to me to be all-sufficing and convincing.”  


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 9d

Gandhi thought that no regime, however despotic it might be, could function without the co-operation of its citizens. Thus, if citizens withdrew their cooperation, and were willing to take the resultant consequences, any regime will fall. This was what made Gandhi say in Hind Swaraj, ‘That we should obey laws whether good or bad is a newfangled notion. There was no such thing in former days. The people disregarded those laws they did not like and suffered the penalties for their breach…. So long as the superstition that men should obey unjust laws exists, so long will their slavery exist.’

The point is emphasized by James Carse in Finite and Infinite Games, where he writes that “Whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever MUST play cannot PLAY.” This is true no matter how high the stakes, even life and death. In slavery or severe political oppression, the refusal to play the demanded role may be paid for with terrible suffering or death. But  whoever takes up the commanded role does so by choice. ‘Certainly the price for refusing it is high, but that there is a price at all points to the fact that oppressors themselves acknowledge that even the weakest of their subjects must agree to be oppressed.’

Gandhi was not saying that one should break all laws. As a matter of fact, he was a stickler for following laws. He only advocated breaking those laws that unjustly discriminated against a population and his conscience rebelled against following them. In this principle, he was at one with Thoreau, the difference being that while Thoreau advocated individual civil disobedience, Gandhi expanded its scope to mass civil disobedience. But he was careful to stress that you have earned the right to break an unjust law only if you have first learned to observe laws consistently even if they cause inconvenience, not by those who used every problem as an occasion to display their conscience.                

He insisted on the strict condition that satyagraha cannot be initiated for personal reasons but only for the good of others. Satyagraha presuppose the ability and willingness to suffer and lose property. It cannot be organized unless the crowd  can behave as disciplined soldiers who can remain calm and unperturbed under fierce  provocation. It requires unobtrusive humility from the participants whose strength lies in the correctness of their position. In short, 'a satyagraha struggle is impossible without capital in the shape of character'. It is not a movement of 'brag, bluster or bluff'. 

For Gandhi, satyagraha was not just a matter of bravely breaking an unjust law and facing the consequences. It was also a time for many other symbolic acts that would improve the community's internal cohesion and shame the opponent. But even when the struggle was at its most intense, he kept alive channels of communication between the antagonists and thought that personal communication and compromise were crucial. He believed that compromise did not represent a defeat for either side but was a much higher and more desirable triumph for the strength of the human spirit. The votary of ahimsa does not aim for victory but wants to arrive at a better solution. He said on July 7th 1920 in Young India:

I pride myself on my yielding nature in non-vital matters . . . I have found by experience that if I wish to live in a society and still retain my independence, I must limit the points of utter independence to matters of first rate importance. In all others which do not involve a departure from one's personal religion or moral code, one must yield to the majority. 

Just because a movement rejects physical violence, it cannot be called a satyagraha. By the standards that Gandhi set, probably none of the strikes, demonstrations, boycotts, fasts, etc. that are often called today as satyagrahas can be called so. Satyagraha is inaccurately equated with passive resistance. Although it calls for inviting suffering on oneself and sacrifice, submission was never an element of the concept. Submission to humiliation was strictly prohibited and in every case, a satyagrahi must refuse to do what his conscience forbids him to do. 

How is one to judge whether a particular movement is a satyagraha according to the exacting standards that Gandhi set? The first distinguishing characteristic is whether all available channels for settling the dispute without humiliating the opponent have been explored before launching the agitation. Maximum publicity would have been given regarding the aims of the agitators. Efforts would be made to minimize hardships for the opponent. There should be readiness to accept the penalties provided by the law and typically, the agitators will not resort to legal defense. 

Gandhi countered Aurobindo Ghose’s argument that ‘we do not want to develop a nation of women’ by arguing that it was precisely the ‘feminine’ nature of non-violence that proved superior to the ‘brute  force’ associated with the ‘male aggression’ of the British Raj. He said that an agitator who didn't follow the stringent conditions that he had laid down for satyagraha were following duragraha. Satyagraha was distinguished by a creedal commitment to nonviolence while duragraha advocated the use of nonviolence because of an apparent pragmatic advantage. The latter saw more power in violence. 

Duragraha  may use harassment or feel enmity but ‘in satyagraha, there is not the remotest idea of injuring the opponent. Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.’ Satyagraha is not based on a zero-sum calculation of how much loss can be inflicted on the opponent. Duragraha involves harassment of the opponent and reaches a settlement by intensification of pressure. Satyagraha relies on persuading the opponent to change the position under attack and it seeks to strengthen interpersonal relationships by minimizing hardship to the opponent. Dennis Dalton writes in Gandhi: Non-violent Power in Action:

The theory of satyagraha, therefore, rests fundamentally on a certain view about "the capacity of man to change" by effecting a "context of reassurance" rather than of hostility, of mutual support rather than of alienation and anger. The ultimate goal is not to attain a decisive triumph, but "to achieve the transformation of relationships" that would genuinely resolve the conflict rather than simply postpone it to a later time. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 9c

The popularity of violence is due to several reasons. Violence tempts us because it activates and nurtures our egos and an inflated ego is often celebrated as a hyper-masculine attribute of bravery. It does not demand the honest labour of self-reflection. Instead, we are led to believe that the problem lies necessarily always outside, and hence the annihilation of the ‘enemy’ out there is seen to be the only way to our redemption. Violence satisfies the urge to find quick ‘solutions’ and it encourages one’s sadistic thrill of being seen as ‘superior’ to others. 

Gandhi recognized that good and evil cannot be neatly separated as was commonly assumed and that good turned into evil when pressed beyond a certain point. Mankind therefore could not be divided into two neat classes with one so privileged that it had a right to punish the rest. In his view almost every revolution so far had led to terror, devoured its children, and failed to create a better society. Once people resort to violence to settle a conflict, they keep trying to increase their power and reduce their opponent's power. 

Gandhi thinks that once violence becomes institutionalized, it will be readily used against former friends and allies. It becomes an 'easy step from employing violence on foreign rulers to using it on our own people whom we consider obstructing the country's progress.' Violence soon becomes the normal way to settle conflicts and ensure compliance. Soon what were once morally objectionable actions become acceptable. He fears that 'once the custom of effecting reforms by force gets established, the people tend to become dull and lifeless.' Raghavan Iyer writes in The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi:

Gandhi's view of the connection between satya and ahimsa was based upon the belief that truth and non-violence are both unifying forces, while error and violence are divisive factors, in human society. Truth needs no violence for its diffusion and is, in fact, obscured by violence. 

Violence is not only a sign of insecurity and incomplete conviction but it also makes victory more important than truth, distorts the truth and renders its free acceptance more difficult. 

It is assumed that in certain situations violence is the only possible solution but it is not always so. But what is required, as Gandhi recognized, is tremendous courage, far more than what is required for violence. For softening passions and producing an atmosphere in which compromise was possible, Gandhi insisted that the struggle it involves cannot be sustained in an atmosphere of violence and fear. The ethical contest Gandhi invites all sides to enter forbids the use of fear: Arousing it is as bad as becoming its victim. The victor must prove moral superiority to the satisfaction of the loser. 

For Gandhi, ahimsa was much more than being merely civil to your opponents. Civility can arise out of a feeling of social obligation or a recognition of the cost of violence. Ahimsa, in addition, also has a positive faith that active non-violence can move the opponent towards seeing the justice of your resistance and in protecting the weak against the strong. Where reason fails, love might, but violence cannot, solve the problem. Gandhi is belittled because he had the guts to ignore Holderlin's maxim, 'If you have understanding and a heart, show only one. Both they will damn, if both you show together.'

At the root of all of Gandhi’s efforts was a focus on self-improvement. When riots broke out in Calcutta just before independence, Gandhi refused to write them off as simply a manifestation of goondaism. He asserted that all citizens of Calcutta were responsible for the violence; all must ‘turn the searchlight inwards’ and see that ‘wide open goondaism was a reflection of the subtle goondaism they were harboring within.’ 

How could they claim to enjoy their rights in a free India when they had failed in their responsibility to maintain civil peace and order? (He didn’t say this from the safety of a far-of place but in Calcutta during the riots.)  When he proposed a fast to quell the riots, Rajaji asked him, ‘Can one fast against the goondas?’ Gandhi replied, ‘I want to touch the hearts of those who are behind the goondas.’  It was enough for him if society at large had no sympathy with the goondas. 

For years Indians had blamed criminal elements in society for communal conflict as well as other urban violence. Gandhi replied: "Goondas do not drop from the sky, nor do they spring from the earth like evil spirits. They are the product of social disorganization, and society is therefore responsible for their existence. In other words, they should be looked upon as a symptom of corruption in our body politic." That was in 1940.

When in 1946 he was confronted with the Bihar riots, he again unequivocally placed the responsibility where it belonged by deploring "the habit of procuring a moral alibi for ourselves by blaming it all on the goondas. We always put the blame on the goondas. But it is we who are responsible for their creation as well as encouragement." The argument that goondas were distinct from ordinary law-abiding citizens had never appealed to Gandhi. 

His non-violent methods of protest were based on the principle that “to kill for freedom will legitimize killing after freedom.” A Western style of parliamentary government he would accept as Swaraj for the time being only. While in the ideal society there is no room for the military and the police, yet in the actual State there is provision for it according to the moral level of its citizens. Whatever political institutions Gandhi accepted, he did so only as a transitional device, to be transcended by better ones. No institutional device is final. They must evolve with the evolution of individuals. 

Gandhi was no philosopher in the dogmatic sense of the term. He did not cut himself adrift from the daily problems and struggles of the people and take refuge in a solitary physical and mental corner to formulate his philosophy of non-violence. His was the unique technique of taking active role in the process of the solution of the everyday problems of people. Though he had supreme confidence in the ideal of non-violence, Gandhi remained, to the end, a seeker — striving towards an ideal rather than claiming to have arrived at a goal. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 9b

Propagation of non-violence was no novel or unprecedented act of Gandhi. As he himself has rightly said, "I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could." To say that this is not the kind of world we live in  and fall victim to the paranoid panic that the power-hungry seek to promote would prove right Goebbels’ perverse prediction :“Even if we lose, we shall win, for our ideals will have penetrated the hearts of our enemies.”

Gandhi repudiated the idea that morality is simply an individual affair. Gandhi objected to violence because when it appears to do good, the good it does is temporary, the evil it does is more lasting. He was not interested in semantics to explain away violence. 'What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?' This is also why he adhered throughout to the view that a technology-centered socio-economic system could not but be exploitative and violence-prone. 

In Gandhi’s view, violence ‘oozed from every pore’ of modern society and had so much become a way of life that the modern man could not cope with his relations with himself or other men without translating them into the military language of conflict, struggle, mastery, subjugation, domination, victory and defeat. He asserted that the cruelties committed in the name of sectarian religion cannot compare with the endless victims destroyed in the fire of civilization.  As Lewis Mumford said, 'War is the supreme drama of a completely mechanized society.'

Arguably, ideology has been the greatest killer in mass violence in the 20th century. Religious war might have been so in earlier centuries, but the records of many secular ideologies like nationalism, Leninist and Maoist Marxism have been much worse in our times. The Nazis described themselves as the most masculine of movements and the result was unimaginable cruelty. Gandhi said in Hind Swaraj long before the bloodlust of secular ideologies became apparent, 'I am prepared to maintain that humbugs in worldly matters are far worse than the humbugs in religion.' 

He realized that some of the worst crimes in history arise out of actions performed with good intentions. Everyone remembers that 9/11 is the date on which the towers in New York was brought down which prompted the US President to declare a 'war on terror'. 9/11 was also the date on which satyagraha or militant nonviolence was born at Johannesburg in 1906. Does this coincidence of dates and their vastly uneven occurrence in public me memory tell us something?

Albert Camus once said that “through a curious transposition peculiar to our times, it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself.” Despite the pretense in global diplomacy, it is non-violence not violence that has to be justified. In A Promised Land, Barrack Obama's account of the early years of his presidency, he describes the hunt for Osama bin Laden. There was a lot of focus and determination in the efforts to locate his whereabouts and an eruption of joy and patriotic fervor in the population when they got news of his death. Obama writes:

. . .Was that unity of effort, that sense of common purpose, possible only when the goal involved killing a terrorist? The question nagged at me. For all the pride and satisfaction I took in the success of our mission in Abbottabad, the truth was that I hadn’t felt the same exuberance as I had on the night the healthcare bill passed. 

We have too many men of science, too few men of God,' General Omar N. Bradley, Chief of Staff, United States Army, said in Boston on November 10, 1948. 'We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount... The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.'

Gandhi held that non-killing was the least expression of ahimsa. Sometimes killing was the cleanest part of violence. The continuous harassment of an opponent can be worse than killing him outright. Gandhi opposed different standards of non-violence for saints and ordinary people. Ahimsa for Gandhi was not denial of power as influence, persuasion or pressure but only of power in its violent form. A votary of ahimsa must recognize that it is more difficult to live for non-violence than to die for it and must therefore strive to apply it in all conflicts and against all coercion. 

As Gandhi recognized, 'It has always been easier to destroy than to create". I was shocked by this report that there is brisk sales of Mein Kampf in Delhi with some management students seeing it as "a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it".  Young people seem to crave success (whatever it means) without bothering about the means employed to achieve it. Apparently in Russia, Hitler is more popular than Harry Potter. Hannah Arendt writes in Eichmann in Jerusalem:

It is in the very nature of things human that every act that has once made its appearance and has been recorded in the history of mankind stays with mankind as a potentiality long after its actuality has become a thing of the past. No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes. 

On the contrary, whatever the punishment, once a specific crime has appeared for the first time, its reappearance is more likely than its initial emergence could ever have been. The particular reasons that speak for the possibility of a repetition of the crimes committed by the Nazis are even more plausible. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 9a

Arundhati Roy confuses between the ideal and the actual in Gandhi’s philosophy especially regarding his views on non-violence and his idea of the village. Not being an academic philosopher, he did not set this out in explicit terms but it can be gleaned from his writings and speeches. The failure to appreciate this has led his critics either to misrepresent him or to call him inconsistent and full of contradictions. It would be incorrect to say that Gandhi was blind about the gulf between moral ideals and social facts or that he was a dogmatic moralist who had a na├»ve understanding of the nature of social and political conflicts. 

As a social and political reformer, Gandhi spoke from different levels at different times. But three levels mainly dominate his writings: first, that of the perfect ideal (unrealizable); second, that of his own personal point of view (admitting himself to be far from perfect, yet sufficiently advanced to practice his ideals); third, that of the point of view of the Indian masses. Under certain circumstances, nonviolence may be only a matter of policy, as it was with the Indian National Congress. But this cannot be identified with the level of nonviolence which Gandhi personally was capable of. There is not a uniform pattern of application of nonviolence for all individuals and societies. 

He said that men like him ‘cling to their faith in human nature’ notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary.  For Gandhi, to profess nonviolence with sincerity or even to write a book about it was not adequate. He said, ‘I believe in what Max Muller said years ago, namely that truth needed to be repeated as long as there were men who disbelieved it.” As a discipline, a "code of conduct," true nonviolence demands endless vigilance over one's entire way of life because it includes words and thought as well as actions. "If one does not practice nonviolence in his personal relationships with others, he is vastly mistaken. Nonviolence, like charity, must begin at home." 

According to him, there must always be an unbridgeable gulf between the ideal and its practice. The practice of nonviolence is by no means a simple matter, and Gandhi never said that it was. Human life is a series  of compromises but these do not justify lowering the theoretical ideal of human development. 'Let us be sure of our ideal. We shall ever fail to realize it, but we shall never cease to strive for it.’ 

The ideal will cease to be one if it becomes possible to realize it. Striving after the ideal is the very essence of practicing Gandhi’s philosophy. To the extent we make this effort, to that extent we realize the ideal. Perfect nonviolence cannot be practiced by human beings. Being a part of society, man cannot but participate in some amount of “himsa” that is necessary for survival. He held that “taking life may be a duty.”  

We destroy plant life to sustain our bodies; in the interest of health we kill mosquitoes; and for the benefit of the species we destroy carnivorous beasts, yet we do not think we are being unethical. Gandhi would consider a person true to his faith if “there is an effort to avoid the violence that is inevitable in life”. In essence, it consists “in allowing others the maximum of convenience at the maximum inconvenience to us, even at the risk of life. Everyone has to determine for himself the amount of inconvenience he is capable of putting up with. No third party can determine it for him.” 

Having decided upon the rightness of a situation, Gandhi would not like one to be a passive spectator to evil. That would be participation in the evil itself. If one does not have sufficient nonviolence to die without killing, one should not shamefully flee from the danger in the name of nonviolence. Rather, Gandhi would advise killing and being killed. For himself he did not believe in the use of arms at all ("There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for".) 

But he would not hesitate to advise their use by those who had no faith in non-violence. “If there was a national government, whilst I should not take any direct part in any war, I can conceive occasions when it would be my duty to vote for the military training of those who wish to take it. For I know that all its members do not believe in nonviolence to the extent I do. It is not possible to make a person or a society nonviolent by compulsion.” 

According to Gandhi, violence has its roots in fear and suspicion. He feels that such people are fighting ‘an imagined enemy without’ and neglecting ‘the enemy within’. The violent person pretends to possess the truth about good and evil and who should be punished and who should be spared. This is contrary to Gandhi’s view that a person can have access to only partial truth. Also the violent person claims a dangerous omnipotence for himself in deciding the limits to violence regardless of its effect on others. In this way the violent person treats other human beings as means to an end. 'Pride is a monster that swallows' ahimsa because it fails to acknowledge the worth and dignity of other people.