Thursday, September 26, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- IX

In The Origins of Non-violence: Tolstoy and Gandhi in Their Historical Settings, Martin Green says about Gandhi's impression of London, 'London was to Gandhi rather a land of Brobdingnag, in which he moved between the legs of men and institutions that towered above him like colossi and trembled at bellowing voices far above.' He was extremely suspicious of the power vested in politicians and legislatures that had the power to control peoples' lives. A few days before his assassination, he said, 'I wonder if we can remain free from the fever of power politics  or the bid for power, which afflicts the political world in the East and the West.'

Gandhi feels that conventional discussions about power reveal our ‘hallucination about titles, law courts, schools and councils’ . This invests an unreal aura in them and results in concealing other sites of power distributed throughout society. This conceals the way in which these hidden power centres direct supposedly ‘free choice’. He was very skeptical of the notion that ensuring political equality would automatically grant everyone equal voice in the public space or that it would hold power accountable.

Those in power use imposing rituals to impress people into quiet conformity. The state-sponsored spectacle is a diversion from the realities of domestic stigmas such as poverty, unemployment, racial inequalities, health care, or welfare. Leaders have often maintained a supportive following by focusing attention on foreign threats that divert concern from unsolved domestic troubles. For Gandhi, such humanization of the state by means of rituals is a matter of horror because this tends to hide its essentially coercive character.

Gandhi thinks that the modern state has become too complex for people to understand. This produces in them a feeling of helplessness, The complexity also means that bureaucrats tend to rely on experts who impose their solutions on communities. This was unacceptable to Gandhi whose view that anybody can have access to only partial truth meant that experts were viewing their partial truth as the full truth. These experts tend to be ignorant about any matter not directly related to their specialized area but  they claim dominion not only over technical matters but also over social, psychological, and moral affairs.

Gandhi believed that simplification comes only from decentralization. When political power is widely dispersed, ‘the interference with the freedom of the people is reduced to a minimum.’ He thought that human beings gained their full moral stature only in small, relaxed, and interdependent communities. He subscribed to the thesis that power corrupts but he also stressed the fact that powerlessness corrupts even more. He argued that production should be decentralized and that each community should become relatively self-sufficient in its basic needs.

There are two facets of the Enlightenment — the one emphasizing the sovereignty of the individual and his interests, the other emphasizing the rational authority of experts. As it has turned out, it was the second facet that appealed to rulers who wanted their “backward" states to catch up. Ernest Gellner says that Enlightenment proved to be a "centralizing rather than a liberating force.” Various steps like standardization of weights and measures, making population registers, the standardization of language and legal discourse, etc. can be viewed as attempts at legibility and simplification.

In each case, very complex, illegible, and local social practises are transformed into a standard grid whereby it could be centrally recorded and monitored. This made Proudhon say, “To be ruled is to be kept an eye on, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, sermonized, listed and checked off, estimated, appraised, censured, ordered about. . . . To be ruled is at every operation, transaction, movement, to be noted, registered, counted, priced, admonished, prevented, reformed, redressed, corrected.” James Scott writes in Seeing like a State:
The aspiration to such uniformity and order alerts us to the fact that modern statecraft is largely a project of internal colonization, often glossed, as it is in imperial rhetoric, as a “civilizing mission." The builders of the modern nation-state do not merely describe, observe, and map; they strive to shape a people and landscape that will fit their techniques of observation.
Gandhi insisted that citizens can be free only if they and not external actors control their government. But what he feared has become a reality. The process of economic globalization along with telecommunication and computer networks have changed the accountability structure of governments.  The power to hold governments accountable does not now belong to citizens. It belongs to firms and markets i.e. it is located not in individuals, not in citizens, but in mostly corporate global economic actors.

Among globalized corporations, there is growth in central functions like the top-level financial, legal, accounting, managerial, executive, and planning functions necessary to run a corporate organization operating in several countries.  These central functions are disproportionately concentrated in the national territories of the highly developed countries no matter how high the costs. Similarly, the global financial markets are located in particular cities in the highly developed countries like the United States, the U.K., Germany, and Luxembourg.

The participation of the state in international systems like the World Trade Organization and and the World Bank imposes restrictions on the political autonomy of the national state by placing the principle of free trade above all other considerations. Some fear that it will be used to enforce their trade regulations to the point of overturning federal, state, and local laws. This is then seen as jeopardizing a nation's right to enact its own consumer, labor, and environmental laws.

Another private regulatory system is represented by the debt security or bond-rating agencies that have come to play an increasingly important role in the global economy. Two agencies dominate the market in ratings: Moody's and Standard and Poor. They have leverage because of their distinct gate-keeping functions for investment funds sought by corporations and governments. Also, a huge number of economic activities take place in electronic space, especially in finance, which  overrides all existing territorial jurisdiction. The speed made possible by the new technologies escape the governing capacities of private and government entities.

All these regimes and institutions are creating systems that strengthen the claims of certain actors (corporations, the large multinational legal firms) and correspondingly weaken the positions of states and smaller players. All these institutions constrain the autonomy of national states; states operating under the rule of law are caught in a web of obligations they cannot disregard easily. Thus decisions that affect local communities are made by others located far away. “Glocalization” means the problems produced globally are attempted to  be solved locally which is a vain pursuit because the sources that produce these problems are outside local instruments of control.

Local communities serve nowadays as dumping grounds for problems generated globally without their consultation, let alone agreement. For eg. pollution of water supplies or air might be because of practise in other regions or in distant countries, but it is up to local authorities to clean up the pollution ; the rising costs of medical service might be results of the marketing policies of extraterritorial pharmaceutical companies, but it falls to the local authorities to assure affordable health care. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman said, ‘Power has been globalized, but politics is as local as before. Politics has had its hands cut off. . . . Our democratic institutions were not designed for dealing with situations of interdependence.’

Probably the biggest obstacle to dealing with situations of interdependence is the growth of nationalism. Nation and nationalism presume that you homogenize the population and gives them specified enemies and friends, allies and detractors. In prescient words written more than hundred years ago, Tagore depicts the reality of the politicians of the "nation": ". .  the idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can carry out its systematic programme of the most virulent self-seeking without being in the least aware of its moral perversion - in fact, feeling most dangerously resentful if it is pointed out." In The Origins of Non-violence, Martin Green says about Gandhi and Tolstoy:
They wanted to diminish the importance of state authority, with all its allies, like big business, big cities, big banks, and big bangs; high explosives, high culture, tall buildings; orchestras, armies, and novels. Both knew very well out of how widespread and valuable human propensities all these things developed, and how unlikely was their renunciation. But they felt it their calling to tell men that they should renounce them, could renounce them, and must renounce them or die. This is a teaching directed against common sense, against probability, against our knowledge of what human nature is and what our history has been. 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- VIII

It is wrong to believe, as often people do, that Gandhi was against political power. Gandhi was a very power conscious man. What he was against was the concentration of total power in the hands of the State only or in the hands of a few individuals. He said in Harijan on 18-01-1948, ' True democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the centre. It has to be worked from below by the people of every village.' He believed that in modern politics, the term ‘people’ is a mere abstraction. He felt that democracy lessened but did not solve the problem of power. He did not think that merely holding elections and voting ensured democracy and people's autonomy. He said on 4-8-1920:
During my long experience, I also noticed that those who complain of others of being ambitious of holding power are no less ambitions themselves, and when it is a question of distinguishing between half a dozen and six, it becomes a thankless task. 
Though he had plenty of criticisms of modern political institutions, Gandhi never advocated total segregation of politics from political institutions. He very much understood the perpetual need for political institutions. Politics of refusal does not mean refusal of politics. He felt that the modern state coersively extends state power into realms which were once regarded as private. So you are caught up in politics whether you like it or not. He said in 1920: 'If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.'

He thought that leading a quiet, contemplative life eschewing politics is a dangerous tactic in the modern era because it leaves the field open for unscrupulous characters to use it for their own benefit. Although the split between ethics, on the one hand, and economics and politics, on the other, accompanies a tremendous economic growth,  now both the economic system and the political system, whether democratic or authoritarian, are pressing heavily against an individual. For Gandhi, freedom came from within and therefore his inherent distrust of the state. He said on 13-10-1921, 'Possession of power makes men blind and deaf, they cannot see things which are under their very nose and cannot hear things which invade their ears.'

Modern states try to claim legitimacy by claiming that they work for the benefit of the people. The difference between ancient kings and modern kings is that modern kings keep saying that they are servants of the people. In both capitalist and communist countries the worker does not have much say with the decision making machine. The fact that peoples' circumstances compel them forever to be thinking about the increase of earnings, dulls their interest in public affairs. He said on 2-3-1922, 'Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep. Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded.'

In a democracy the people rule, in principle. But decision-making power over central areas of life resides in a few public and private hands. The state has a vested interest in monopolizing all initiative and fostering a state-centred political culture. The more its citizens became ‘addicted’ to it and the more they felt helpless without it, the safer it felt. Gandhi rebelled against such a state of affairs. He said on 6-8-1925, 'Self-government means, continuous effort to be independent of government control, whether it is foreign government or whether it is national. Swaraj government will be a sorry affair if people look up to it for the regulation of every detail of life.'

The state systematically nurtured the illusion that the problems of society were too complex and intractable to be solved by ordinary citizens acting on their own and was best left to the state and its official agencies. It felt threatened by active and independent-minded citizens determined to participate in the conduct of their affairs. The institutions of the state thus keep thought and attitudes within acceptable bounds, deflecting any potential challenge to established privilege and authority before it can take form and gather strength. Gandhi said in an interview in November 1934:
I look upon an increase of the power of the State with the greatest fear, because although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of all progress. 
He held the view that without non-violence on a national scale there is no such thing as a constitutional or democratic government.  In a society based on non-violence, the smallest person will feel as tall as the tallest person. With violence the victorious group will always reduce the autonomy of the people in the losing group. But he recognized that a Government cannot succeed in becoming entirely non-violent, because it represents all the people. ‘I do not today conceive of such a golden age. ‘ Since an entirely non-violent state is impossible, Gandhi wants people to be vigilant and keep it in check. He said in  Harijan on 7-5-1931:
There is no human institution but has its dangers. The greater the institution the greater the chances of abuse. Democracy is a great institution and therefore it is liable to be greatly abused. The remedy, therefore, is not avoidance of democracy but reduction of possibility of abuse to a minimum. 
Gandhi took the position that an individual must be a morally responsible citizen. On the one hand, “he must assist an administration most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees”; on the other hand, he affirmed that “it is the inherent right of the subject to refuse to assist a government that does not listen to him.” Indeed, if the state is oppressive, corrupt and inhuman, then the individual must rebel even though this has severe consequences. (See Democracy: Real and Deceptive) This subversive element in Gandhi's thought is what makes the state extremely uncomfortable and convinces one that he would have been the the government's most formidable critic if he had lived for long after independence. Ashis Nandy writes in Bonfire of Creeds:
. . . while leading a freedom struggle against a foreign power, he could get away with his antipathy to the state.  . . His very success dug the grave of his ideology; his anti-statist stance quickly went into recession after Independence. . . . national leaders not only began to look with suspicion at the Gandhian emphasis on cultural traditions, they also began to to encourage political interpretations of Gandhi which fitted him into the state-oriented frame of politics, neutralizing or ignoring his culture-oriented self as irrelevant saintliness or eccentricity.  
On this ideological issue, they were in perfect agreement with Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse, an avowed statist. It was no accident that Godse, though called an ultra-conservative, felt threatened not by modernists like Jawaharlal Nehru, but by Gandhi.