Monday, May 24, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 7g

Many Indians today have the belief that anger and retribution are the keys to achieving justice, political change and power. But a show of bravado and flippant insults, such as we see today, does not really accomplish much. Gandhi repudiated anger and showed the world that non-anger was a posture not of weakness and servility but of strength and dignity. But conquering anger is hard work and it is easier to pursue the politics of revenge. If there is a political issue, it is one of a hysterical nationalism, which confronts the injustices of the past rather than the responsibilities of the future.

Gandhi recognized the instinct for violence to settle disputes that most humans possess. He deliberately focused attention on sexuality as an arena in which domination plays itself out with pernicious effect, and he consciously cultivated an androgynous maternal persona. He showed his followers that being a "real man" is not a matter of being aggressive and bashing others; it is a matter of controlling one's own instincts to aggression. He was concerned to stress the complexity of the moral life rather than its simplicity. He was suspicious of formal and mechanical consistency which is the bureaucratic ideal. Consistency was less important to him than moral earnestness. ‘So long as we act like machines, there can be no question of morality.’

Violence uses brute force using bloodshed to force one’s will on enemies who resist change. Gandhi’s strategies were not inflexible enforcements of assertive ideology but were responsive, based on specific situations and are not intended to be a “one-size-fits-all” scheme to be replicated everywhere on earth . He didn’t say what would please his audience; he often said the contrary. His fight was against colonialism, poverty, ignorance, evil practices, discrimination, social inequality, dictatorship etc. The British were not his enemies; their colonial rule was his enemy. 

The idea of Swaraj propagated by Gandhi was not just a claim for the native rule but a much more radical idea claiming the complete control of one’s life – the rule over oneself. The "clash within" is not so much a clash between two groups in a nation that are different from birth; it is, at bottom, a clash within each person, in which the ability to live with others on terms of mutual respect and equality contends anxiously against the sense of being humiliated. Gandhi understood that. As Alexis de Tocqueville says in Democracy in America:

It would seem as if the rulers of our time sought only to use men in order to make things great; I wish that they would try a little more to make great men; that they would set less value on the work, and more upon the workman; that they would never forget that a nation cannot long remain strong when every man belonging to it is individually weak, and that no form or combination of social polity has yet been devised, to make an energetic people out of a community of pusillanimous and enfeebled citizens. 

Gandhi rejected the principles of British imperialist masculinity such as 'Might is Right' and 'Survival  of the Fittest’, as immoral. He knew what a person with conscience could be like. “A conscientious man hesitates to assert himself, he is always humble, never boisterous, always compromising, always ready to listen, ever willing, even anxious to admit mistakes.” The public figures of today are expected to have the opposite characteristics. There is disregard by public men for his brand of moral politics. 

He  knew that people are fallible beings but many don’t acknowledge this and their pride makes them attempt to be superhuman. They  think they know the good and think this gives them the license to impose it on others without bothering about their views or the cost it imposes on them. Gandhi said, ‘Few men are wantonly wicked. The most heinous and most cruel crimes of which history has record have been committed under the cover of religion or other equally noble motive.’ 

I was shocked by a 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. When there is promotion of aggressive, masculine characteristics in various social settings - in families, politics, films etc. - such sentiments are to be expected. 

The two biggest causes of evil are two that we think are good, and that we try to encourage in our children: high self esteem, and moral idealism. Having high self-esteem doesn’t directly cause violence, but when someone’s high esteem is unrealistic or narcissistic it is then easily threatened by reality, and in reaction to those threats, people often lash out violently. Idealism easily becomes dangerous because it brings with it, almost inevitably, the belief that the ends justify the means. It just takes the right kind of leader to push the appropriate buttons for the angel or demon side of people to come out. Tocqueville says in Democracy in America

A nation which asks nothing of its government but the maintenance of order is already a slave at heart — the slave of its own well-being, awaiting but the hand that will bind it. By such a nation the despotism of faction is not less to be dreaded than the despotism of an individual. When the bulk of the community is engrossed by private concerns, the smallest parties need not despair of getting the upper hand in public affairs. 

At such times it is not rare to see upon the great stage of the world, as we see at our theatres, a multitude represented by a few players, who alone speak in the name of an absent or inattentive crowd: they alone are in action whilst all are stationary; they regulate everything by their own caprice; they change the laws, and tyrannize at will over the manners of the country; and then men wonder to see into how small a number of weak and worthless hands a great people may fall. 


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