Monday, June 7, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 7h

 The world excessively and misguidedly respects leaders who are loud and aggressive. We make them our bosses and our political leaders. We foolishly admire their self-help books, such as How to Win Friends and Influence People. Previously people extolled character. Nowadays it's personality. We tend to think that aggressive leaders are self-assured, but in fact they're comparatively narcissistic and unthoughtful and we're committing a grave error structuring our society around their pompous claims. Give me calm good sense over showy lecturing any day.

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain tells of a famous study by the influential management theorist Jim Collins. He found that many of the best-performing companies of the late twentieth century were run by  CEOs who were known not for their flash or charisma but for extreme humility coupled with intense professional will. When he analyzed what the highest-performing companies had in common, he found that every single one of them was led by an unassuming man who was described by his colleagues with the following words: quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated. The lesson, says Collins, is clear. We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run. 

I came across an interesting statistic. Countries with female leaders like Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan etc. have managed the coronavirus crisis better than their male counterparts. Resilience, pragmatism, benevolence, trust in collective common sense, mutual aid and humility – regarded as feminine characteristics that are not suited for statecraft - are mentioned as common features of the success of these women leaders. These are distinct from the characteristics associated with the exercise of traditional managerial, supervisory and controlling power.  Studies suggest that men are likely to lead in a “task-oriented” style and women in an “interpersonally-oriented” manner. Women, therefore, tend to adopt a more democratic and participative style and tend to have better communications skills. 

Violent masculinity exacerbates social conflict and is incompatible with democracy. Democracies are meant to encourage the not-so-masculine values of consultation, negotiation, discussion, compromise; to accept that we might not get all that we want. The strength, firmness, and courage required in such a situation is very different from self-obsession, obstinacy and bullying. The main feature of hyper-masculinity is domination which is incompatible with a peaceful, well-functioning democracy. But  as a species, we seem to be predisposed towards believing that the most confident are also the most knowledgeable. 

Decisive, aggressive, confident, assertive, strong, etc are adjectives to be viewed with caution when used to describe political leaders but they are adjectives that increase a leader’s popularity. The masculine qualities of a ‘real’ man like aggression, hyper-competitiveness, ambition and ruthlessness when combined with political power inevitably lead to violence in society. The instinct of violence has tremendous appeal to the average person’s consciousness. This can be called the 'Age of Anger' when anger keeps erupting in the home, on the street, in schools, at work, during games, between races and religions. 

Films are filled with angry characters and violent behaviors. If you spend any time on social media, you might have a sense that we are locked in a state of perpetual outrage where echo chambers accuse each other of being in an echo chamber. The values that Gandhi had used as basic elements of his vision of India’s future faced relentless conflicts during his lifetime and they have continued up to now. Many Hindu males nurture a sense of humiliated masculinity. They think that for centuries they were subordinated by a sequence of conquerors due to  their tolerant, accommodating nature. 

They turn to history to revive memories of Hindu leaders who are known for the masculine virtue of violence against their oppressors. They are determined to take back the country from 'foreigners' and Make Hindu India Great Again. They identify the sexual playfulness and sensuousness of the Hindu traditions, scorned by the masters of the Raj, with their own weakness and subjection. So a repudiation of the sensuous and the cultivation of the masculine came to seem the best way out of subjection.  Gandhi strongly resisted this Protestentization of Hinduism. 

The valorization of the masculine is seen in the promotion of the more war-like Krishna of the Mahabharata (Gandhi's interpretation was very different) and repudiation of the more playful Krishna of the Bhagavata Purana. One reason why the RSS attracts such a following is the widespread sense of masculine failure. This “Hindu rage” is likely to persist for the foreseeable future and is far from being irrational; rather, it is a manifestation of the pathology of (instrumental) rationality. For this category of people, Gandhi was the villain, Godse the hero. Lewis Mumford says in Technics and Civilization:

As for the sense of self-esteem the soldier achieves through his willingness to face death, one cannot deny that it has a perverse life-enhancing quality, but it is common to the gunman and the bandit, as well as to the hero: and there is no ground for the soldier’s belief that the battlefield is the only breeder of it. 

The mine, the ship, the blast furnace, the iron skeleton of bridge or skyscraper, the hospital ward, the childbed bring out the same gallant response: indeed, it is a far more common affair here than it is in the life of a soldier, who may spend his best years in empty drill, having faced no more serious threat of death than that from boredom. 

An imperviousness to life-values other than those clustered around the soldier’s underlying death-wish, is one of the most sinister effects of the military discipline.