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. 

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