I am somewhat familiar with the concepts of Satyagraha and non-violence that Gandhi preached and sometimes practiced. They are interesting tools and can be employed effectively in some circumstances. But, like all tools, they too can’t be employed in every case; they are not easy for mere mortals to employ even under favorable circumstances. In fact, they have severe limitations in that they are not general purpose tools but are rather special purpose tools. The interesting thing is irrespective of whether they work or not, the user gets to occupy the moral high ground.
Occupying moral high ground is well and good if that is one’s objective. But one could be very dead at the end of the day — on high ground but still dead.
Those tools elevate the user in the user’s estimation at least. But the sad fact of this world is that it does not work in those cases where you most desperately want it to work. One needs an effective tool against mass murderers more urgently than against robbers. The former could not care less whether you have an elevated opinion of your own moral standing. Hitler, for instance, would have slaughtered without compunction those who responded to his aggression with non-violence; it would have eased the realization of his megalomanical dreams of world domination.
I must hasten to add that satyagraha and non-violence is a “first-best” tool. And that is precisely the trouble, ironically. First-best tools work in “first-best” worlds. A bit of reflection will convince most people that the world we live in is a “second-best” world.
Second best worlds are not perfect and indeed have multiple distortions. Employing tools that are meant for first best worlds could lead one to make a situation worse. And that is what most well-meaning but misguided moral busybodies end up doing — making a bad situation worse. Their enthusiasm to do good often outstrips their ability to comprehend the nature of the world. “Let me save you from drowning,” said the monkey to the fish, as he put the fish up on a tree.
Mere good intentions are not sufficient; often they pave the road to hell. In my considered opinion, it was Gandhi’s good intentions that have paved the way India’s descent into hell. My contention is that the ‘Gandhian Revolution’ is what has condemned hundreds of millions (if not more than a billion) people to lead inhuman lives.
By ‘Gandhian revolution’ I mean the notion of ‘Gandhian self-sufficiency’ and Gandhian economics. And here in a nutshell is the problem: in a world that is mutually interdependent, it is insanity to insist upon self-sufficiency at any level — whether it is the level of the nation, the city, the village, the family, or the individual. Mutual dependencies exist at all levels down to the gut level where we depend on bacteria for our lives.
A goal that seeks self-sufficiency (at any level of analysis) is a prescription for poverty — not just of the body but also of the mind. We are deeply and inalienably connected with all others, however one defines the ‘other.’
My criticism of Gandhi is that he did not comprehend the interconnectedness of the world we live in. But that is not surprising considering that he was perhaps one of the world’s greatest egotists. His ego was sufficiently large that he sometimes eschewed the use of reasoned argument for persuading others and instead blackmailed others into complying with his demands by threatening to starve himself to death. The public, like doting parents scared stiff that the child may indeed hold his breath till he turns blue, gave in to blackmail repeatedly. But that is par for the course for the unreasoning masses of India — they go for this kind of pathetic uncritical hero-worship. However noble the cause, blackmail is blackmail. And the larger the canvas upon which the ransom note is written, the more egregious the crime committed.
I claim that he was the greatest egotist around because to him, only his wishes counted. Sure, it was all dressed up in saintly rhetoric but in the end it was what he wanted that mattered. He wanted to be celibate; so the heck with Kasturba. He could make do with little if needed; therefore every Indian must make do with little. His needs could be satisfied with simple handmade goods, so every person must also aim for that. The spinning wheel and self-sufficient village economy and small scale enterprises were prescribed. He failed to see that in a world which is second-best, he was using a prescription that suited him best. Being an egotist, he could not comprehend that others’ preferences may be different.
Being an egotist is not against any laws, however. At worst, in the case of the average human, it is a handicap not much worse than extreme body odor. But it does have the unfortunate consequence of the person feeling a sense of being above others, not really connected to others. In the case of a ‘mahatma’, that sense of self-reliance translates into xenophobic isolation for the entire nation.
That is the Gandhian revolution that I am against.
The Gandhian revolution has been an unmitigated disaster. It ranks up there with communism as ideologies that have wreaked havoc on human societies. The Chinese suffered under communism and only in the past few years have they started up the road to development once they realized their mistake.
India has to look very critically at the burden we bear of the legacy of Gandhi. We must choose to free ourselves from a blind uncritical acceptance of a defunct ideology. Until we do that, I am afraid that we are condemning large masses of humans to needless misery.
Communism fails because it is a first-best recommendation (behave like saints) in a second-best world (where people are selfish and there is not enough to go around.) Similarly for the Gandhian revolution; it would have ushered in a heaven on earth had the nation been a collection of selfless ascetics. Instead Indians are average humans and therefore the same prescription has given the majority of us a living hell.
“It must remain to the wise to undo the damage that is done by the merely good.”