Friday, December 19, 2008

Evolutionary Gandhian

Why is Gandhi a great leader? Because he went against the survival of the fittest. He proved the survival of the fittest is unnecessary. He showed the survival of the fittest can be overcome.

13 comments:

milieu said...

Yeah, thats a good point. Though there have been many people who go against this concept right? I mean almost all great people like Jesus, Buddha etc became great perhaps also because they were so above mere mortals who were following survival of the fittest.

Maju said...

It has nothing to do with survival of the fittest. Or put in different terms: humans and ants, to put just some examples, survive and are fit because they cooperate, not because they cannibalize each other. Cannibals are parasits and damage the social organism.

What Gandhi, like all socialists, said was that in our reality there are a handful of paraists who are on top of the human ramid and that, with enough willpower, those at the bottom can shake them off. In fact he went farther claiming that the parasites can only live on the masses because the resignation of the masses (and I would add that the parasit-passive masses system tends to perpetuate itself but does not supress the passive masses or the parasits at all).

The idea that the socio-economical injustices have anything to do with the "survival of the fittest" is called social-darwinism and Darwin himself vehemently opposed it (while ironically has many supporters among creationists). It's a myth that claims that the social organism must put up with a handful of deviant parasits instead of making sure it's healthy.

It's like claiming that the immune system is against the survival of the fittest because it kills bacteria and cancers and help keeping the body healthy. It's like claiming that taking a shower to get rid of all the dirt is against the ruvival of the fittest because you can kill lice or mould that would otherwise thrive.

What Gandhi did was to call for organization of the parasitized body to get rid of the infection (so far not different from other revolutionaries - i.e. emergency defenses of the social body). also, unlike many others, he argued that violence was in itself harmful and that other means should be used instead if the bodily balance (justice) was to be restored.

Gandhi made clear his point that the main difference was not about violence or nonviolence anyhow, but about those who fight and those who resign. How can be calling to fight be against survival? Calling for a resignation until death is against survival in fact, it is against uman fitness, both individually and collectivelly.

But he also thought that violence causes injustice easily and that violence feeds violence and both feed further injustice and oppression. So he called for a new form of less aggresive medicine (compare a standard physician with his antibiotics, surgery and radiotherapy and a hygienist with his occasional fasting, emphasis on diet and excersise and specially in personal health awareness and prevention).

Guess that you an or not agree with this but he was trying to restore the social health by less agressive methods of therapy. Maybe you prefer classical kalashnikov surgery or maybe you just prefer to let the body rot but the Gandhian alternative at least has its own merits.

In the social body, like in your own body you can't call for pit fights between individual cells if favor of some hypothetical "survival of the fittest", that is just survival of the killer and the scammer. That would simply kill the social body, as happened in Somalia and other places (think Africa in the times of slave trade for example, when dependence on foreign wepons basically destroyed all meaningful social structures in the continent, leaving only blood-thirsty warlords around).

...

Anyhow, by the same principle you could say that law and order, and the lifes and specially property it protects, is against the survival of the fittest. It may impede that a healthy young person kills a fat old man to get his money, ranch and clothes. It makes the fat old person unduly fit, while the young strong daring one is displaced to the margins artificially - if not just put t death or imprisioned for ost of his life.

The case is: can humankind live with no social ties at all? Then just abolish all law, money, property... and let everyone fence for him/hersef. You'd either get an anarchist utopy or, maybe more likely, a mafia state soon after as result because, if we area not anarchist saints, soon armed gangs would just take over anyhow. But at least they would be young and fit armed mafias, and not creepy old manipulative "lawful" rich who are not fit anymore but survive on tradition and law, not on their own capabilities.

Or alternatively think in fitness of society, not individuals. After all humans are an extremely social species and, since civilization, we live in large complex societies that can well be compared to whole bodies. You have to make sure (assuming you're playing as statesman or brain-cell) that the body is healthy, balanced. That means also that individual cells are generally healthy and happy and that there are not too many contradictions between cells or organs, that they can still pull of he whole thing together, that they are not going cancerose...

You should then make sure that any possible cancer is isolated an eradicated, so the cahotic inidvidual cell-egoism does not damage the social body.

Manjunat said...

It has nothing to do with survival of the fittest.

True. I heard it from a "spiritual" person. But Gandhi himself was a "fit" person.

Maju said...

He was a "fit" person because he was spiritual (you can't eny that, no matter he was not sectarian but pretty much synchretic) and because he was a political leader, who was proposing and activating a maybe fit revolutionary action model and was working for a "fit" (healthy) socialist and democractic society (which is not he same as just "social-democrat").

In Humankind it's not a matter of "fit" individuals. In fact collective fitness is largely dependent on helping our not so fit comrades, like the lederly, the children, etc. That is was make us humans and allows society to even exist. People feel attached to society but they would not if it was just a fitness contest, much less a purely individualistic one.

And in fact it may well be the extension of social-darwinism in ideology and praxis what is actually eroding the cimentations of our societies, expanding nihilism and destroying all the social fabric... and making such retrograde "spiritual" jerks as fundamentalists appear as an alternative (at least they do offer some pseudo-socialism and ethics, even if they are just fascist ones).

The clearest case is again in Somalia, where the fanatics are again winning because there is no alternative: they do offer a very draconian form of social stability, nobody else offers anything but chaos.

Fitness measuring is not for individuals but for social systems. And social systems' fitness is measured basically in the stability and consensus they can generate. That you can't hardly do with a social-darwinist ideology, except maybe if it's not evident and if it still offers "winning" positions for most of the people. When most people realize hey are being forced into becoming losers, they will look for some alternative and show who is really the fittest one, or rather the fittest group, the fittest social organism.

Real social-darwinism is about social models struggling with each other. The one that can offer greater stability, consensus and cohesion, and that can effectively defend against alternative paradigms, that is the fittest one (the result of course vary a lot along history and local circumstances).

Normally any fit society needs to be able to get rid of the extremely individualist manifestations of social-darwinism because these would just be parasits, and a society needs symbiotic organisms.

A society that can't defend itself against parasists (as it's happening now across the world) will be destroyed from inside.

And again revolutions are the last line of social defense agains the individualistic cancer.

Manjunat said...

I think by fit I only meant he had many children and many more grandchildren.
Gandhi was certainly a great non-destructive leader. A greater politician. Though his popularity is in no small measure indebted to many Indians' despicable and dangerous reverence towards godmen/godwomen like people, he neither sought nor constructed any cult around him. At least that appears to be the case. But Gandhi as an original philosopher or a proponent of a certain socialist idea is a great misunderstanding. My readings of his autobiography "My experiments with truth" and his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi's latest book, "Mohandas" and also Ambedkar's (a Dalit scholar/leader) essays on him give me a different picture.
He was from the beginning of stubborn disposition. The prejudices he felt strongly guided him and shaped his philosophy. The prejudices that he didn’t feel strongly were nevertheless either ignorantly supported and when they were found to be wrong were opposed in gradual steps. But this generalization goes against his original idea of toilet cleaning. This job was considered to be the dirtiest and the caste did it was the lowest. However, it may be possible that the introduction of toilets instead of open space defecation might have reduced the dirty feeling associated with it. Even if we give credit to him for this radical departure from traditional view I don’t see any other original revolutionary idea from him.
His pro-caste system view and prejudice against Africans changed only gradually (though not sure about the latter case). One can even argue that this change appears to have driven by political compulsions or assertiveness of people suffered in these systems. The caste system was part of his identity that he felt gave him a distinct identity from the Westerners. In the making of his Indian identity he chose the principles of the caste system as his defining ideals. But this generalization goes against his struggle for independence. After all, why would a man who doesn’t find anything demeaning in having a non-equal position in his own identity (He comes from a merchant caste whose position was after Brahmins and rulers/landlords) would want to oppose a regime that did not really take away anything that his caste position entailed. I believe it has been argued that he didn’t go against the caste system as that would have been impractical during that time. But that doesn’t explain why he actively supported the principles of the caste system as some kind of ideology during initial days.
I see two reasons for this paradox. First, the level of humiliated identity. For independent non-Brahmin castes the humiliation of being non-equal was only at the theoretical or philosophical level. But Gandhi experienced humiliation of being non-equal citizen of British Empire both at physical and philosophical level. A typical situation of bonded non-brahmin castes.
Though independent castes generally appear to submit to their higher castes in Indian history, it was totally ignorant, poor and hardly organized bonded castes had to be controlled by brutal force. This was observed in social situations and cultural aspects. These lower castes even had to contend other middle castes to even challenge the landlord castes in the first place. If you compare the level of being non-equal in the caste system for Gandhi’s caste and for the bonded castes, the difference is that of humiliation at the physical level. So Gandhi, not unlike the bonded castes, was answering only the primitive level of humiliation against the British. You must understand it is very important to analyze Gandhi’s caste position and background in Indian context. Many educated and uneducated Indians across the caste spectrum were happy to serve under the British. Of course, Gandhi is still admirable as he responded to his physical humiliation.
Now the problem is to define himself as an Indian. This is the second reason for the paradox. The Indian identity was a reflected one. There were no secular motifs that defined oneself as an Indian. This has led him to take up diametrically opposite identity of the “Westerners”. Whenever a European claimed something is his, Gandhi blindly chose to adopt the opposite. He would revel in his fads if a “Westerner” approved it as Indian wisdom. We have to see Gandhi not as an intellectual, philosopher or as a radical thinker but as a primitive freedom loving person. He might not be an intellectual but was intelligent enough to adopt certain philosophical tradition to support his simple prejudices. The philosophical tradition that Gandhi chose to adopt was Jinaism. The Jain philosophy completed his idea of non-violence. After all, violence was not part of his caste identity even when he wasn’t physically coward.
The early Jain philosophers mainly came from warrior families. For most part of the history it was supported by ruling classes though it had a big following from Brahmin and merchant castes. The uniqueness of Jinaism is the inward direction of violence. For some reasons, this religion founded by people who employed violence against others on daily basis, stressed on violence against self to achieve Nirvana. When I say violence against self it is just not self-inflicted (which is the case with all religious traditions of India) but Nirvana achieved by violence committed by others (human or animal) to the self. To understand this phenomenon one has to read Jain propaganda stories written in various Indian languages. The themes are the same. A Jain (generally a merchant) dies a violent death at the hands of others and achieves Nirvana. A Jain has to do many practices if he wants to achieve Nirvana. But what is guarantee that he attains it. This could be seen in the way he approaches his death. The characters that originate in him during his death are; mercy (kshama), equanimity (samatva), peace (shanti), abnegation (vairagya), temperance (saMyama), valour (dhairya) and fortitude (sthairya). Now it appears Jains believe the only death where these characters can originate in a true Jain is in violent death. Therefore, you have story prototypes that basically say the kind of violent death a person dies. In various regions of Indian Jain authors have woven various stories based on these prototypes.
Eg.
1. King Amayaghosha renounces his kingdom and become a Jain Sanyasi (the Jain renouncer who strives for Nirvana). His body was cut by a person called Candavega. The king dies enduring his pain.
2. Avantikumara was doing penance. A jackal for three days pulls and eats his flesh. He endures his pain and attains Nirvana.
3. 500 Jain Sanyasis died after being pressed in an oil extractor. They attained Nirvana.
So on…
What we have to see Jains forbid violence against other humans and animals. However, they don’t have any issue in creating ghastly murderers out of other humans and animals. It is also noticeable that the murderers need not be the strongest persons. Even weaker animals can help a Jain to attain Nirvana. Therefore, Gandhi’s non-violence is not really a practical weapon against a mighty British empire as some may deride. But rather his most potent weapon as a prisoner of his identity and prejudices.
Gandhi’s non-violence has to been seen in this background. His advice to Jews to submit themselves to Nazi death machine has its roots in Jain belief of Nirvana.
But Gandhi was never a passive person. That is still his greatness. But he didn’t create or developed any social theories.

Maju said...

I am aware that Gandhi was quite prejudiced when he began his career (and his conscience awoke) in South Africa, where he only worked in favor of Indian-African rights, totally ignoring the majority of South Africans. I understand that, as he developed his philosophy, he rejected all or most of such prejudices. He was certainly very vocal in embracing the untouchables and supressing caste system later on.

You can well say that the young Gandhi was no mahatma but rather a very common Indian in his attitudes. It does seem to me though that he had evolved a lot for the time he did really became a national and international leader and a philosopher of liberating struggle.

In the making of his Indian identity he chose the principles of the caste system as his defining ideals.

Did he? I have read several of his writings, and of course many external references and I don't see that anywhere: I understand that he actively opposed the caste system, very specially the marginalization of outcasts and that modern Indian legal and official stand against the caste system partly spawns from him too. Though I imagine that Indian nationalists in general saw in opposing the caste system both a path to modernity and a way to reject the colonial regime that favored its pervivence. (British colonialism was not really "modernizing" in most aspects but essentially aristocratic and supportive of local elites).

But that doesn’t explain why he actively supported the principles of the caste system as some kind of ideology during initial days.

Because he was a young ignorant person, with all the normal prejudices of his community, not still the "illuminated" Mahatma of later days. What really tells us much on how leaders of all sorts are formed: they are certainly not born as the "finished" icons that history remembers. And certainly not one is lacking in some sort of contradictions. They are human after all, just like you and me.

This has led him to take up diametrically opposite identity of the “Westerners”. Whenever a European claimed something is his, Gandhi blindly chose to adopt the opposite. He would revel in his fads if a “Westerner” approved it as Indian wisdom. We have to see Gandhi not as an intellectual, philosopher or as a radical thinker but as a primitive freedom loving person. He might not be an intellectual but was intelligent enough to adopt certain philosophical tradition to support his simple prejudices.

I have read some of Gandhi's writings and he certainly talked of Socialism, a very much western concept in origin - though his idea of it was not an industrialist one. He also appears to have been sympathetic to Christian ideals. I never saw an item that appeared viscerally anti-western, no matter if he dug in Indian tradition for many elements of his original thought.

And the fact that he was convinced that his strategy could persuade the western opressors to leave India, really suggests that he did not have such a low opinion of British. From his texts, I understand that he looked at all primarily as people and all people as mostly the same thing - Indian, British or whatever.

The philosophical tradition that Gandhi chose to adopt was Jinaism. The Jain philosophy completed his idea of non-violence.

Well, Buddhism is also full of nonviolent ideas and is equally Indian. But both these sects, that appeared about the same time, are opposed to the caste system.

The uniqueness of Jinaism is the inward direction of violence.

I was intuitively thinking exactly that same thing. And I understand that self-inflicted violence is also non-Gandhian, at least the way I understand it. So there's some contradiction in this.

A Jain (generally a merchant) dies a violent death at the hands of others and achieves Nirvana.

Martyrdom. It's the same in Christianity and to some extent in Islam (though this sect has some contradictions here, for instance Mohammed rejected that Jesus was martyrized) and probably in other traditions like Buddhism. Whatever the case the martyr becomes an icon, a saint, a moral example.

Therefore, Gandhi’s non-violence is not really a practical weapon against a mighty British empire as some may deride. But rather his most potent weapon as a prisoner of his identity and prejudices.

Hmmm...

I'd say that nonviolence is largely Indian (but surely not Hindu) in nature and, as you say well, you find it in Jainism and also in Buddhism.

But there are similar traditions elsewhere. In fact I can see why this attitude impressed the West because it's something deeply rooted in Christian imagery (Jesus and all the other martyrs). In fact it seems that some early Christians even caused their own deaths by attacking people and putting up with their defensive reaction. The early ideals of people like Teresa of Avila was about going to Muslim lands to become a martyr - probably by causing the ire of the Moors. It's a "sublimation" of ill understood sucidal tendencies. Yes.

This explains the mutual admiration between Gandhi and so many Christians. (Btw, Gandhi was largely inspired by Tolstoi, a Christian Anarchist - who also appealed to nonviolence, to non-submission).

His advice to Jews to submit themselves to Nazi death machine has its roots in Jain belief of Nirvana.

I don't think he ever give such advise. He was not in favor of submission of any kind. This is probably a myth based in the allegations of some violence-prone Marxists and Liberals that if European Jews would have followed Gandhi's doctrine they would have been just muredered on the spot. They argued that Gandi's method of struggle could only succeed in a society where humanist values were held and where there was some freedom of expression already granted.

They may be right but that doesn't mean that Gandhi told Jews to "submit".

But he didn’t create or developed any social theories.

He did develop some stuff like his theory that opression can only persist because of the pasivity of the opressed. Not sure how much is his original though and how much is borrowed. But he did certainly analyzed these concepts.

He called for rebellion against opression, he idetified violence and opression, he acknowledged nevertheless that struggle was more important than nonviolence (the true difference is between those who submit and those who fight), he sketched a theory of power (opression) and how to annihilate it by means of rebellion and he certainly talked in favor of socialism even if with a more human touch than the Soviet system.

It may not be Marx' big tomes but he did certainy theorized and not just took action.

Manjunat said...

Western Civilization is the creation of Satan.
- M K Gandhi

Maju said...

Source? Context?

I doubt Gandhi even believed in such thing as "Satan", which is in itself a "western" (Christian) concept.

You already made claims before regarding Gandhi's political proposals that do not adjust to reality (he did not ask Jews to submit but suggested nonviolent struggle against Nazism, something radically different - even if probably impractical), so please document your claim.

Manjunat said...

Soure?

I have given three book names initially.
1. My Experiments with Truth - M K Gandhi
2. Mohandas - Rajmohan Gandhi
3. Essays by Dr. B R Ambedkar - Ed. Valerian Rodrigues

You can find the Satan comment in ref. 3.

About Jews, anyway, you can find it all over the web.

Context?
Before talking about context let me be clear about few things. First of all, I don't think there exists any "Western" just as there is no "Eastern". But of course they did in Gandhi's quest for identity.

Tolstoy was a European who endorsed Gandhi's "Indian" ideals. Just like few British faddists endorsed his vegetarianism. Therefore, Gandhi's "Western Civilization" is a meat eating, bullying entity. Does that make the context clear to you?

Maju said...

It seems to be a second hand reference. Anyhow Hindus also eat meat, at least some do (and some westerners are veggies).

In a parallel discussion, maybe at my blog, someone pointed to the exact reference re. Jews. One thing is what Gandhi actually said and another some versions or interpretations of that.

He insisted that hs strategy of nonviolence was valid for every scenario (what is surely arguable) but nonviolence is in any case very different from submission, actually totally opposed. Noviolence is active resistence, albeit by means that arise no hatred but sympathies.

Only people who have no idea about nonviolence think it has anything to do with "passive" or "submission". Some would even call Gandhi himself "violent" probably, because their twisted concept of nonviolence is mere passive submission. But that has nothing to do with what Gandhi and others proposed.

Btw, I thought it was Gandhi who admired Tolstoi and not the other way around. Tolstoi is older than Gandhi in any case: he died in 1910, long before Gandhi became prominent.

According to Wikipedia:

A letter Tolstoy wrote in 1908 to an Indian newspaper entitled "Letter to a Hindu" resulted in intense correspondence with Mohandas Gandhi, who was in South Africa at the time and was beginning to become an activist. Reading "The Kingdom of God is Within You" made a strong impression on Gandhi in terms of his public commitment to nonviolent resistance, a debt Gandhi acknowledged in his autobiography, calling Tolstoy "the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced". The correspondence between Tolstoy and Gandhi would only last a year, from October 1909 until Tolstoy's death in November 1910, but led Gandhi to give the name the Tolstoy Colony to his second ashram in South Africa. Besides non-violent resistance, the two men shared a common belief in the merits of vegetarianism, the subject of several of Tolstoy's essays (see Christian vegetarianism).

Manjunat said...

It seems to be a second hand reference

:-) Thank you.

- Gandhi wasn't a physically violent man who became non-violent

- No need to explain Gandhi's non-violence here. I don't know who are addressing it to.

- It is neither Eurocentrism nor 'Gandhi as the limiting case of known institutions' but just a blind man explaining an elephant. And so blind in every sense.

- Majority Hindus eat meat. Gandhi's quest for Indian identity had no practical explanation. It wasn't based upon ground realities in some cases. And I'm sure you don't even understand that.

- Gandhi wasn't a 'born again Christian'. He was only happy to acknowledge Indian ethos as he saw them because of his upbringing(as a person from non-violent merchant caste) which he found philosophical completeness in Jinaism. Do read his friendship with Jain Acharyas(teachers?).

- You say few Westerners are vegetarians. Tolstoy espoused non-violent principle. Give me a break. Gandhi had exposure to all these.

Deconstructing Gandhi isn't complicated process.
- A man felt shame of his identity.
- A man in search of his identity
- A man in search of his identity that isn't part of his enemy's identity
- The problem of Indian identity as it was never expressed during Muslim rule mostly because it never existed
- Adaptation of caste system and Jain non-violent philosophy as the guiding force and true "soul" of Indian society
- Totally clueless and helpless with all the contradictions that it gave birth. One third of the population was Muslim.
- Ignorant about unidimensional identity that he gave to Indians by upholding the caste system. Sometimes even becoming insensitive to Dalits. He called poor/illiterate Dalit converts to Christianity as 'rice converts'.
- As I told before, the Jain philosophy doesn't bother whether the salvation comes from a stronger or a weaker animal. True to this character he even employed his fast protest against Dalit leader Ambedkar who was only looking for dignified political rights for his people. And Ambedkar didn't have any choice during that situation.

Maju said...

- Ignorant about unidimensional identity that he gave to Indians by upholding the caste system. Sometimes even becoming insensitive to Dalits. He called poor/illiterate Dalit converts to Christianity as 'rice converts'.
- As I told before, the Jain philosophy doesn't bother whether the salvation comes from a stronger or a weaker animal. True to this character he even employed his fast protest against Dalit leader Ambedkar who was only looking for dignified political rights for his people. And Ambedkar didn't have any choice during that situation.


This has me intrigued. AFAIK Gandhi was not in favor of castes and caste discrimination (and it seems that Jainism also rejects the caste system). His approach may have been stupid, I don't know, but all I could gather is that he and Ambedkar (a historical character unknown to me before today) argued about what should be done to overcome this discrimination.

Manjunat said...

The Essential Writings of B R Ambdekar