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Archive for February, 2010

Dostoyevsky & Gandhi

Gandhi’s peace social action movement, known as satyagraha, is one of those obscure terms that has been fascinating for me to try to analyze (Being the ignorant person that I am, I’ll admit to not knowing much about Gandhi before this comparative religious ethics course).  The philosophy behind it is of holding tight to truth, and in the instances of protests, Gandhi believed it was necessary to do it non-violently (ahimsa) in the quest for the relative truths within particular situations.  Though I’m intrigued at some of the ways satyagraha has been carried out, I’m not particularly convinced about the non-violence of his actions.   In my mind, all coercion is inherently violent in nature.   It is force to make people do what they would not otherwise do (note that I believe a lot of social contracts are coercive, so I’m not making the claim that coercion is always bad).  That is not to say that satyagraha only employed coercion, or that all persuasion is coercion, or that all coercion is equally violent.  But it is true that one of the great critiques of Gandhi is that his tactics are hurtful or wounding to people (even if not in the physical sense), and this is something that he constantly had to address.  He had to eventually say that some forms of harm are more harmful than others.  This is true, and yet it throws questions about the nature of ahimsa and to what extent some sorts of violence is okay.   It annoys me a bit because Gandhi was not a systematic thinker, and as someone who tends to be a systematic thinker, it is a bit problematic for me.  In Gandhi’s defense, though, he was more interested in the practical results (and he had many good results) than in theory.

To qualify the things I’ve said, I should point out that I’m not myself a pacifist, so I don’t feel obligated to follow the extreme sort of non-violence that is endorsed by Gandhi.  I do believe that the ideas of non-violence is transferable to different cultures outside of India in order to achieve social action, but it definitely has to be modified to our times.  One of the things that my discussion group talked about was that satyagraha would have a very hard time being effective in our desensitized world.  We’ve seen everything that nothing really touches us.  Part of what made him so effective was not only his dedication to non-violence, but also because of the time was ripe for it to happen.  What I do admire most about it is the elevation and emphasis on pitting our ethics against those of others to convince the other side of the rightness of our position.  It requires respect.  It means you cannot malign the “opponents.”  It means that not all tactics are valid even if they are available.  It is a recognition of the other’s worth and humanity (which, funny enough, were concepts imported idea from Europe).  I also find the fact that Gandhi was influenced by the Sermon on the Mount to be pretty cool.  😛

Anyway, I’ve been reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov.  So far, I’m really liking it.   It has a lot of biblical references.  Here are some of the quotes that I found to be funny, regarding one of the characters called Alyosha.

“Alyosha was a realist. No doubt, he fully believed in miracles, but it is not miracles that dispose realists to belief. The genuine realist, if an unbeliever, will always find the ability to disbelieve in the miraculous. If confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him. Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle, but the miracle from faith. If the realist once believes, then he is bound by his very realism to admit the miraculous also.”

“He [Alyosha] was convinced of the existence of God and immortality. “I want to live for immortality and I will accept no compromise.” If he had decided that God and immortality did not exist, he would have become an atheist and a socialist. For socialism is not merely the labor question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism today, the question a tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth.”

The last quote is hilarious!  The narrative goes back later to speak about some abberant people who are Christians AND socialists.  Shocking!  lol.

Anyway, enough writing for now.  It’s wet and rainy and has been so for a couple of days now, and I’m hoping that it’ll be better tomorrow.  Here’s to hoping!

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