Learning Now from Gandhi

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 Jul 2020

Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service

12 Jul 2020 – I wrote the text below before being aware of the drastic challenges posed for the human species in 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, Trump & Trumpism. These challenges are posed in their most extreme forms in the United States, not only the first global state, but also the first failed global state, exporting its failures far beyond normal borders of time and space.

It is with these circumstances in mind that I am posting my foreword to Suman Khanna Aggarwal’s The Science of Peace, a faithful and highly accessible presentation of Gandhi’s essential thought and practice as applicable to the rather overwhelming set of circumstances that amount to gathering storm clouds. Such a darkened sky hovering over the present is intended to call to our attention the severe threats to the human and ecological futures all beings on earth confront, whether or not they are aware of these unprecedented dangers.

In such circumstances, many seek shelter in the most dangerous places out of feelings of loneliness, desperation, and alienation, which is terrain of consciousness on which Trump and Trumpism builds its political architecture of evil, most visibly in the United States, but worldwide taking hold of societies through insidious structures of capitalism, militarism, pacification, and chauvinistic forms of statism.

What we learn from Gandhi is the piety of radical action as resulting from the dormant power of the powerless once a sufficient collective will dedicated to resistance and transformation is realized and acted upon. Contact with Gandhi’s approach encourages the conversations and reflections we urgently need if we are to rediscover hope in an era of hopelessness.

Ms. Aggarwal is a devoted Gandhi scholar and Gandhi activist known worldwide. The Science of Peace is available through Amazon as a Kindle book for $5.95. You will not regret reading and reflecting on it relevance.

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 Learning Now from Gandhi   

Richard Falk’s Foreword to The Science of Peace by Suman Khanna Aggarwal

In a brilliantly lucid and compelling manner Suman Aggarwal instructs us, and the world, about Gandhi’s highly originally and historically tested approach to peace. What makes this approach so timely for our conflict-ridden world is that Gandhi’s ideas are not sentimental or based on wishful thinking, but derived from scientifically validated experience of practicing nonviolent conflict resolution coupled with an unconditional commitment to truth and perseverance. Aggarwal’s book takes its readers stage by stage through Gandhi’s revolutionary impact on how we should feel, think, believe, and act if we sincerely seek peace privately and publicly. We are guided on a path that starts with the understanding of conflict, moves on toward why the path of nonviolence accompanied with a grounding in truth is more effective and beneficial than the prevailing military approaches, illustrates this demanding way of nonviolence by a short discourse on Gandhi’s tactical genius in devising nonviolent practice, and concludes with a gripping explanation of why nonviolence is a source of power that is consistent with the truths of science. After reading and reflection such a book we can hardly help being both enlightened and inspired for we are enabled to view the torments of the world with bright and hopeful eyes.

We live at a time when the political leaders of the world exhibit and accentuate its worst ills rather than meet the profound challenge of the first bio-ethical crisis of the human species. In times past societies, even civilizations, were frequently at risk of collapse, but never the species and the viability of its planetary habitat. As Gandhi immediately understood, the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities were nothing qualitatively new, but rather a culminating exposure of the logic of violence carried to its outer extreme, indicting with unmistakable clarity the deadly effect of relying on incoherent and deadly war-making and militarism as the foundation of security for individuals and groups. We know that a nuclear war could doom the human experience by producing a nuclear winter that might last at least a decade, destroying the agricultural foundations of collective and healthy life on the planet. We now also know that the life styles of modernity continues to emit unsustainable amounts of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Such irresponsible behavior causes global warming that threatens to make the earth contaminated and uninhabitable forever.

We also know what to do to meet such momentous challenges, and yet we do not act with sufficient ambition. At most, we invest faith in the vain hope that prudent leadership will save the world from nuclear catastrophe and that technology will rescue the planet from global warming before it is too late. Despite being a species aware of this severe crisis, we mostly look away, entrusting the future to those who are aggravating these problems by their militarism and economic greed. We turn to leaders that look upon desperate strangers seeking asylum as ‘invaders,’ that embrace ultra-nationalism, express contempt for real democratic governance and participation, and nurture escapism and even denialism to pacify and divert mass discontent when it comes to acknowledging these unprecedented threats to human wellbeing and survival. Prevailing ideologies of nationalism, capitalism, and political realism are all perversely premised on the fragmentation of humanity into a multitude of distinct identities related to state, nationality, religion, race, gender, income, and others.  This stress on difference precludes experiencing and acting upon the essential similarities that alone could produce a spirit of unity that is an underlying precondition for fulfilling the spiritual potential of humanity as well as meeting the practical challenges that hang like storm clouds over our prospects of a benign future.

Such a background suggests that we humans as a species are not only floundering but drifting toward catastrophic scenarios of extinction. What seems clear to those with eyes to read and ears to hear is that the way the planet is organized by reliance on a statist system of world order is violence prone, nationalistically driven, and ecologically unsustainable. My own country, the United States, has led the way in accentuating political fragmentation, indulging a chauvinistic form of nationalist narcissism, electing as its current president a man who feasts on divisiveness, employing a coercive diplomacy based on threats and weaponry, and constructing a social order on its home territory that features plutocratic control of wealth and resources. Such a social setting is insensitive to the gross socio-economic inequalities being experienced by the citizenry and totally disregards the menace of rapidly declining biodiversity and the rising multiple dangers of climate change and nuclearism.

If this understanding of the present human outlook is even partially correct it suggests that we are neglecting the available tools that could do a far better job of arranging how we live together on planet earth. Ideologies and cultural outlooks now even mildly responsive to the spirit and realities of the age we live in have been virtually abandoned almost everywhere. In the darkness of such night every so often a book comes along that sheds light, being deeply responsive to these unmet challenges of our life circumstances. Suman Khanna Aggarwal’s The Science of Peace is just such a book. With lucidity, insight, erudition, visual diagrams, and expert commentary it explores the thought and practice of Mahatma Gandhi, explicating his central ideas and making us better understand his daring practices of extraordinary life-threatening fasts and of mobilizing historic massive displays of nonviolent opposition by the Indian population to the mighty British Empire. Gandhi’s radicalism creatively blended truth-seeking, nonviolence, and love, offering a cure for the yet improperly diagnosed maladies that currently afflict humanity.

Ms. Aggarwal highlights in an original and illuminating manner the importance of Gandhi’s fundamental belief that his approach to politics and life was a matter of ‘science’ and not a question of feelings and sentiments untestable by realities. In this regard, Gandhi believed himself to have discovered via nonviolence and love sources of power that were themselves expressive of natural laws as ingrained in reality as the laws of gravity. To so present Gandhi is to remind readers that his approach to knowledge was not so much a matter of morality or personal preference or pragmatic problem-solving or even religious conviction. Gandhi was acting on the basis of empirically discoverable truth, incorporating his unshakable belief that failure to so act would end in disaster whatever the undertaking, whether intensely personal or highly political. By way of contrast, patiently adhering to truth would inevitably summon the power of love, which for Gandhi would be eventually vindicated in all human affairs. After reading Aggarwal’s stimulating insistence on the scientific nature of Gandhi’s radicalism, signaled by her title, a better understanding of this great historical figure emerges.

There are two distinct ways of thinking about the relevance of Gandhi’s science.  The first way, which is quietly advocated in this book, is to suggest that what Gandhi proposes is the only way forward for humanity, and that this has always been the case, but now has become more manifestly so. In effect, we cannot hope to break the death grip of war and hateful patterns of social interaction without a nonviolent surge by the peoples of the world based on their unconditional recognition that an inclusive love is all-powerful in situations of conflict. The second way, which is closer to my own outlook, is to find in Gandhi’s life and thought a coherent and ethically sublime radicalism of a magnitude that corresponds to the momentous scope of present humanistic and ecological challenges. This book demonstrates convincingly that humanity will not survive without a radical turn toward inclusiveness in all aspects, including our relations with animals and nature broadly considered, but whether Gandhi’s particular brand of radicalism fits the historical situation seems to me more questionable, or at least in need of creating connections between his specific struggles and the present perilous global situation.

Of course, embedded in the undeniably heroic life and exploits of Gandhi’s form of radicalism are some haunting questions. Gandhi, as did one of his most admired precursors, Jesus, died violently, and their legacies were distorted and exploited even as they were honored. Of course, also we know as Aggarwal makes evident, that Gandhi’s life ended not in a celebratory mood resulting from ending colonial rule, but in despair about the breakup of India and the communal rioting that pitted Hindu against Muslim. We need, I believe, to ask ourselves whether Gandhi’s demanding regimen was too difficult given the character of the overwhelming majority of people that are at most capable of what Gandhi dismissed as ‘the nonviolence of the weak,’ that is, as a means to achieve an end without being necessarily  committed to a nonviolent path as both means and end. Is not Gandhi expecting too much? And would not the world benefit from a transnational movement of people dedicated to peace and ecological sustainability even if it didn’t claim scientific validation and insist upon nonviolence as the end, as well as the means sought by struggle? I do not claim to have answers to such questions, but their relevance to what is proposed in the pages of this book should encourage readers to engage in active dialogue with the author.

In the end, we should all be deeply grateful to Ms. Aggarwal for making us aware of Gandhi’s incredible body of thought that speaks so directly to our time. She makes a strong argument for endorsing Gandhi’s vision of peace, including its unconditional character, and an indirect argument for any type of radical thinking and action capable of achieving comparably unattainable goals to that of achieving India’s political independence, which involve caring for the safety and health of the human species when it faces unprecedented threats to its wellbeing, and even survival. If we care about the future of humanity we owe it to ourselves to read and ponder this fine book.

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Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019).

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