simplicity and otherworldliness

What’s society built on? It’s built on trust. It’s built on bluff. – Stereolab 

In revolution at first there is a general unhappiness around the status quo power in a given state, then a consensus builds up around the idea that the power is undesirable and should be removed, then the offending power is removed whether by violence or by peace, and finally a new political structure is established which of course is in danger of becoming a new intolerable status quo.

Historians and quants journal the entire process and measure the delta improvement from before the event to after. What’s exhausting is the cycle of history, how one insufferable social state can be revolutionized and replaced by an equally intolerable state. To break the cycle, a smart revolutionary carefully plans to remove the abuses of the old status quo and implant measures to guarantee better affairs in the new.

Gandhi was one such revolutionary. He saw and understood the abuses of the British Raj and realized India could throw them out of the country but end up keeping their rotten ideas. It was both the pervasive presence of the Raj and the insidious nature of their governing philosophy that kept the Indian subcontinent in its state of subservience and lockdown.

The prevailing philosophy of the British occupiers was of course Western – a mix of liberalism, imperialism, economic growth, Marxism, nihilism, industrial capitalism, the dominance of power, profit and capital. The genius of the occupiers was to convince Indians that this modern, western, instrumental philosophy benefited them. Gandhi realized that to be successful he would have to fight off the Western philosophy and the nativist Hindu nationalism which had adopted most of the precepts of the western ideas.

And so the question was asked: what do we build society on that is uniquely Indian? In his Hind Swaraj, Indian Home Rule he prescribed this vision based on the Indian virtues of simplicity, patience, frugality, and otherworldliness. He rightly saw that science and industrial capitalism had overturned spiritual authority and that this had to be corrected. The British quit India 73 years ago.

So was there success in Gandhi’s revolution? Modern India is the world’s largest democracy, it was founded on principles of secularism, and for many years after independence had a protectionist economy and during the cold war often chose to trade with the USSR instead of the West. Up until recently Indians have effectively kept modern multinational corporations out of their communities. Although not explicitly Indian principles, they show a tendency to resist western political culture as defined by the Hind Swaraj.

However, more recently the forces of nationalism and global neoliberal capital have ravaged the world including the Indian subcontinent. But the Hind Swaraj’s indictment of Western civilization was written to return Indians to the root of their identity and a root is deeper than a storm.

From The Inner Voice:

The terms of Gandhi’s critique, however, were remarkably original. He set out his views in “Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule,” a book written feverishly, in nine days, in November, 1909. Gandhi opposed those of his revolutionary Indian peers who—inspired by Marx, Herbert Spencer, Russian nihilists, and nationalists in Italy and Ireland—saw salvation in large-scale emulation of the West. Many of these were Hindu nationalists, intellectual ancestors of Gandhi’s assassin, determined to unite India around a monolithic Hinduism. Gandhi saw that these nationalists would merely replace one set of deluded rulers in India with another: “English rule,” as he termed it, “without the Englishman.”

Gandhi’s indictment of modern civilization went further. According to him, the industrial revolution, by turning human labor into a source of power, profit, and capital, had made economic prosperity the central goal of politics, enthroning machinery over men and relegating religion and ethics to irrelevance. As Gandhi saw it, Western political philosophy obediently validated the world of industrial capitalism. If liberalism vindicated the preoccupation with economic growth at home, liberal imperialism abroad made British rule over India appear beneficial for Indians—a view many Indians themselves subscribed to. Europeans who saw civilization as their unique possession denigrated the traditional virtues of Indians—simplicity, patience, frugality, otherworldliness—as backwardness.

The Inner Voice, Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker