Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gandhi, played by Kingsley

I just watched Kingsley play Gandhi. I wanted to write my impressions of the film, but after perusing the Wiki entry on Gandhi, I would like to copy some portions that stand out:

1. Gandhi always approached an end indirectly. For example, to get women involved in the movement and excise radicals, "Gandhi exhorted Indian men and women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement. This was a strategy to inculcate discipline and dedication to weed out the unwilling and ambitious, and to include women in the movement at a time when many thought that such activities were not respectable activities for women."

2. Gandhi would fast when violence broke out. He seemed to realize humanity's passions had to be redirected into other sources of energy and perhaps there is something in human nature that causes us to become calm when presented with someone willing to be strong and absorb our bad energy. For the first time, I understand the presence of energy in New Age doctrines. One of his best lines, in response to a comment that passive resistance would not work, was that he had never advocated anything passive--he had always encouraged active noncooperation.

3. Still, I see some potential problems with Gandhi's philosophy.

One, had Gandhi been lesser known and not a public figure, his strategies may not have worked. The media needs to be sympathetic to his cause for it to succeed. In this case, if there is no one around to hear a tree fall in the forest, it really makes no sound. So what choices do average, non-famous people have when they are attacked? This is a difficult question, especially because we know that one of the reasons India is now able to move forward and perhaps resume its status as an empire is in no small part to Gandhi's vision. Yet, if the media portrays a subjugated people or a minority as violent, individual peacemakers could become ineffective. Thus, non-cooperation and non-violence seem to require a media that is both fair as well as sympathetic to peaceful non-cooperation, but any attempt to control the media and make it "fair" usually leads to oppressive dictatorships.

Two, Gandhi was presented with good numbers. 150,000 British ruling over millions of Indians. Without scores of people to continue to sacrifice themselves, nonviolence would be too short-lived to impact an oppressor's conscience. So what does a smaller minority do, such as the Jews in Germany during the 1940's or the Muslim Bosnians against Serbia in the 1990's? (Note: another thought-provoking film is No Man's Land (2001), about Bosnians and Serbs.)

Three, the British were clearly behaving improperly, at one point massacring thousands of unarmed protesters. Evil has evolved. Very few modern oppressors would openly behave like Southern governments in 1950's America and allow the media to have a field day. Also, there is no need for high pressure fire-hoses today. A government can simply fire a missile and wipe out an entire group, perhaps thousands of non-cooperating citizens. There would be no face-to-face contact that would engender an awakening of conscience. As Stalin said, "One death is a tragedy; thousands of deaths, a statistic." Today, for example, if 100 Tweedledees decide to close off an area, prevent reporters from entering, shoot missiles and kill 100 protesting Tweedledums in the process, and then clean up the area before allowing re-entry, non-cooperation would result in non-existence. Therefore, it appears that with technology wedging distance amongst peoples--whether by a selective media or by allowing video-game violence--non-cooperation may result in an oppressor being able to eliminate any attempt to shame him. Thus, non-cooperation requires a strong media and a citizenry with enough free time to see what is happening to feel ashamed and to do something. In an increasingly busy world, where people are shielded even from local acts of violence, or work twelve hour days to make mortgage payments, a strong middle class or, counter-intuitively, a majority of poor or persecuted people, seems required for Gandhi's ideas to work.

Spike Lee's portrayal of Mookie and whether he did the right thing in provoking violence ended with two quotes from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. I will end with one of my favorite quotes by Gandhi:

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall — think of it, always."

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