Monday, January 30, 2006



I was just visiting Wikipedia again when I got sidetracked reading about something that happened on January 30th of 1948: the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. It was on the "Selected Anniversaries" section of Wikipedia's homepage. I haven't read much about Gandhi, which irritated me, so I kept reading and found a quote that sounded appealing:

"There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for."

And then I found another that was not so appealing (to Britain about the Nazis):

"I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions.... you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them."

At which point it occured to me that the two quotes are perfectly consistent. How can one seem so right and the other seem so wrong? I suppose it just means I am prepared to kill for some causes, like keeping Nazis from killing my family. Anybody have any deep insights into, or critiques of, Gandhi's tenet of nonviolence?

Non violent Resistance by MLK.

Wikipedia's Non-Violent Action:

Henry David Thoeau's Civil Disobedience

The Essay (in three parts and critiques)

Wikipedia's definition of Civil Disobendience:
I don't think I really "get" Gandhi. Either human life is valuable, and violence should be a last resort (but still an acceptable means to defend one's own life), or human life is not valuable, not worth defending and violence is not a problem at all.

I think Gandhi must believe that violence is wrong because it somehow degrades the one perpetrating the violence. I find it impossible to understand his platform of nonviolence on any other grounds.

However, even if I were to subscribe to that theory, I do not believe that commiting a violent act is more costly than losing one's life (or the life of a family member or friend) in cases of self-defense.

I think a non-agression platform makes much more sense. It has the added benefit of being consistent with belief in self-ownership.
I think I'm going to lay down my weapons and let Gandhi do what he will to my country. No sense fighting him.
It might be that he knows how much he values his own life and is willing to die for a particular cause, but is not willing to put someone else to death for his cause. Since he does not know how they value their causes he is not prepared to sacrifice them (use them as a means) for his cause.

It would be the exact opposite of a military general in combat, who is willing to sacrifice you to achieve his ends.
Wow the way you said that makes him sound like an Austrian economist. No interpersonal comparisons of utility derived from life!
That's actually kinda what I was thinking when I was writing it up (perhaps cause it is in my head?). I dunno...
Nonviolence is stupid. What if some idiot or terrorist tries to kill me? Better he die than me.

If that doesn't do it for you, what if he tries to kill your kid? It'd be irresponsible to have kids but be unwilling to defend them.

This may not sound like a fancy, intellectual critique, but I think it works well enough.
Nonviolence doesn't make sense for anyone except those committed to a particular set of ethics for a defined purpose. What non-violence does is it refuses to make an issue about dignity or human rights into a political power struggle. Issues like these should not, must not, be about who has the political power to achieve their ends. The idea is to appeal to the moral consciousness of the people who ARE in power to help them recognize an injustice. It is a legitimate tool of minority groups in achieving legitimate ends, but it is contingent upon those in power recognizing the injustice and being willing to forfeit their priviledges in order to bring about justice. This requires a common sense of morality, dignity, and rights. Nonviolence is an ineffective means when used to achieve priviledge, favor, or unjust ends. It is likewise ineffective if the consciousness of those in power is seared and moral appeals are unheeded.
Dr. King said it well when quoting Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Nonviolence therefore dignifies both the protester and those whom he is protesting against.
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