Thursday, May 07, 2009

Derrick Jensen on Gandhi and pacifism

In my post below on Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, I referred the reader interested in a fairly thorough denunciation of Gandhi's pacifism to volume two ("Resistance") of Derrick Jensen's Endgame. It turns out that much of this material is available online. You can read several excerpts from both volumes of Endgame here, with his writing on pacifism here, here, and here. One sample, towards the end of the third available excerpt:
This leads to the next line by Gandhi often tossed around by pacifists: “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.”

You know how there are some people whose work you’re supposed to respect because everyone else seems to? And you know how at least with some of these people your respect fades over time, slowly, with each new piece of information that you gain? And you know how sometimes you feel you must be crazy, or a bad person, or you must be missing something, because everyone keeps telling you how great this person is, and you just don’t get it? And you know how you keep fighting to maintain your respect for this person, but the information keeps coming in, until at long last you just can’t do it anymore? That’s how it was with me and Gandhi. I lost a lot of respect when I learned some of the comments I’ve mentioned here. I lost more when I learned that because he opposed Western medicine, he didn’t want his wife to take penicillin, even at risk to her life, because it would be administered with a hypodermic needle; yet this opposition did not extend to himself: he took quinine and was even operated on for appendicitis. I lost yet more when I learned that he was so judgmental of his sons that he disowned his son Harilal (who later became an alcoholic) because he disapproved of the woman Harilal chose to marry. When his other son, Manilal, loaned money to Harilal, Gandhi disowned him, too. When Manilal had an affair with a married woman, Gandhi went public and pushed for the woman to have her head shaved. I lost more respect when I learned of Gandhi’s body hatred (but with his fixation on purity, hatred of human (read animal) emotions, and death wish this shouldn’t have surprised me), and even more that he refused to have sex with his wife for the last thirty-eight years of their marriage (in fact he felt that people should have sex only three or four times in their lives). I lost even more when I found out how upset he was when he had a nocturnal emission. I lost even more when I found out that in order to test his commitment to celibacy, he had beautiful young women lie next to him naked through the night: evidently his wife—whom he described as looking like a “meek cow”— was no longer desirable enough be a solid test. All these destroyed more respect for Gandhi (although I do recognize it’s possible for someone to be a shitheel and still say good things, just as it’s possible for nice people to give really awful advice). But the final push was provided by this comment attributed to him: “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.” This is as dismissive as his treatment of his wife and sons. It’s as objectifying as his treatment of the young women he used as tests. It’s as false as his advice to Jews, Czechs, and Britons. The last 6,000 years have seen a juggernaut of destruction roll across the planet. Thousands of cultures have been eradicated. Species are disappearing by the hour. I do not know what planet he is describing, nor what history. Not ours. This statement—one of those rallying cries thrown out consistently by pacifists—is wrong. It is dismissive. It is literally and by definition insane, by which I mean not in touch with the real physical world.


Stephen said...

i think finding out that gandhi had faults and was, shocker, a human being, puts him in the proper context but does nothing to diminish the power and inspiration of his example. dismissing great men because we can dig around and find something wrong with them is a popular pasttime among cynics and mediocre minds, but it's a waste of time.

Richard said...

I agree with the general principle you're describing, Stephen. But that's not what Jensen is doing here. Feel free to read more of the excerpts of his books, or possibly even the books themselves.

Satish Rao said...

I think Greatness is just one part of our personality, There are other not so great components to it. The person who is considered great generally is someone whose greatness component overshadowed his weakness.
He might have been unfair to his son, but he gave so much to his fellow country men and women, through his (what we consider as) great qualities and that is what we should respect.
We respect great people, because we learn from them. Learn what we think is good and discard the rest. Remember he is a Mahatma (meaning great soul in Sanskrit), not a Paramatma (Ultimate soul, term used to describe God in Sanskrit and Indian languages).
If it sounds like preaching please forgive me, it is not. It is just my opinion.

Harmanjit Singh said...