Monday, February 08, 2010

Nationalism and the natural need to hammer

Mohandas Gandhi thought a great deal about nationalism, since his nation was stolen from him before he was born and subsumed into a foreign colonial empire. He advocated a nationalism that would practice nonviolence in all its relationships, internally and externally.

Ah, but not in our modern era, we presume. Not in a time with F-16s, global strike force, 1,000 military bases on the sovereign soil of other people's lands. This is a Utopian fantasy.

Perhaps. If so, I suspect Mother Nature's evolutionary experiment with extreme cognition--humans--will come to a close sooner rather than later. The human, ecological and opportunity costs are so staggering with this model of conflict management that any future dependent upon it looks like a flaming meteor plunging into oblivion as it burns through the oxygen of reality, of limits, of carrying capacity, of extinction.

Still, as long as there is a chance for change, we are called to consider, to contemplate, to converse, to collaborate, to take collective action. The stakes could not be higher; our children, our scions, our species, depends upon this transformation. If it is theoretically possible, we should figure out how to make the attempt.

In his tract Hind Swaraj, Gandhi called for a home rule--complete sovereignty for India--that would be inclusive of all religions and would reject the divide-and-conquer mentality. He pointed out that, for long stretches of India's history, "Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu....With the English advent quarrels recommenced" (Gandhi, 1938, p. 43).

Gandhi is credited in the literature in the field in which I teach--Conflict Resolution--with inspiring the first strand of it, what is now called Alternative Dispute Resolution. ADR is based upon principled negotiation, the popular version of which is explained in Fisher and Ury's Getting to yes. It is based upon four principles, one of which is basing our analysis of potential solutions to conflict on interest rather than position. Often our interests are compatible if we search hard enough, even though our positions may be polar opposites. Indeed, Gandhi wrote about that presciently.

"The Hindus, the Mahomedans, the Parsis and the Christians who have made India their country are fellow-countrymen, and they will have to live in unity, if only for their own interest" (Gandhi, 1938, p. 43).

Overcoming our narrow positions and selfish prejudices is a huge challenge for us as humans who have generations of foraging and hoarding encoded in our instinctual behaviors. We tend to keep our things and organize personal and collective defense against anyone, enmifying them, casting them out of our place of privilege. Transforming that selfishness into enlightened self-interest will be tough. It will mean overriding the reversion to violence and moving forward to nonviolence. It will mean recycling the tools of death into tools of healing and hope, and that may involve nonviolent force, as envisioned in another spiritual tradition, expressed in the Old Testament, Isaiah 2:4, that we shall beat swords into plowshares.
That is the most progressive, enlightened form of recycling of all, and I believe Gandhi would heartily approve.

Fisher, Roger, & Ury, William (1991). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. (2nd ed.). New York: Penguin Books.

Gandhi, Mohandas K. (1938). Hind swaraj or Indian home rule. Ahmedabad: Navajivan.


Les said...

If I had a hammer ...
Thanks for this fine blog, Tom!

Terri said...

Once people realize that nonviolence is in their best interest, maybe they will begin to selfishly cling to it. May that tipping point be in the near future.