Tuesday, May 11, 2010

PsychoSatyagraha: Teaching nonviolence

How were we thinking about nonviolence back in the day? Gandhi was a saint, right, and that's why he succeeded. End of story. It's all philosophy and religion and Gandhi was known as the Mahatma, the Great Soul, which motivated thousands to join him and--poof--the British left, enlightened.

Ah...not quite.

Richard Gregg (pictured) was inspired to visit and learn from Gandhi in India in the 1920s. He was a social philosopher who really began to translate Gandhian nonviolence into practical, explicable social organizing and conflict management models. He thought about the psychological aspects, calling what Gandhi did 'psychological jiu-jitsu', that is, using the power of the oppressor against himself, allowing the hatred and violence to expend themselves with far less harm than if those tactics (the oppressor's strength) would have been countered with similar but asymmetrically weaker hatred and violence. Gregg really influenced the western analysis of why Gandhian nonviolence might work.

Gregg's 1934 germinal work, The Power of Nonviolence, is still a classic, and the second edition, in 1960, included a foreword by the young Martin Luther King, Jr. Gregg also integrated the swadeshi philosophy in his own life, moving to a farm with Helen and Scott Nearing (pictured), who were quite influential in the nascent self-reliance movement in the US. Gregg coined the term voluntary simplicity and staked out an early claim toward our slowly developing notions connecting war to resource conflict to consumerism to ecological care to urban dependency to injustice. We are still learning this basic system of interlocking causes and effects.

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