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Moment of Truth: October 8 2016


Why Not Kill Gandhi Every Day?

One symptom of my depression is that I will find any excuse to give up. This stems from a general background belief that life is not worth living, yet if it must be lived, then it had better justify the effort and not pull dirty tricks like ruining my marriage or breaking the antenna off of my car or hiding my wallet, tricking me into thinking I've left it on the sand at the beach.

Depression is funny because the rational thoughts initiating throes of it are taken to such irrational extremes. The simple notion, Maybe such and such isn't worth the effort, extends instantly to all things, from washing my hands to keeping the myriad pieces of the cosmos in motion. Which, if you didn't know, sometimes requires great effort on my part.

So idealistic people puzzle me. I don't know if they have unquenchable faith or resilient hope or just some lifelong autopilot setting that keeps them going. Being a hopeless sort, but not so hopeless I'm ready to throw in the towel altogether, at least not all the time, I cling to stories of these people and watch them through their struggles waiting to see exactly how the perverse universe or at least hateful humanity will thwart and ultimately crush them.

I've been reading about one of the greatest disasters in history, the Independence and Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The events surrounding it provide delicious fodder for anyone who suspects fate is manipulated by a demon. It's far too complicated a mess to even scratch the surface here in a Moment of Truth, but some of it bears sketching out in relation to the existential question of whether anything is worth the effort. The existential question of hope.

Dickie Mountbatten, one of Queen Victoria's grandsons and a kind of Teflon goldenboy screwup in the British military, was appointed Viceroy of India in February of 1947. It would be his job to negotiate and organize the transition of India from the Jewel in the British colonial crown to a sovereign independent nation.

Pakistan at that point was only a theory, albeit supported with a great deal of evidence, such as the existence of millions of Muslims. India was a fact, as much as a nation can be without actually being run by its own people.

When Mountbatten got to Delhi, there were many characters he had to cajole and appease, but I'm going to compress them into three: Nehru, leader of the Congress Party, who would be India's first Prime Minister; Jinnah, elder statesman of the political organization representing India's Muslims, the Muslim League; and Gandhi, elder statesman of the Congress Party, but replaced in practical terms by Nehru. Nehru had been a great devotee of Gandhi but had developed many policy differences with his erstwhile mentor. Jinnah, the rational, British-educated Muslim, Nehru, the rational pragmatist, and Gandhi, the spiritual and moral symbol of India's dreams of self-determination.

Dickie finds there are three positions on the table proffered by the three players: Jinnah wants the northern provinces of India to be allowed to secede and become a Muslim majority nation, which for the most part it already was, called Pakistan. This position we'll call Partition. Nehru wants a unified India, but if he can't have it peacefully without placating Jinnah, then he'll eventually give in to Partition. This position we'll call the lesser of two evils, the other evil being no Independence at all. In fact, though, that second evil wasn't even remotely possible. Britain was deep in debt after WWII. Thanks, Hitler! They just couldn't afford to administrate a colony of hundreds of millions of people anymore. In fact, every day Independence was delayed was racking up more bills for the Crown. It's not clear how aware Nehru was of the severity of British brokeness.

Gandhi's position we could call the idealistic one, or the crazy one, or the brilliant one. For now let's just call it Gandhi's position. Gandhi said, please, let's keep India one country, one multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, and let Jinnah be its first Prime Minister. The first Prime Minister of a newly minted majority Hindu nation, a Muslim! That would certainly reassure India's Muslims that their interests weren't going to be ignored, and that India would truly honor its mission as a secular socialist union.

Had Gandhi's position won out it might have saved millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims from violent deaths at each other's hands. But of course Gandhi's always wandering around in that weird-ass diaper, with his spinning wheel, sleeping with young girls, spending one day a week not speaking a word, lying on mud floors with dung poultices on his belly for some mysterious digestive purpose – he was hardly a model of the sober modern political thinker of the 1940s, of whatever nationality. And all that non-violence crap, as effective as it might have been at one time, was based on a mystical belief about truth having a magic power of some kind. Whatever, no one took Gandhi's position seriously.

I'm not saying it's a sure thing that the mass murders around Independence would have been avoided. I'm just saying it seems to me that the best tactic for keeping India peaceful was dismissed without even the courtesy of a disrespectful mocking.

Why Gandhi didn't try threatening to fast unto death to get his position considered and accepted I'm not sure. Near the end of his life he threatened fasting unto death, and during that fast, which almost killed him, he kept peace on the streets of Delhi and exacted a few other moral and practical demands from his Congress Party, the party that had relegated him to the status of entertaining, freakish moral mascot. Gandhi in fact had gone to several areas where inter-religious riots had killed whole neighborhoods of Muslims or Hindus, and kept peace there just by sitting and praying. Calcutta was one such place where the psychosis of hateful slaughter was kept at bay for almost a month by a tiny bald man spinning cotton for cloth to make dhotis like the one he wore. The actions taken by other players in the drama prevented hardly any violence at all. Gandhi kept entire teeming cities from drowning in blood and burning themselves to the ground. In real life.

After he recovered from his fast in Delhi, Gandhi held public prayer audiences. It was during one of these that he was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic for appeasing Muslims and standing in the way of Hindu power.

Of course. Of course. The power of moronic hatred is unremarkable because of its ubiquity. Governments make policy in order to accommodate moronic hatred. It's part of business as usual. The power of idealism is considered a myth, and when it does achieve something big enough to get noticed, its miraculousness is all but impossible to fathom, and nearly inassimilable into the historic narrative. Think about how the Hillary supporters sneered about Bernie "waving a magic wand" to get universal health care. I can't imagine they would have understood Gandhi's position at all. I mean, realism is what we want. Because we live in reality. And that's good enough for anyone with any common sense.

I happen to be very impressionable. I'm still a child in many ways. I listen to people around me. I buckle under peer pressure. If the majority of people say the most humans can hope for from ourselves is what we've already demonstrated we're capable of, that the poor we will always have with us, that people are basically fearful and selfish, or at least fear and selfishness are more powerful than whatever redemptive errata the shopworn broken record of human behavior can crackle out, well, if that's what most people are saying, hey, I'm no better than most people. Why should I believe any different?

I want to dream big. But is it worth the effort?

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day.


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