PEACE AND SELF

 

We believe in the philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” The phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Sanskrit: वसुधैव कुटुमबकम्) consists of several words: "vasudhā", the earth; "ēva" = indeed; and "kutumbakam", family. “The world is one family”

  

Violence, Peace, Self and Other: A Philosophical Perspective

 

Abstract 

 

So far peace has been conceived and discussed in the context of war in Western thought. But peace can be both a state of mind, as well as a state of society, so that every kind of violence, from world war to terrorism, inter-community strife, as well as every day conflicts between neighbours and even within a family, is opposed to peace and harmony. The biggest source of violence is man's ego, the sense of selfhood pitted against all other selves. One's self or ego depends upon its level of identification, first with one's family, and later on with one's community, howsoever that community may be defined. The remedy lies in perceiving and emphasizing our commonalities, affinity to each other, as well as our inter dependence.

 

 

I Violence as the Negation of Peace

 

Somehow war and peace are paired in our thinking as night and day. So, whenever we talk of peace, it is invariably in the context of international violence. Often, peace efforts are defended in the context of nuclear war, or nuclear weapons, as if any violence other than one at a global stage is not important. However, the scale of violence alone cannot be the criterion, though it may still be important, for judging the desirability or otherwise of violence or peace. Of course, wars fought on a big scale not only cause death and suffering to millions but also result in the destruction of normal life for a long time after that. Cruelty perpetrated during wars dehumanizes the warring parties. But we need not confine our understanding of violence to large scale wars.

 

Violence of every kind is the greatest challenge to peace. Simply said, violence is the counterpoise of peace. Violence can be of different forms, intensity and extension. It can be the violence perpetrated in wars, involving maximum deaths and destruction, as also inhuman cruelty. It can be violence expressed in acts of terrorism, which again can be different in their motivation, extension, and the cruelty involved. 

 

 

I. 2. Violence and the Perception of the "Other" as an Alien

 

In order to understand peace and try to realize it, we must first understand the nature and causes of violence. Peace, though a very positive state of mind and society, would naturally ensue when causes of conflict and violence are eliminated. The biggest challenge to peace comes from the human tendency of looking at others with suspicion and hatred. Or rather, the final source and basis of violence in society or in the world is the human ego, the sense of one's own self as the most important thing in the world, pitted against all others. Existentialist thinkers, such as Martin Heidegger, stress first that the self defines itself only in relation to other selves, and being related to other selves is an essential aspect, or even constitutive of the self, and second, they also contend that the one can never have real contact with the other selves. J.P. Sartre emphasized the essential solitariness of the individual, and that the other selves are a challenge for the very being of my self. We need not agree with their version of the nature of self and its necessary conflict with others. But it is a matter of every day experience that most people act in a way that would further the interests of their own selves.

 

Philosophers have admitted that there is nothing irrational in acting according to considerations of expedient self-interest. But this natural tendency of human beings is different from the often aggressive assertion of self which rejects interests of all others as irrelevant. We may not be conscious of this, but most of us do feel and act in that way.

 

The boundaries of the self are extended from the beginning to include family members, or those whom we love or care for. Most of the time, this sense of selfhood is further extended to include either one's friends or those who share one's thoughts and ideology. Finally, one often identifies oneself with one's community, though the conception of community being so varied that the emotional attachment with it may be more or less, which would determine whether it may be included in the understanding of the self of itself.

 

Generally, if we talk of violence, we talk of either violence in wars, or in the contemporary world, violence of terrorism. But the violence that is perpetrated against other groups of the same society, in the form of rioting, killing, burning alive of one's neighbours, is far more cruel, as the perpetrators of violence enjoy the intense suffering of their victims. This kind of violence must turn its perpetrators into inhuman satanic beings. When they later mingle in society, they must inspire and infuse their brutality in others, thus transforming the largely peaceful people into aggressive hateful and violent lot. This results in the general increase of violence in the whole society. There cannot be a worst source of permanent destruction of peace and harmony in society.

 

Whether it is a group which perceives other groups, identified on the basis of either religion, or caste, or region, as a challenge to their secular growth, or it is a nation which regards the development or different culture of other nations as a challenge to its culture and power, leading to hostility and violence among groups and nations, its basis is always the perception of the other group or nation as the "other," an alien with whom no meaningful dialogue is possible, only way being that of strife and war.

 

Now-a-days we are confronted by a new kind of violence — violence against women. Cruelty and inhumanity involved in the rape and subsequent murder of women and small girls, often 4 to 6 years old, is so inhuman and demonic that our souls shudder even to think of that. What is the source of such Satanic violence? Possibly, the perpetrators of such crimes do not see their victims as some one like themselves; or it is some fiendish desire for power over their victims. However, the disproportion and inhuman cruelty of this new kind of violence is impossible to understand.

 

 

II The Nature and Sources of Peace

 

There are two main ways to counter violence and ensure peace. As violence is the greatest obstruction to peace, in Indian thought the most fundamental value is ahimsa or non-violence. Non-violence is conceived as a comprehensive virtue; it includes not hurting others by bodily action, speech and even thought (as hatred, envy etc.). The values of ahimsa and peace (shanti) lie in an attitude of total goodwill towards others, whether friend or enemy. The idea of ahimsa can become the basis of a philosophy of universal compassion. 

 

The creed of non-violence is inspired by a conscious or subconscious recognition of similarity and affinity between human beings. This is the second requirement of peace — that of recognizing similarities between different groups and nations for the simple reason that the people belonging to different cultures are all human beings. And human beings live, die and suffer, as well as enjoy the things of life in very similar ways.

 

The fundamental need for peace both at micro and macro levels is this recognition of basic similarity between self and other. Politicians and even common men are ever ready to cry out war against some perceived enemy. But sitting secure and comfortable in their offices and homes, they have no idea how much suffering the soldiers fighting the politicians' war have to undergo. And of course they refuse to understand that the soldiers and people of the "enemy" country suffer as much as ours do. There is no difference between a wounded soldier lying unaided somewhere, whether he belongs to this country or another. His suffering, and the suffering of his dear ones if he does not return are exactly the same as the sufferings on our side. 

 

All this violence and war is caused by the failure of the perpetrators of violence to recognize that after all the victims of their violence are human beings similar to them, both in their suffering and their simple desires for life. This affinity between human beings and the absolute equality between them is the foundation of the Golden Rule, especially in its negative form: "Do not do to others what you would not like to be done to you by others." Henry Sidgwick has famously declared: "It cannot be right for A to treat B in a manner in which it would be wrong for B to treat A.." The basic idea is that the powerful and clever people and nations cannot be accepted as riding over the interests of others simply because they think themselves as supreme, whose interests override the interests of all others.

 

We can derive the maxim of toleration from the Golden Rule, toleration in every field of life — from religious to social, cultural, and international relations. Mahatma Gandhi gave the twin messages of universal toleration and ahimsa. Intolerance of others' ways breeds violence. Therefore, the remedy of violence is toleration and ahimsa. And ahimsa “requires a large heart, otherwise called charity. Let us do unto others as we would that they should do unto us." Gandhi cautioned that "Toleration is not a coinciding of views. There should be toleration of one another's views, though they may be poles apart..." 

 

By Saral Jhingran; Source: 'Gandhi Marg', Volume 38, Number 3 & 4, Combined issue Oct.-Dec. 2016 & Jan.-March 2017.