This is the 70th year since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948. Shortly before his death Gandhi gave his grandson Arun a list of the acts of violence that people perpetrate on one another. He called them the “Seven Blunders of the World” (a pun on other lists including especially “7 Wonders of the World”). In June 2013, Arun wrote, “This list grew from Gandhi’s search for the roots of violence. He called these acts of passive violence. Preventing these is the best way to prevent oneself or one’s society from reaching a point of violence, he would say.” They have also been called “Seven Social Sins” that if not resisted can destroy both persons and countries.
My question this weekend at the start of the season of college and university commencements during which wise addresses abound is, “Have we learned nothing?”
But first, Gandhi’s list of universal blunders that effect violence on those who espouse them:
1.Wealth without work.
2.Pleasure without conscience.
3.Knowledge without character.
4.Commerce without morality.
5.Science without humanity.
6.Worship without sacrifice.
7.Politics without principles.
Arun added an eighth: Rights without responsibilities.
I submit this list as a possible summer sermon series for colleagues looking for alternatives to another trip down lectionary lane. It is tempting to develop a commentary on how each of those blunders has persisted and metamorphosed in our time. Take “politics without principles” for instance.
Today, I simply want to recommend this list and reflect on it as a whole.
Gandhi was known as a political activist, in which role he is credited with accomplishing the impossible, defying the British Empire and bringing it to an end, starting with the most precious jewel in the Emperor’s crown, India. Moreover, this was done without the kind of violence such defiance usually provokes. Perhaps it was just time for the Empire to end since its usefulness to Great Britain was ended.
But Gandhi was also a philosopher. It was a time in which philosophers were treated as popular figures and accorded attention now reserved for entertainment stars and royalty about to be married. One of the largest crowds in modern France thronged to the funeral of John Paul Sartre. Irascible Bertrand Russell was better known in Great Britain that most movie stars. And revolutionaries were philosophers before their revolutions got out of hand. I’m thinking of Marx, Mao, Ho and Che, but there were others, like Bergson, whose philosophy was poetic and just as effective in transforming the human condition. Philosophers in those days could get heard.
Gandhi was not railing against tyrants who do violence in order to perpetuate their tyranny. His list was reflective. He was warning that attempting those blunders is counter-productive. The first victims are those who blunder. They are temptations that lure the unwary with false hope. They are lies that destroy the liars and prevent the very things they promise to provide. They are “the easy way”.
What’s more they are the modern way, our way, and feel-good natural.
It is shocking also that we who love to pick and choose, do not do that with items on Gandhi’s lift of blunders. We embrace the lot. We do that when we are not paying attention. It’s like our racism and tribalism, it operates when we are not talking about it. When we talk we can be nuanced and erudite. We can make sense. But when we are on to other issues like buying a car, or deciding to vote, or intent on sex, we blunder.
Gandhi’s list includes professional references when he mentions such things as commerce, science, politics and worship. Educators, medical researchers, members of legislatures, pastors, and people on welfare and on hospice-care … all occupations are covered. But everything on the list is also a universal human endeavor. It’s not just pastors who blunder into worship without sacrifice, and may not even primarily be pastors. Nor are most who blunder into politics without principles on the public payroll, so do those who refuse to vote responsibly. We all blunder.
If we have made any progress in the past 70 years it may be toward understanding that these blunders are not merely sources of potential violence. “Passive violence” is violence. It is permissive and dismissive, permitting systems to operate in these blundering ways leading to devastating consequences, and dismissive of complicated objections in behalf of entitlement and exceptionalism.
But I hear voices objecting to those who insist it is their right to be protected from the impact of other people suffering. People with pink pussy caps and rainbow flags are standing up and speaking out. Those voices are a little more audible than they used to be. That might pass for progress. Meanwhile there is bloody violence on every hand, unabated and unrepentant.
Arun was redundant, I think, in adding an eighth blunder to the list. The seven blunders his grandfather listed are explicatives. They are aspects of rights without responsibilities. What’s more, they are a comprehensive list for our post-modern era, as one would expect such a list to be from a wise philosopher who concentrated on universal truth while spinning thread.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.