Friday, June 27, 2008

Grassroots, local activism

I have been neglecting this blog to some degree, but there is much I would like to put into it. During the past few weeks, I have participated in several local Olympia public hearings. Each has a significant concern from many points of view. Puget Sound Energy is up for sale and the top bid is from an Australian and Canadian bidder. The oversight council had a hearing at which I testified against the sale to a distant mega company using retirement funds (and a loan) to purchase the utility. My view is that a far distant company will make it even more difficult for consumers to have their needs addressed and to take effective responsibility for their environment. This potential purchase is an example of "privatization." Private entities are purchasing public assets to make profits. Toll roads and bridges, water, utilities, etc are shifting to corporate ownership, unless we organize to stop them.
Another issue at which I testified to the Port of Olympia Commissioners meeting is the construction of the Children's Hands On Museum over a toxic chemical site which the Port sold to the City. "Oh, the Department of Energy will clean it up or cap it." Easier said than done. There is leaching into Puget Sound which was originally filled in to create the site. There is also deterioration of the cap which takes place in time. How much risk can we put the children to? The public knows little about toxic chemicals and how they are communicated to the people and living creatures through the environment. The toxic effects are multiple: cancers, birth defects, many illnesses.
These are just two of the issues I have addressed.
My time is also going into the final stage for printing my book: THE AMERICAN GANDHI, My Seeking Truth With Humanity at the Crossroads. The book should be out around the end of July, early August.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Gandhi insights

The followint is a BOOK REVIEW which I wrote for the Spring issue of Fellowship Magazine.

Gandhi, A Political and Spiritual Life
Kathryn Tidrick
I.B. Tauris, 2006

By Bernie Meyer

For the authentic Gandhi, Gandhi, A Political and Spiritual Life is an important book. Kathryn Tedrick has delved into the religious and cultural sources, which motivated his creative life and his quest not only for himself, but for all humanity. Tedrick has wrestled with the core of Gandhi’s thought to uncover the forces that moved his spiritual life with its political activism.
She announces in the Preface that “the secular saint is not the Gandhi we will write about here.” His words and deeds are but an indication of his life-long yearning for moksha, pure unity with God. She makes the essential point that Gandhi saw himself as the “chosen vessel of God.” She states:

“The principal article of this belief system (Gandhi’s) has to be stated as clearly as possible at the onset. It was that he, Gandhi, was the pre-ordained and potentially divine world saviour whose coming was logically implicit in the ‘ancient’ and especially ‘Eastern’, religious writings to which so many of his English acquaintances had turned in their search for a new revelation of god’s purpose in the world.” xii

Other biographers present sources and influences which moved Gandhi, but do not dwell on the way Gandhi internalized, organized, and utilized them.
Tidrick emphasizes his consciousness. The first two chapters present her research into the influences upon him which began during his education in England when he was acquainting himself with English culture for his goal of reforming India to be like the English. The Vegetarian Society, the Theosophist Society, Esoteric Christianity and other “cutting edge” thinkers formed the framework and content of Gandhi’s thinking. In South Africa he added insights from Tolstoy, Ruskin, and Thoreau. These were influenced by Eastern thought, most notably the Gita and the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi created his self-image in South Africa and translated them into a life of action to bring about the Kingdom of God.
Gandhi pursued “purification.” Inspired by his bible, the Gita, he sought detachment from the results, no desire, to become as dust so that god’s will would be accomplished. To these passive objectives he added the active way of Christian charity expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. Suffering became the primary means for purification. Suffering became the tool for political and social transformation. He gained insight and confidence in his political ability to influence the life of Indians and the policies and actions of his opponents. India brought struggles.
He called off the Satyagraha campaign for Independence in 1922, “walked alone” after the failure of the Round Table Conference in 1931, desperately searched for candidates who were capable of the “nonviolence of the strong” after his imprisonment during World War II. There are other Himalayan mistakes. He often took the burden upon himself because he was not pure enough for god’s purpose. Or, India was not ready for “swaraj.” Tidrick describes the lulls in his political activity with the Indian National Congress as “waiting games.”
Tidrick does not dwell on his “constructive program.” She uncovers areas, which other authors are beginning to enter, the human side of the “mahatma.” Gandhi regarded sex and eating for pleasure as “lust.” He possessed views considered as weird or bizarre, and experimented with sex which tore at his followers. Tidrick goes into detail showing how Gandhi coped with his views and activity, expending considerable space in describing “brahmacharya” (celibacy.) Gandhi had a series of relationships with women over the years. He was challenged and sometimes modified his ways, but usually clung to his truth. Tidrick does not hide her own repulsion at some of his ways.
For Tidrick Gandhi’s greatest moment was his ending the Hindu-Muslim killing in Calcutta in 1947. Truly, this was a tremendous feat. Bihar was also bloody. Gandhi negotiated an agreement to stop the killing there while ending the killing in Calcutta. His “fast to death” was his ultimate means. And, it worked not only in Calcutta but in Delhi. Tidrick does well to show the roles Gandhi’s numerous fasts played.
Gandhi considered his life an “open book.” By this he meant his “life”, not his words and writings. (xiv)
Peace makers would do well to study Gandhi’s psychological and cultural creation. His experiments led him to become what he became. His religious approach may not appeal to some. His discipline, courage, total view of human living, and ahimsa translate into a creative “culture of peace,” challenging us.

(I did not include my observation that Tidrick was repulsed by Gandhi's classic Hind Swaraj written in 1909. Gandhi held firmly to HS throughout his life. I think she did not pick up the underlying context and meaning of this "little simple book" (Gandhi) as Anthony Parel so well explicates.)