Monday, March 27, 2017

Character as currency

One can feign ignorance but being consumers of industrialized products we are but an integral part of the destructive resource extraction that is anything but organized violence...

Only after living without money for three years and having established his nonviolent credentials could Mark Boyle gather courage to engage with Gandhi over the everydayness of violence in our lives. Having discovered the virtue of non-monetary relationships with people and nature, his contention is that monetary valuation is a form of violence that puts nature into tin cans for easy commercialization. Isn’t the economic paradigm of progress premised on the conversion of our physical, cultural and spiritual commons into cash? Even the materials that make up the human body have been monetized, net worth of what goes in the making of the heart, the hands, the eyes and other limbs has been estimated a measly $56 only. It may be a hard-to-digest perspective but it serves the cause of hidden violence unleashed by the pharmaceutical companies, turning sickness into big business. And, this is one of the several expressions of slow violence in our daily lives. 

Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi offers a nuanced understanding of violence, that is indirect but real. But this book is not for those who, according to Boyle, cherish their belongings over a sense of belonging, and whose empathy for nature is packaged into weekend getaways. Neither is it for those who get afflicted by ‘the Avatar effect’, the wave of depression and suicidal feelings that followed the release of the movie Avatar as people longed for the ecologically bountiful and diverse moon of the fictional Pandora. It is for those who consider the worth of nature greater than the tin cans, and who are ready to resist violence to forge a rich and meaningful lives for ourselves. 

Consumerism has separated us from the consequences of our actions, creating the delusional sense of separation – in both time and space – designed into our culture that we remain blinkered to the violence of our civilized lives. One can feign ignorance but being consumers of industrialized products we are but an integral part of the destructive resource extraction that is anything but organized violence on the entire biotic community. The influence of industrialism is so subtle that seeking aspirational lifestyles, aspirational sex and aspirational homes has become the leitmotif of human existence, with cost of development externalized beyond the modern-day gated living. Violence is manifest in the degree of separation between us and what we consume.  

Boyle’s arguments are both experiential and philosophical, pulled out from three years of life lived without the trappings and security of money. Chronicling his moneyless life in The Moneyless Manifesto, the author had argued why the transition beyond monetary economics has become the zeitgeist of the Occupy generation. While the first year of moneyless living was tough, subsequent years were reportedly more content, healthier, and at peace. But if such were the experience of surviving on a ‘gift economy’ what made him to re-enter the monetary world? ‘To share my lessons and to establish projects that would enable others to loosen the grip that money has on their lives,’ he wrote.

Quest for money, more money, makes humans behave like rats, literally. Carl Sagan had long remarked that crowding humans into cities to earn more money would lead to more outbreaks of street violence, child abuse, maternal mortality, gang rape, psychosis, alienation, disorientation, and rootlessness. Years later, ethologist John B. Calhoun had found similar symptoms among rats when they were crowded in a cage. All this is not unexpected in the name of ‘progress’ – itself a linear construct – wherein what finally endures is indignity, inhumanity and humiliation in the pursuit of contentment, which by definition remains unattainable. In his thought-provoking and insightful exposition, Boyle challenges us to do things that make us less violent. 

If you think you have found your own ethical response and have started to fill your kettle with ‘green’ products, then this is precisely what the author detests us from doing. In reality, these minutely small changes, which green capitalists have conned us into believing makes a big difference, are akin to a rapist taking a moment to put on a fairly traded condom before continuing to sexually assault a woman. It may make the utterly brutal act marginally ethical, but doesn’t transform the act of violence any bit! It is for this reason that Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi avoids being prescriptive, and instead provokes the reader to tread beyond the urbane convenience of reduce, reuse and recycle by embarking into a world in which three R’s of radical reformism are: resist, revolt and rewild. 

Unless the wolf returns to the park, the wild will not reverberate with all living forms. The extermination of the wolf from the Yellowstone National Park in the USA has turned the wilderness into a parched landscape devoured by the high population of red deer. Introducing the wolf 70 years after it had been exterminated brought the park back to life, creating a dramatic upsurge in biodiversity and the health of the land. Boyle argues that there will always be comfortable people who would want to eradicate the wolf from the ecological and political terrains. The task before us is to ensure the constant presence of wolf, waiting for us to enter realms in which we have no right to go without respect for what is there already!

Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi
by Mark Boyle
New Society Publishers, Canada
Extent: 230, Price: $19.95   

This review was first published in HinduBusinessLine BLink on March 25, 2017

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