Politics of non-violence

Published : Dec 06, 2002 00:00 IST

Nonkilling Global Political Science by Glenn D. Paige; New Delhi: Gandhi Media Centre, 2002; pages xxvii+241, Rs.150.

IS a non-killing society possible? Is a non-killing global political science possible? Attempting to answer these two seemingly simple but profoundly complex questions, the author, a veteran teacher of political science and non-violence, pronounces a daring yes.

In our globalising world, which is marked by a distinct monetary mania, politics is the last thing on people's minds. If and when politics surfaces on the global market's agenda at all, it is often in the contexts of investment security, and more recently, the international campaign against terrorism.

The academic discipline of political science itself stands discredited and discouraged around the world with few colleges offering political science courses and fewer employers offering jobs for political scientists. In fact, the global market does not want anyone to ask uncomfortable questions such as "why" or "why not" which political scientists are trained to do. The only question the market encourages asking is "how": how much, and how soon.

Given this backdrop, it does take some audacity on the part of Professor Glenn Paige to ponder about the future of political science and the non-killing variety at that. Idealistic as it may sound at the superficial level, Paige's book reads very credible and convincing. After all, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The choice is no longer between violence and non-violence. It is between non-violence and non-existence." So it was high time that someone came up with the idea of having non-killing as the basis of a new political science and the political configurations of humanity in the third millennium.

Politics and non-violence may be, to borrow one of Mahatma Gandhi's metaphors, "as old as hills". Putting them together, Paige is definitely pushing the discipline of political science and the theory and practice of non-violence to the inevitable next stage. In spite of the vagueness that is inherent in the untested notion of "nonkilling" in the uncanny "science" of politics, the author has defined and described the theme of the book quite clearly and unambiguously and presented the successive arguments with equal precision and power.

A non-killing society is "a human community... characterised by no killing of humans and no threats to kill". This society does not design weapons to kill humans, nor does it offer any justifications for using them.

The seemingly impossible and unthinkable notion of ever having a non-killing society becomes quite feasible suddenly when we look at the persuasive arguments of Paige. Of all human beings now alive and of all that have ever lived on the earth, only an insignificant number of people have killed a fellow human being. Respect for life has been the single most foundational principle for all religious and humanist faiths around the world. The modern neurorealist brain science provides a strong, scientifically proven basis for self-activated non-violent commitment and transformation that is consistent with non-killing spirituality and the biological reluctance to kill.

Anthropologists have identified at least 47 societies around the world that not only do not kill but demonstrate human capacities for peacefulness. Even in the realm of public policies, non-killing has been a salient feature. For instance, by March 1996, 57 of the 194 countries and territories had abolished the death penalty. A 1996 estimate showed that some 27 countries did not have standing armies, and most of the countries that do have standing armies recognise conscientious objection to military conscription. All this provides compelling evidence of the non-killing political potential of humanity.

Any number of institutions including political, economic, security-related, educational and research institutions, cultural resources, non-violent political struggles, historical precedents, and inspiring lives of leaders attest to the fact that the possibility of a non-killing society is rooted in the human experience and creative capabilities. Paige offers many more convincing arguments, examples and statistics to prove his case.

One can also consider the fact that many nation-states attach much importance to the non-killing of their citizens in the international arena. Only in times of war they deliberately deny that kind of sanctity to the lives of `the Other'. For instance, the United States, the largest and most lethal military power in the world, takes the life of its citizens very seriously. Even the death of a single American is given great importance (which often borders on racism) as it has been demonstrated in the POW-MIA (Prisoners of War and Missing in Action) searches in Vietnam and Korea.

It is important to note that Paige does not treat the reorientation of political science as an end in itself but only as a means to achieve broader non-killing goals. Although the title of the book is "Nonkilling Global Political Science", the ultimate objective of the project is to evolve "non-killing global politics". If political scientists are the brain and backbone of politics, politicians are its mind, mouth and muscles. Interactions between the two groups have not always been great. This chasm has to be bridged and one can no longer afford to ignore it if one is serious about evolving non-killing politics. The book does meditate on the role of the actual practitioners of politics, namely politicians, policymakers, social activists and others in non-killing normatives. Besides the appendices that are useful for political scientists, the book has an exhaustive list of suggestions and ideas that may be helpful for politicians.

It is important to emphasise the educational and practical components of political science. The need to evolve new political education at all levels of education with emphasis on the new non-killing civic sense should be highlighted. Constitutional reform and legal studies that advocate the necessary non-killing shift should be made integral parts of such political education. Sample lessons and lesson plans for primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level children could be envisaged.

Reinterpreting national and world histories from a non-killing perspective, evolving political identities from a non-hating viewpoint, planning national and global development from a non-impoverishing approach are some of the subjects that come to mind. Also, the media should have been given much more importance in the book, as they tend to report only negative and sensational `news'. The `olds' of people living in peace and harmony or managing conflicts creatively are often unreported. We need more and more non-killing news and views than killing-oriented ones.

Most of all we need stories. The famous Aesop's fable is worth pondering here. There lived in a lake an army of frogs who did not know how to rule themselves. A delegation of them went to Apollo and begged him to send them a king. Laughing at their stupidity, Apollo felled a tree and threw it in the lake. The frogs were pleased with the majesty of the king, and his magnificent coronation, and expected a lot from the new ruler. The dead-silent and damn-passive king disappointed the subjects deeply and made them appeal to Apollo again. This time, Apollo sent down a stork as the king. The tall and active king started swallowing his subjects one by one. Having learned their lesson the hard way, the frogs woke up to the reality that they must learn how to rule themselves. An interesting addition to the project could be including short and succinct conscientious objectors' stories, the stories of people who are against the death penalty, the views of avowed pro-lifers, and so forth.

Even if some people `ridicule' or even `oppose' the theme of the book today, as Swami Vivekananda points out the third and inevitable stage of `acceptance' has to follow suit. It may not happen during the lifetime of the author. But posing this simple but deep question and putting it out in the public realm is by no means a small achievement. After all, as David Dellinger puts it, "The theory and practice of non-violence are roughly at the same stage of development today as those of electricity in the early days of Marconi and Edison."

To put tersely, this book is an ideal millennial gift to humanity from a political science professor who has believed in and professed non-violence for the most part of his academic life.

Dr. S.P. Udayakumar is the managing trustee of the South Asian Community Centre for Education and Research (SACCER) Trust, Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu.

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