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Honors and Memberships
ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
Essays on NATO and Kosovo
Andre Gunder Frank
Gandhi the Philosopher
| Reflections on EPW 27 September
pp4159-4165 article by Akeel Bilgrami
Your Gandhi essay speaks to my condition, to use a Friends/Quaker expression. To say why and how so, permit me to introduce myself through some personal anecdotes that relate directly to the issues you raise. The red thread through my reading of and response to your essay is that I [mis?] interpret your emphasis on integral/integrity as referring also to consistency. Well maybe consistency is the glue that holds the integral house together. In that case in evaluating Gandhi's and your argument, both he and you yourself must be great minds - if there is any truth in the saying that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Truth: One anecdote is a conversation with the Dalai Lama. I will only summarize. It began with my asking him what I have to do to become a Buddhist; and his answer was ''nothing, you already are one." The end of the conversation went something like this: He told me to look for the truth and when I find it, to hang on to it. My immediate reaction was that then I would doubt it. His response was completely favorable/ positive, and he blessed me for being a good person. I recounted this experience to a friend to ask about the apparent contradiction between holding on to the truth and doubting it. The friend replied that for the Dalai Lama there is NO inconsistency between the two statements; both can - and apparently must - be held at the same time!
Justice: An interviewer once asked me what is behind my drive to explain and combat underdevelopment. My immediate answer was IN / JUSTICE. Since I was a teen-ager or even before, my over-riding concern has been with in / justice and how to combat the IN to make the world more JUST. And on all levels, personal, social, political, economic, at home and in the world at large. Two friends have written three separate essays on the theme of the title of one of them: "Frank Justice and Frankenstein Injustice." In a 25th anniversary commemorative essay for the journal SOCIAL JUSTICE, I wrote that there is even more Injustice in private/ family relations [eg. wife and child abuse] than there is in public / legal relations. My argument was that in the latter sphere there are at least SOME legal provisions and instruments to provide or protect a bit of justice, but even these are quite lacking in purely personal relations. The authors of the Frank/Frankenstein articles were quite upset, arguing that I was somehow downplaying social injustice. No, I was not. How could I downplay or justify the gross Injustice for instance of all present US policy at home and abroad, using and ''justifying'' its own and Israel's use of UNjust policies and practices, and their support for authoritarian regimes around the world. For among other things they have completely set aside the rule of law and destroyed the institutions that are supposed to provide some if not guarantee all justice. The Law of the West now IS indeed the Law of the West /ern 19th century America, vigilante law with lynching posses and all, only on a grander world-wide scale -- in Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, Iraq again and wherever next.
Civilization: The United Nations termed 2001 the year of "Dialogue of Civilizations," and the United Nations University had a big international conference devoted to that theme in Tokyo and Kyoto. I was invited and presented a paper that was rather unwelcome. Its title was ''Dialogue YES, Civilizations NO." [It can be read on my web-site csf.colorado.edu/agfrank/]. There are no and never have been any separate pristine civilizations. The very use of the term is mainly ideologically and politically to claim merits for one ''civilization" against all others that are, if not altogether ''barbarian,'' lesser than that of the speaker / writer. Moreover, this entirely ideological category lends itself to everything from 'the mission civizilatrice'' of the ''white man's burden'' by nineteenth century colonialism, passing through Joseph Goebbles' claim that Hitler's invasion of Russia was ''to save Western civilization'' to that old cold warrior Samuel Huntington replacing the ''evil empire'' that is no more by a new ''Clash of Civilizations," to the present incessantly reiterated claim by British Prime Minister Blair and US President Bush that they are ''saving civilization." Well they have themselves already destroyed in a day it most precious fruits, which were the international law and UN institutions built up over the centuries in the attempt to stop man killing man - and women and children - on massive scales. Fifty or more million - of which 40 million in the Soviet Union - were killed in World War II; countless tens of millions have died in Northern created and sponsored wars around the Third World South, not to mention the one million Iraqis killed by US/UN sanctions during the 1990s. Like the villages in Vietnam, the United States is engaged in destroying civilization to ''save'' it, trampling on human rights to ''defend'' them. I fear that Gandhi was mistaken in at least one serious matter, and that is when he said that "Western civilization ''would be a good idea.'' On the evidence to the contrary, it seems to be a very BAD idea.
I agree with the author that John Stuart Mill's argument about liberty - and by extension or derivation on violence - rests on a fundamental internal contradiction. Like logical positivist philosophy and post-modernism, of all three and so many other arguments, it is self-evident that if they are true, they are false. For if the truth of others is false as they claim, then the same falsehood rule applies to their own ''truth'' - it is equally false. Fifty years ago, I myself discovered that the use of logical positivist propositions about logic and evidence leads to the inevitable conclusion that the logical positivist philosophy about truth is itself untenable. So that is when I stopped reading philosophy. Should I now start again? The author tells me that, following Gandhi, Truth as a cognitive category suffers from the above mentioned limitations and is essentially without value, even though Gandhi himself found some value in empirically founded truth. But real truth is really a moral category and only as such is it ok. That puts me in a rather uncomfortable position as a [social] scientist who, to use the Chinese expression, "seek/s truth from facts'' - even if the discovery of fact and its interpretation may also require some act of judgment or even of faith in its use/fullness.
But regarding truth as a moral category raises the question of whether there is only one [universable? But not universal??] morality and a single derivative truth. That is what President Bush would have us believe as a corollary of his claim to be the expression of that morality and truth, as conveyed to him by God, as he has publicly stated. But I - and I hope hardly any of your EPW readers - can [surely?] not accept that Bushy proposition. Bush's War = Peace and ''civilizational'' discourse [surely?] are Orwellian newspeak taken to its nth expression. On the evidence and by my morality, his words and even worse his actions, are the height of IMmorality, falsehood and lies, which surely also Gandhi would have denounced as such. Yet since the author evokes the ''Sokal'' scandal about post-modernism, neither can I accept the po-mo thesis that reality and truth do not really exist and are nothing but relativist varied expressions of different figments of imagination. So where does that leave us? It leaves me confused as scientist and philosopher, even if personally maybe it offers me some salvation as a Frank Justice person who has the Dalai Lama's blessing regarding the search for [integral?] truth - the search for which is driven by my desire to put it to use it in the service of justice? That would be comforting, except that my 74 years experience in searching and fighting for justice, have led me to the [inescapable?] conclusion that THERE IS NO JUSTICE.