Sunday, April 1, 2012

What is Civilization? Mahatma Gandhi's Explanation in Hind Swaraj

VI. Civilization

READER: Now you will have to explain what you mean by civilization.
EDITOR: It is not a question of what I mean. Several English writers refuse to call that
civilization which passes under that name. Many books have been written upon that subject.
Societies have been formed to cure the nation of the evils of civilization. A great English writer
has written a work called Civilization: Its Cause and Cure. Therein he has called it a disease.

READER: Why do we not know this generally?
EDITOR: The answer is very simple. We rarely find people arguing against themselves.
Those who are intoxicated by modern civilization are not likely to write against it. Their care
will be to find out facts and arguments in support of it and this they do unconsciously, believing it
to be true. A man whilst he is dreaming, believes in his dream; he is undeceived only when he is
awakened from his sleep. A man labouring under the bane of civilization is like a dreaming man.
What we usually read are the works of defenders of modern civilization, which undoubtedly
claims among its votaries very brilliant and even some very good men. Their writings hypnotize
us. And so, one by one, we are drawn into the vortex.

READER: This seems to be very plausible. Now will you tell me something of what you
have read and thought of this civilization?
EDITOR: Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word “civilization”.
Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life. We
will take some examples. The people of Europe today live in better-built houses than they did
a hundred years ago. This is considered an emblem of civilization, and this is also a matter to
promote bodily happiness. Formerly, they wore skins, and used spears as their weapons. Now,
they wear long trousers, and, for embelishing their bodies, they wear a variety of clothing, and,
instead of spears, they carry with them revolvers containing five or more chambers. If people of
a certain country, who have hitherto not been in the habit of wearing much clothing, boots, etc.,
adopt European clothing, they are supposed to have become civilized out of savagery. Formerly,
in Europe, people ploughed their lands mainly by manual labour. Now, one man can plough a
vast tract by means of steam engines and can thus amass great wealth. This is called a sign of
civilization. Formerly, only a few men wrote valuable books. Now, anybody writes and prints
anything he likes and poisons people’s minds. Formerly, men travelled in waggons. Now, they
fly through the air in trains at the rate of four hundred and more miles per day. This is considered
the height of civilization. It has been stated that, as men progress, they shall be able to travel
in airship and reach any part of the world in a few hours. Men will not need the use of their
hands and feet. They will press a button, and they will have their clothing by their side. They
will press another button, and they will have their newspaper. A third, and a motor-car will be in
waiting for them. They will have a variety of delicately dished up food. Everything will be done
by machinery. Formerly, when people wanted to fight with one another, they measured between
them their bodily strength; now it is possible to take away thousands of lives by one man working
behind a gun from a hill. This is civilization. Formerly, men worked in the open air only as much
as they liked. Now thousands of workmen meet together and for the sake of maintenance work
in factories or mines. Their condition is worse than that of beasts. They are obliged to work,
at the risk of their lives, at most dangerous occupations, for the sake of millionaires. Formerly,
men were made slaves under physical compulsion. Now they are enslaved by temptation of
money and of the luxuries that money can buy. There are now diseases of which people never
dreamt before, and an army of doctors is engaged in finding out their cures, and so hospitals
have increased. This is a test of civilization. Formerly, special messengers were required and
much expense was incurred in order to send letters; today, anyone can abuse his fellow by means
of a letter for one penny. True, at the same cost, one can send one’s thanks also. Formerly,
people had two or three meals consisting of home-made bread and vegetables; now, they require
something to eat every two hours so that they have hardly leisure for anything else. What more
need I say? All this you can ascertain from several authoritative books. There are all true tests
of civilization. And if anyone speaks to the contrary, know that he is ignorant. This civilization
takes note neither of morality nor of religion. Its votaries calmly state that their business is not
to teach religion. Some even consider it to be a superstitious growth. Others put on the cloak
of religion, and prate about morality. But, after twenty years’ experience, I have come to the
conclusion that immorality is often taught in the name of morality. Even a child can understand
that in all I have described above there can be no inducement to morality. Civilization seeks to
increase bodily comforts, and it fails miserably even in doing so.

This civilization is irreligion, and it has taken such a hold on the people in Europe who are in
it appear to be half mad. They lack real physical strength or courage. They keep up their energy
by intoxication. They can hardly be happy in solitude. Women, who should be the queens of
households, wander in the streets or they slave away in factories. For the sake of a pittance, half a
million women in England alone are labouring under trying circumstances in factories or similar
institutions. This awful fact is one of the causes of the daily growing suffragette movement.
This civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed. According
to the teaching of Mahommed this would be considered a Satanic Civilization. Hinduism
calls it the Black Age. I cannot give you an adequate conception of it. It is eating into the vitals
of the English nation. It must be shunned. Parliaments are really emblems of slavery. If you will
sufficiently think over this, you will entertain the same opinion and cease to blame the English.
They rather deserve our sympathy. They are a shrewd nation and I therefore believe that they
will cast off the evil. They are enterprising and industrious and their mode of thought is not
inherently immoral. Neither are they bad at heart. I therefore respect them. Civilization is not an
incurable disease, but it should never be forgotten that the English people are at present afflicted
by it.
Chapter Six of HIND SWARAJ OR INDIAN HOME RULE by M.K.Gandhi, 1909
Original knol - 2041

No comments:

Post a Comment