My most recent blog post, “Going to the Movies in Bangalore: ‘Elysium’ and the Surveillance State,” elicited a couple of comments that bear thinking about. It might help to do so in the light of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, which we’re celebrating today here in India (Oct. 2nd).
One very good friend acknowledged that “Elysium” indeed described the kind of planet and surveillance state towards which the United States is rapidly pushing the world. She wondered, “What can we do about it?” — especially in light of the fact that politicians (even those with the promise Obama once represented) seem incapable of exercising the kind of leadership necessary to avoid the Elysium syndrome.
Another friend observed that the type of working class revolution I said “Elysium” suggests is counterproductive. Inevitably, he said, revolution leads to an ultimately destructive cycle of violence that gets us nowhere. A better alternative would be to adopt Jesus’ non-violence as our bedrock philosophy, eliminate materialism from our lives, reform consumption patterns, and simplify lifestyles. He wrote, “I think we need something that actually changes the love of power and which makes even a poor life acceptable. Hence my hope in the Gospel of Peace of the pacifist Jesus.”
My friend’s reference to the acceptability of a “poor life” is what Gandhi proposed as well. Famously, he said that the world has plenty to meet human need, but not human greed. It’s today’s greedy lifestyle that impoverishes our world and creates the urban moonscape reality portrayed in “Elysium.”
Gandhi combatted greed in three ways. First of all, he fostered an interior life animated by the practice of meditation and constant repetition of his mantram (“Rama, Rama” – Joy, Joy). In so doing Bapu raised his own awareness of the unity of all life – and the insanity of seeing others as enemies. Secondly, Gandhi exemplified simple living by reducing his own material needs to an absolute minimum. When he died, what he left behind was assessed at a worth of less than $100. Finally, Gandhi worked tirelessly to change a political reality that others thought impossible to alter. They laughed at his optimism and confidence that India could be liberated from the British Raj. Yet he mobilized this country’s huge population to drive from its soil the most powerful and extensive empire the world had ever seen.
Key to Gandhi’s success was detachment – detachment from addiction to results. As long as we refrain from meditation, simple living, and political activism because we think such measures are useless or doomed to failure, our road to the reality portrayed in “Elysium” is straight, broad, and inevitable.
We are not alone. There are seven billion of us in the world. It’s hard for us to measure the impact of the infinitesimal part we play in synchronizing our daily activities with the arc of history that Dr. King observed bends inevitably towards justice.
Jesus, Gandhi, King . . . These should be our models for courageous, hopeful living. The rest is in the hands of God.