We were talking today in class about moral progress and Economic progress and in particular Gandhi’s view. I had never read anything that Gandhi had written (at least not consciously) before this semester. I was interested in seeing what he saw. A few weeks ago, Occupy San Diego started and I was there with my brother and a couple of good friends. One friend had a shirt on that had a quote. The quote was from Gandhi and it read, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”—
It is a powerful statement when we reflect on it. In the least of readings, it tells us that we must be honest and true to ourselves. We cannot say that we want something a certain way and act contradictory to our stated wants. If we do, words fade and become meaningless. If we are not the change, we will see no change. We will have people promising that they will buy green, but doing nothing about knowing what green means. We will have politicians stating that they will fight for the American people as they cut the taxes on corporations and remove regulations allowing the corporations to devalue communities and move their wealth (our wealth?) over seas to tax shelters and secret banks. Our corporate entities have no national loyalty. Their loyalties are profits. They mean what they say. They are the change that they want to see. Politics reveals this well. We say we want democracy, but we are not being the change. So, our democracy is not, in fact, the democracy we want to see.
We say we want equality, but we do not act so. We are not the change we want to see. Many of us look at the less fortunate as pariah, filth that spoils our views. It is easy to do so, we have been programed well to think the poor and hungry are there because of their bad choices, their laziness, over-procreation, ignorance, and stupidity. This is what american conservatism preaches and the change they want to see is becoming the reality of more homelessness, poverty, and malcontent among the lazy underprivileged.
Our words have become meaningless, as we are not the change that we say we want. Are our calls for equality false?
I hear echoes in the corridors of our society about it becoming more common for people to say, “I promise” only to not really mean what they say. It now seems like we cannot really mean what we say, when we say, “We need to get money out of politics!” We know what we need, we have been fighting for it for thousands of years. When avarice reigns, people suffer. I can’t imagine an American who does not see the reign of avarice. It is in our credit debts. It is in our schools, more so than we like to admit. We have abandoned decency in favor of individual greed. Even the Conservatives say, ”It is not my responsibility to pay for the needy who obviously are not choosing wisely a wise life. If they were smart like “me,” they would work hard for their wealth; it is not the responsibility of the Government to make me pay for those lazy folk , those drug addicts and pregnant baby incubators collecting welfare!” They say this while…
While they work back room deals to cut any social obligation for Money Makers ,they declare, “poverty is a choice Laissaez-faire style.” From this perspective we are isolated individuals that have no obligation of decency or respect for one another. It is really the survival of the financially successful. Our obligation extends only so far as the well being of our personal checkbooks. Grandma can go pay for her own nursing home, no one can make me financially responsible for grandma. Ironically someone does make us pay for our morality. We do tax everyone to pay for our lack of obligation to our grandmothers. It is easy to see why, you must be the change you want to see, but we are not changing.
The truth stares at us, it looks meanly at our meek, gullible souls. We are afraid to elect humanity over money. The corporations have told us that to do so would equal a life without material benefits. No fast cars, no iced mocha lattes. We don’t want to be brave, we love our computers, our cars, and the way people approve of our material status. We like hearing (at least in the shallows at the back of our own mind, “Someone is envious of me,” with a necrophilic pleasure in a false belief that we won a race of some sort. Like, when we hear someone say, “Nice iphone,” and when it is ours, we are prided in our wise decision to spend money for an object. that makes us cool.
We distain the thought of not having the liberty to consume and we consume for that fleeting moment, that someone envies us, ironically, while we are envying others. It is hard to be the change we want to see, when the change we want to see is an iphone in our hand and someone saying to us, “cool.”
Gandhi recognized our fears, he expresses them with the St. Mark account of Jesus’s declaration that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to go to heaven. Why can’t a rich man easily go to heaven? Are there no moral rich men?
“Greed,” a student of mine announces. “Greed is inevitable, we can never have enough money, and to have money you must elect it over others’ well being.” He continues with a clear conviction, “I am certain that in order to have wealth you must of screwed someone somewhere in your life.”
The question that arises for Gandhi is: Can there be a declaratively true statement that Economic progress equals moral progress? He answers, “no,” in this Speech at Muir College of Allahabad University. He claims in all earnestness that Economic progress is “antagonistic” to real progress. While I am inclined to believe, on moral grounds, that there is antagonism between capitalism and humanism, I am still inclined as a philosopher to doubt. Does the antagonism mean that capitalism and humanism are mutually exclusive to one another? Could you not find economic and moral progress simultaneously?
Another student attentively voices the concern that, “it depends on how the wealthy got their wealth and how morally they conduct themselves in immediate and continuous present actions.”
I conceded that this must be right. Can there not be an innocent wealthy person, someone who has received wealth though either a morally solid economic scheme or through no fault of their own (inheritance)? Inheritance is benign is it not? You cannot fault the son of an aristocrat; he never had a choice in the matter. This lack of choice, I imagine, is the field Gandhi resided in as the son of a government official of some economic weight.
It seems that to be moral and wealthy, you must have either innocently inherited wealth and have not acted yet to secure more, or you have gained wealth by providing a moral product, which both garners sufficient personal (familial) succor and provides the succor for others in healthy proportion while remaining free from negative unhealthy exploitation of any group or individual.
Does that exist in our society? Is there someone who has gotten wealthy by providing for the real well being of others as the motive, objective, and consequence?
There must be someone getting financial rewards for doing morally upright actions. I find it a bit hard to find an economic scheme of moral fortitude. What kind of wealth building is moral building too?
Some might argue that a church that gets parishioner donations is a moral accumulation of wealth. Well, we must pose the questions: What is the motive, what is the goal, and what are the consequences? The answers are hard to decipher. What moral motive is in alms collecting? The church can argue that it is to be redistributed to help the needy, a moral program. The objective seems clear, that it is to help society, the consequences too are apparently moral also as we see the needy actual benefit from the moral economy.
Yet, we know all to often that the motives in collecting and spending alms can get corrupted by greed. The church is not innocent in this regard. The opulence of the Vatican is a prime example. That wealth should not remain in the property of the church if it is part of a moral economy. A moral economy needs to show that the wealth is being gained and used for moral purposes. Vanity even in the name of God is not moral. The jewels of the Pope are immoral wealth gained in an immoral economy where the motives, goals, and consequences seethe with inhumanity.
What would a Gandhi’s economic model look like? I do not think that he would win the battle over greed, but perhaps as his revolution accomplishes with #OWS too, he transforms the economy to be more conscientious of its moral failings. With an awakening of people’s conscience to the general antagonism between moral and economic progress, we gain an economy that is less brutish and more civilized, less destructive and more cultivating of humanity. Our conscious awareness of these conflicting elements will help us choose wisely and gain greater ability to be aware of our individual economic and social power to affect human well-being.
-”Be the change you want to see in the world!”