Monday, June 23, 2014

Bertrand Russell and Politics

"It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this", says Bertrand Russell and that irrationality is the basis on which small groups of people end up leading large populations on the path to disaster or mayhem. "Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so" is an apt explanation for how suicide bombers blow themselves and a lot of other people up to further their cause - when all of History could readily show that such acts have never achieved the intended effect. Russell, indeed, outlines the rules that form the foundation of politics - of governments, terrorist organizations and any other such organizations.

"Too little liberty brings stagnation and too much brings chaos", says Russell. Governments are necessary to limit the liberty of each individual to a level where there is order, but not to the extent that liberty is stifled to the extent of having a stagnant Society. The process of setting these limits also involves the manner in which goods and services get exchanged; the manner in which people interact with each other; and the rights and responsibilities of the individual.

Russell, though not a votary of Communism's ways of arranging the exchange of goods and services, does not seem quite enamored of Capitalism, either. "Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate", does not seem like unrestrained admiration for Capitalism. In fact, unrestrained capitalism is very likely to end up proving that "Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim."

Democracy, as a means of putting in place a government, has its own flaws. "Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them", says Russell of the politics of his day but nothing much seems to have changed since then.

This belief in stupidity being the hallmark of honesty leads to a situation wherein "There is no nonsense so arrant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate governmental action." One only needs to see the recent happenings in the world - from the demonisation of the Middle-East in the West to obsessive hatred of neighbors - to see how true this still continues to be. Politicians seem to make hay of the fact that "Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed". And the fact is that one is left bemoaning, as Russell did, "Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?" Governments AND people also seem to pay no heed to the fact that "War does not determine who is right - only who is left."

If that is true of governance, Russell holds out not much hope from the moralists either. “Really high-minded people are indifferent to happiness, especially other people's”, he says and, unfortunately, that dictum also seems largely true. India has had reason to know the validity of his statement, "The people who are regarded as moral luminaries are those who forego ordinary pleasures themselves and find compensation in interfering with the pleasures of others". (Of course, he does NOT mean that there should be no interference in the molestation of women!)

He does hold out hope for a better tomorrow. His condition for such a desirable outcome, though, is far from being fulfilled. May the day come soon when this thing becomes true of the world - "If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years."

16 comments:

  1. " “Really high-minded people are indifferent to happiness, especially other people's "..it's so true..especially these days...
    BTW , you've read a lot of Russell I surmise... :-)

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    1. Yes - and a lot of other philosophers too. I vibe most with Russell, though :)

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  2. I wish it would come true for our Country....*"If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years."*

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    1. For the world. Wouldn't want the rest of the world desiring our unhappiness :P

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    2. replace world with India ... that's what i meant :P

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  3. These are some insightful nuggets you have presented here. Thank you :) The opening paragraph reminded me of something Sri Aurobindo said in a talk with someone - "men are rational idiots". Great minds everywhere and in all times could see the relative worth - the positives and the negatives - of each and every human made system, whether it is democracy, capitalism, communism or anything. I just wish more of such flexibility and plasticity in thought-process is somehow inculcated in the young minds attending schools and colleges.

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    1. I wish, too, Beloo! The problem, though, is I am i agreement with Russell when he says,"People would rather die than think." :) This blind belief in 'ism's and 'tradition' is because they provide you rules to conduct your behavior, in the absence of which you would have to think about what is the right thing to do, all by yourself :)

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  4. I posted a comment, but I think it got eaten up by WWW because the net connection went down right at the same moment when I hit "publish." Maybe some conspiracy there. But I am trying again :) Or at least trying to remember what I said earlier. Your opening paragraph reminded me of something Sri Aurobindo said in a conversation with someone - "men are rational idiots." I think that so nicely summarizes the debate on whether man has really evolved to become a truly rational creature. Great thinkers everywhere and in all times have seen the relative good and bad of each man-made system - democracy, capitalism, socialism, whatever. I really wish that we can somehow inculcate such flexibility and plasticity of thinking and thought-process in the young people attending schools and colleges. So much can be accomplished if we can think in the right way, without being blinded by ideology. One can always hope, at least :)

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    1. Nope - your comment went through, as you can see above :)

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  5. That was another set of insightful nuggets from Russel.

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  6. Great post, Suresh. I suppose it's human nature that man is only happy for his fellow man when he is happier and better off than his fellow man.

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    1. Hahaha! Absolutely Mary - and then he rushes off to see if the next guy is better off :)

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  7. I'm a first timer here, sir, and I gotta say- you are indeed BETTER than what I read in those reviews by Jean and others..

    The way you brought "Of course, he does NOT mean that there should be no interference in the molestation of women" out of the blue, and yet totally in the context somehow, that had me chuckling spontaneously..

    Please do keep worrying humor.. We really need that so much..

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    1. Thanks Mrinaal.

      If you mean the reviews of my book, you will need to read it before you make up your mind :)

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