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Global Violence and Individual Responsibility

Global Violence and Individual Responsibility

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Published by cabralyc
Global Violence and Individual Responsibility, by Prof. Padmanabhan Krishna, Rector of the Rajghat Education Centre, Varanasi, India, of the Krishnamurti Foundation India.
Global Violence and Individual Responsibility, by Prof. Padmanabhan Krishna, Rector of the Rajghat Education Centre, Varanasi, India, of the Krishnamurti Foundation India.

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Published by: cabralyc on May 10, 2009
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Global Violence and Individual Responsibility
by Prof. P. Krishna
Ex-Rector, Rajghat Education Centre, Krishnamurti Foundation India, Varanasi221001, India The spectacular events of terrorism that took place in the United States a fewmonths ago have focussed the attention of the whole world on the issue of globalviolence. At first sight it may appear that a few primitive, misguided extremistsfrom a faraway land are responsible for these acts and therefore they should beeliminated. Not only is the United States trying to do this, it has also gatheredbehind it a number of countries and they think that it is necessary to wage a waragainst terrorism in order to protect so-called civilized society. There are,however, two kinds of questions that must be asked. The question is: are onlythose handful of people who were involved in those acts responsible for thephenomenon of terrorism and violence. or are the so-called civilized elite alsoresponsible for what has taken place? Does the cause lie only with those barbaricpeople or are there deeper causes which we need to address? For if we deal onlywith the symptoms, we will find only a temporary cure; if the causes are stilloperative the problem will raise its head again. The second question which wemust also ask ourselves is: whether the violence that is taking place in retaliationis fundamentally different from the violence that was perpetrated? In other words,is there such a thing as 'righteous' violence and 'unrighteous' violence? How arerighteous and unrighteous to be defined and who defines these? Is it that violence,when it is on our side, protective of us and destructive of others, is righteous but itis unrighteous when it is destructive of us? If this is so, how do we decide who are'us' and who are the 'others'?Clearly several issues are involved and if we want to understand these at depth, itis important to come to these questions afresh, without pre-formed conclusions.The quality of mind with which one approaches the questions is very important. Itseems to me that a mind that is both scientific and religious at the same time isneeded. Scientific in the sense that it relies on observation, is precise, objective,rational and curious. And religious in the sense that it is free of pre-conceptions,interested in deep perception of the truth; a mind that has sensitivity, a sense of affection, without any division or fragmentation. This would mean that we are notcaught in superficial answers, not interested in a partial and limited response.In order to observe the global situation objectively, I propose the followingthought experiment. Let us imagine an alien in space who is on a spacecraft andhas the means to observe all the phenomena taking place on the globe. Not beingpart of any particular nationality or religion, how would he observe what is takingplace on our planet? Putting oneself in the place of that alien, one may visualizelooking down upon the earth from space. First of all one would see a beautifulsphere with greenish blue hues, magnificent in its shape and colour. Lookingcloser, one would see mountains and rivers, trees and plants, birds and animalsand human beings.One would see that human beings have developed agriculture,that they have made great progress in science and technology. They have alsobuilt marvellous cities to live in, with many advanced facilities, and they useairplanes for transportation. The alien would be quite impressed by what humanbeings have done and the knowledge that they have amassed. But when he lookscloser he will notice that human beings living in a certain area are travelling freelywithin that area but they are unable to move freely across certain invisible lines.Although it would appear to him that the whole globe is one, human beings wouldseem to have created their own boundaries. We take our separate nations forgranted; but he will wonder, when mountains are continuous, the air iscontinuous. and so are the forests and rivers why these people stop at a certainline? Why is it that they are very mobile within certain regions and across theimaginary boundaries of those regions they are not so mobile? And if he continuesto observe carefully he will also see that at several different places on the earth,human beings are arraigned on either side of the lines, pointing guns and tanks,ready to kill each other. And he will wonder what is the matter, what ishappening? Why are these people so intent on killing each other and so oblivious
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of the beauty of the mountains and rivers? What is occupying them and why arethey so divided and ready to kill each other?If he is more inquisitive he might wonder whether this is some recentphenomenon: has something happened on the earth which causes them to behavethis way? He might turn to history books to find out. What he would find is thatall recorded human history, going back at least 5000 years, is full of wars. He willobserve that for thousands of years these people have been fighting their ownkind. And yet they consider themselves to be the the pinnacle of creation,civilized beings who are very superior to other living species. The alien, who has areligious mind and who is cultured and scientific himself, might ask if they arereally superior? By what civilized criterion may it be said that human beings aresuperior to plants or animals? Have they been more kind, more protective of theirenvironment and of each other ?With the alien, we too must ask ourselves this question seriously: are we reallysuperior, really cultured and civilized? Human beings may have greater ability,greater power, and greater so-called intelligence and are thus able to dominate therest of nature, to kill animals and plants and destroy forests for their own welfare.But power can hardly be the criterion for superiority. When we look into history,or look around ourselves, we find that no other species has created as muchdestruction of nature as man has, and no other species has been so cruel to itsown kind as human beings have been. Yet we deem ourselves superior to animalsand plants !Evidently, the problem of global violence goes very far back and runs deep.Although our attention may today be focussed on this issue due to the recentevents of terrorism, it has been going on for thousands of years. Biologically, thescientists tell us that there has been evolution from the plant to the animal, fromthe mammal to the ape to man, and this process goes on. A question that ariseshere is: has there been any psychological evolution of human beings at all? Havewe become kinder, more compassionate, more protective of ourselves and of theenvironment? Although humans have evolved in their technology and in theirforms of government, has there been any change in our propensity towardsviolence and destruction?This perspective is expressed succinctly and humorously in the following poem:When I was at the zoo one day, I metA most superior apeOf frank and noble countenanceAnd a pleasing shape'Superior ape' I said, pray tellA thing I long to know,If the summer H-bomb brought the floods,Will the winter's bring the snow? 'A pleasure, Sir', the ape repliedAfter some hesitation,'If you do not think that I presumeAbove my proper station,For surely it is obviousThere is no need to worry:With such great risks no man will dropAnother in a hurry.' 'Oh foolish ape, you miss the point,I cried in indignation,'Drop them we must, we thus ensureDemocracy's salvation.''Indeed,' replied the ape, 'Why thenSince you're intent on dying,I really see small differenceIn freezing or in frying. If all that evolution's doneIs bring you to this stage,Then I should be outside', he said,'and you be in this cage.' -Paul McClelland in The New StatesmanHaving seen that violence has been going on for more than 5000 years, we should
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objectively examine what our response to this has been. In the last century, toprevent disastrous wars between nations, we e created the United Nations. Thuswhenever two countries are about to spark off a war, the UN's job is to interveneand enable them to talk, to resort to diplomacy and see that they don't start a war.But we must ask ourselves, when do we call it a 'war'? What is the level at whichviolence must reach before we declare it. as a war? Is it when guns start firing,when airplanes start crossing and when bombs start dropping,? Or is it that, if weare hating each other, wanting to kill each other, we are already at war? Though itmay not have manifested itself, violence already exists in our consciousness wellbefore a war is declared.If we look at the level of the nation, we have created the police force, a system of law-courts, rules and regulations, in order to contain the manifestations of violence. For thousands of years we have had the police and these courts of law.But have these quelled the violence within us? Individually, human beingscontinue feeling jealous, feeling angry and hating. They try to control themselvesand constantly fail. For 5000 years, perhaps more, from the time of theMahabharata down till today, the phenomenon of violence has remained a part of our lives. It is a global phenomenon, an ancient phenomenon, and its roots godeep. If we treat or try to control only the symptoms there can be no change.Violence keeps erupting again and again. So obviously, there is no freedom fromviolence in merely controlling violence. This does not mean that one must notcontrol it. But it is important to become deeply aware that control does noteliminate the causes of violence.We must therefore examine the deeper causes of violence. For violence does notlie only in Osama Bin Laden and the terrorists, whose acts are but a spectacularmanifestation of this. There is violence when a man subjugates a woman; there isviolence between families; there is violence in crime, in the family, in the office,in the nation and between communities, castes, and religious groups, there ispsychological violence going on all the time. One may not even recognise it asviolence. For one can taunt or humiliate another human being, and it is legal. Onlyphysical violence is punishable, because it violates the law. The whole mechanismof legal control cannot eliminate the violence we carry within.The real cause of violence is the hatred and the division in the hearts of men. Wemust examine where this hatred is born.Unless we go to its source we are onlyplaying with symptoms on the periphery. To understand the deeper causes of violence one has to ask, what creates division? What makes me feel that these aremy countrymen, those are others? That these are my people, my family, myreligion, and those are another? How do I draw that boundary between myself andanother? For division starts right there and that division leads to violence. When Iam only interested in the welfare of my people, I don't care about the otherpeople. They are not my concern, not my responsibility. I even exploit them tobring benefits for my people. In a war I can kill the others and be decorated as ahero.So from where does this division arise that is there in every human being? Everyhuman being is born in some family, in some country, as part of some language,some religion. Growing up in the midst of the people around him, depending onthem, imitating them, there inevitably develops this sense that these are mypeople, this is my family, this is my language, this is my culture and my religion.Along with this comes the idea of others. Our thought process and the capacity toimagine take the process further. And the mind becomes like a lawyer, interestedin profits for the me and the mine, caring only about the me and the mine, andignoring or denigrating the other.The capacities of memory, thought and imagination are gifts we have receivedduring the course of evolution in greater measure than the other animals. It isthese gifts that generate the power which man has. Our accomplishments originatefrom there, but so do all our problems. For these tools that nature has given us aregenerally used to further the interests of the me and the mine. Though we mayoccasionally talk about being kind to 'others', basically this division has becomeembedded in us. Such is the process of the mind becoming self-centred. Thinkingabout me --- my body, my family, my children, my culture, my country ---becomes a self-enclosing process. I am constantly drawing my boundaries andthose people outside them become the 'others'.One might ask, isn't that natural? Since the progression by which this happensseems so inevitable, can one find fault with any step in this process? Indeed, it issomething that happens to every human being. But the question we have to ask is:are we permanently trapped in this condition? Or can we come out of it? Theanimal, in its reactions, is completely governed by its instincts, by what nature hasdictated. It is amoral, it cannot free itself from the past. But are we so completely
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