Mahatma Gandhi’s views, and, the Democratization of Science

The Mahatma speaks out from across the Ether of Time and Space

“…this democratization of science is really, really important in fixing the world’s problems, because it’s not going to happen top-down.”

-Joichi Ito, Director of the M.I.T. Media Lab, quoted on the PBS Newshour for 11-10-11

“Small groups of individuals surmounted seemingly insuperable obstacles….”*

Perhaps this is the way this endeavor also must go.

*from the review of  Engineers of Victory: the Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in WWII, by Paul Kennedy, in the NY Times Book Reviews

Unrelated Bonus:

The Subcontinent

To the Editor:

The subheading of Jyoti Thottam’s review of “Gandhi Before India” (May 11) reads: “In South Africa, Gandhi forged the philosophy and strategies that would steer India to independence.” Yet the review does not discuss how Gandhi forged his philosophy there. Equally disappointing, there is no reference to the transformative impact of his reading in European and American philosophy.

Gandhi himself reported that he read Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” in 1907 when he was “in the thick of passive resistance” in South Africa, and that he was especially influenced by Thoreau’s ideals concerning serving time in jail “for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity.” He later stated that the essay “contained the essence of his political philosophy, not only as India’s struggle related to the British but as to his own views of the relation of citizens to government.”

Gandhi developed his ideas about the shape of an ideal society and life by reading John Ruskin’s “Unto This Last” during an overnight train journey in South Africa. In his autobiography, he wrote: “I believe that I discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of Ruskin, and that is why it so captured me and made me transform my life.”

The two communal farms he set up in South Africa — the Tolstoy Farm and the Phoenix Settlement — were largely an expression of Ruskin’s advocacy of simple living, away from the commercial trappings of mass-scale industrialization that, according to Ruskin, robbed individuals of true creativity and happiness. These farms served as a model for the famous Sabarmati ashram that Gandhi set up upon returning to India.

Thoreau and Ruskin are just two examples of the reasons Gandhi’s activism in South Africa cannot be understood without the larger context of his worldview.

SHANKAR CHAUDHURI
GLEN RIDGE, N.J.

www.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/books/review/letters-the-subcontinent.html

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