Saturday, October 14, 2006

Nietzsche meets Gandhi: Revenge is for the Weak

As the reincarnation of an Icelandic berserker-poet, I'm very familiar with revenge and blood-feuds. The thing about blood-feuds is that they never end. And if you're lucky, you realize it's turning you into a monster while there's still time to recover your humanity. When blood-feuds are elevated to a political ideology, that's when you get, oh, let's say, Abu Ghraib, just to pick one. Or Gitmo. Or 9-11. Or the massacres of Afghans, Taliban and civilian. Or pretty much the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its current state. And legalized torture as a permanent state of exception.

We don't need revenge. We need justice. Christian, Jewish, Muslim theology confuse these things. God's "justice" is weighed against God's mercy. But this is worse than a false dichotomy. It is the perpetuation of a barbaric ideology of retribution that humanity ought to want to transcend. Instead, the US turns Afghanistan and Iraq (and Gitmo and Abu Ghraib) into the fiery lake of Revelation and we sit and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the suffering of the guilty.

I'm not a pacifist, but it seems to me (and I'm deeply conflicted about this) that violence ought to go somewhere. Justice misconstrued as revenge, as payback on a debt you're owed, is like trying to dig your way out of a hole.

How fucking hard is this to understand?

1 comment:

Steven Weiss said...

I've recently become interested in a comparison between Nietzsche and Gandhi. I think it would be superficial to write this kinship off, saying Gandhi represents the ascetic ideal. Rather, they both explore a love of the earth without resentment and revenge. Is Ubermench a good translation of the word Mahatma? Are Zarathustra's tensions with his own disciples similar to Gandhi's? While Nietzsche himself led a fairly uneventful life outside of his poetic songs of rancor-less love, Gandhi, as a Karma Yogi, put this project into action, and helped bring down the most powerful empire on earth.

One thing concerns me. When people make these recognitions about the about the slippery sloping spiral that is war-retribution, why do they often say "I'm not a pacifist, but ..." I think this unfortunate fear of "Pacifism as the ideology of Peace" is due to a misconception about what pacifism is. Perhaps you believe pacifism is passive, that pacifists would not resist the injustice of an attack. Gandhi corrects his followers for such a misunderstanding: he recommended active, non-violent resistance. Two of the defining characteristics of civil disobedience is that you must do it publicly and you must be willing to take the punishment, the goal of which is to awaken the conscience of your oppressor, their supporters and the wider world. This is not weakness, nor abandoning the defense of your loved ones. Pacifism IS the ACTIVE rejection of perpetual retribution. As such, pacifism is fighting the good fight.

So why aren't you a pacifist?