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Character as currency

Sudhirendar Sharma | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on March 24, 2017
Green pangs: An Avatar sand sculpture in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. After the release of the film Avatar, many viewers felt suicidal, thinking the fictional eco-utopia Pandora to be a far superior place to Earth.

Green pangs: An Avatar sand sculpture in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. After the release of the film Avatar, many viewers felt suicidal, thinking the fictional eco-utopia Pandora to be a far superior place to Earth.   -  Reuters

Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi; Mark Boyle; Non-fiction; New Society Publishers; ₹1,300

Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi; Mark Boyle; Non-fiction; New Society Publishers; ₹1,300

Mark Boyle lived a moneyless life to understand the subterranean violence that consumer culture has imbued our lives with

Only after living without money for three years — and having established his non-violent credentials — could Mark Boyle gather the courage to engage with Gandhi over the everydayness of violence in our lives. Having discovered the virtue of non-monetary relationships with people and nature, his contention is that monetary valuation is a form of violence that puts nature into tin cans for easy commercialisation. Isn’t the economic paradigm of progress premised on the conversion of our physical, cultural and spiritual commons into cash? Even the materials that make up the human body have been monetised. The net worth of what goes in the making of the heart, the hands, the eyes and other limbs has been estimated to be a measly $56. It may be a hard-to-digest perspective but it serves the cause of the hidden violence unleashed by pharmaceutical companies, turning sickness into big business. And this is one of the several expressions of ‘slow’ violence in our daily lives.

Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi offers a nuanced understanding of violence that is indirect but real. But this book is not for those who, according to Boyle, cherish their belongings over a sense of belonging, and whose empathy for nature is packaged into weekend getaways. Neither is it for those who get afflicted by ‘the Avatar effect’, the wave of depression and suicidal feelings that followed the release of the movie Avatar, as people longed for the ecologically bountiful and diverse moon of the fictional Pandora. It is for those who consider the worth of nature greater than tin cans, and who are ready to resist violence to forge rich and meaningful lives.

Consumerism has separated us from the consequences of our actions, creating a delusional sense of separation in both time and space. A lack of empathy has been designed into our culture so that we remain blinkered to the violence of our civilised lives. One can feign ignorance but being consumers of industrialised products, we are an integral part of destructive resource extraction that is anything but organised violence on the entire biotic community. Violence is manifest in the degree of separation between us and what we consume.

Boyle’s arguments are both experiential and philosophical, pulled out from three years lived without the trappings and security of money. Chronicling his moneyless life in The Moneyless Manifesto, the author had argued why the transition beyond monetary economics has become the zeitgeist of the Occupy generation. While the first year of moneyless living was tough, subsequent years were reportedly more content, healthier, and at peace. But if this was the experience of surviving on a ‘gift economy’ what made him re-enter the monetary world? “To share my lessons and to establish projects that would enable others to loosen the grip that money has on their lives,” he wrote.

The quest for more and more money makes humans behave like rats. Carl Sagan had remarked long ago that crowding humans into cities to earn more money would lead to outbreaks of street violence, child abuse, maternal mortality, gang rape, psychosis, alienation, disorientation, and rootlessness. Years later, ethologist John B Calhoun had found similar symptoms among rats when they were crowded in a cage. All this is not unexpected in the name of ‘progress’ — itself a linear construct — wherein what finally endures is indignity, inhumanity and humiliation in the pursuit of contentment, which by definition remains unattainable. In his thought-provoking style, Boyle challenges us to do things that make us less violent.

If you think you have found your own ethical response and have started to fill your kettle with ‘green’ products, then this is precisely what the author advises us to not do. In reality, these are minutely small changes. Green capitalists have conned us into believing that they make a big difference. It is for this reason that Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi avoids being prescriptive. Instead, it provokes the reader to tread beyond the urbane convenience of reduce, reuse and recycle by invoking the three R’s of radical reformism: resist, revolt and re-wild.

Unless the wolf returns to the park, the wild will not reverberate with all living forms. The extermination of the wolf from the Yellowstone National Park in the US has turned the wilderness into a parched landscape devoured by the high population of red deer. Introducing the wolf 70 years after it had been exterminated brought the park back to life, creating a dramatic upsurge in biodiversity and the health of the land. Boyle argues that there will always be comfortable people who would want to eradicate the wolf from the ecological and political terrains. The task before us is to ensure the constant presence of the wolf, waiting for us to enter realms in which we have no right to go without respect for what is already there.

Sudhirendar Sharma is an independent writer, researcher and academic

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Published on March 24, 2017
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