Professor preaches the practical Gandhi
Will discuss famous leader's philosophy at CSU Tuesday

By Daniel Silliman


It is, initially, a question of practicality.

Whether Mahatma Gandhi's call to non-violence seems moving or misguided, compelling or crazy, depends on whether the ideas seem practical.

Sanjay Lal said he believes Gandhi's ideas work. They work in the real world and in individuals' lives. They're not just wild fancies, but tactical methods for building a better world.

Lal found Gandhi while looking for a philosophy that wouldn't just be heady and theoretical. As a graduate student, he wanted something less metaphysical and more practical, and he found the works of the famous pacifist.

"I'm interested in trying to live a better life and be a better person," said Lal. "I found Gandhi to be a real practitioner of philosophy. For me, the practical side has these elements that can make our lives better."

Lal, now a philosophy professor at Columbus State University, in Columbus, Ga., is coming to Clayton State University on Tuesday to talk about Gandhi, economics and globalization.

The professor said he will talk about the way we live, the way we practice globalization, and argue that "we're ignoring a lot of really important issues, issues that Gandhi has brought up before, that are important if we want a just, sustainable and good world."

Gandhi is known in the this country for his pacifism. His civil disobedience helped end British colonialism and inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and informed the American Civil Rights movement. Gandhi's life was portrayed by Ben Kingsley in an award-winning film in 1982, and Lal said Gandhi's reputation and name recognition still attract a crowd.

Lal believes, though, that Gandhi's understanding of non-violence goes beyond what most Americans realize. It is also relevant, he said, to questions of economics and globalization.

"I think for Gandhi," the professor said, "violence is not just a physical force, but when you take more than is absolutely needed, that's a form of violence. When possessions are accumulated, that's a form of violence. And he thought, when you use violence to build a system, then you need violence to defend a system. An ideal economic system doesn't require defense."

Lal believes Gandhi would oppose our modern globalization, because it exploits and degrades people, excusing that inhumanity because it's far away.

"We basically," Lal said, "have no problem with exploiting far away places. It is basically a kind of colonialism."

Gandhi wasn't just opposed to globalization, though, according to Lal. There are some things about it -- the common connection between humans worldwide and the rejection of nationalism -- which Gandhi would embrace.

"In Gandhi globalism," Lal speculates, "we would have more decentralization and basically, the nation states would interact with each other, but that would start from the bottom-up, rather than top-down. It would be bottom-up in the sense that the production and the means of production would be locally controlled and locally operated."

Lal will be lecturing on Gandhi's critique of globalization for about an hour at the university, Tuesday, in a speech called, "Globalization Through the Father's Eyes."

Despite the draw of the Gandhi name, though, Lal doesn't expect to find a lot of sympathy for the economic theory. Most people, he said, aren't very receptive to Gandhi's ideas on production, consumption and economic systems.

"There's a tendency to think he's not very practical," Lal said.

In the end, as in the beginning, Gandhi is accepted or rejected on the question of practicality. The ideals of non-violence, non-exploitation and respect for common humanity aren't debated, Lal said, but the tactics are disputed, the politics are questioned and the possibility of achieving the ideals is doubted.

Lal admits Gandhi sometimes seemed naive, and maybe a little impervious to reality, but he still thinks Gandhi's ideas can show us how to be a better people.

"I think they are practical," Lal said. "They're just hard to follow. They require a love of discipline, a lot of spiritual development, but that's no reason to abandon them."

Lal will give Clayton State University's Second Annual Philosophy and Society Lecture on Tuesday, Nov. 18, at 11:15 a.m., in room 416 of the James M. Baker University Center. It is free and open to the public.