The Seven Blunders That Human Society Commits

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From the site listsofnote:

Gandhi gave his grandson a list of the “seven blunders that human society commits, and that cause all the violence.” They read pretty much as you’d expect a list from Gandhi to read:

Wealth without work.

Pleasure without conscience.

Knowledge without character.

Commerce without morality.

Science without humanity.

Worship without sacrifice.

Politics without principles.

Not to minimize the importance of the list– it certainly seems accurate– it is also, unfortunately, the kind of list someone might put in The Atlantic right before cheating on their spouse. It’s not simply hypocrisy, but conservation of energy: saying you believe something discharges enough energy that you don’t feel the urgency/guilt to alter your behavior. And listeners are additive, so the more people who hear you, the more you feel you’ve “done” something good; so the less you do.

But if you want a PhD thesis in Human Behavior, disregard the authority of the speaker (Gandhi) and predict what would happen if society committed all of those blunders in reverse:

Work without wealth.

Conscience without pleasure.

Character without knowledge.

Morality without commerce.

Humanity without science.

Sacrifice without worship.

Principles without politics.

and explain why.  

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17 Responses to The Seven Blunders That Human Society Commits

  1. Dan Dravot says:

    Gandhi’s pet term for the seven blunders in reverse was “satyagraha”, IIRC.

    All seven blunders are the same: Something for nothing.

  2. SeanM says:

    Work, conscience, character, morality, humanity, sacrifice, and principles are virtues. Which means, if you truly have those virtues, you’re going to do the right thing. (At least that’s the basis of virtue-based ethics: “The concept of a virtue is the concept of something that makes its possessor good: a virtuous person is a morally good, excellent or admirable person who acts and feels well, rightly, as she should.” – SEP) So to the question of the reverse is, basically, if you had a virtuous society, what would happen? In short, it’d all sort itself out for the better.

    “[S]aying you believe something discharges enough energy that you don’t feel the urgency/guilt to alter your behavior. And listeners are additive, so the more people who hear you, the more you feel you’ve “done” something good; so the less you do.”

    We might be a little bit better off telling people that doing nothing is ok. I think a lot of this “I’m going to go do ambitious thing X, Y, and Z!” and then never doing it comes from the social mores in America. You always have to be on the move, whether that’s to upgrade your car or house, or up the social ladder, upwards in education, or upwards onto some vacation. The US has a hatred/disgust/repulsion towards all things “lazy”. You’re really not supposed to “sit around” — because who does that? You can’t just chill out and take a break unless you’re on drugs or depressed or something. In which case do some more drugs or see a shrink.

    George Carlin said something along the lines of: show me a guy who masturbates to wheel of fortune reruns and I’ll show you a guy who isn’t causing any trouble. Sure, taxes. But he isn’t starting wars, chopping down the environment, giving people cancer, convincing the millions to buy the latest iProduct — he’s just sitting there. Even as a “leech”, I’d rather we have him than another Jobs or Zuckerberg or advertising exec or politician. We get so pissed off at these people because they’re sort of cheating; how do I USE someone who won’t do stuff for me? How do I make money off this person? And the answer is you most likely can’t. It’s best to reinforce the social mores of always doing stuff, cause then you’ll be able to sell this person more crap. People end up thinking they need always be doing something, always in the center of a (grand) narrative.

    Except that’s unhealthy because a lot of people are more lazy than they think. They will never write a novel, but they’ll keep saying they will because otherwise when people ask them what they’re doing with their free time, they’ll have to say: “Nothing, really. I just sit around and look at stuff other people have made.” And I think that’s actually okay because 1) it isn’t a lie and 2) if doing nothing isn’t a dangerous position, it’s less dangerous to try something and fail at it. You could go fail at a novel several times and it would be alright, and the likelihood of actually producing one would increase.

    It’s a bit indirect and obviously social mores aren’t going to change to this view any time soon. But you sort of can on your own. You could even practice “doing nothing” every day, in the form of meditation.

  3. operator says:

    But if you want a PhD thesis in Human Behavior … what would happen if society committed all of those blunders in reverse?

    Serfin’ in the USA: Human Behavior through a Contemporary Dark Age

    … but who could possibly have time to flesh out such a thesis? Oh.

  4. BHE says:

    But didn’t Ghandi also teach us,

    “That ain’t workin’. That’s the way you do it. Get your money for nothin’ and your chicks for free”?

  5. JohnJ says:

    It’d look a lot like a monastery, I imagine.

  6. epistemicfail says:

    Gandhi’s list of seven seems inherently Marxist, though I don’t mean that pejoratively. The core of Marx’ critique of capitalism was with its tendency to dehumanize; capitalism would cause people to treat other people as means to an end, e.g., wealth, power and pleasure; people would not be sufficient ends in themselves the way Kant had ordained.

    Wealth, pleasure and knowledge are drivers of individual human spirit; science seems redundant. Commerce, worship and politics, which I read roughly as economics, religion and government, are the organizing institutions by which individuals interact. So, Gandhi’s lament seems reducible to the lack of humanistic virtue in individual motives and social institutions.

    Predict what would happen if society committed all of those blunders in reverse and explain why.

    I don’t see how this John Lennon song is even possible. Even if I share Gandhi’s sentiments on some level, modern society would collapse, and not in a good way. Virtue does not come before human motivation; virtue is but a possible consequence of human action and interaction. This is cart before the horse. Virtue is good, a characteristic that can only exist within a medium. There is no music without mathematics. And thus, there can be no work without the possibility of accumulating for one’s future (wealth); there is no morality in forced acquisition of another’s property, as opposed to the mutually agreed upon exchange implicit in commerce; steadfast principles do not exist for one without the pandering politicians to draw the comparison.

    Society would collapse.

    The problem today is not that we lack virtues; it’s that we no longer share a common understanding of it.

    • JWF says:

      “Virtue is good, a characteristic that can only exist within a medium.”
      I agree, which is why I’m not sure that Alone’s proposed scenario could exist. Isn’t commerce a vehicle for morality? Politics a vehicle for principles? Wealth an expression (of the value of) work? You take the form away from the formless and you’ve got…nothing. Which is to say, I’m stumped (for now).

  7. girl says:

    This is not even hard. The reverse list describes American religion (Puritans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Kant). Do I have to break it down?

    • Guy Fox says:

      The Puritans originated in England in the 16th century; Lutherans are from 16th century Germany; Jean Calvin was French, lived mostly in Switzerland, but his ideas were most well-received in the Low Countries; Kant was East Prussian from Koenigsberg.

      By what stretch of the imagination is any of that American? There was a whole world underway before you were born, and there is a whole world happening in places you cannot currently see. When you close your eyes, the rest of the world doesn’t disappear.

      What, pray, would you break down if you tried?

  8. Arno says:

    The backwards list read like a caricature of the American middle class to me: playing the part of the American success story, while enjoying none of the quality of life that the idealized life style supposedly would bring.
    As for the why; my stab at Alone’s thought process is that work, conscience, character, morality, humanity, sacrifice, and principles are all conveyed through behaviors or postures that you could put on. Wealth, pleasure, knowledge, commerce, science, worship, and politics would require you to do or be something. Since acting is a relatively trivial endeavor (at least compared to self actualization) and the immediate results are pretty much identical, it’s not really even a choice that most people have to make.
    About the solution I can come up with is to fake it. You’d be doing the wrong thing, but for the right reason. If it turns out that it makes you happy, great. If not, at least you’re pretending to be a decent person and no one else has to clean up after a meltdown.

    Unrelated, has Pastabagel ever mentioned anything about trying to get a comment preview working? The few times I’ve tried to specially format anything it’s turns out terribly. Seems like a preview would help.

  9. girl says:

    Guy Fox – Sorry if I sounded combative; I realized later that the tongue-in-cheek tone which I intended was not conveyed. By “American religion” I didn’t mean Cherokee, but it’s true that I unnecessarily narrowed the discussion to the American experiment.

    (I could have listed Pilgrims rather than Puritans; today’s “Separatists” identify with the latter rather than the former.)

    I agree with Arno that another way of talking about this vision for society would be to talk about the middle class (and then maybe about flaky mainstream religion); right now I am talking about the religious traditions that regard themselves as the moral backbone of the country.

    Work without wealth – labor has inherent virtue; wealth is suspect as “worldly” and has to be defended when it happens
    Conscience without pleasure – e.g., Jansenism – Calvinist depravity + Catholic guilt!
    Character without knowledge – morality is obvious, just follow the rules; knowledge has limited utility and is suspicious
    Morality without commerce – personal and social piety are more important than life in this world
    Humanity without science – creationism, anti-vaccination, natural=good, etc.
    Sacrifice without worship – mother’s love is not a virtue, God is only good because God makes the rules; virtue is obedience and self-denial
    Principles without politics – how your pastor wants you to vote

    None of this is mainstream, but it’s also everywhere. E.g., how many reactions against patriarchy are also reactions to the above?

  10. girl says:

    That’s the start of a break down but I’m not going for the “phd” — this was my immediate superficial impression. It’s like a hostile, reductionist caricature of a New England colony (or like the kind of modern day church which is trying to reproduce that hostile caricature, oblivious to its ahistoricity).

    • Guy Fox says:

      Thanks for the elaboration, but it was the parochialism that was shocking – not the tone. Though you do juice a lot of meaning out of some really simple phrases, the bizarre thing was how you simultaneously crammed all that meaning falsely into an American frame, showing that that’s the most readily available context for you, and labelled that frame as ‘American’, showing you know there’s something else out there, that the frame is limited, but you choose to ignore what’s beyond it.

      There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, but there also seems to be more in your philosophy than you know, and you’d see it you’d just give it some thought and attention.

      But it’s mighty interesting that you characterize the pilgrims as American. They’re famous for having come from somewhere, and they arrived a century and a half before there was such a thing as the U.S. of America. You’re defining them based not on where they came from, but on where they were going; not who their ancestors were, but who their great-grandchildren were going to be. That’s a really interesting idea, but it leaves me wondering: by that method, who are we?

  11. JWF says:

    Gandhi gives his commandments in the negative (“Don’t have wealth without work), TLP gives his in the affirmative (“Have work without wealth”). This is indicative of Gandhi’s tendency to moralize, and even though he didn’t read the Atlantic, this may be the moment right before he cheats on his spouse. (He also used his British education to fight the British). The affirmative formulation is less preachy, but if I hear the latter from the government, I’m John Galting the hell out of here.

  12. DGS says:

    Work without wealth – Amish

    Conscience without pleasure – Socialism

    Character without knowledge. – Jersey Shore

    Morality without commerce. – not related

    Humanity without science. – Religion

    Sacrifice without worship. – Altruism

    Principles without politics. – Ego

    I am just shooting in the dark because I am curious.

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