Day 5 in Auroville. We met Deepti on Saturday morning, and we all left fairly awed. She’s lived in Auroville since she was 19, teaches at a local school and is entirely self-educated—as she put it, “I just read a lot.” During the course of her 2-hour talk about—well, really, about whatever we wanted and needed to know about Auroville—she threw around references to Descartes, the French Revolution, the Buddha and John Milton, and impressed us all with her eloquence and enthusiasm. While explaining the philosophical foundations of Auroville—a village that fancies itself emblematic of “universal” values, tolerance and realization of the Divine Consciousness chief among them—she maintained that the specific provenance of the town’s ideals was irrelevant. Call Auroville communist, socialist, Marxist, Leninist, Rawlsian, cosmopolitan, liberal, even a “hippie enclave”—a rose by any other name still smells as sweet. Auroville is, in other words, just Auroville, and to try to make sense of it by assigning it a specific political or philosophical box is the wrong approach. Auroville bridges the past and the future; it celebrates human unity; it provides, as Deepti mentioned, an outlet for people who hate the direction the world is heading (and, as she also admitted, you’d have to be blind to be completely satisfied with the direction the world is heading). Auroville is for everyone, and it belongs to no one.
It sounds pretty tantalizing, but doesn’t everything upon first glance? Deepti’s reliance on Western philosophy throughout her lecture left me unable to disassociate the Aurovillian principles from Marxism—but unadulterated Marxism; more Lenin than Stalin; the kind of communism that the totalitarian governments of the Soviet Union, China and North Korea discredited. Before he wrote The Communist Manifesto with Engels, Marx wrote a short piece (in the 1840s) called “On the Jewish Question,” in which he outlined how a government based on “classic liberal” (read: Locke and Rousseau) ideals actually sanctioned pernicious self-interest that prevented human liberation. An ideal society cannot simply protect human rights; it depends, instead, on human transformation. In order to achieve true “freedom,” people must transform themselves into species-beings—members of the human race who have learned to harness individual power (self-interest) and turn it into “social power” (universal interest). “Species-beings” have learned how to cast off egoism and embrace universal values and, as a result, are able to live in a truly communal society, where material interests and familiar political systems are meaningless. And in order to live in this ideal society, one must have undergone the transformation—Marx calls it human emancipation—and freed himself from the reins of capitalism. It all sounds vaguely familiar, no?
Of course, Marx was a revolutionary, and Aurovillians claim they are not. To live in Auroville is entirely voluntary, and Aurovillians don’t proselytize or recruit, let alone “uprise.” It all sounds great; in fact, the success and sustainability of Auroville seems to imply that utopia just might be possible. But I’m skeptical. The “dark side” of Auroville is never talked about. Deepti mentioned that people have been “cast out” of the community, that it’s very traumatic, and that it usually has to do with “politics.” But this Orwellian twist implies that certain groups have the power to push somebody out for *whatever* reason. All Aurovillians are equal, it seems, but some are more equal than others.
According to the town’s website, the Auroville Foundation is responsible for ensuring that overall goals are met and assets are protected; other than that, “the day-to-day running of the affairs of Auroville is entirely in the hands of the Aurovilians.” Representatives are democratically elected to the Auroville Working Committee and the Auroville Council, but they have “no ongoing power.” (So what’s the point, then?) “Most major decisions are taken at ad-hoc Residents Assembly meetings where all Aurovilians are equally free to express themselves. . . . all Aurovilians are essentially (emphasis mine) equal and have an equal voice in the affairs of the community; no one individual or group is ‘in charge.’” The fact that an individual can be forced out against his will blatantly contradicts this rosy scenario; someone (or some group, or some family) must be more equal than others. The question is, who? I have 23 more days in Auroville to try to figure it out.