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Posts Tagged ‘Non-violence’

Thugs with Grievances and Very Fine People With Guns

In PeaceAble on May 29, 2020 at 12:16 pm

The question being asked by a lot of white people on social media this morning:

Why do these rioters destroy their own neighborhoods, loot and burn, and risk a violent, perhaps deadly response from the police?  Don’t they know that just makes them look bad and hurts their cause?

Now, let’s set aside for the moment the fact that these people were not asking a similar question of armed white people storming state capitols and threatening violence, talking about lynching and assassination and so forth.  Don’t they know that just makes then look bad and hurts their cause?

Although the answers to these questions are related in two ways.

I’ll start with the question that is being asked, then show how that question and the other non-question are related.

And I’ll begin by asking another question.

Why do prisoners, when they riot, destroy their prison: looting and burning, risking a violent response from the guards?

Because they don’t have much to lose.

And don’t try to say, “Oh, but that’s different,” because it is only different in degree, not in kind.

We used to call them ghettos, but they were always prisons.

We now call it the inner city, but it’s a prison just the same.

We call them the projects, or the neighborhoods, but they’re still prisons.

And the chances for a kid growing up in the inner city ever escaping from the systemic poverty, the institutionalized racism, the disastrously inadequate education, the oppressive living conditions, and the constant threats of violence from within and without are just about as few and far between as the chances of escape or release from prison.

And the chance that people living under those conditions have always been and will always be treated by major segments of society as less-than-human, even if they try to follow all the rules, do the “right” things, and manage to get out are pretty substantial.

So why not burn it down?  Why not burn down the physical manifestation of your imprisonment?  And why not, while you’re at it, take whatever you can get away with?  You’re unlikely to get it any other way.  And it’s going to burn, anyway, if you don’t take it.  And it’s a way of saying to those outside that the longer you deny us not just the basic, but even the least more than that which would make life more than just survival, that would liberate us even a little bit from the prisons you have put us in; the more our anger, our fear, our grief and our need will fester and grow until it again explodes into what makes you ask the question and not see the answer, just as you don’t see us.

And why should we risk violence, even death, at the hands of the police?  Hell, we do that every day, sometimes without even getting out of bed!

And how is that related to the second question?  I mean aside from fairly obvious racial and other issues of prejudice?

They both have to do with fear.  There is reasonable fear and unreasonable fear; and as a society we have routinely, historically, gotten them confused.

The people asking the question are afraid of the people doing the rioting.  They are afraid of them even if they are merely demonstrating.  They are afraid of them even if they are doing nothing.  They are afraid of them because our culture, our society has spent hundreds of years and enormous amount of resources convincing them, teaching them, to fear those other people.  Not to fear them because of what they have done, but because of what we have done to them.  To fear them because of who they simply are, which is the other.

After centuries during which white people took whatever they wanted, by whatever means they could, from other people, they are afraid that the others will take what they have – or take back what was taken.

And the culture has also spent those centuries teaching us all, convincing us all that when you are afraid, the appropriate response is to arm yourself, and the people with the most dangerous weaponry are to be admired and respected.  Corollary to that, we have been taught that those with the most destructive power have the right to use that power to do whatever they want, because if you don’t let them then they will use that power against us – and it will be our own fault for not properly respecting the people with the power.

We have, in other words, been told that the people without power are to be feared, and the people with power are to be respected.  Until the moment when the others realize that they, too, have power; at which point they are to be put down because that realization is all the evidence needed to prove that fear of them was warranted.

We have also been taught that when groups of white people take up arms against the authorities, and people are injured or killed as a result, it is the authorities who are to blame, not the groups of armed white people.  But when the others do it, the authorities are praised, not blamed. 

You do see how backwards all that is, right?  And how obviously true?  Because if you don’t see it, then you will never find the truth you claim to be seeking when you ask the question.

Why I’m a Pacifist

In PeaceAble on August 26, 2017 at 3:55 pm

Nobody WANTS war! Nobody LIKES war!
Well, except for SOME people. And are you so certain you’re not one of them?
When I was in my twenties, I had a habit of congratulating myself on how I dealt with the violence of my temper. I was slow to reach the point of losing my temper, and I had a strict rule against striking out at people. There were times when I would have had enough frustration, fear, grief or other forms of anger so that I would punch a hole in a wall, kick something, break something; but I told myself that these were inanimate objects, just material things, at least I wasn’t hurting anyone.
What I did not know at the time was that you don’t have to hit someone to hurt them with your violence. I didn’t understand that the potential or threat of violence is already violence. To be in the presence of violence is to be hurt by it.
I have spent a considerable part of the past forty to forty-five years learning about my anger and trying to become more sensitive to the impact it has and has had on those I love, and on my friends and acquaintances. And as part of a culture in which violent solutions to problems is often encouraged and even celebrated, a culture whose language has far more ways to create metaphors of war and violence than of peace and non-violence, I have become aware of the part, however small, my own violence has contributed to that culture.
I feel as though America is at a point where we can collectively, culturally, choose to continue down the road of violence as a solution, or we can begin to mature toward a more peaceable way of life. The path of peace is not an easy one, or without danger, but I don’t know how the human race survives if we do not take it.
Even during my most violent periods, I considered myself a pacifist. Even now I can appreciate that there have been times when violence and war have become unavoidable, even necessary. But that inevitability, that necessity is always a failure. War and violence are always a failure to find other solutions to our differences and our conflicts. No matter how noble or moral we believe our goals to be, war itself is neither noble nor moral.
Whenever I have tried to talk about my pacifism, about the need to resist the temptation to answer violence with violence, someone will ask something like, “Do you really think we could have stopped Hitler by being nice to him?”
No. But pacifism isn’t about being nice, it’s about finding ways to solve problems before they escalate to the point of war. The problem is in knowing when to start. How can we learn to recognize the danger before violence or war becomes the answer?
Pick a starting point, any starting point.
I remember, studying history, how easily the books divided things up. There were eras, and periods, and decades. There were significant events, and seminal moments, and turning points. And there would be a brief discussion of causes that usually served as a transition between one significant something and the next, but the focus was on whatever the next chapter title was about, whatever point the timeline had reached. We were expected to understand the great sweep of history as we might follow the plot in War and Peace.
We would examine the years between wars and look for connections, discuss causation, but always stayed in the line of the narrative.
Life isn’t like that, though. It doesn’t really follow any linear plot, no matter how many subplots or expository passages we might insert. The progress of life is messy; and without a sense — genuine understanding is not possible without a much deeper analysis of the scope of western civilization than most people who are not dedicated historians can manage – without at least a common sense that the second Iraq war, and the current problems in Yemen and Syria and Afghanistan and North Korea and the Sudan, to name just a few, are connected to things like the invasion of the Goths and Visigoths into ancient Europe, to the Crusades, to Columbus’ decision to sail out in search of an ocean route to India, to the decimation of the First Nations of the Continent, and so on to the violence in Charlottesville, how do we begin to understand the place to which violence and war have brought us?
And how do we change that trajectory?
Perhaps we can start with the personal. It is a commonly understood concept in human behavior that things often don’t become clear or important to us until we can make them personal, connect them to things that are integral to ourselves.
That’s why I began by talking about my own violence. I can look now at the great sweep of my life (and I am only just about 70) and I can see how it is manifested today in my relationships with my children, my extended family, my friendships and my communities. I don’t always like what I see. Each violent act, each hole in a wall, was part of that.
In the same way, each time we answer our anger, our grief, our frustration, our need not to be hurt any longer with violence in any of its multitudinous forms, we help create the next necessity of violence. Each time we fail to denounce violence even when it seems to accomplish ends we yearn for; each time we use the language of war and violence to describe our reality; each time we allow ourselves to believe that there is no other way, that the “enemy” cannot be defeated, the problem cannot be solved, the conflict cannot be managed without violence; we set up the conditions of grief and anger and hatred that are the building blocks of the next violence, the next war.
There are those that say we have already reached a point of the necessity of endless war. The President still proposes that we can bomb and kill our way to the end of terrorism. We can’t. Neither can we solve the problems of ignorance and crime and poverty and all their associate evils by going to war against them.
I still get angry. I still have fantasies of violence and the defeat of the other. But I have, I hope for the rest of my life, learned to stop and step back from the brink, to eschew violence for acceptance, tolerance, empathy, and at least the outward trappings of peaceableness. It’s a journey, not a place.
Non-violence works, but we have to start sometime, somewhere. Let’s not wait until it is, once again, too late.

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