Monday, December 12, 2011

Nonviolence and Its Violent Consequences

Back in the 1990′s pacifism and it’s sister dogma, “Non-Violence,” had paralyzed the once thriving Earth First! movement. It was argued that cooperation with the authorities was somehow not violent (Despite those same authorities carrying weapons and working for a state with a nuclear arsenal) but sabotaging machinery made one akin to a mass murderer. Tackling and attempting to citizens arrest people breaking the windows of Nike town was not violent, but harming the property of people who own slave-run factories abroad was “just as bad” as owning those factories yourself. Many books and pamphlets were written at the time to counter this nonsensical, non-strategic, non-resistance movement, most famously Ward Churchill’s Pacifism as Pathology. Still, for it’s conciseness and applicability to wilderness defense (and offense!) movements, nothing beats William Meyers “Nonviolence and Its Violent Consequences.” Given the current rhetoric of many in the Occupy movement who see sabotage as violence, while working within the system as somehow not violent, this booklet has suddenly become a must read once more.



Kelly Cookson said...

William Meyers' book paints all nonviolent activists with the same brush. It's fine to say "There's a particular kind of nonviolent activist that I want to criticize here." However, to accept that Meyers' criticisms apply to all nonviolent activists is to accept a caricature of nonviolence.

I am a proponent of nonviolence. Yet, I do not see violence as the worst possible response to injustice. The worst possible response to injustice is to do nothing and let others suffer. Violence--the physical type that injures and kills people--is better than doing nothing.

As a nonviolent activist, I do not believe there is one solution for all conflicts. I do not believe that nonviolence would have been sufficient to stop the German Nazis. It took a war to stop the Nazis. I think there are times when violence is necessary.

One can even divide nonviolent actions into two main types: integrative and coercive. Integrative actions attempt to resolve conflict through persuasion, negotiation, and conscience. These types of actions seek win-win resolutions that end with the reconciliation of the parties in conflict. Coercive actions attempt to create a constructive tension between the parties in conflict. The tension is brought about through threats and punishments (boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, and so forth). These types of actions are needed when integrative nonviolent actions prove ineffective.

So, nonviolence to me is about a stepped approach to resolving conflicts: (1) start with integrative actions, (2) use coercive actions if necessary, and (3) as a last resort use violence to stop terrible harm. I don't take this approach for religious or philosophical reasons. I take this approach because I believe human psychology is such that anger, contempt, retaliation, and revenge are not a good foundation for a lasting and fair peace between people.

Kelly Cookson

Peacedream said...

Thank you for your comment, which I appreciate very much.


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