Thursday, September 16, 2010

Behavior problems

Nonviolence is about behavior. It's also about philosophy, morals, and survival, but primarily, a nonviolent approach to conflict indicates likely courses of action as a struggle proceeds.

“Conflict behavior occurs in a specific interaction content and is best described as a means by which each party proposes to achieve its goal” (Bercovitch, Kremenyuk, & Zartman, 2009, pp 8-9).

Technical nonviolence--I didn't smack you in the mouth so I am therefore nonviolent--is an inferior and far less effective approach to demonstrating intended conflict behavior. Snarling, name-calling, and blustering often seem to indicate a readiness to switch tactics. Going negative can persuade your opponent that, if he loses, you will crush him or at least take away his power to control his own life and destiny. Watching the current race for governor in Hawaii shows some of these lessons, as we see the Democratic primary attacks by candidate Mufi Hannemann backfire. After sending out a flier branding his opponent, Neil Abercrombie, as not racially diverse enough--including direct comparisons of their respective wives' names to indicate that Abercrombie married a haole--a white woman--and that Hannemann married a woman of Japanese descent, Hannemann's campaign was essentially forced to apologize for the tone after many expressed disapproval. Indeed, Martin Luther King, Jr., identified the spirit of aloha with the spirit of nonviolence, and the story of how that happened is illustrative of this principle. When Civil Rights workers were being murdered in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, Hawaii's Rev Dr. Abraham Akaka sent leis to King and the other leaders, who wore them the next day as they brought that spirit into the confrontation.

Nonviolence shows the opponents you intend to convert that they have a better future working with you to solve problems. The affect you assume reveals--or at least seems to convey the impression--that you are collaborative and not exclusive. Certainly when South African black leadership kept portraying post-apartheid South Africa as a multi-racial society it was conducive to negotiating an end to apartheid, whereas the images of a bloodbath and whites in flight caused that system to tend to hang on to power. Those contradictory behavioral images were in contest for years and the mixed results show that.

This doesn't mean that some adversaries won't have to account for their behaviors when you are successful with your nonviolent struggle. Certainly any actual crimes require some disposition, some process, but even that is made far less odious when you wage your struggle with nonviolence. It might be said that Archbishop Desmond Tutu really brought the spirit of aloha to that process with his Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which gave other nonviolent campaigns the model. See? Only the most egregious high ranking criminals will be charged and incarcerated. It was the alternative to the Nuremberg trials, where the criminals were hung in the aftermath of violent conflict. Imprisoning a perpetrator may seem retributive, but when Saddam was hung, that only told the next dictator that it was crucial to hang on to power by all means when the forces threatening you are violent. Augusto Pinochet, on the other hand, eventually went out without a murmur, as he was given a golden bridge over which he could retreat. Had Chileans been violent, he would likely have used much more violence to desperately attempt to hang on to power long after he ceased to be legitimate in the eyes of his citizens.

Our behavior in conflict is like investment. Good in, good out. Bad in, bad out.

Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.) (2009). The Sage handbook of conflict resolution. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


Andy said...

Hello Tom,

Your post today reminded me of my then-17-year-old son's post from last November.

Thoughts that come from him and your blog remind me that many middle-aged people wink and nudge each other about middle-aged people who are "idealistic like teenagers." How do we help prevent more people from losing their 17-year-old idealism?

Tom H. Hastings said...

What a great blog post about Armistice Day. I know, Andy, I quote John Dos Passos (who had the earliest reference to this I know of) to my students when I talk about the new realism (gender exclusivity in the original): "A man who is not a revolutionary when he's 20 has no heart; a man who is still a revolutionary at 40 has no head." I assure them that if we substitute nonviolence for violence, being a lifelong revolutionary for justice and equality is the strongest course and is borne out as correct in the end.