Thursday, September 23, 2010

Caveat: Conflict industry

The party line, if you like, on nonviolent social change is that it must be entirely indigenous, or it will be criticized as being imported by some imperial outsiders. Those outsiders will always be acting selfishly and with no concern for the people on the ground, without real care for the indigenous populace.

Thus, the Civil Rights movement was branded by the jingoists in its day as communist. The antiwar movement in the 1960s was a tool of the reds. The nuclear disarmament movement was clearly inspired and supported by the Soviets. And just as that was always the case in the US--I was certainly accused of this, at least until I went to the Soviet embassy in 1987 and got arrested for offering nonviolent resistance to their nuclear arsenal--it is the same pretty much everywhere else. The tendency is quite Maoist, Manichean, those who oppose me are in a big conspiracy against me and are all in league with each other, and they are in cahoots plotting to hurt us all.

This is how demagogues manipulate people and it is how wars occur. If I am an elite leader and I want to stay in power and enhance my power, I've learned this lesson on my way up, on my path to power over others. Paint anyone who stands in my way as an enemy of those whom I need to actually fight my battles for me. Call all Muslims terrorists who have the destruction of America uppermost in their minds--and call all who clamor for peace enemies of my country and label them as in league with our enemies.

This is the conflict industry.

Steve Daniels and Greg Walker (2001) warn those who are interested in resolving conflict that there are sometimes those whose "job security as individuals depend more on the perpetuation of the conflict than on some calm, quiet settlement. We call these people the 'conflict industry'" (p. 44).

This is the gun shop owner, the lawyer, the prison guard, the general, and the politician who is the champion of his people. The old joke: Who is the poorest guy in the little town? The only lawyer. Who are the two richest guys in town? The two lawyers, after the second one moves in. The conflict industry is always going to try to capture as much power and wealth as it can. That is why we have a Pentagon that is bloated beyond all recognition or possible value. The military contracts are obscenely profitable and just enough war is quite advantageous to the elites who can keep fear and hate alive, so that we pay our taxes to support it all, so that we vote in the politicians who in turn vote in massive military spending.

Either you're with us, or you're with them. The commies, the terrorists, the fill-in-the-blanks. This bipolar disorder is what defined the Bush regime, just as it defines the role and power of Ahmadinijad and Hamas. It's Hitlerian and it's how demogogues fool us again and again.

The nonviolent, collaborative alternatives, then, are a major threat, and must be branded as inimical to the safety of the average person. The peace movement must be labeled as naive and unpatriotic, a tool of the terrorists. Those who favor gun control or gun bans are stereotyped as enemies of freedom, as sniveling cowards who will welcome dictators. And we see the same sad human tendency elsewhere--those who favor democracy or human rights in Afghanistan are just crusading slaves to the imperialist Westerners. Those who favor women's rights in Gaza are Zionist agents. It's the same dynamic in our human psyche--we offer unthinking loyalty to those who convince us that they are fighting for us, and, oh, by the way, now you should all fight for me, I mean with me, well, under my command, and we can hope to triumph over the forces of the evil enemy.

Sarah Palin knows how to do this quite well. Set up the sense that everyone on 'that side' is persecuting you because you are standing up for the average person. Sound normal--that is, ignorant of world affairs and like the average small town mom with your dysfunctional family and frustrating bureaucracy--and then begin claiming that you have the common sense to know who the enemies are. Make ignorance of our world a point of pride, and complete dependence upon our war machine as a patriotic value, even if it bankrupts us and creates a couple billion more enemies worldwide.

So, on the enlightened self-interest side (aka the nonviolent side) of the equation, we need to figure out ways to resist the labels they attempt to affix on us and we need to find the elites who are doing that and instead label them as members of the conflict industry who are acting not in the public interest, but rather in their own selfish interest and to the detriment of the majority. This should be part of every nonviolent struggle.


Daniels, Steve E., & Walker, Greg B. (2001). Working through environmental conflict: The collaborative learning approach. Westport CT: Praeger.


Nico said...

I particularly liked your last section on Sarah Palin, I liked how you dissected her campaigning "tactic". Also, I was intrigued by the civil rights section on if your not with us, your against us...also pertaining to the anti-war movement.

Nico said...

I particularly liked your last section on Sarah Palin, I liked how you dissected her campaigning "tactic". Also, I was intrigued by the civil rights section on if your not with us, your against us...also pertaining to the anti-war movement.