Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The simplest definition of positive peace--the concept named by Johan Galtung decades ago--is:
Peace and justice by peaceable means.

But that also begs the question, what about when nonviolence isn't working? How can we get justice by violent means?


Impossible? How can I claim that? Cannot violence stop a man from beating a woman? Doesn't violence sometimes stop a group of thugs from hurting innocent people? Who would assert that violence is injustice?

Me. While violence can produce some justice, it always produces some injustice, at least when it's practiced on humans (I am not talented nor panspecies-fluent enough to practice nonviolence with crocodiles, mosquitos, sharks or viruses).
Simply, humans are each precious and unique, with reflective powers and critical analytical abilities. Smashing someone up is not a just activity. Restraining someone is not the same as injuring them. I have no argument with restraining someone who is temporarily insane, nor do I argue against incarcerating someone who is a threat to the vulnerable. Physical restraint does not require wounding or killing.

Some advocate a nonkilling society. That is lightyears beyond what we have now--and it's nowhere near where we should try to be. A noninjuring culture, from education to law enforcement, is a far more justifiable and worthy goal.

How realistic is it to think that when we hurt someone that person isn't going to be thinking about revenge?
Winners often completely forget about the conflict--oh, it's done, we won, end of story. We fought that battle, it was decided, and we have an agreement.

And then we reflect. Well, actually, that person did renegotiate later on. Well, I guess that party ultimately attacked us again. Come to think of it, she did leave me. So, I guess their grandchildren did sort of go to war against us.

This is the passive-aggression that psychologists describe and it's going to be there, always. Take away someone's dignity, injure them, and they will be plotting and planning to get back, to show you what it feels like.

That was 9.11.01.

That is a custody battle.

That is take this job and shove it.

That is much of our cycle of violence, and by the time it has spiraled a few times, everyone is absolutely sure that they are operating defensively, even as the other party believes just as certainly that the others are operating offensively. Each party is sure that they are responding, while the other party believes the same about themselves, and that the others are initiating. Is this the root of belief in the afterlife, of who gets to go to heaven or is consigned to hell? Are we so poor at conflict that we give it over to God to judge who was the aggressor and then empower our priests to tell us that we can only engage in a just war, a just violence, justifiable homicide?

Like being a little bit pregnant, which is generally regarded a being a little bit unrealistic, a conflict cannot be a little bit violent and expect the other side to just take it. The perception is always going to be: That violence was unjust.

In those cases, perception becomes reality and there is one escape, which is nonviolence.
This requires unilateral behavior, rising above our normal violent response, however delayed by circumstances. After all, the passive-aggressive behavior is a direct result of a temporary asymmetry in the power to inflict pain and protect against it. Even if it takes generations, the wounded one is waiting, gathering power, planning revenge. Even if it comes out in a different way--even if it means self-injury--the passivity will lead to violence and that violence will, in turn, be perceived as unjust.

It's a losers' game.

Learning how to gather different forms of power that preserve everyone's dignity and gain equality--in short, learning how to gather and use nonviolent power--is the only escape in this earthly life. It is the ultimate realism.

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