Saturday, December 03, 2011

Beyond violence

A world without violence is impossible to realistically expect. Violence will always be with us. So, argue the defenders of the war system, how can we realistically challenge the idea of a military strong enough to defend our nation by whatever means are necessary to do so?

That is a bit like saying we will always need to clip our toenails so why object to the guillotine? The question is not how much violence is Just Fine to use in meeting our goals, but rather how can we eliminate the stranglehold that violence has on our economy, our emotional well being, our social norms and our spirits and souls? How can we prevent violence and protect ourselves from it in a smarter and more sustainable way than our current model? Violence amongst hunter-gatherer cultures is usually rare. Can we not achieve at least what 'primitive people' do?

We now invest in violence as a protection against violence. We invest so heavily that we virtually guarantee that more violence will result. Our military spends us into poverty and poverty produces enormous conflict, as though irony doesn't exist. It is astonishing.

Meanwhile, we have ungodly numbers of weapons freely floating in our streets and stashed in our homes, weapons that take the lives of innocents every day, lives lost on the altar of fear and sacralization of murderous arsenals.

With that sort of protection who needs attackers? When our own military robs us all blind, who needs foreign thieves? When the gun manufacturers enable the slaughter of American children who needs invading brutalizers?

And so it's all about taking new risks in order to avoid the old ones. We can do so on an individual basis, though ultimately it's a collective game, violence reduction and nonviolent alternatives. I can, as an individual, refuse to own a gun, which I do. I can refuse to call the armed police to protect me. I can be a conscientious objector and refuse to enter into the military, which I did as a young man. All these alternatives are great and I wish they were more prevalent. But only when we decide in mass numbers to change our norms and our actions will we achieve the real goal, an alternative to the war system.

What would it take?

If we refused to pay for war--if we made it harder to collect war taxes and we elected more and more officials who would reduce the military--we would begin the transition.

If we developed strong networks to provide for our common security first at the neighborhood level and then in a network of communities, we could begin to collectivize our unconquerability. Refusing to cooperate with violence starts as a value and moves into a commitment, gaining strength as we learn local mutual support and care. The general strike is how a people can make it impossible for others to conquer them--e.g. when Oakland police engaged in brutality against Occupy and Occupy shut down major portions of the city, yet received praise from the mayor. That's the beauty of nonviolence; you can defeat your opponent and they will often inflict relatively few costs, possibly even expressing admiration for you. Building associations of mutual support is how oppressed minorities can strengthen their hand.

There are, admittedly, things you can do with violence that you cannot accomplish with nonviolence. These include:
  • invading other's lands.
  • stealing from others.
  • ruling others with a vast wealth gap.
  • maintaining extreme poverty alongside relative wealth.

Let us acknowledge that. If we are willing to forgo these activities we can achieve the other goals using nonviolence, inflicting costs upon oppressors that help convince them to come bargain with us. This is true at the individual, local and national level, but it will take discipline and commitment to achieve. Meanwhile, until we do, we experience all the costs and benefits of violence. Some of us Just Say No Thanks.

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