Saturday, June 02, 2007

Violence and Gandhi's Blunders

I do not, as I once did, maintain an ideological commitment to non-violence. I do believe that (non-violent) civil disobedience can be a useful tactic in opposing illegitimate authority, rejecting empire, preserving one's rights and dignity, and so forth. But it is only one tactic. There are others, and success depends on how a multitude of tactics are employed by a multitude of actors.

In his book Endgame and in his talks Derrick Jensen goes to great lengths to point out the fundamental flaws of maintaining an unwavering "commitment" to non-violence in the current climate of State and Corporate Aggression. He describes how "non-violent" protesters at the WTO thing in Seattle in 1999 actually fought, physically, with other protesters who were willing to up the stakes and destroy corporate "property". Jensen even mentions how these "peaceful" types---who presumably had agreed in advance with the authorities on where and how many could march, how many would get arrested and so forth---how they actually assisted the police in hauling in those who sensed that engaging state/corporate violence with love and kindness wasn't going to get anyone anywhere.

At a certain point, refusing violence as a tactic ceases to be about one's own spiritual health; it becomes, instead, an unwillingness to protect others under fire. Someone once said that no ideology is so good that it is worth committing cruel acts for. Fair point. I think a refusal to prevent cruel acts is in itself cruel. And if you need to get physical, to step away from the armchair and the computer, in order to prevent acts of cruelty, then by all means do it.

Sure: one man's cruelty is another man's profit, moral authority is a tricky issue, and perhaps at least some of what I am suggesting here might sound like it validates the worst crimes of, say, the Bush Administration. But don't misunderestimate me.

For years my own rejection of violence was centered on the idea that I did not want to become that which I despise, that which is destructive, that which my values stand in opposition to. So much did I believe in universal justice and "the rule of law" that I even said that, given the chance, I would not assasinate someone like Hitler. Not even a universally accepted archetype of pure evil like Hitler could get me to take on his tactics, I thought.

Well, I don't anymore. The people controlling and destroying the world want nothing more than for their opponents to always and ideologically stop short of preventing the destruction by any means necessary. I want to be clear that I am not advocating violence. But---and I credit Jensen for arguing this point powerfully enough to get me to reconsider extremely deeply held views---I think an honest look at useful versus useless tactics might get us thinking differently about violence.

It's 1936 or so, and there we are, with the IEDs, standing just outside Adolf Hitler's house. But we don't ignite them, because to do so might just encourage more state repression. You know what Jensen says he would say to a guy like Hitler if he had the chance to meet him? "Bang. You're dead." I love it.

I'm not pro-gun. I don't think we all ought to arm ourselves to fight the State by dressing up in black and using walkie-talkies and throwing molotov cocktails at business fatcats when they step out of their limousines. I'm against violence. I don't allow it to manifest in my daily personal interactions. Still, I think we're not being honest if we don't even discuss provoking the same degree of state repression and violence for ourselves that (for example) the US government and military---along with their proxies, hired guns, and political and corporate allies---dispense to others in our name every second of every day throughout the world.

I wonder if a sustained campaign of property destruction and violence (or the threat of it) against planet-raping elites would be more or less effective than the sustained campaign of "consciousness raising" and occassional rally attendance many of us have presumably taken part in.

It's not just some rights and freedoms we risk losing by not fighting back by any means necessary, but the planet itself as a giver of whatever it takes for this generation and the next to survive on a practical level.

From Endgame: "Those in power are responsible for their choices, and I am responsible for mine. But I need to emphasize that I’m not responsible for the way my choices have been framed."

And this: "Defensive rights always trump offensive rights. My right to freedom always trumps your right to exploit me, and if you do try to exploit me, I have the right to stop you, even at some expense to you." which I would add: not only the right, but the responsibility, even at some expense to me.

Jensen says over and over again, and he's right, that the violence will not stop because we ask nicely. It won't stop if we organize 15 million people to march peacefully against war on the same day throughout the world (remember that one? I was there). It won't happen because we write a lot of intelligent stuff and "get it out there".

I'm not giving planet-raping elites any more credit than their willingness to do harm merits. No one needs moral or philosophical (much less political) authority to push back. When you're literally gasping for air you don't seek out authority for access to something breathable. You don't ask permission for water (or human breastmilk) to not be poisonous, or for children to not be slaughtered for profit, or to prevent everything in the non-human world to rapidly---rapidly---disappear (read: get ground up).

We serve no good purpose by openly informing violent state/corporate criminals that their offences will never be met with counterforce. It just doesn't make any sense. The gas-guzzling, hyper-consumerist jerk-offs of America and the rest of the world would do well to take note when open season is declared not just on their political representatives, but on their ecocidal civil works, shit-house media propoganda dispensers, and corporate flagships as well. That might get them to poke their heads up from American Idol for a sec.

What I'm noticing is that my allies are really fewer and further between than I would like to admit. Upping the stakes and making sacrifices definitely means taking an honest look at tactics, physical tactics. There's no reason to be nice and I think people who for whatever reason won't get physical need to be supporting like crazy those who will. In this sense I support the insurgency against US and allied forces in Iraq. I wish no harm to those American troops. I think they should just leave. Now. But if they won't, well, I support efforts to force them out. Unfortunately.

Unwillingness to make sacrifices to do the killing is one thing, but the state violence will continue unless more people make sacrifices to prevent it. Cindy Sheehan's recent conclusion seems to be that such sacrifices are basically unthinkable for a population that doesn't really give a damn.

The following list may be well-known to some. I have just discovered it myself. Shortly before his assasination Gandhi gave this list of "Seven Blunders" that lead to passive violence to his grandson Arun, who added the eighth.
1. Wealth Without Work
2. Pleasure Without Conscience
3. Knowledge Without Character
4. Commerce Without Morality
5. Science Without Humanity
6. Worship Without Sacrifice
7. Politics Without Principles
8. Rights Without Responsibilities
And I have one of my own:
9. Turning the other cheek twice.
Please add your own in the comments section.