Sunday, June 21, 2009

The violence of non-violence

I am a big believer in the philosophy of non-violence.

People like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are heroes of mine.

What really gets me steamed though is all of the activists out there who claim the heritage of these men, and who claim to genuinely believe in non-violence, but who simultaneously strive to achieve their goals by using the power of the state to inflict violence on others.

I find this to be exasperating for two reasons.

First of all, by behaving in this fashion they smear all of us who believe in non-violence with the label of hypocrisy and dissuade others who might otherwise be attracted to this philosophy.

Secondly I believe that many of those who practice this hypocrisy are not actually aware on a conscience level that they are acting at odds with their own beliefs.

I believe this to be so because the very existence of the state blinds them to the reality of what they are doing.

I believe that the impulse to use coercion against our fellow human beings is fundamentally due to an inability to control our fears.

When we are unable to control our fears, we must choose between the fight or flight response. When we choose to fight we usually choose to exercise control over our environment in some fashion.

When we do this ourselves by directly imposing our will on other human beings there is at least the possibility of connecting with that other human being. There is the chance that we will become aware of the pain and suffering that we are causing to them.

There is a chance that we may choose to stop hurting them.

There is a chance that we may choose to feel remorse and to seek to make amends for causing harm to them.

Of course, if the inability to control a strong fear is significant, we may instead choose to turn off our empathy for them, become self absorbed, get and stay angry and to morally justify what we know in our heart to be immoral. This is, of course, the path chosen by all of the monsters of history.

So, when we choose to do the deed ourselves, there is at least a chance that we will not descend into evil.

However, when we choose to exercise coercion indirectly by asking someone else to do it for us, this possibility is much more remote.

When we choose to vote this is what we are doing and this is why voting in particular and democracy in general is so incredibly evil.

When we cast a ballot we are choosing to employ another human being to exercise coercion on our behalf.

Laws are passed for this purpose.

The violence of the state is then used to impose force on our victims.

But all of this is out-of-sight and out-of-mind for the voters.

We never have to see the pain and suffering that these human beings feel, thus we are never able to feel remorse for what we have done.

And nobody who works for the state is willing to accept responsibility for this evil.

They all pass the buck.

The police officers who serve the fines, and throw human beings into dehumanizing cages where they will be raped and brutalized always say the same thing … “I’m just following the law” … “I’m just doing my job”.

And when our victims seek empathy from organs of governments who administer these laws, they always say the same thing … “I’m just following the law” … “I’m just doing my job”.

Few people in our society realize what is really going.

Few people see the big picture.

Few people understand the true dynamics of the larger forces that are really at work here and where all this is ultimately leading us to.

Few people understand the role that they themselves are playing to bring this about and the role that they could play to prevent it from being so if they so chose.

A vicious self-reinforcing cycle is at work …

The state grows in proportion to the inability of individuals to control their fears and the inability of individuals to control their fears grows in proportion to the growth of the state.

The increase in the rate of taxation …
the increase in the ferocity of invasive laws which destroy individual liberty and seek to control every aspect of the life of the individual …
the increase in the dependency of the individual on the state and the feeling of dis-empowerment …
These symptoms of the growth of the state serve only to increase the stress of the individual who more often than not seeks to decrease that stress by paradoxically giving the state more power.

We choose to vote “our guy” into office to respond in kind to the individuals who are perceived to be inflicting the pain on us via the state.

This cycle of barbarism is absolutely identical to the cycle of barbarism that unfolds between individuals in conflict [] except that it is practiced between organized gangs of individuals who band together to increase their strength.

And unless the cycle is broken it leads to the same destructive ends except on a much more massive scale.

Each time one group attains power they seek retribution on the other and use the force of the state to achieve that goal.

It is a vicious cycle that is destined to end in an explosion of barbarism and bloodshed.

We know this is true because it is not the first time this has happened.

It would seem to be a naturally occurring pattern.

The last time that the world was consumed by the total state philosophies of communism and fascism tens of millions were slaughtered, great cities were leveled and entire societies where devastated and traumatized.

These philosophies are identical in all respects but one – who they chose to focus their hatred on and who, consequently, those in control of the state chose to use the power of the state to focus their extermination efforts on.

As the state grows so grows evil.

This is the path which we are traveling.

Anyone who has ever read about the holocaust cannot help but be struck by the fact that the people who lead the jews to the gas chambers responded to pleading for empathy from those who were about to die with the usual cold response of the government employee: “I’m just following the law” … “I’m just doing my job”.

Those who consider themselves to believe in non-violence should remember this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’”.

The choice between violence and non-violence is the choice between coercion and voluntarism.

Support for the existence of the state is 100% at odds with support for a philosophy of non-violence because the state is an institution that exists solely for the purpose of inflicting coercive and violent force against individuals.

Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha explicitly sought to combat the impulse to coercion not only because it does not work but because this path leads us to become just like those whose behavior we are seeking to change.

If the goal is to achieve enduring change, coercion will never work. Indeed it can have the deceptive effect of appearing to work in the short term but actually making things much worse in the long term.

The goal is not to use force against the evil doer.

The goal is to encourage the evil doer to transform themselves by connecting with them, forcing them to face their own conscience and to voluntarily choose to stop exercising coercion.

Deep down we all know the difference between right and wrong because morality is innate and is rooted in empathy. When we feel empathy for other human beings we cannot cause harm to them because we feel their pain as if it were our own.

Stayagraha seeks to turn on the empathy of the one who chooses to exercise coercion. In so doing it forces them to face their own conscience.

Destructive emotions have the opposite effect. When we choose to respond to force with force we are actually helping the evil doer to deceive themselves into thinking that their actions are moral because we are helping them to keep their empathy turned off.

This is what the destructive emotions of fear and anger do. They kill empathy and in so doing blind the conscience.

This path leads to the division of society into warring tribes who use ever increasing means of violence against each other. Sooner or later the violence of voting, taxation and law-making will escalate into even more brutal forms of violence, barbarism and war making.

This time around perhaps we will end up wiping out our entire species?

I believe that those who profess to believe in non-violence but who inadvertently end up choosing the path of coercion should choose to practice Satyagraha on themselves and to lead by example.

This is the path that has the best chance of not only avoiding a deep dive into barbarism but actually bringing about positive, peaceful and enduring change in the world.

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