Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Difference Between Nonviolence and Pacifism

Nonviolent Teachers March
A tremendous amount of controversy is being stirred up in Occupy Oakland by the tactics of a small minority of demonstrators, some calling their group the "Black Bloc." I agree with the assessment some have put forth that throwing things and provoking the police to respond violently is counterproductive and endangers everyone participating in an action, particularly the least mobile demonstrators who are often children and the elderly.

Having said that, I would like to clarify my feelings on the philosophy of nonviolence, which is the one I subscribe to, versus the philosophy of pacifism which I do not.

Nonviolence to me implies a commitment to never, at this juncture of our movement, initiate violence in any situation. I believe in this ideal. However, in a situation where violence is instigated against me, I will respond appropriately to the best of my ability. For example, if someone grabs me on the street to rob or injure me, I will try to defend myself by any and all means available. In contrast, a pacifist might attempt to transcend the ordeal entirely, even if it means sacrificing his or her own life.

There is undoubtedly a place for escalating struggle in the political arena. To overthrow fascism and dictators such as Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, it is totally reasonable to utilize all physical force necessary. Here, in the USA we are not there yet and I sincerely hope that we never arrive.

But our situation has been volatile and ripe for fascism since the onset of the massive economic crisis. This explains the rise of the insidious Tea Party Movement. But in an environment of stress and struggle, many outcomes are possible. The first option is happening right now and it involves a situation where the masses rise up in peaceful unity to prevent a villainous and hateful regime from taking control. Our very lives depend on its success.

If we fail, the second option arises. This occurs when groups of people are systematically scapegoated for existing problems. It relies on deep-seated prejudices and fears to divide and conquer, thereby obliterating the genuine forces of thievery and greed that caused the suffering to begin with. If a large group of people fall for this level of hatred and misinformation, I can only hope the response will be immediate in timing and appropriate in scale.