Friday, May 3, 2013

Commit to Nonviolence

We've all been chewing on the Boston Marathon bombings the past couple of weeks, and there's lots of opinion about it.

I believe this event is cause for all of us to truly, thoroughly commit nonviolence. We should ask ourselves "does the use of violence in society and our personal lives solve our problems in a meaningful way?"

The obvious causal answer is that violence precipitates more violence. This heinous act was at least partially in response to United States' wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But what is the goal? What is the end of violence? What is the good?

I say that no good outcome is possible in the wake of a bombing, be it here or abroad. If the CIA blasts several thousand people with Hellfire missiles from unmanned drones, nothing good comes of it. If some U.S. citizens decide they also want to blow up civilians, nothing good comes of it. People lose their lives: women, children, young and old, occassionally an "enemy combatant." Then there's "blowback," retaliation, revenge.

Why opt for violence when better methods are available? What is the imagined outcome of such an act?  The tide of anti-Islamism is rising again in the wake of this attack. There has been no change in U.S. policy in the Middle East and the rest of the world, and we've no reason to expect that there will be.

Real change - whether through bloody revolution or otherwise - happens in movements. Large segments of the population, realizing both their predicaments and the fundamental causes of them, organize opposition to the status quo that keeps them down. When we commit to nonviolent action, we also commit to the longer timeframe such a movement requires.

The Indian people, inspired and led by Mohandas K. Gandhi, engaged their British oppressors in nonviolent civil disobedience for decades before they finally won their independence in 1947. There was fighting along the way, although it was mostly between Hindus and Muslims within the movement and senseless mayhem by the British like the Amritsar Massacre of 1919. But what won independence for India wasn't the rifle or the scimitar. It was their commitment to fighting injustices without the aid of arms.

But what is violence in human terms, in terms of the spirit? Aside from the obvious answer that it is deliberate injury to another living being, it could also be said that an act of violence is an act of failure. Often in the course of human relations tempers flare. Fights break out. Could not an act of violence then be attributed to a lack of Aristotle's "control of impulses?"

Does this same failing apply to governments as well? Our leaders are human after all, subject to the same vicissitudes of fate and emotion that the rest of us are. Could certain violent acts perpetrated by governments, especially those which are in retaliation for previous attacks, also be attributed to this failure of character?