What is Violence? What is Nonviolence?

I’ve written a rather long post on some of my thoughts on nonviolence. I’m sorry if it rambles, but there’s a point to it 😉

I’ve often wondered what I would do if I was on the receiving end of physical violence. I had the opportunity at one time in my life to discover what I would do. Apart from the shock of the incident, my impulse was to do my best to remove myself. The incident was not extreme enough that I felt my life was in danger, but it was quite shocking and an education. I sometimes wonder how I would respond in a life-threatening situation. I know that I would do my best to temporarily seriously disable the other person, before removing myself, but I really do not know if I could ever deliberately kill another being to save myself. I hope that I would not do that. I guess we never know what we are going to do until we are in that situation. ***I do know that the moment I end the life of another, no matter what has unfolded prior, I have demonstrated that my life is more important to me than the life of that other person’s (human or non) and that attitude is at the core of most of our problems.****

Forms of social discrimination and social inequity are violence and it is often a precursor to greater violence e.g WWII.

It’s often the case that people refer to the WWII as an example where violence was justifiable to end the war, because the Nazis were doing awful things. It is true the genocidal policies were horrific, but National Socialism rose as a reaction to other injustices. None of it justifies the policy of genocide, but the injustices weren’t justified either.

Please indulge me for a few paragraphs while I discuss some history.

Hitler rose in large part because of the dire situations of the Germans were in during the Weimar Republic. The causes of that situation lie in the Empires of France, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Britain, Russia, and the Ottomans. The empires were extremely classist (and sexist and racist) societies based in hereditary economic divisions in which the aristocracy held almost all the wealth and power, and ordinary people had few rights. The royals and aristocrats of these empires were mostly close relatives, eg. Kaiser Wilhelm was the grandson of Queen Victoria and cousin of Czar Nikolas’ wife. Ordinary people were used as fodder for competitions between family members. A few years before and after conflicts, combatants would be be intermarrying and having celebrations with each other.

Not only did these aristocracies oppress their “subjects”, they garnered much of their great wealth from their Empires, the subjugation of most of the rest of the world. The lead-up to WW I was more about competition in carving up Africa and China and SE Asia than about Serbia. These empires were rooted in oppression, theft and slavery of the majority of the world’s population. The German and Austro-Hungarian Empires were what remained of the old Holy Roman Empire, dissolved by Francis II (Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz-Joseph’s grandfather) in 1806. With the Austro-Germans already fracturing, the Russian, British, and French empires saw the Serbian crisis as a way to attack a weak competitor.

What ended the senseless and prolonged slaughter of the war was not some wonderful tactical cleverness by generals. It was the fact that ordinary people were reaching the limit of their acceptance of their exploitation. Three years after the start of the war, the Russian Empire was overthrown by the people. The Kaiser’s navy had rebelled and also raised the socialist flag in Wilhelmshaven, calling for “peace and bread”, and by Nov 7 1918, Bavaria had rebelled and become a socialist region. In the US, Gene Debs leader of the American Socialist Party had been imprisoned for opposing the war.

His party was fighting for economic equity successfully enough that the US imposed the Espionage Act (1917) to limit free speech, the Sedition Act (1918) made statements considered “disloyal” a federal crime, and with the Palmer Raids (1920), the idea of “un-American activities” became a reason to prosecute and oppress socialist dissent. In the UK, Socialists and thinkers like Bertrand Russell were also fighting against the war. Effectively, WW I was ended by agreement, so the various aristocracies could fight the wave of peoples revolutions.

The ending of the war didn’t prevent the operation of greed by the winning aristocrats. The Austro-Hungarian and German empires were shattered into numerous smaller nations, and the victors split up the colonies. Their “terms of surrender” included massive reparations even though most of what was left of the economy was based on cheap colonial imports. Not content with that, the victors maintained blockades preventing imports to Germany even after the war was over.

The result was a major cause of the depression which lead to many Germans becoming desperate. For example, in 1914, 50 million DM (Deutschmarks) was worth about US$12 million. Nine years later, it was worth a dollar. A wheelbarrow of Deutschmarks would buy a loaf of bread. Within a few months it was worthless. People used 1 million DM bills as notepaper, since it was cheaper than blank paper. And yet, assistance was given to suppress the socialist revolutions.

The point of this historical diversion is to say that if people acted from a sense of justice and respect for others, the situation in Germany is not likely ever to have arisen. When a situation like fascism is created through poverty, awfulness, greed, exploitation of others, it is easy to justify violence against those who are committing genocide. We say “This is so bad we have to do something” (violent). Ahimsa would say that the need to act is earlier, before fascism arises, when vengeance and greed impose depression, economic collapse and hopelessness within a nation like Germany, and a breeding ground is created for the mindless anger that becomes fascism.

In the US right there is now a similar situation occurring where there is great inequality and economic poverty. This hasn’t happened overnight, it’s been brewing for decades. The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the hopelessness, poverty and oppression likewise creates situations which are fertile ground for people who preach anger and hatred. The disenfranchised look for a leader/s who personifies and articulates that anger, and they almost always look for a target — e.g sometimes a marginalised group– glbti, women, Muslims, etc; sometimes a group of oppressors.

Mahatma Gandhi said: “Poverty is the worst kind of violence,”

The US defense forces spend 1.75 billion dollars per day in spreading the US empire. With every country the US gov invades and occupies, that nation continues to create great poverty and desperation. That in turn becomes a breeding ground for violence and so on it goes. Imagine if that 1.75 billion dollars/day were spent on wages for workers, US and foreign, diplomatic efforts, to fix the destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, build hospitals etc. It would improve so many facets of life there, and not only do what is just, but to create fertile ground for future peace, not only there in war-torn countries, but to address the resentment against the US and probably significantly reduce threats to the US.

Here’s an essay by Noam Chomsky people might like to view: Remembering Fascism: Learning From the Past http://www.truth-out.org/remembering-fascism-learning-from-past58724

Finally, here’s a few quotes I like:

“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.” Gandhi

“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of course, animal use is violence, and I believe it is at the core of all the violence we see unfolding. Where we have one kind of discrimination, we will have all kinds — speciesism = sexism= heterosexism = racism = classism and so forth. Veganism is the cornerstone of nonviolence.

When we persecute the vulnerable, we have become completely dysfunctional. I see our species as animals who are pathological, dysfunctional and completely caught up in our “sacredness” and delusions of supremacy and nothing good can ever come of that. With this destructive attitude, selfishness and our complete love of, and addition to, violence, we will probably be extinct in a century or so. I’m not being pessimistic here, I’m being realistic.

Here’s a couple of excellent quotes about anger:

“Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.” Gandhi

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” Buddha

Blog post by Trish Roberts


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