By Eli Williamson-Jones
Living a philosophy of nonviolence is often thought as impractical in today's world. The amount of violence surrounding us is staggering. From the media covering the destructiveness of terrorism to our entertainment, violence abounds in massive proportions. Those who believe they don't have a voice in society often compensate for this powerlessness through violence and the fear response it creates in others. Because fear and violence are still driving forces in our world, the governments of all the nations continually pour out massive fortunes for creating more weapons and preparing them for the next great war.
With such an atmosphere of paranoia,
fear and antagonism that is as old as humanity itself, it is little wonder that
habits from ages past continue to dominate our present. But there is something
else at work in the world that demands our attention. It has been growing stronger
ever since Christ and Buddha came on the scene over two thousand years ago.
These two spiritual giants are often credited with initiating humanity's slow
transformation from a tribal consciousness to that of a world centric one. These
historical figures were from different cultures but their message was identical.
They both taught about the power of peace. Both followed the principal that
hate and violence will not drive out hate and violence but that only love can
break its endless cycle.
Nonviolence as a philosophy has recently shown great potential in the life work of Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Mohandis Gandhi, The Dalai Lama, and Thich Nhat Hanh. It is through their writings that a wider world audience is beginning to see the logic of this philosophy and how compassion can become a transformative tool in bringing about much needed political and social change. It is the potential of nonviolence that we must now seriously consider in a world armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction and maps of apocalyptic proportions. Humans are beginning to wake up to the horror of our situation and how devastating the next world war would be for our civilization.
To understand the dynamics of nonviolence, we must first understand the human collective. Unfortunately it isn't possible for all humanity to be 100% nonviolent all the time. Violence and nonviolence seem to be two sides of the same evolutionary coin. Even on the American Dollar Bill we see this reality symbolized on the great seal of the United States. The bald eagle is depicted holding an olive branch in its right talons and arrows in its left. The olive branch is a symbol for peace and nonviolence while the arrows are symbolic for war and self defense. The bald eagle is facing the olive branches representing America's commitment to peace. But the arrows available in the left talon, represent our willingness to defend ourselves and those we love by any means necessary.
As a microcosm of the whole, individual human beings also must develop their capacity for peace and self defense. Nonviolence can be a great tool in certain circumstances but applying it in every situation wouldn't always work. We don't yet live in a utopian dream world; the Earth's nations are filled with millions of human beings at very low levels of consciousness and violence is sometimes the only language they understand. If you were a passenger on the American Airlines flight about to be hijacked into the World Trade Towers, having an Arnold Schwarzenegger on board would be more desirable than having a Jesus Christ or Gautama Buddha.
Violence is clearly more effective in stopping the terrorists once they've become incited to turn their bodies into bombs and weapons of mass destruction. However, few would argue against nonviolence being more effective in avoiding the causative circumstances that incite terrorists to violence in the first place. For example, having a more spiritually evolved administration with a consciousness like a Christ and Buddha serving in the White House, would most likely ease tensions in the Middle East enough to avoid the terrorist's call for Jihad. Iraq would never have been invaded and public policy would change enough to get the ball rolling on development of alternative energy to end dependency on foreign oil. Furthermore, the Pentagon budget would be cut down so as to free up the much needed resources to start a department of peace. It would also help us invest more money towards combating environmental destruction, hunger, disease and countless other social problems around the world that create conditions breeding terrorists and thus justifying our military to demand more money for weapons in fighting them.
When we realistically talk about nonviolence, it is important we recognize that society is unable to be 100% nonviolent in all circumstances. There was a perfect illustration of this reality in the 1950's and 1960's civil rights movement. On one side you had Martin Luther King Jr. and SNCC demanding justice for black America and using nonviolent means to get it. Waiting in the wings were Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. They warned that if the white power structure didn't listen to the righteous and just demands of King and SNCC, they would achieve them through violent means.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi before him, would travel from city to city in peace with their nonviolent marchers but there were always those undisciplined people outside the movement who would incite violence and destruction to property. It was this threat of anarchy from outside the movement that would often make the white power structure uneasy enough to take action. Eventually they ended segregation and the blatant injustices throughout the society.
On one level, the nonviolent aspect of the civil rights movement appealed to the conscience of concerned whites who watched with horror as blacks were brutalized and beaten by police and hateful mobs. On another level, the violent aspect of the civil rights movement spoke to racist whites with lower levels of consciousness who became terrified by the threats made by the Black Panthers and Malcolm X.
Because justice only works by appealing to these two levels of consciousness in society, there must be a large percentage of the population at higher levels of development. There are numerous models available to chart the stages of human growth and they are all relevant, but for this article, I will be using the Spiral Dynamics Model of human evolution developed by Claire Graves and Don Beck but described in detail below by Ken Wilber:
Ken Wilber's Summary of Spiral Dynamics
So in speaking about a large number
of humans at high stages of development, I am referring to those with a center
of gravity at the blue meme or higher. Nonviolence would most likely not work
in a society such as 1994 Rewanda where genocide decimated hundreds of thousands
of people and came at the hands of those most likely at a red meme or lower
center of gravity. The United States and Europe are good staging grounds for
nonviolent social and political change simply because their population's center
of gravity hangs at the orange meme or higher.
Focusing on the nonviolent aspect of any movement for justice and progressive change, there must be a purification of those exemplifying it's cause. There is a transformation of one's lifestyle to uphold a higher principle of love and goodwill for all humankind. It is absurd to think that people can demand justice when their lives aren't yet committed to living justly. When this purification has taken place, an attack on the movement is less likely to be tolerated by society at large.
Putting this theory to work on the world stage, if Saddam Hussein never held power and Iraq had a progressive democratic government providing freedom to all its people, they would have never invaded Kuwait or attacked Israel. In turn, the world community would have never tolerated America's attack on their country and George W. Bush would feel less threatened with their nation having weapons of mass destruction. On the same token, if Jesus Christ were a criminal, lived an egotistical, hate filled life while attacking innocent people, there would never have been outrage over his execution or the massive following that projected him as the leader of one of the world's largest religious movements. Righteousness and purity is a prerequisite for everyone serving any nonviolent movement seeking a just revolution.
There must also be purification of those serving the defending aspect of any movement for justice and progressive change. A sound mind is all that stands in the way of the misuse and abuses of power. As a leader, Malcolm X used his weapons and power wisely because of a purification he went through after being imprisoned for living a life of crime and recklessness.
When people or nations have great power, their responsibility to wield it becomes just as great. If the United States indiscriminately used nuclear weapons against any nation opposing its policies, the rest of the world would unite against us and do everything they could to destroy our government. The most practical use of the world's nuclear weapons is in their not being used at all. It is through a wise use of power that allows for the flowering of peace and justice.
It is unlikely that the violent and nonviolent methods for revolution will ever stop working side by side. Even though they both need each other, they also have traditionally kept their distance. Having Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X marching side by side would be perceived as hypocritical by many in society, although, both King and X did eventually meet and shared a private admiration for each other even though their rhetoric might indicate otherwise.
A nonviolent movement could make great strides in helping the cause of uniting humanity. In the near future it is very likely we will see such a movement toward the establishment of a federal world government. This will most likely be accompanied by those seeking to empower and defend this cause by any means necessary. These balancing factions will help us transcend the threshold guardian generator of global unity; religious fundamentalism. A nonviolent movement for world unity will help keep people from buying into a fatalistic paradigm that sees humanity as doomed agents of a wrathful and fascist God's divine plan of having the world be destroyed so it can be saved.
is a writer/student, and co-founder of World Beyond Borders.