Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea

Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, first published as Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea, is a book by Mark Kurlansky. It follows the history of nonviolence and nonviolent activism, focusing on religious and political ideals from early history to the present. (Source: Wikipedia)

Kurlansky summarizes the Twenty-Five Lessons as follows:

  1. There is no proactive word for nonviolence [in English].
  2. Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.
  3. Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state.
  4. Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.
  5. A rebel can be defanged and co-opted by making him a saint after he is dead.
  6. Somewhere behind every war there are always a few founding lies.
  7. A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting in the wings.
  8. People who go to war start to resemble their enemy.
  9. A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral argument. If the violent side can provoke the nonviolent side into violence, the violent side has won.
  10. The problem lies not in the nature of man, but in the nature of power.
  11. The longer a war lasts, the less popular it becomes.
  12. The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it can not conceive of power without force.
  13. It is often not the largest, but the best organized and most articulate group that prevails.
  14. All debate momentarily ends with an enforced silence once the first shots are fired.
  15. A shooting war is not necessary to overthrow an established power, but is used to consolidate the revolution itself.
  16. Violence does not resolve; it always leads to more violence.
  17. Warfare produces peace activists. A group of veterans is a likely place to find peace activists.
  18. People motivated by fear do not act well.
  19. While it is perfectly feasible to convince a people faced with brutal oppression to rise up in a suicidal attack on their oppressor, it is almost impossible to convince them to meet deadly violence with nonviolent resistance.
  20. Wars do not have to be sold to the general public if they can be carried out by an all-volunteer professional military.
  21. Once you start the business of killing, you just get deeper and deeper without limits.
  22. Violence always comes with a supposedly rational explanation, which is only dismissed as irrational if the violence fails.
  23. Violence is a virus that infects and takes over.
  24. The miracle is that despite all of society’s promotion of warfare, most soldiers find warfare to be a wrenching departure from their own moral values.
  25. The hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done.

Climate Change and “The Hallam Model” of Non-Violent Direct Action

The ‘Hallam Model’ of non-violent, direct action is derived from research into successful interventions from past conflicts. But if we compare the scale of climate change with the scale of past conflicts and interventions from which that research was drawn, we see an enormous difference.  The two are simply not commensurable. There is no precedent in human history for the scale of climate change. In truth, climate change is not a problem to be solved any more than a typhoon is a problem to be solved. Like a typhoon, climate change is a force to be reckoned with. Trying to stop climate change is like trying to stop a typhoon. Only wishful thinking and our inveterate techno-hubris, often posing as ‘the indomitable human spirit,’ would allow us to think we can stop a typhoon: ditto for climate change.

Too Late For Gandhi

Though it may be unpopular to say so, the current climate catastrophe is unstoppable and probably cannot be mitigated to any significant degree. While efforts to minimize the worst effects of this catastrophe are laudable, they will, for most part, fail. With near certainty, they will not be able to save this civilization, and most definitely, they will not stave off a near-term societal breakdown.

In this blog, we will be taking the position that it is already too late, even for non-violent, direct action. While such actions may have had an appreciable efficacy 30 years ago (and we are not sure they would have even then), it is now too late. This is difficult for us to say, because even a few months ago we were deeply involved in Extinction Rebellion (XR). It is difficult, too, because, of all the people we know, they are some of the most dedicated and loving people we have ever met.

Our Gallant Ship will ask what makes sense for us to do (and be) when nearly everyone, even Greta Thunberg and Roger Hallam, comes to see that climate change is irreversible and cannot be stopped, or even reasonably mitigated. We do this because we believe this accurately reflects the situation we are in, and because we believe most people will come to this conclusion fairly soon.

At the present time (late summer, 2019), most people who are on the cutting edge of climate change take the view that we still have a dozen or so years to turn it around. But this is based on a very limited metric. The question still remains: What will we do when that time runs out? How will our actions change when we know it is too late? This is what Our Gallant Ship will explore. We will argue that, once it is generally accepted that it is too late, the kinds of actions people take will differ substantially from actions based on a sense that there is still time remaining.

We are interested in exploring the personal, social, political, psychological, and spiritual dimensions that will help us work with this bleak reality. We explore this because we believe it is true, and because very few others are doing this kind of work, at least not openly.

In all of this, we will not try to ‘prove’ that our perspective is correct, even though we will point-out some of the dynamics that lead to our sense that it is. For the most part, we will simply assume that the facts on the ground lend reasonable credibility to this perspective. We will not waste time on analyzing causes, finding scapegoats, or blaming people, corporations, and governments. It is what it is.

We realize this is a more radical perspective than The Green New Deal, Extinction Rebellion, 350.org, and most, if not all, similar organizations. One might argue that, as good as these organizations and platforms are, they still may be seen as subtle forms of denial, perhaps the best and most highly refined forms of denial in a world, where denial is a global and nearly universal phenomenon.

So, yes, we believe it is too late for Gandhi. Gandhi’s situation in the mid-20th Century was fairly limited when compared to the present climate catastrophe, partly because the present crisis is “a collective action problem of the highest order. One city, one country, even one continent cannot solve it alone. . . . Moreover, any leader who forced her country to accept the austerity and redistribution necessary to end its dependence on cheap carbon would also be forcing her country into a weak and isolated position politically, economically, and militarily (Roy Scranton, “How to Die in the Anthropocene, p. 53).”

A quick purview of the current global political climate should be enough for us to see that collective action, even within a single country, is a daunting challenge at best. Most of the major countries are grappling with, or being torn apart by, domestic problems–nationalism, migration, border disputes, power struggles, economic fears, fake news, trade tensions, and a host of other domestic flash points. And these internal issues push climate change far down on their agendas.

Though it is too late for Gandhi the tireless activist, it is not too late for Gandhi the man, the man of unshakable love and tireless devotion to friend and foe alike.

The Sun Rises on It’s Own

from “A Sparrow’s Heart: Poems for Children of All Ages,” by Rick Visser

The Sun Rises on It’s Own

The sun rises on its own,
water falls forever down,
so it is that time submits,
and life is lived in me.

Travel once and travel twice,
travel everyday, but never
will the sparrow’s heart
reach its destiny

unless you sing and sing
your song, sing it on your knees,
sing it till the apple falls
and treasure what it frees.

A Dry Leaf in the Breeze

 Gatherings and agitations, mornings of thin
light-lines trailing behind and running out in front,
ever encompassing, ever dazzling the tender heart,
ever singing the extravagant song of searching rain.
You are the most robust compass, all and all
the wildest grace and delight.
You mark time as a slow dream.
You shelter vultures overhead.
You open doors onto panoramas of telepathic trees.
You are the great-souled one.
You are the translucent touch of night, smell
of dark mountains and burning ash.

So and so and so it is. I accept you
as you accept the storm, as you speak soft
words and hard. Speak! Speak!
Speak again as you pass below the bridge
and above the weary noise. Impelled by the forces
of gravity, matter and light, you trace the sacred arc
and move freely, a dry leaf in the breeze.

Rick Visser
August 12, 2019

What happened to ‘The Story of the Village Beneath the Dam?’

Some of my readers may be wondering what happened to the story I was writing, the “The Story of the Village Beneath the Dam.” In a nutshell, I realized that I needed to completely rework it, to ‘scrape the canvas’ in order to set it properly on its course. I always imagined it as an adult story disguised as a children’s book, something deeply involved in the present ecological crisis, yet magical in tone, structure, and format; something with copious illustrations and a child-like sense of innocence. The only thing that comes close to the concept I have in mind is “The Little Prince.” So I must withdraw it for now and return to my writing desk. And my drawing table.

Climate scientist speaks about letting down humanity and what to do about it

Professor Jem Bendell

Interview with climate scientist Dr Wolfgang Knorr by Professor Jem Bendell, July 2019.

Preamble: In June 2019 I met with Dr Wolfgang Knorr, a climate scientist with Lund University. With his dozens of peer reviewed climate papers generating thousands of citations, it is clear he has spent decades at the heart of the climate science profession. He wanted to talk about my work on Deep Adaptation, to help me understand more about how the climate science profession had been letting us down. He wanted to work out what he and other scientists like him could do now, given that real time measurements of global heating and the impacts on nature and society are so shocking. Over the coming weeks we met and corresponded. What follows is an edited version of our conversations and correspondence. It is a detailed discussion of the science and the scientific profession. As a Q&A, it…

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