Published on Tuesday, January 23, 2001 in the Cape Cod Times
Here's to People Power
by Sean Gonsalves
|President Bush - the sequel - considers himself to be representative of those "hungry for higher standards" in our nation's public schools.
During a campaign speech on education last year, he quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King. "Intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character - that is the true goal of education."
When it comes to defense issues and the use of violence as a means to achieve policy objectives, Bush apparently thinks that King had nothing important to contribute.
He concluded his speech, quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt. The presidency, he said, is "preeminently a place of moral leadership."
So in the name of higher standards in education and moral leadership, one could reasonably ask why the history of nonviolent action is not part of public school curriculum while the sordid story of Machiavellian politics and its attendant amoral use of force is taught everyday in classrooms as being natural and noble?
After all, as Bush noted in his speech: "In an American school year, there are more than 4,000 rapes or cases of sexual battery; 7,000 robberies; and 11,000 physical attacks involving a weapon."
Trying to understand youth violence in a society where the preeminent "place of moral leadership" has always been occupied by men who have advocated and practiced the philosophy of might-makes-right is a lot less difficult to understand than it is to fathom how, from safe distances, privileged men plot state-sanctioned violence - the most destructive force on Earth - to maintain a social order that benefits a relative few at the expense of the many.
One of the main reasons nonviolent struggle is not on the popular radar screen is because there are so many misconceptions about it circulating in the realm of unquestioned assumptions. Most historians, politicians and policy planners assume violence is a part of basic "human nature," apparently confusing what is habitual with what is natural.
Certainly, the seeds of violence and its causes are dormant in all of us from the day we are born. But there is a good reason why soldiers are sent to boot camp. It's not just to instill discipline but to psychologically transform them into disciplined killers. And even after that indoctrination process, there is an inclination not to kill.
In a book titled "On Killing," the author, an Army lieutenant and former drill instructor with a graduate degree in psychology, analyzed data that compared the number of enemy soldiers shot in battle to the number of targets hit by soldiers in training, taking into account the effect of battle stress.
Even trained professional killers, he concluded, must intentionally miss their marks on occasion - something he attributed to some sort of species survival instinct. This alone doesn't prove anything but it does cast serious doubt on the notion that war and violence are expressions of basic "human nature" over and against acts of kindness and altruism.
Critics also assume nonviolent theory denies the reality of power relations. Gene Sharp clarifies: "Relying on destructive violence to control political power is regarded by theorists of nonviolent action as being just as irrational as attempting to use a lid to control steam from a caldron, while allowing the fire under it to blaze uncontrolled. Nonviolent action is based on the view that political power can most efficiently be controlled at its sources," the source being widespread obedience to illegitimate authority.
Nonviolent action is also misunderstood by those who think it consists of nothing more than symbolic protest of some perceived injustice. That is only one of three broad methods - the others being large-scale withdrawal or withholding of economic or political cooperation, and nonviolent intervention like sit-ins and human blockades.
"Nonviolence to be a potent force must begin with the mind. Nonviolence of the mere body without the cooperation of the mind is nonviolence of the weak or the cowardly, and has therefore no potency," Gandhi said. "Nonviolence and cowardice go ill together. I can imagine a fully armed man to be at heart a coward. Possession of arms implies an element of fear, if not cowardice. But true nonviolence is an impossibility without the possession of unadulterated fearlessness."
In order to understand what Gandhi was really talking about requires a re-evaluation of our central assumptions about war and violence. The 52nd anniversary of Gandhi's assassination is next week - Jan. 30. It's a reminder that the nonviolent way is in fact a serious threat to oppressive power.
Imagine an army of Gandhi's. Here's to the naked emperor and people power!
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist.
Copyright © 2001 Cape Cod Times