Some reservations about non-violent resistence

Like many people, I have a vague if unexamined sense that non-violent resistence is somehow the “best” political strategy — even if it doesn’t work under all circumstances, it would in any case be somehow better or preferable to use non-violent resistence. In light of the white-washing of Nelson Mandela that’s currently underway, though, I started wondering about a couple things. Above all, I started to become suspicious of the very fact that mainstream political leaders are so eager to praise Mandela as a non-violent resistence leader.

It’s easy to see why the powers that be would be willing to embrace non-violence as a strategy for their opponents. I don’t think it’s a simple matter of effectiveness — after all, the state is very good at fighting violence with violence. Rather, the strategy of non-violent resistence seems to implicitly presuppose the basic legitimacy of the existing order. Those who are in charge of it are being asked to change their ways, but they or their peers will still presumably be in charge. Indeed, responding favorably to non-violent demands can be a great way of shoring up the legitimacy of the existing order by showing generosity of spirit and an openness to reform.

I also wonder if part of the appeal of non-violent resistence for Western audiences doesn’t come from Christian ideology that views suffering as redemptive. When watching the Occupy protests unfold, I couldn’t help thinking of the Rolling Stones line: “I went down to the demonstration, to get my fair share of abuse.” Several people I talked to went to the Occupy encampment specifically in order to get arrested, and I could never really make sense of that. It’s as though suffering for the cause has some type of automatic, quasi-magical effect on public opinion, which will recognize the protestors as righteous and grant their request.

These two dynamics feed into each other, so that the violence of the powers that be is actually necessary to the movement — which again implicitly legitimates the power structure even as it is taking clearly illegitimate actions. We need to go through the whole cycle: you guys beat us up, then we nobly bear it, and then we all really grow as people and change our ways, together. At least until the next time we have a request that you’re not immediately willing to grant, and then we do it all over again. It all starts to sound eerily like the dynamics of an abusive relationship.

None of this is to say that non-violent resistence is a bad thing or shouldn’t be used. But isn’t it strange how the great non-violent resisters wind up being taken up as legitimating symbols for the systems that oppressed them? We recognize the irony that Jesus becomes part of the ideology of the Roman Empire or that Martin Luther King emerges as a symbol of America’s ever-closer approach to perfection — but maybe there’s a deeper, harsher irony at work.

An und für sich: the TV adaptation?

I don’t want to muscle in on jms’s and Craig’s territory by posting something about TV on a Thursday, but ABC’s new show Revolution does touch on a few themes which struck me as of interest to AUFS. The show is about a post-apocalyptic future in which electricity no longer works. This is a pretty neat idea, although it falls apart at the slightest scrutiny (if “electricity” doesn’t work, how come “nervous systems” still do?); unfortunately, the show does seem to be encouraging scrutiny of the premise by making the characters’ attempt to discover how the apocalypse happened an ongoing plot thread. High concept aside, Revolution isn’t really a “good” show; its post-apocalyptic hardships are pretty off-the-shelf, as are the characters (idealistic teenagers, surly dudes with a soft heart, etc), but there are a couple of interesting things about it. One is its presentation of cities as objects of nostalgia; the main character, who was a toddler when electricity stopped working, keeps an illicit collection of post-cards of the major American cities (I’m reminded of David Simon saying he made Treme in response to people who asked him why anyone would live in the city depicted in The Wire); indeed, on one level at least, the show presents an argument against the lo-fi localism which is something of a liberal consensus. Read the rest of this entry »

September 11, 2011 Sermon: “The 9-12 Error!” (Updated)

Here’s my first draft of my sermon for this Sunday at Zion “Goshert’s” UCC, which is of course the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  It’s still feeling kind of drafty and could be sharpened a bit, so I would welcome your feeback.  Thanks…  The lections I am using are the Hebrew Bible lectionary text, the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:19-31) and the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).  UPDATED 9/8/11.

It’s been ten years since September 11th, 2001, as you’ve surely been hearing from radio, television, and every other media outlet for the past two weeks.  September 11th also holds significance to me because it was the day I was baptized as an infant in 1977, before I was quite nine months old.  I was obviously too young to remember my own baptism but it was on this date, September 11, 1977, that I began my formal life in the church, baptized in a country church outside of the town of Columbia, Pennsylvania. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Robert Walser’s “The Battle of Sempach”

Robert Walser’s short story “The Battle of Sempach” was written in 1908 about a Swiss rebellion in 1386 and addresses the collision course of history pertinent even today in 2011.

It begins on a day not like today for many of us: an oppressively hot day. Dusty, there; perhaps merely feeling and tasting of dust, here. A day made of or even for death, the question hanging of whose. Theirs, the noblemen of money & class whose imposition on the lives of others is assumed as a given? or those to whom they so indolently impose themselves? There is a war, but they, the nobleman are not wont to regard it as such.

Hasty sips of wine were taken, roast fowl consumed and the inedible bits spat out with a leisurely, light-hearted ease; after all, it wasn’t some serious, chivlarous war they were off to, but rather to inflict punishment, rape, commit bloody, scornful, theatrical deeds, that’s what each of them thought; and each could already see the mass of lopped-off heads that would bloody the meadow. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in literature, Robert Walser, There is a war, violence. Comments Off

Domestic Violence and the NFL

This might seem hardly worth a blog post, but I think the reading audience might like to know about this.  Here is an article highlighting the ten percent rise in reports of domestic violence in cities under the circumstance of their NFL team losing. A study between 1995-2006 of six NFL teams- the Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans-showed an increase in reports of male violence toward their female home partners, within the narrow window of the last hour of the game to two hours after the game ended. I don’t think this can be taken to mean a whole lot about American sports and culture on its own, but when combined with other social phenomenon it has to say something about our culture’s obsession with violent entertainment, and its reproduction in viewers (though it might be interesting to see if other sports correlate with domestic violence, suggesting that it is not the violence of the sport that is influencing violence, but maybe the gambling going on or something else).

Worrying about violence in film

Summer blockbuster season is approaching, and with that comes the inevitable worry about what all this violence in film is doing to us. Last summer, I already spent a significant amount of time dismantling the blog posts of people who want to find some way to square the instincts they were taught in youth group (basically summarized in the classic song “Input Output,” which I cannot find on YouTube currently) with the level of “actually good” culture that they have somehow managed to obtain despite wasting their youth on Christian pop culture.

A more sporting target, however, might be two pillars of the critical community, namely A. O. Scott and Anthony Lane, both of whom are really worried about the violence in Kick-Ass. Read the rest of this entry »

Further thoughts on violence

Theology blogging meta-star Halden links to a post by Paul Griffiths (perhaps best known in local blog circles for his abyssmal First Things article on philosophical engagement with theology) that lays out what seems to me to be a very typical conservative Christian response to Christian pacifism: of course violence is bad, but sometimes it’s necessary, and we should be suitably sorry when necessity drives us to it.

While I agree with the conservative position insofar as I think Christian pacifism is untenable as a blanket rule, I also find the conservative position palpably inadequate insofar as it leaves out a crucial element, which Bruce’s recent post brought back to the front of my reflections: our enjoyment of violence. That enjoyment means that violence can never be the simple “means to an end” that the standard conservative response envisions it as.

Read the rest of this entry »

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