Monday, July 12, 2010

Violence and Imagination

Here's my confessions:
  • I stopped watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies because Jackie Chan's fighting was more realistic and fun.
  • When I walk near gang-bangers or drug-abusers I sometimes imagine that they do something threatening and imagine how I will press their faces to the wall in abject defeat - after thrashing them a few times with car doors, my ninja-like kicks, and Lou Ferrigno-type punches.
  • My own experience with child-rearing was corporal-based and as much as I try to shake that system from my bones, violence still registers as the final step in correction. As in, the end of diplomacy is bombs, the end of discipline is a whoopin'.*
I'm limited, shackled to violence. I grew up listening to violent rhetoric, singing songs glorifying violence, watching sh*t blow up and thinking that was cool (and it is, except when it blows up on people. Which happens every time the real sh*t blows up).

But here's where I pat myself on the back:
  • I never got into fights and made a willful choice not to join the military when I was young because - even as young as seven years old - I figured that Jesus didn't want me to fight.
  • I have always appreciated the skills of Bruce Lee, but could never get into his movies because of the cold-blooded killings.
  • Okay, that's about all I got...
I recognize that there is a disparity here. Oppressed people tend to understand violence best because that is what they have seen and experienced. So it should not shock people when, say Palestinians, Hutus, Northern Irish, Pakistanis, or pick-your-oppressed-people-from-nearly-any-country-in-Africa/North America/South America/Asia/Europe respond in violence (although often the violence done by the oppressed is immeasurably smaller than that done by the oppressors to them). There needs to be a widening of the imagination. The imagination to believe - and this has been proven to be the case time and again - that creative nonviolent resistance is more effective than armed resistance.

However, when dealing specifically with non-violence as a tool, we cannot make the mistake that others in the struggle for righteousness and justice make (and it's an easy one to make): you cannot fight for equality by any means necessary. When it comes to employing violence, you can either choose to act in one way or the other. You cannot be both violent and nonviolent. One squelches the movement of the other.

Freedom is active movement. Unlike in nature, however, this movement is not self-sustained, it doesn't start and keep going until it hits an opposing force; its constantly in friction and needs constant reinforcement. And still, above that, there is counteractive and hostile resistance to freedom. Those who resist are looking for ways to discredit and derail the movements of freedom because it threatens their grasp of power. Nonviolence is a method of changing hearts and minds so that the world - including the oppressors - can recognize the oppression for what it is, heartless inhumanity. It is pro-action towards freedom that engages all. But it's also extremely costly.

And because of the cost, we need to be all the more engaged in nonviolent resistance itself. And that takes some use of the imagination - through everyday examples, through hearing the stories of those who have fought this fight before us, through filling our minds with something more than glorified explosions, perhaps.

* I talked briefly about that here.

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