Hey, Listener (and now Reader). Scott Mullin here. When I’m not busy being productive, I co-host that podcast on iTunes called Upside Downtrodden. On the show, we spend a great deal of time discussing civilization, its various systems of control, and methods with which it can be resisted. To that effect, I received an email some months back from an Upside Downtrodden listener espousing the virtues of pacifism and the need to commit to passive resistance unconditionally in the fight to make this a more just world. Since the listener couldn’t make the case for his position by himself, a link to a Scilla Elworthy TED talk was attached to the email I received. I watched and listened to all nearly sixteen minutes of the case for absolute nonviolence made by Scilla. Before I begin my retort, I first want to thank our listener for sharing their opinion. We value feedback. Second, I recommend you watch and listen to the TED talk that was shared with me. This way, you’ll better understand my points. The YouTube video, published back on August 5th, 2012, is entitled Scilla Elworthy: Fighting with non-violence, and it has a running time of 15:48. Here’s the link – Scilla Elworthy TED Talk
Welcome back! Scilla’s fundamental premise requires faithful obedience to the religion of dictatorial pacifism. As if he was speaking directly to her, George Orwell said, “The result of this is that so-called peace propaganda is just as dishonest and intellectually disgusting as war propaganda. Like war propaganda, it concentrates on putting forward a ‘case’, obscuring the opponent’s point of view and avoiding awkward questions.” Now that we’re all up to speed, let’s begin deconstructing Scilla’s (and by extension our listener’s) confused, faulty, and not-grounded-in-reality “case” for obstinate pacifism while demystifying the truth that we can, in fact, choose for ourselves just exactly who, what, when, where, why, and how we resist.
First of all, if Scilla is so concerned about using force, then she must do nothing. Take no action of any kind. Don’t speak. Don’t write. Don’t pray. Do absolutely nothing. Even nonviolent resistance requires force. Some of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for force include:
- Physical strength, power, or effect
- Strength or power that is not physical
- Moral or mental strength
- Capacity to persuade or convince
- An individual or group having the power of effective action
- The quality of conveying impressions intensely in writing or speech
Second, why is it always pacifists who want to impose their rules of engagement on the rules of engagement? I share in the belief of resisting “by any means necessary”. If you believe in “no violence under any circumstances”, be sure you are consistent. No violence under any circumstances means you don’t eat, you don’t defecate, and you don’t use electricity, which in America, is predominantly powered by coal. Whether the coal is mined underground or on the surface, the methods of extraction ensure mass environmental destruction. These are all examples of violent acts.
More than likely, pacifists like Scilla believe in “no violence in certain circumstances”. Lucky for them, they get to define the terms of the circumstances of their “no violence in certain circumstances”. Why then can’t I define the terms of the means in my “by any means necessary”? If Scilla’s belief system only permits her to resist by using methods she defines as nonviolent and never allows her to resist by using methods she defines as violent, then I say, “Go for it!”. I extend to Scilla the courtesy of choosing her own methods and defining on her terms who, what, when, where, why, and how she will resist. Why won’t she extend to me the same courtesy?
Third, no doubt all the many components involved in any given resistance are great in number and intricately complicated. This is why you cannot take a “one size fits all” approach. Depending on the independent variables in any given situation, what those resisting feel they need to do could change month to month, day to day, or second to second. Taking a cue from Derrick Jensen’s Endgame Volume II Resistance, there are basically four forms of resistance. They are as follows:
- Convert the oppressor: The pacifist’s favorite. This form of resistance starts by converting yourself. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Thanks, Gandhi. I suppose being concerned with ourselves is what we narcissistic, self-important-pacifist types do best. Once we change ourselves and pledge allegiance to nonviolence, then those who abuse us will see the error of their ways and join us in a prayer circle. Abusers love it when resisters take this approach because it takes the focus off of them. This form of resistance also suggests that abusers are unaware that they’re abusing; it’s simply a matter of educating the abuser. News flash—abusers are fully aware that they’re abusing. In fact, they believe they are entitled to do so.
- Kill the oppressor: this form of resistance speaks for itself.
- Remove the oppressor’s means to oppress: Disarming an attacker with a weapon before subduing him takes away his ability to hurt you. This would be an example of this form of resistance on a personal level. Running out of oil makes it virtually impossible for civilization to continue abusing us and the planet. This would be an example of this form of resistance on a global level.
- Remove the oppressor’s will to oppress: Many more people join your effort to defend against an attacker. Although still armed and not subdued, the attacker decides to give up. This would be an example of this form of resistance on a personal level. Continually destroying a dam. When it’s rebuilt. Destroy it again. If it’s rebuilt again. Destroy it yet again. Keep destroying that dam until civilization stops rebuilding it. When civilization stops rebuilding the dam, you’ve demoralized it into submission. You’ve removed civilization’s will to use that dam as a means to oppress. This would be an example of this form of resistance on a global level.
Fourth, Scilla’s overarching premise is flawed. The question at the heart of her presentation, “How do I deal with a bully without becoming a thug?”, implies that if I use violence to defend myself (or to defend the defenseless), I have become a thug. That’s complete nonsense. Not all violence is the same. Violence is just a tool. A drill in the hands of a dentist can fix cavities and offer relief. A drill in the hands of a torturer can cause pain and inspire terror. It depends who’s using violence, and what, when, where, why, and how they’re using it. It’s like what I wrote just the other week in response to a friend’s Facebook reposting of a popular The Daily Show video with guest Malala Yousafzai. It was entitled, “16-Year-Old Malala Yousafzai Leaves Jon Stewart Speechless With Comment About Pacifism”. My comment was as follows:
You can’t blanket policy anything, including violence. Not all violence is the same. If Malala were to defend herself against Taliban attackers and chose to act in a manner some may consider violent in doing so, she would be completely justified. This would not make her the same as her attackers. Violence in self-defense or in defense of the defenseless is completely different and completely justified. Nonviolent resistance is but one form of resistance. There are countless ways to resist. Pacifism does not have a monopoly on resistance. Love does not imply pacifism.