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Reply to "Does MLK Get A Bad Rap?"

I think that nonviolence itself sometimes gets a bad rap. There is a big difference between pacifism and passivism.

There is a misconception that nonviolence is inheriently less forceful or less confrontational than violence. There is also a misconception that nonviolence relies on pursuasion, and the good will of your opponent. In part this stems from the public rhetoric that often surrounds nonviolence. Lots of flowery talk about loving your enemy and changing minds etc, when in reality, the private talk is about planning, logistics, tactics, and strategy, and how best to force change. I seriously doubt that anybody involved in strong nonviolent action is feeling much love for their opponent while being oppressed and/or beaten.

I think that both violence and nonviolence rely on coercion. The goal (assuming that it is practiced in a desciplined and forceful manner) is to create facts that make it in the opponent's best interest to change. Nonviolent action, like violent action, can be timid or it can be forceful.

Unfortunately, one of the common results of the use of violence is to make it difficult for your opponent to think rationally. People who are in fear for their physical safety often do not behave in their own self interest.

While both violence and nonviolence can be capable of creating sufficient pressure and conditions so as to make it in your opponent's own self interest to alter their behavior, that in and of itself is not enough to force change. Not only must enough pressure be applied to make it in your opponent's own self interest to allow change, but your opponent must be in a mental and emotional position to be able to recognize their own self interest. People in fear for their physical safety often are not.


Plowshares Actions
The Nuclear Resister
School of the Americas Watch


Cauca, Colombia

[This message was edited by ricardomath on December 06, 2003 at 03:56 PM.]
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