I have again been thinking on the eternal debate about tactics amongst activists. Anyone who has taken some time out to reflect will be aware of many things – notwithstanding my critique that many who criticise nonviolence do so from a position of not having actually read much of the theory (explored in many other posts). I have again been involved in discussion and debate regarding nonviolence v violence in social justice movements. This is something that I think will continue for some time – and should. I find problems with numerous views on nonviolence and violence. These include many pacifists (nonviolence and pacifism are not the same, despite people conflating as such), proponents of principled nonviolence, proponents on pragmatic nonviolence (which I have heard referred to as negative nonviolence, as analogous to negative peace) and proponents of various forms of violence through to political assassination. The issues, ideas and debates that have and will continue to emerge, I am sure, will find their way into many more posts here. For now, there is something I have been thinking about of late that I want to put onto paper – I will try to spell this out as I have thought through it.
From cultural studies theorists through to activists challenging racism, the concept of othering is widely considered a central (and essential) part of racism. This is also the case for many other forms of oppression including those based on gender and sexuality. We tend to other someone, a culture, etc., to separate them from us. Once we have created this separation, it makes it easier for us to perpetrate actions we would otherwise not fathom. It also removes the negative connotations of associating these perceived/imposed traits with ourselves. A well-used example is where you have a neighbour, work colleague, etc., who does things we do not like. If they are of a different culture, we take their actions as representative of their culture (much like vegans/radicals/etc are lumped in the same basket) . Whereas, if they are of the same culture as us, we do not consider them representative of us/our culture. Rather, we have issues with them/their actions as individuals. To generalise, progressive folk I discuss ideas with seem not to have an issue with this concept.
From discussion I have had with activists, it seems people do not see this in considering violent actions. For us to perpetuate violence against another requires othering. This need not be race or culturally based. We see it in the actions of those who, for example, make threats against the well being of those who work for companies that inflict untold pain and suffering directly (vivisectors) or indirectly (corporate whores). This othering is clear in how animals are treated in society, and Carol Adams (amongst many others) has shown how women are dehumanised to enable their subjugation.
To call on a base value of anarchism, there is a means/end equivalency – the means reflect the ends. This is at the core of the differences between anarchists and state (amongst other) socialists. It may be obvious where I am going with this. To other someone, whether they be a vivisector or a relative tearing into the flesh on their plate, is a form of dehumanisation. If we are opposed to the dehumanisation of animals, women, other cultures, races, sexualities and more how can we perpetuate violence on others. This is not some hippy attempt at moralising, and I agree with many of Ward Churchill’s criticisms of moral adherents to nonviolence in this regard. I will leave this there for now as it is something I need to think more on. I want to explore this much further and refine. It is something I think requires much more thought and expansion/clarification…
I will come back to this, as well as the many other things I have left open (as indicated in previous posts)