Fighting Injustice

Resist not evil…

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39, King James Version)

According to Wikipedia, Nonresistance (or non-resistance) is a philosophy and strategy for social change that discourages physical resistance to an enemy. It is considered as a subdivision of nonviolence. Practitioners of nonresistance may refuse to retaliate against an opponent or offer any form of self-defense. Perhaps the oldest recorded statement of nonresistance philosophy is that of Socrates around 399 BC. An influential ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates was sentenced to death by the Athenian democracy for teaching his students to question authority and think for themselves. Socrates accepted his fate on reasons of morality and justice, rather than accept help from his supporters to flee Athens and escape execution. There are few if any other accounts of nonresistance which have been so influential throughout the history of the Western world.”

Cropped image from the title page of Uncle Rem...

Wise Uncle Remus (Wikipedia)

Non-resistance or non-engagement with evil is also the moral of “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story” from Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris.  “The Tar-Baby is a doll made of tar and turpentine used to entrap Br’er Rabbit in the second of the Uncle Remus stories. The more that Br’er Rabbit fights the Tar-Baby, the more entangled he becomes. In modern usage, “tar baby” refers to any “sticky situation” that is only aggravated by additional contact. The only way to solve such a situation is by separation .”[1]

Helplessly stuck in the Tar-Baby, Br’er Rabbit barely escapes doom by begging Br’er Wolf NOT to throw him in dat brier-patch…

But if good men do nothing

What about Edmund Burke‘s famous sentiment that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’? [2]

Certainly that sentiment was shared by such giants of social reform as Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Isn’t civil disobedience a form of resistance? How can one fight evil without resisting it?

Resistance is futile…

One theory of power holds that it is a kind of shared illusion, that power only exists by virtue of voluntary submission on the part of the many. This is the argument of Étienne de La Boétie in the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1552):

“I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him.”

The premise seems reasonable, but the inference that a remedy can be sought in popular dissent fails to recognize that humans are herd animals down to the genetic core. In many species, if the alpha leader is removed, a new alpha will emerge from the herd. This often includes changes in the actual physical and physiological characteristics of the new leader.

Not all humans seem to express the herd genes, but there may be little hope of changing the many who do, or enlisting them in popular revolts against authority.

Turning the other cheek

Disobedience isn’t necessarily resistance; and non-resistance (turning the other cheek) isn’t necessarily submission.

Instead of being combative, disobedience can be constructive in a new direction. Instead of being engaging, it can be disengaging.  Disengagement from evil can liberate resources for positive alternatives.

This is the strategy of constructive disengagement or proactive separation which the Tar-Baby story teaches.

Instead of trying to coerce or cajole the Tar-Baby, the Wolf, the King, or any evil jerk to have better manners, we can practice any kind of manners we please down in the Brier-Patch, which ill-mannered predators avoid of their own volition.

That is why I place most of my hopes for peace, justice, and all our other highest ideals in the constructive, proactive creation of Intentional Communities and our own self-reliant economic activity.

To that end I support a general strike and general boycott of the mainstream economy so that the bulk of our labor and our treasure can be concentrated in our own local Brier-Patch communities.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

Objections to “isolationism

One can neither ignore the evils of the world in good conscience nor shut out the effects of climate change, even way down in the Brier-Patch.

But conflating separation and isolation is a straw man. Separation does not depend on isolation; nor does it necessarily intend on it.

Many people think that the best way to seek change is by working “within the system”. Working within the system is what some people are geared for and I have no problem with it, but it is not the only position of power or even necessarily the best one. Separation enables engagement with global issues from a position of strength (self-reliance) rather than weakness (dependence); and by creating positive examples of alternatives, rather than simply by objection or petition. It can also be difficult to effectively criticize or reform a company or a system on which you abjectly depend for your own livelihood, status, security, etc. Often there is both an asymmetry of power and a conflict of self-interest to overcome.

Fringe benefits of self-reliance

Finally, if all else fails, the meek may inherit the earth simply by surviving to emerge from their Brier-Patches to find that the wolves, lions, tigers, and bears have all consumed each other. If anybody is going to survive a collapse of modern civilization it will be sustainable, self-sufficient, intentional communities, eco-villages, cooperative farms, etc. and green collar, worker-owned and consumer-owned economies.

Poor Richard

________________________

Notes:

Br’er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby: “‘Mawnin’!’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee—‘nice wedder dis mawnin’,’ sezee. “Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nuthin’, en Brer Fox he lay low.

1. From Wikipedia/Tar Baby: “Br’er Fox constructs a doll out of a lump of tar and dresses it with some clothes. When Br’er Rabbit comes along he addresses the tar “baby” amiably, but receives no response. Br’er Rabbit becomes offended by what he perceives as the Tar Baby’s lack of manners, punches it, and in doing so becomes stuck. The more Br’er Rabbit punches and kicks the tar “baby” out of rage, the worse he gets stuck. Now that Br’er Rabbit is stuck, Br’er Fox ponders how to dispose of him. The helpless, but cunning, Br’er Rabbit pleads, “but do please, Brer Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,” prompting Fox to do exactly that. As rabbits are at home in thickets, the resourceful Br’er Rabbit escapes.” [The full tale is here.]

2. According to Wikipedia/Edmund Burke,  Burke never made that famous statement. It is a popular aphorism nonetheless, representing the view of many social reformers and activists. What Burke actually said in 1770 was “No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/12/04/good-men-do/

Nonresistance (or non-resistance) is a philosophy and strategy for social change that discourages physical resistance to an enemy. It is considered as a subdivision of nonviolence. Practitioners of nonresistance may refuse to retaliate against an opponent or offer any form of self-defense. In the modern times, this has been used as a tool for social protest. A well known example is the nonviolent resistance movement led by Mohandas Gandhi in the struggle for Indian Independence.Nonresistance (or non-resistance) is a philosophy and strategy for social change that discourages physical resistance to an enemy. It is considered as a subdivision of nonviolence. Practitioners of nonresistance may refuse to retaliate against an opponent or offer any form of self-defense. In the modern times, this has been used as a tool for social protest. A well known example is the nonviolent resistance movement led by Mohandas Gandhi in the struggle for Indian Independence.

Voluntary Servitude

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes involuntary servitude illegal under any U.S. jurisdiction whether at the hands of the U.S. government or in the private sphere, except as punishment for a crime: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

“[However,]  involuntary servitude does not necessarily connote the complete lack of freedom experienced in chattel slavery; involuntary servitude may also refer to other forms of unfree labor. Involuntary servitude is not dependent upon compensation or its amount.” (Wikipedia: Involuntary Servitude)

So…where is the line between voluntary and involuntary?

As noted by Étienne de La Boétie in Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, power has never originated from the inherent strength of tyrants. Great power may reside in the tyrant temporarily, but it has always derived, at its root, from the beliefs and behavior of the masses.

“For the present I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation! Yet it is so common that one must grieve the more and wonder the less at the spectacle of a million men serving in wretchedness, their necks under the yoke, not constrained by a greater multitude than they, but simply, it would seem, delighted and charmed by the name of one man alone whose power they need not fear, for he is evidently the one person whose qualities they cannot admire because of his inhumanity and brutality toward them...

“To see an endless multitude of people not merely obeying, but driven to servility? …They suffer plundering, wantonness, cruelty, not from an army, not from a barbarian horde, on account of whom they must shed their blood and sacrifice their lives, but from a single man; not from a Hercules nor from a Samson, but from a single little man. Too frequently this same little man is the most cowardly and effeminate in the nation, a stranger to the powder of battle and hesitant on the sands of the tournament; not only without energy to direct men by force, but with hardly enough virility to bed with a common woman! Shall we call subjection to such a leader cowardice? Shall we say that those who serve him are cowardly and faint-hearted? If two, if three, if four, do not defend themselves from the one, we might call that circumstance surprising but nevertheless conceivable. In such a case one might be justified in suspecting a lack of courage. But if a hundred, if a thousand endure the caprice of a single man, should we not rather say that they lack not the courage but the desire to rise against him, and that such an attitude indicates indifference rather than cowardice?

“…A people enslaves itself, cuts its own throat, when, having a choice between being vassals and being free men, it deserts its liberties and takes on the yoke, gives consent to its own misery, or, rather, apparently welcomes it.

“Everyone knows that the fire from a little spark will increase and blaze ever higher as long as it finds wood to burn; yet without being quenched by water, but merely by finding no more fuel to feed on, it consumes itself, dies down, and is no longer a flame. Similarly, the more tyrants pillage, the more they crave, the more they ruin and destroy; the more one yields to them, and obeys them, by that much do they become mightier and more formidable, the readier to annihilate and destroy. But if not one thing is yielded to them, if, without any violence they are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing, just as, when the root receives no nourishment, the branch withers and dies.

“To achieve the good that they desire, the bold do not fear danger; the intelligent do not refuse to undergo suffering. It is the stupid and cowardly who are neither able to endure hardship nor to vindicate their rights; they stop at merely longing for them, and lose through timidity the valor roused by the effort to claim their rights, although the desire to enjoy them still remains as part of their nature.

“All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves? You sow your crops in order that he may ravage them, you install and furnish your homes to give him goods to pillage; you rear your daughters that he may gratify his lust; you bring up your children in order that he may confer upon them the greatest privilege he knows — to be led into his battles, to be delivered to butchery, to be made the servants of his greed and the instruments of his vengeance; you yield your bodies unto hard labor in order that he may indulge in his delights and wallow in his filthy pleasures; you weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and the mightier to hold you in check. From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.” (Étienne de La Boétie, 1548)

%d bloggers like this: