This post started off as a sort of “yes and Amen” to a blog a buddy of mine wrote called “I Believe in the Prince of Peace” (bit.ly/1IefFlS ) where he defends his pacifist views. But I live ten miles south of Baltimore so this is about the riots that rocked that city last night. (for more info see here )
The first story I remember hearing was the one where the brave knight saved the helpless maiden from the evil dragon. After a fierce fight, the knight struck down the dragon, freed the maiden and they lived happily ever after.
This is the kind of story that every young boy hears. It is the kind of story that every boy loves. The knight in shining armor. Ok maybe he’s a Jedi knight, or maybe he rides a motorcycle instead of a steed, but the core concept is the same and it permeates the life of men for our entire lives. To say otherwise, I think, is to kid ourselves of the truth. Men have it ingrained in us to seek justice, to stand tall, to fight the good fight, and to face the dragon, whatever shape that dragon may take.
The problem is that because the knight in the story has a lance to strike the dragon, an enchanted shield to protect him from the fire, and a magical sword to pierce the dragon’s armor, we assume that we must also have similar weapons. Even in the bible we see stories of David donning his armor (nevermind that he later casts it aside) and we see Paul exhort us to “put on the full armor of God” never mind that such weapons can’t harm a person. No, what we see are a set of tools, designed for violence. And violence no matter how well intended cannot create change, it can only destroy.
I once had a discussion with someone in which I was advocating non-violence and pacifism while they were advocating the need for violence. It was more or less Martin Luther King Jr. vs Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Finally the other person conceded that there were benefits to non-violence, but real change did not happen without it. She told me about a March MLK held in Chicago where some thirty thousand people showed up and it barely made a dent in the news. Why? Because they were allowed to march peacefully. There was no state violence. But every march in the south made the 9 o’clock news because there was so much violence. Ghandi met violence in India. Nelson Mandela in South Africa. The Arab Spring. And now, the spotlight is shining on police brutality because of violence in Oscar Grant, Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore.
And no matter what you say about the other violence listed here, there is a world of difference between seeking change at an institutional level, and seeking change at a cultural level.
Dr. King, Ghandi, and Mandela all sought change at an institutional level. They saw policies in place that were deliberately crafted to marginalize part of the population. I don’t know enough about what’s going on in the US justice system to say for certain that there remains to this day institutionalized racism, but I am aware that there remains a deep seated cultural prejudice that permeates every aspect of American life. It is in fact so deep that I doubt I’ll ever really understand it, having been myself subjected to it so little. However, the point here is that while violence and tragedy can force the hand of an institution, violence and tragedy will likely only enforce cultural prejudices.
In the movie THE BUTLER, Dr. King is credited with saying “The black domestic is the most subversive of all black people. By his actions, his daily tasks, he proves to his white masters that all their assumptions of us are wrong.” Here then, is the fallacy of violence in the United States: when people of color (I’m Hispanic so I’m included in this statement) act violently rest of the world shakes their head and says “well what did you expect?”
Here’s another perspective. Sure Guevara helped to make change around the world. But he did so using violent methodologies that depended on the dehumanization of his own soldiers. “we can only triumph” Guevara writes
“when the soldiers fighting capitalism hate it so much that they become machines fueled by their hatred and that are programed solely for its destruction.”
Compare this to MLK’s vision for victory.
To our most bitter opponents we say: “… Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you…. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”