What is non-violence?

Posted by T on January 19, 2009
History, Politics

Last year to celebrate today’s holiday I outlined Michael “Martin Luther” King’s chronic cheatin’ ways, exemplified in his academics, his speeches, and his women. The fraudulent PhD is particularly illuminating. The Aryans that run Boston University know very well that the dissertation was plagiarized, but won’t do anything about it. Negroes for their part love to say “Doctor King” or just “Doctor,” as one can witness in the many NPR interviews at this time of year. It is said with the same reverential and expectant awe that one would expect from a white schoolboy on a field trip to a candy factory speaking about “Doctor Snickers,” the man up front with a bag of candy bars that promises to give one to each child at the end of the tour.

But for many people, everything is to be forgiven because of Marty’s advocacy of “non-violent” reform. So a brief analysis of this concept is called for.

Suppose you are the boss, and a cadre of employees enters your office and says, “we are here to make some demands, but don’t worry, we are doing so non-violently.” Or a bunch of you go to the City Council to request that the porno shops be closed down, and your spokesman adds, “… and note that our request is non-violent.” There is something rather odd about this. Why did the subject of violence occur to anyone to begin with?

Consider some of the phrases in Marty’s famous “I have a dream” speech. These are all direct quotes:

  • This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.
  • It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.
  • And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

I think any native English-speaker would agree that these statements sound like thinly-veiled threats. They sound an awful lot like a prediction of riots and mayhem — which actually did occur in the subsequent years.

To be sure, he went on to say,

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

However, a close reading shows that the restraint is rather carefully worded. For example, “we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.” But “wrongful deeds” were defined pragmatically by the Civil Rights leaders. Ralph Abernathy writes of the Albany demonstrations,

Who were we to turn on the federal judiciary just because one decision had gone against us? After all, we had made obedience to federal courts a central argument in our efforts to desegregate the South…. Could we now disobey a federal judge and continue to argue that southern whites should submit to the Supreme Court’s decrees on schools and busing? Martin and I discussed the matter at some length and finally concluded that we had no choice but to obey Judge Elliott’s ruling, however wrong-headed we thought it might be. To do anything else would have meant forfeiting further appeal to the principle of law — and at that point we would be finished. (R. D. Abernathy, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, p. 219)

In other words, the decision to obey or disobey authority was made merely for its propagandistic effect, not principle. Which deeds are “wrongful” were to be recognized only by how they advanced the “cause.”

Likewise, “we must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence” is consistent with a view that there is both “creative” protest and “other kinds” of protest. It is the ambiguity of amphiboly. The words do not absolutely forbid the use of physical violence.

And again, the earlier cadences certainly seem to put forth the threat of violent confrontation if the honky establishment does not shape up right away. A simultaneous assertion of P and ~P means you can believe whatever you want to.

Gandhi was often appealed to by King, according to his close colleague:

As his speech at the Holt Street Baptist Church revealed, he was a student of history who had made a careful study of civil disobedience, particularly as preached and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi. Martin could explain the theory of civil disobedience to our people in terms they could understand, and these explanations were crucial to our movement, since you can’t expect people to undergo pain and humiliation without having very good reasons to justify such suffering. Martin supplied those reasons with clarity and authority, and during the months that followed, no one forgot what he had taught. (ibid., p. 156.)

By 1983 when the Gandhi movie came out, even many Aryans were enough dumbed down and demoralized to regard Gandhi as a second Messiah; so one can only imagine the magical effect the mention of such an exotic and distant name would have had on King’s audience of Negroes in 1955.

Mahatma Gandhi’s case is rather complicated. In his early life, he was hardly a pacifist. Indeed, he was almost an Indian counterpart to young Churchill, who never saw a battle that didn’t make his heart leap for joy. His later advocacy of “non-violence” is apparently not accompanied by a manifesto describing his conversion. His writings occupy 80 volumes and are full of contradictions, scatological meanderings, and not much philosophy, according to Richard Grenier.

Significantly, the result of the “non-violent” movement for independence in India resulted in horrific bloodshed, with estimates of the number slain ranging from one to four million.

There was always a small number of exalted satyagrahi [truth-strivers] who, martyrs, would march into the constables’ truncheons, but one of the things that alarmed the British — as Tagore indicated — was the explosions of violence that accompanied all this alleged nonviolence. Naipaul wrote that with independence India discovered again that it was “cruel and horribly violent.” Jaya Prakash Narayan, the late opposition leader, once admitted, “We often behave like animals…. We are more likely than not to become aggressive, wild, violent. We kill and burn and loot….” (Richard Grenier, The Gandhi Nobody Knows, pp. 102-3)

The great King speech was given in 1963. It is instructive to list the cities that burned from Negro riots in the ensuing years:

  • Rochester: July 1964
  • Philadelphia: August 1964
  • Watts (LA): August 1965
  • Cleveland: July 1966
  • Omaha: July 1966
  • Newark: July 1967
  • Plainfield, NJ: July 1967
  • Detroit: July 1967
  • Chicago: April 1968
  • Washington, DC: April 1968
  • Baltimore: April 1968
  • Cleveland: July 1968
  • Omaha: June 1969

(It might be interesting to reflect on the fact that only two of these cities were Southern; moreover, by the 1960s, the Southern patrimony of DC and Baltimore could already be questioned.)

In summary, note these three things:

  1. The assertion of a negation is always logically suspect. It does not take much reflection to realize that the verbal profession of “non-violence” is actually the threat of violence.
  2. In King’s case, the profession of non-violence was juxtaposed with language whose obvious meaning is the threat of violence.
  3. In the two most famous movements of the 20th century professing to be “non-violent,” we find that both were in fact attended by horrific violence.

Indeed, we can conclude that “non-violence” means, violence.

When someone comes making a “non-violent” request, make sure your powder is dry and near at hand.

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