Nonviolence: A Response #1

The most important thing to recognize about nonviolence is that it is a response to a prior violence.  Nonviolence comes into play because harm is already being done.  We only understand nonviolence in the context of this foundational reality.

This is not stating the obvious.  It is establishing a crucial point–a point hidden and/or denied by the perpetrators of violence, who want to paint the nonviolent resistors as “the bad guys.”  Until this error is called out, it deflects the problem away from its source, and caricatures the cause/effect reality. So, in order to understand the response of nonviolent resistance, we must first identify the tactics of those who make it necessary.  [See note below]

To begin with, we must recognize that the word ‘violence’ means more than something physical.  In fact, it is an attitude before it is an action. Degrading words (as ideology and/or speech) precede destructive actions. Harm means the subjugation of others by whatever means that the in-group deems appropriate and effective.

Violence, as we are defining it here, arises from the motive to establish, maintain, or restore power to the in-group.  It is fundamentally a process by which “we” prevent “them” from having something which would change the current reality in ways which the in-group does not want–ways that would create a new reality that diminishes the in-group’s control.  At its heart, violence is always about one group wanting to hold power.

Consequently, to understand both the need for and the nature of nonviolence, we must first identify some of the most-obvious characteristics of in-group subjugation.  We will do this in the next few blogs.

[Note–For a more extensive, scholarly study of subjugation, see Lonnie Athens’s book, ‘Domination and Subjugation in Everyday Life’]

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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