Category Archives: Commérage

Light on the Path of Nonviolence

-Michael N. Nagler  (Metta Center for Nonviolence)

We seem to be living in a world going in two directions at once, toward increasing violence, for one example in the Middle East, and away from violence toward nonviolence, which is undergoing remarkable growth.  The first of these developments we are all too aware of; the second, the one we most need, is known only to a very small number.  The worldview of most people is such that even if they witness a nonviolent event of some kind they cannot rightly understand what they are experiencing. Their culture does not give them a framework to understand or appreciate nonviolence.  The fact is that and more than half the people of the world have in fact witnessed, or participated in, a nonviolent movement of some kind in their country in the decades since Gandhi and King, yet policymakers and the general public still act as though military force were the only response to a large-scale threat.

The fact that it is largely the youth culture in which these movements have arisen is another reason they remain little understood and accounted for, as youth have less access, by and large, to the mainstream media.  But the main reason they remain in the shadows is that they cannot be readily understood in the prevailing worldview. Let me, therefore, speak to these new developments in the field of nonviolence, for if they remain in the shadows there will be little hope that today’s youth will inherit a liveable world.  As I see it, at least five things are happening that need to be brought to light, appreciated, and further developed.


  1. New Institutions.  Along with more formal institutions such as the International Criminal Court and legal protocols like the “Right to Protect” (R2P), civil-society organizations like Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (UCP) have come onto the world stage to reduce and forestall conflict by creative, nonviolent means.  These groups send trained field workers into areas of conflict, often where even the UN deems the situation too dangerous.  Over the last twenty or so years they have protected many threatened individuals and dampened many a conflict, recently, for example, in Mindañao. They also represent an important shift in the logic of organizations itself from a top-down, hierarchical model of the typical for-profit corporation to more organic and democratic forms.


  1. The peace movement has had to “reinvent the wheel” every time something provokes it into action.  Today, taking advantage of the increases in global communication and travel, activists have been more concerned to share “best practices” with those who find themselves in similar situations.  Student leaders from the successful overthrow of President Milośevič in Serbia, for example, were on hand at Tahrir Square.  They created The Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) to carry on this vital work.


  1. New Science.  What is now called “classical science,” the materialist paradigm of life as a random, deterministic, and essentially meaningless, is an integral part of the world of violence and destruction from which we are trying to emerge.  In the last thirty or so years an undeniable paradigm shift has happened across all scientific disciplines which should have profound and helpful alternative impacts on the search for a nonviolent future.  If Gandhi were still in the body he would be making superb use of the “new science.”  It’s findings resoundingly support the Vedantic tradition he inherited, so that now whether we look at the outside or the inside worlds (through science or spiritual discovery) we see that nonviolence is not only possible but the fulfilment of our destiny.


  1. New Actors.  Gandhi began his work in S. Africa among relatively enfranchised, “free” Indians, and   critical boost to his Satyagraha campaign happened when two new groups were drawn in: laborers and women. Similarly today, two traditionally marginalized groups are increasingly empowered, organized, and engaged.  Women are probably the most important, but also indigenous people have found ways to mount successful nonviolent resistance to corporate attacks on their lifestyles. At least one regular organization, Via Campesina, has helped them gain visibility (and effectiveness) without sacrificing their traditional lifestyle.  The courageous women and men of Koodankulam, whom I visited last October, are a splendid example.


  1. Peace Science.  Along with the great shift in “hard” sciences, scholarly research has begun to acknowledge nonviolence as a field, or at least a phenomenon.  There is now an extremely influential study, Why Civil Resistance Works by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan (2012 ) showing that “transitions to democracy” that are free from violence are twice as effective as violent ones, in one third the time, and such transitions lead to greater democracy even when they fail than violent attempts that “succeed.”


It is critical for youth and for all of us today not to be demoralized by the increases in violence but to learn about and take part in these great developments.


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the falling Dominos

North Korea, the hermit kingdom with high walls, was in the news for an unusual reason. No, not  for Kim Jong shaking his fists at USA, nor an ex-NBA singing to the birthday boy, not even the video of a North Korean dreaming of blowing New York, I said “unusual” reason. It was the execution of Jang Sung-Taek, uncle and mentor to the young Supreme Leader, and said to be the second most powerful man in the country. Under the glorious rule of the Kims, executions in North Korea are more common than an ordinary man getting lunch. But the powerful were supposed to be above such punishments, especially the person second in stature only to the Supreme Leader. The young dictator chose a grotesque way to show that power resides only in his hands. But with this killing, he may as well have chopped off his own thumb.

Jang Sung Taek was an important cog in the North Korean machinery. Despite having strained relations with Kim Jong Un’s aunt, he was able to maintain his position (and his head) for many years, particularly because of the fact that he served as the umbilical cord between China and North Korea. The official biographies may portray the second Kim as a brilliant strategist, author of thousands of books, and a world record holder in golf, but even he needed people like Jang to manage mundane matters like diplomacy and economy. Kim the third has established his expertise in both the fields; by irking the main benefactor of the country beyond damage control, and putting up amusement parks and ski resorts.

In today’s world, the ground is shrinking beneath the feet of dictators. This millennium has already seen big guns like Saddam and Gaddafi meet their Maker. Kim and his regime need allies to survive. But as it turns out, the DPRK has been losing friends faster than making any. They fell out with Russia decades ago. Every nuclear test takes them further away from China. They have a venomous relationship with their southern neighbour, and portray the only superpower in the world as “hook-nosed monsters.” North Korea is like the whiny child at the dinner table whom all the adults are ignoring. Kim Jong can put up as many fireworks shows over the Pacific as he pleases, but that’s not going to sink the USA.

For seven decades, the Kim family has held the reins of North Korea. Kim Jong Un is tugging harder than his father, but he doesn’t see that he’s about to ride off a cliff. An oppressive regime, harsh living conditions, and a reckless ruler; it’s the perfect recipe for a rebellion. Throw in the nuclear weapons, and you have the biggest crisis of this century. The North Korean rule has its roots deeply embedded in an all-powerful military and decades of propaganda. Such a regime won’t go down easily. But when the centre collapses, there’s no telling how many will be crushed.