-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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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