Posted by: terrapraeta | December 1, 2009

Practicing Non-Violence

Your people, enemy
My people’s hated enemy
What are you, enemy
Though a created enemy
Terminate the, enemy
Eradicate the hated enemy
I am an enemy
My very greatest enemy

You try to tell me that you love life
Then find another way to kill life

Wanting, love life
Needing, kill life
Wanting, love life
Needing, kill life

Disturbed, Conflict

There has been a lot of talk, lately, here and elsewhere about violence and it’s place (or lack thereof) in our lives. When is violence appropriate or not, is it ever appropriate? I wrote about ritualized violence previously, and re-reading that article today I find that I still agree with pretty much everything I wrote. But it does not cover the topic as thoroughly as I would now like.

Let me state for the record, I am not a practitioner of non-violence.

Nor am I a violent person. Very rarely in my life have I had any interaction with overt violence, whatsoever. I am sure I have killed millions of insects, driving down the road in my car, I’ve even killed a couple of deer the same way (I once lived in a county in Wisconsin with the highest deer population in the state. Living there for any time period and not hitting a deer would have been miraculous.) I eat meat. I have had a few occasions of getting caught up in “puff up tough guy” type situations. Generally those never have gone further than the bluff. And then there is that other thing, but we don’t need to talk about that.

In any case, I have been thinking about this a lot. One cannot read Jensen without thinking about it a lot. He challenges our self images, our holier than thou attitudes and most especially, our attitudes about violence both as victims and as perpetrators. I’m still not inclined to go out and blow up a dam. Not really my style, nor my part to play. I still believe that Rebellious Violence (…intentional application of violence to achieve a specific goal, just like Institutionalized Violence, but employed against the state rather than for it.) is generally very easy for the system to deal with. Or more specifically, that it is part of the system, a steam valve, a way for the system to release pressure without losing control. But I have to admit that Jensen does make a decent case for leveraged efforts (violent or not) and so this is something I will need to think on further.

But back to the issue of non-violence. It occurred to me as I began to write that this is always termed “practicing non-violence” and this seems telling to me. It is not a skill you learn, but rather an effort that one must “practice” forever. That, in and of itself, leads me to believe that this is an unnatural behavior pattern for humans. Hell, I would go so far as to say it is an unnatural behavior pattern for all life. Does that make it wrong? Right Wrong, Natural, un-Natural… these are all Bad Words and I hate discussions that center around them, but there is nothing much to be done about it.

Let’s try to re-frame this discussion. How is violence addressed in the world around us, outside of the civilized mindset and Institutionalized Violence and it’s ugly stepdaughters?

An old friend of mine, Ghost, introduced a framework on Ishcon which he termed the Hierarchy of Conflict Resolution and it goes like this:

    1-If it’s your territory, defend
    2-If it’s their territory, retreat
    3-If the territory belongs to no one, contest
    4-If there are no other options to that resource, contest
    5-Begin all conflict resolution by attempting to come to a compromise
    6-If this fails, employ aggressive behaviour designed to make the other party retreat
    7-If this fails, apply force
    8-If this fails, you may injure your opponent
    9-If this fails, you may kill your opponent
    10-If this fails, you may exterminate your opponent

The key to this tree of behavior is that at any stage, either participant may withdraw. And in most cases, outside of civilization, one or another combatant will withdraw unless the cause of the conflict is so desperate that withdrawing means almost certain death. Although it is written describing human group behaviors, the same tree can be applied to animal populations: two bull moose meet in a wood, a young wolf chooses to challenge the alpha, and so forth. And the ultimate key to these choices is what works. Or to put it in scientific terms, in a given situation, what is the evolutionarily Stable Strategy?

In civilization, there is no strategy tree. In civilization, the immediate response to challenge is annihilation. I think the practice of non-violence is a reaction to this fact. If the only options are extermination or withdrawal, there are some good arguments for withdrawal to be made. But outside of civilization, there are far more possibilities available. And even within civilization, if there is a conflict that is not directly engaging civ itself, other levels of conflict resolution can be engaged.

So what is the point of all this?

Once more, our civilized system has created a dichotomy. Annihilate or Concede, Violence or Non-Violence. Black versus white. But our real world contains all these wonderful colors of the rainbow, every shade of gray imaginable. I have never seen evil, nor good… my experience tells me that there is some of each in everything and everyone. Violence is just another piece of the dynamic puzzle that is life itself. So we can learn to manage violence or we can pretend that one day it can be eliminated entirely. I think that is a crock. Just like every other utopian ideal. It is an ideal designed to prevent us from dealing with the world the way it really is, in all of it’s luminous shades of gray.



  1. Hey tp!

    1) On natural/un-natural (this is not an argument for human superiority). It seems to be part of humans’ natures that we have a relatively high (though still limited) capacity to do ‘un-natural’ things. I see this as related to the whole ‘personal responsibility’ problematic, where I’ve probably had my most significant shifts of thinking recently. That’s probably a discussion for another time – can’t get the Bad Words link to work!

    2) On non-violence: glad you raised this. I don’t know if non-violence as a path is something I want to follow. The idea of ‘practicing non-violence’ came to mind in our previous conversation. I think the thing with seeing it as a practice, is that it safeguards against the imo deadly dangerous belief “I am not a violent person”. And this is the belief that nearly everyone in our society has a lot invested in believing!

    From there we can go to the Gestalt Therapy theory that the *repression of aggression* (aggression being going after what we want, archetypal aggressive act is biting chewing, swallowing food) is at the root of the large scale violent destruction we inflict, and the annhilate/flee dichotomies you point to. In the 1951 book it said maybe that’s a price to pay for the way civilisation has developed – but it’s worth a crack to undo that repression (painful process!!) and choose from an adult position when it’s appropriate to curb our aggressions (for survival or a greater good).

    If there’s any hope for a workable new kind of civilisation, this could be it.

    So I’m basically agreeing with you, I think.

  2. Correction: I don’t think “choosing from an adult position” is a Gestalt Therapy thing – there’s a critique in there on “infantile/mature” dichotomies too. We’re organisms in a field…hmmm, I wonder how they did put it.

  3. Hey John —

    Sorry about the Bad Words link… I fixed it, but I’ll wait to discuss that until you see where I’m coming from…….

    Just for curiousity, what do you feel “I am not a dangerous person” is a deadly dangerous belief? I can see several possible arguments, so I’m interested in where you are coming from….

    I disagree with that gestalt theory…. sort of. We do have lots of repressed aggression and lots of emotional damage… call in the Jensen Theory ;-)… so most of the overt violence in our culture is a result of the system; Institutionalized Violence, Rebellious Violence and Repressive Violence.

    At the same time, tho I understand what is meant, I do not really ascribe to the idea that chewing food is an inherently violent act. At some point, things like that dilute the meaning of violence to the degree that it “green washes” ALL violence.


  4. Hey tp, I don’t feel up to the task of nailing this stuff all down theoretically (I get too ‘brainy’ for my liking if I’m living on internet conversations too much).

    Here are some sketchy ideas between which some dots could be drawn….

    “aggression” is not a synonym for “violence”.
    “violence” is linked to “violation” – I’d link this somehow to “un-natural” in your sense of the word (thanks for fixed link), also to the boundary/territory stuff.
    “aggression” I’ll define as an act of taking something your organism wants or needs from the environment – or at least trying. I suspect that societal repression of this is closely linked to the rise of the screw-everybody sociopaths we discussed previously.

    What I’d love the world to hear is, “IT”S OKAY TO GO AFTER WHAT YOU TRULY WANT IN LIFE!”
    That said, I’m not sure whether the GT book makes clear theoretical distinctions between aggression and violence (there are such clear qualitative differences of experiences that I have no concern about a slippery slope).. I’d draw dots to your observation yesterday, “We do not eat without another dying.” – I can’t explain but I’m trying to sense the qualitative difference between this and murder.
    In the GT book (Perls, Goodman, Hofferman), 1951), an observation was made that our wars were getting less and less angry, more and more destructive. Qualititative differences between fistfights and atom bombs. I would add to this the qualitative differences between hunting (far too violent for such lovely people as we all are) and factory farming.

  5. Hey John —

    I agree that there is a difference between aggression and violence… but then to suggest that “chewing our food is a violent act” sort of belies that statement, doesn’t it? Which way is it?

    Personally, If we are gonna play the “violence is bad”/”aggression is okay” game, based on the “violate” qualification, then I would suggest that it is aggression if you are involved in a give and take relationship (ie, native hunters, eating, protecting your own) and “violence” becomes only about taking/dominating/destroying in a one sided relationship.

    It is absolutely okay to go after what you want in life… so long as you are not abusing others(human and non-human) to get it!

    Murder is a civilization defined type of killing. IE, it is taking life without the states blessing. There are many things I would call murder that technically are not…. and many things called murder that I would dispute. Makes it a bad word to use, IMO, because it is so subjective.

    Yes… wars now are based on cold political will, whereas once upon a time they were personal. I prefer the personal type, myself. If we are to have conflict (and we cannot escape that) then I would prefer it to be about people rather than about resources. (All war in civ is about resources, regardless of the rhetoric used to get people to go along with it)

    Hunting is too violent?…. is this a cynical statement? Otherwise I’m missing your point


  6. Hi tp, I still think we’re agreeing far more than we’re disagreeing here. I’ve been sketching – maybe too sketchy and rushed – links or distinctions that I’m pondering myself. (and oops, it’s Hefferline, not Hofferman) I value you filling in your takes on some of these words! And maybe I’m talking baloney! (hmm, first time I’ve used that word!)

    I didn’t at any point say that eating was violent. I said it was the archetypal aggressive act.

    I didn’t want to get into violent/aggressive bad/good dichotomies either. Just in the qualities of the words, I’m trying to use “aggressive” without a negative connotation. Perhaps that’s fruitless. Perhaps I’m not doing the GT stuff justice. Perhaps it’s enough to say civilisation has these effects on how we perceive our bodily functions and other “animal-like” qualities, trap ourselves in our heads, and that this has huge large-scale effects. But this is not a prison, as our friend Dave Pollard seems so convinced of. There’s a way out, which is not an escape from reality, but an ‘escape’ into reality. I’ve seen it and experienced it. Yes , life is hard sometimes, perhaps often, and we’re all going to die, but it is not necessary to “tax our lives with forethought of grief” as Wendell Berry put it. I sense that you already get that, tp, and getting this is the true hope. I don’t care what belief system or therapy or theory or whatever people use, I just urgently want people to get that hope for themselves, and for the sake of all lives, past, present and future.

    And it’s so fricking easy if you do the work!

    Well, that came out different than I expected!

    Have a nice day!

  7. Phew, back in a different space after venting that bit, I can read your reply a bit more clearly.

    I like your description of a distinction between aggression/violence, and it seems to map well onto natural/un-natural (whether these are spectrums or qualitative differences or whatever).

    On going after what you truly want: I believe that abusing others is not part of what people truly want if you really get down to it. Getting in touch with what we truly want, there’s the rub – and if you’re that in touch with yourself, violence and abuse seem a lot less likely to be a problem. Starts with the getting touch though, not with a certainty that one is not a “violent kind of person”. (there’s the danger I alluded to earlier)

    On hunting and violence – what I said didn’t make sense, a bit of off target sarcastic humour there, my apologies. If pressed I’d say hunting was aggressive – is it violent? Hmm, I’d say it depends on context, on the relationship between hunter and animal. Factory farming, if it’s the nightmare I imagine it to be, would be disturbingly unaggressive, cold-blooded torture and murder.


  8. Hi John —

    Yes, you’re right… we are approaching the same ideas from different directions. That’s why I so value dialog, conversation… because that turns out out often be the case, and even when not it still has intrinsic value 🙂

    I think, fundamentally, that everyone *truly* wants love, companionships, community etc, which means you are right and abusing others is irrelevant. But WAY too many people believe that what they want (or need) is something else. Thus the qualifier.

    And again with hunting… most sport hunters make me absolutely livid, so that is not what I am *meaning* when I talk about hunting…. although to be fair… I have known a few sport hunters, that whether they realize it or not are seeking that relationship. Unfortunately, they only find a shallow representation of it, because it is only a *piece* of their lives.


  9. John, you say…”There’s a way out, which is not an escape from reality, but an ‘escape’ into reality. I’ve seen it and experienced it.”

    I would love to hear more.

  10. PS, I think I’m going to avoid using the word “murder” as well…too loaded, as you say tp.

    Hi vera, well how to reply to that one? Have you read the Story of B? Kind of like that. Except looking to it as an “escape” isn’t useful – there’s a whole other level of responsibility to wealking away, which is somehow easier at the same time as hard. Another way to look at it is, instead of waiting for civilisation to collapse, acting into the reality that civilisation has already gone.

  11. I have read, and I do see what you are saying. I was hoping for your own specifics… your experience with “acting into the reality that civ has already gone.”

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