So this was an essay I wrote for the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Scholarship administered by the San Diego Indian-American Society. I was one of the several individuals who won the scholarship, and (hence the title), what follows is the essay I wrote for the scholarship's prompt: talking about non-violent means for conflict resolution. Take a look!
As citizens in the twenty-first century world, we come to believe that we have an inherent “right” to express our opinion and speak for ourselves in the name of democracy. We take for granted these “First World” luxuries, both material and intangible – the former including electricity, food, clothing, and medicine, and the latter including family protection, entitled civil rights, democracy, laws, opportunities, and a desire to achieve success and “pursue happiness.” Yet, we accept that there is no such thing as absolute freedom in a world of societal boundaries, laws, cultures, and expectations. Limits to free speech and expression are justified by the seemingly dire premise that there is a “clear and present danger,” or if certain remarks connote a derogatory or discriminatory attitude. Naturally, individuals may want to expand that freedom and promote change to certain customs. Those who desire action or change take one of two options: advocating change through legal means or imposing change through violence, chaos, and disorder. The latter has undoubtedly done as much harm as it has done good, if not more. Violent revolutions and military conflicts – the ones that persist time after time again, especially in the Third World – cause political instability that lasts for decades, as power shifts from one end of the political spectrum to the other, while uninvolved human individuals are left alienated, injured, homeless, or devastated by these meaningless conflicts and struggles. Nonviolent means, popularized by renowned figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., not only exemplify the shortcomings of political violence, but also prove that discussion over topics is meant to be handled in a peaceful and civilized manner – one where humans sympathize with the suffering of others, one where those in power know better not to abuse that power, one where human decency ultimately triumphs over human greed or the temptation of power.
Renowned documents throughout history, including the U.S. Constitution and U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, lay out the rights entitled to citizens, including life, liberty, equality before the law, protection from arbitrary arrest, and protection from discrimination. Yet, more often than the contrary, “actions speak louder than words,” and a “picture is worth a thousand words.” Literature ranging from tragedies such as Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heightsand John Steinbeck’s East of Eden to classics such as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth often reminds us that inevitably there is an inherent, violent, and selfish nature within us as a species, one instinctively motivated to survive and prioritize one’s interests over others. But the ironic paradox that underlies is this: consciously and morally, we (“we” including both politicians and civilians alike) may think we are all motivated by the same utopian goals such as “world peace,” and we may not openly advocate environmental destruction, nuclear war, genocide, torture, or ignorance, yet unconsciously and psychologically, we ignore the long-term objectives we once commit ourselves to, taking desperate means and disregarding words on paper that are meant to be “law.” Those who object to abuse become abusive themselves. Sometimes we become the very thing we were fighting against.
Ironically, democracy and order manifest as two highly different concepts – one symbolizes the power of the people, and the other symbolizes power over the people. The duality of democracy and order ultimately narrows down to this ultimate question: Are humans meant to be free, or should humans be controlled? If humans are naturally violent, then nonviolence may seem futile in the endeavors to achieve change. But in spite of our natural instincts, in spite of the antithetical duality of democracy and order, in spite of the inconsistency with our conscious and unconscious objectives, nonviolence as a tool of change and progress manifests itself as a combination of both democracy and order – one that expresses the people’s opinion in the most civilized and peaceful fashion, one that does not kill, maim, or hurt anyone, one that reminds both those in power and those subordinate to power that they share a common benevolence.
Whilst I agree that violence in the pursuit of change is counter productive to the common aim - eg, freedom -. I find fault in one premise - which I may be seeing whilst it's not there, feel free to correct me in a response -, that being that this thought process could be chained throughout time. We as a people and a species have developed and evolved physically and socially too a point whence we can look upon violence as a blight in the name of change rather than its enabler.
We look to the past and wonder with horror, what good could murder do for social justice? What in a gods' name could bloody revolution bring? We go back and we find the majority of the poor were uneducated, unequipped and unable to follow through on any other method or approach. I'm sure if William Wallace had asked and debated the legality of Scottish occupation by the English, they'd have sallied on home thinking on what a dreadful thing they had committed against my people. Of course, that's totally laughable; you have to break a few eggs to create an omelet. Or in this case, a few English skulls for independence.
Rights of a people are defended by those willing too fight, too struggle and too put all else aside to ensure these freedoms. All evil requires is for good men to do nothing in order to succeed, as they say. Duns Scotus for example made the case that we as a people have the right to choose a king who's willing too fight and defend those who'd make him such. The position is not granted by god, some unchangeable force; but by men and women willing and able to put this change into action.
The declaration of Arbroath, the declaration of independence and the Magna Carta all speak a good game. They all make the case most elegantly and soundly; but without might behind the words they matter as little as a birds feather. If we move forward in time, long after those historical documents were written, let us examine the Irish-Anglo war of 1918-1922. The Irish were abused, tortured and raped. Why you ask? Because they had not the might to stop it, they could have argued all they wished, but do you suppose they'd have been given notice?
Democracy my friend is a lovely idea.
An empty, useless idea without those willing to fight and bleed for it.
But a lovely idea.
Oh you're definitely right on a very valid point. I couldn't have put it any better than you did. Democracy without a willing people is like an aquarium without fish (I probably could have come up with a better analogy, but it suffices for now). In many cases, as you said, people had (and even have) to be willing to fight and to struggle to gain or preserve their freedoms, from historical revolutions to present-day resistance forces that oppose oppressive regimes (I'm looking at you, Syria). On that note, some people have to execute force because it's their everyday duty - a service as a soldier or an enforcer of law. Reasonable force, of course.
And sometimes, albeit unfortunately, diplomacy, "talking," and negotiating are unable to produce peaceful results - when a sense of understanding cannot bring two parties together, or when things have become far too chaotic to let loose alone.
Whilst agreeing that Syria's internal conflict is bloody, disgusting and pointless. We need to examine who is actually fighting, and when we do that we can clearly see it's a racial war. The differing sects of Muslims are battering against their rivals. This is much like the bishop wars here in Britain.
The Puritans fought off and killed those who believed that the king was placed in his position by god; to rule over ye little minions. Of course, the moment he tries to interfere with religion, they lopped his head off - historical spoiler -. My point here - and as loose as it is -, certain wars and conflicts are for rights and freedoms. Other fights are to restrict or remove such freedoms. Again, as much as I dislike the Syrian conflict and its results. I don't see anything to suggest that they're simply not bigoted against each other, which prevents one with a clear mind taking a side.
Lord knows, you don't want to declare whose right and wrong morally between Catholics or Protestants - Heeello reformation! - , neither do you wish to side with either Sunni and Shi'ite; for whose to say where blame lies in this situation.