Nobody is born nonviolent

World without Wars and without Violence aims to develop a worldwide commitment to nonviolence as a methodology of action, as a social system and as a lifestyle. Its objective is to achieve a world free of wars as well as physical, economic, racial, religious, sexual, psychological, ecological and moral violence. “Human beings are historical beings whose mode of social action changes their own nature” (Silo). This is the root of both our responsibility and our freedom. And it opens our future.

Nobody is born violent... Or nonviolent for that matter. So Gandhi's "Be the change you want to see in the world" is a great invitation to get rid of the rubbish this violent system has fed us and transform ourselves into the intentional beings that can create the world we all want. See the
Active Nonviolence Training (ANVT) exercises. World without Wars and without Violence international site is on www.worldwithoutwars.org/

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Where is the #Occupy movement going? Convergence of diversity in London Tent City

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The tents are up, the assemblies are lively and participatory, consensus about what we do not want is strong; the placards denounce the dying System with passion and humour, and occasionally the conversation gets jammed when people smell discord. We are tired of being divided by a System that promotes competition and individualism, and so, we are a bit afraid of upsetting the harmony.

There seems to be a point where people in the discussion groups that feed the General Assembly of Occupy the London Stock Exchange start to get nervous and express doubts about discussing certain issues. This happens when it is obvious that there are conflicting opinions. There is a kind of fear that the #Occupy movement will fragment. Of course we value consensus, but in my view we should also value the diversity of alternatives that exist to this violent and dehumanising System. If we are going to emerge from this wonderful global occupation with concrete proposals we need to start collecting and discussing the alternatives, because the world many hope for is not monolithic and uniform but decentralised and pluralistic, giving people the choice to organise their communities with the model they like best.

There may be immediate proposals to start dismantling the economic system: The Tobin, or Robin Hood tax to help curb the excesses of speculation (even if Merkel and Sarkozy like the idea. They think about gathering funds to balance the books, but this tax is also a disincentive to speculation). The taxation raised can be invested in health, education, housing and Green energy research helping to boost production and start to move the wheels of the economy and curb unemployment.

But this should not be a gift to the system - ‘we solve your problem and then it's back to business as usual’. The tax should go hand in hand with a change in the "money as debt" system. This can only be done by creating a 0% interest national Bank that is also responsible for deciding when to print money, rather than left in the hands of private international, profiteering banks. A merger between the "nationalised" (aka "bailed out") banks and perhaps the Post Office (run by employees as a Co-op is not such a bad idea) could do the trick. And of course, taxing wealth and closing tax havens and loopholes has to be implemented as soon as possible. But these are only immediate measures, not a new System.

Outrage will mobilise a lot of people, but adding to that a positive image of the future could mobilise many more. Otherwise it runs the risk of becoming another French Revolution, where bloody revenge on the oppressors take people's minds away from the creation of a horizontal system, and vertical power and privilege was recreated with different characters, as happened with the Russian Revolution. If we do not realise that the revolution, or change, or transformation, or whatever word fits into our scheme of things, is personal as well as social we will not be able to create something truly new. The power structure needs to disappear from our minds first.

The violence of the system is in us - because we were born and bred inside this system. We are lucky enough to see that it can be different, but that obscure part is indelibly ingrained in us and has to be cheerfully and lovingly exorcised. Doing nothing means mechanically going back to allowing our leaders and bankers to maintain the status quo and the power imbalance.

If we manage that we can create a system not for the1%, not even for the 99% but for the 100%. And nobody will be plotting *their* revenge. There are many working groups and commissions emerging from the Occupy/Indignados/Spring movement and they will come up, no doubt, with different proposals for the future. Let us celebrate the richness of this diversity without worries for these models will converge in practice if we are also humanising ourselves internally.  

 
The Hologram of the Elephant 
Convergence of Diversity is Nonviolence

Violence in the human being acquires characteristics different from the violence we see in the animal world. In fact when we see a lion kill a zebra we do not call it violence, we call it survival, instinct, nature, the cycle of life. 
 
Human violence does not usually respond to such parameters. The violence of viciousness, vengeance, discrimination, self-affirmation and fear feature prominently. It is in the human being that violence acquires sophistication and expansion that goes well beyond what is necessary for individual survival or that of the species. Human beings are endowed with intentionality that can lead to the most amazing feats of creativity, compassion and solidarity but at times it expresses itself as physical, economic, racial, sexual, ecological, religious or psychological violence, from which we will have to emerge to reach our true human potential. We are also able to feel guilt for our own violence well beyond its value as a signal of the damage that we have inflicted on others. From there violence produces its self-destructive capacity - chaining and killing the spirit before it can fly toward the meaning it glimpses., 
 
In order to emerge from pre-history into truly human history the human being of the future will experience physical revulsion in front of violence. Will we see then violence as a vestigial organ, like the appendix? However, where the appendix atrophied as a consequence of changes in diet, humans have the possibility of atrophying violence intentionally. When we manage to bypass hatred and resentment, it will be possible to look at others with compassion, and react to conflict and offense without seeking vengeance or one-upmanship. What is needed is an answer that leaves both ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ in a state of freedom. This would include an injunction that prevents future offences or acts of violence –something which retributive justice has not been able to achieve in its long history since the Hammurabi Code in 1760 BCE. 
 
Hatred is not the only (or the worst) enemy of compassion. Fear is also a great enemy of compassion. It is very difficult to feel compassion for those we see as a threat, either to our physical security or to our psychological well-being, our social position, our family or friends and our way of thinking or lifestyle.

Fear is an obsessed and mistaken guide that justifies itself and therefore rationalises and elevates its options to the range of objective reality. But fear is a point of view, which is subjective and intentional in a state of mind that registers (the possibility of) oppression.

In the Neo-liberal dogma, competition and individualism are seen as the ideal forms of interpersonal, inter-business and even inter-NHS hospitals relationships. What are they but fear? What do they produce but paranoia in the workplace, at home, in the neighbourhood, and in international relations? What else could we expect today in the relations between cultures and ethnic groups but lack of trust, fear, discrimination, power struggles, and violence? 
 
We have several tools to work on the theme of compassion, the theme of how to put oneself in other people’s shoes, of empathy and of tolerance. Tolerance is better than discrimination but it implies a distance with other points of view. It means “I do not of agree with them but I respect their subjectivity". It is a way of maintaining our own consciousness isolated and cut off, but with a polite and civilised smile towards our neighbours, without inviting them to our house. It is different from embracing diversity.

There are ways of training our empathy. We can remember moments when we treated other people badly and then remember moments when we treated others very well. I imagine myself in the others’ place in those situations and I see how I would feel if somebody treated me the way I did others. This is not theory, it is practice. Doing it at least once a day is very revealing. The interesting thing is that in general empathy is taught mainly about some form of ill-treatment: “how would you feel if someone did that to you?” But it also works for positive actions, and realising that others feel great about them, even if they are too shy to say “thank you”, is very nice. It makes us want to do more of it.
 
There are more advanced exercises. Getting to know others, delving into their personal experiences, also let us feel what others feel. But, why is it important to go beyond simple tolerance? Let us go to the old story about subjectivity shared by Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sufi and other traditions:

Four (or six) blind men (women not included) are asked to describe an elephant. The one that touches the side of the elephant describes it as a wall, the one that touches the leg says that it is like a column, the one that touches the trunk says that it is like a snake and the one that touches the tail says that it is like a piece of rope.

If they decide to act in competition and individualism they will fight to demonstrate that each one of theirs is the true description of the elephant. If they opt for tolerance they will live perhaps in peace, but also believing that their perception is the one that comes closest to reality. If they decide to cooperate, to exchange notes and descriptions they will arrive to something that approaches the image of the elephant but extremely coarse since many more descriptions would be needed to get closer to the true form. Perhaps they would also think of calling somebody else, a sighted person, to speak of the colours. In any event approaching reality would be a process of progressive cooperation in time and the enrichment of their points of view with those of the others. Here we see that embracing diversity is not really a social or political nicety but a life-changing choice, absolutely essential if we want to enlarge our comprehension.
 
This puts us in front of the following question: is the point of view of people who have done a lot of harm to humanity also to be included in this attempt at a multi-focal vision? Perhaps. How would we know otherwise of the negative effects of fear, lack of self-esteem and resentment if we didn't try to understand their consequences in action?  
 
Another analogy about the need of all the points of view was proposed by Arthur Koestler based on the principles of holography. In the holographic screen each point contains part of the image but somehow undefined and slightly different from the point next to it. When all the points are projected at the same time the characteristic clear three-dimensional image appears. This is nother example of combining all the human points of view to conform something that comes closer to reality. Reality escapes our daily vision, as Emmanuel Kant had already emphasised in Transcendental Idealism and Husserl in Phenomenology. But it is in Universalist Humanism where we find the possibility of emerging from individualism to arrive to the Universal Human Nation, from "tolerance" to a convergent diversity.  
 
At this time of serious economic crisis, difficult intercultural relationships, wild competition for food and energy resources, suicidal militarisation of land, sea and outer space, proposals for “external” change, re-organisation and revolution will multiply. However they will probably fail, unless they are accompanied by an active search for internal changes that eradicate violence from the bottom of our consciousness, the one we drunk uncritically from the system, education and TV during our formative years. Denying that we are not only victims but also agents of the violence of the present dehumanising system may leave us guilt-free, but it will not help end the violence.

Deeper still, we have seen that the experience that takes us out of self-absorption, of daily pettiness, of vengeful competition, is the experience that humanity's sages have left for us with the consensus that it cannot described with words. No religion, no philosophy, no spiritual or quietly passionate search is alien to this experience, whichever form takes the formless. However we need to create the conditions with words, with images, with technology, anyway we can, so that such experience that inspires and connects us with humanity as a whole and beyond can be put at the service of humanity as a whole. 
 
The drive for the convergence we seek is not an idea, an ideology, a narrative and it cannot be made compulsory by law. It is an experience that unexpectedly or in humble search transforms us. It is a poem that brings us near another reality. It is a conversation with a friend in which we realise that something has changed in me and in the other. It is a moment of communication with nature in which something softens up inside and expands like when we fall in love. It is to recognise in a stranger, or in a teacher, or in a relative the great coherence and clarity of purpose that inspires and motivates us. These are transforming experiences that connect us with others in mutual recognition. From where do they transform us? Something in them resonates in the depth of our consciousness inhabited by a very quiet and subtle space, very silent and soft which does not respond to definitions but has a special tone, for some, between sacred and reverential, for others simply a hello, what’s this, so alien to my everyday world!?
 
This experience of the Profound can only be sensed when we silence the great noise of the realm of the secondary allegorised by "trying to straighten the wall pictures during an earthquake", or, "rearranging the deckchairs in the sinking Titanic." It also helps us in the path towards nonviolence simply because once I recognise the potential for this experience in the depths of another person’s consciousness, I connect with the other as a part of myself. “You go deeper into yourself and I go deeper into myself, and there we shall meet!” (Silo).
 
Wars, poverty, injustice, the fierce concentration of resources, environmental disaster, nuclear accidents or terrorism and discrimination: nothing of this will end just with an idea, a leader, or even with an organisation. It is necessary a historical moment of great inspiration that puts us in touch with the Profound (or whatever you choose to call it) in the depths of each human being's consciousness. There is no need to pick an option between the multiple and the common. We are already equipped for this convergence of diversity, if only we cared to set it in motion.
 

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