May 13, 2015

Does Non-Violence mean No Self Defense?



To Fight Back: Non-Violence, Militant Feminism and Education


“How do people who are starving go on a hunger strike? How do people who have no money boycott goods?” – Arundhati Roy, Field Notes on Democracy
Women in the Kashmir region during a demonstration against their occupation.
Women in the Kashmir region during a demonstration against their occupation.
Violence is a question which comes up almost inevitably when working with young people. As a teacher, mentor and tutor I’ve had to break up plenty of fights, many of them physical. Raised as I was, a middle-class person of color, I would often attempt to address these interactions through discussion and reflective mediation. In the conversations following altercations I would ask students what they thought the best way was to handle a conflict in our community–be it a classroom, school or other setting. This I hoped would help get students thinking about empathy, the kinds of relationships they wanted our community to be built with, and their role in nurturing them.


I recommend  that you read the original article in its entirety, It is well worth the read and is fairly thought provoking to those who have asked the question to themselves.  My response to the article is below:



I would first call your attention to the fact that self defense can be considered a form of violence. There is, however, a fundamental difference between violence (in the greedy sense) and self defense.

Violence requires an unjust initiation of force against someone that did not deserve it or was for no apparent reason.

Self defense on the other hand is defending your life, your liberty your freedom and all aspects which might contribute to those things.

I think where people get hung up on things is that they believe that self-defense requires that violence of a physical form be perpetrated against the victim in order for there to be justification for self-defense. I would argue that if someone is doing everything but initiating physical harm to you self-defense is still okay.

Of course you would want to make your initial response to tyranny and oppression to be reasonable and proportionate, but why take pro-active self defense off the table?

As you kind of mentioned it is more of a tool or tactic rather than a philosophy. And as such you should never take the use of a tool off the table when confronting injustice, tyranny and oppression. It is important to note that fear often keeps us from defending ourselves (non-violent action).

It is because we feel as though we can not win. Or that not enough people will help us. That we as an individual or small collective do not have the ability to defend ourselves against such large mechanations of tyranny, fear, death, oppression and government backed militarism. As a result, we logically conclude that because we can not meet such a monstrous force with equal or greater force, we should try ANYTHING else… and thus non-violent action.

I imagine that some fear is selfish, in the sense that we do not want to die; and that also some fear is rooted in the idea that we don’t want to have died in vain.

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