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Visceral Nonviolence and an Unexpected Reaction to Music - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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December 18th, 2008


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02:59 am - Visceral Nonviolence and an Unexpected Reaction to Music
So, here's yet another post sparked by that radio stations one year per day song countdown. Today, they played songs from 2001, and played two particularly memorable ones back to back. The first was Fragile by Sting, which called up memories of hearing it in the first days after September 11, and brought tears to my eyes. The surprise came with the next song they played. It was Let's Roll by Neil Young, and I found myself filled with rage at the song and the entire idea of turning the desperate and doomed events on that plane as some symbol of fighting for freedom and justice – two things that have had absolutely nothing to do with the US reaction to the events of that day slightly more than 7 years ago. I was angry at the use of people's deaths as a political statement, I was angry at someone most known for somewhat progressive songs producing such a jingoistic piece of crap, and most of all I was angry at the idea of the whole idea of glorified violence. I've grown increasingly intolerant of cinematic and glorified violence in media I watch, and seeing real life violence (even violence against insane attackers) being glorified in this fashion made me very angry indeed. I'm not certain that I'm a complete pacifist, but I do know that I can no longer accept violence of any form as anything to be celebrated and that the very idea of fighting and killing people in the name of justice or freedom makes a mockery of both. I had not know how strong my views on this had become until I listened to this song. I rather expect that the events of the last 7 years have changed everyone in the US, and clearly this is how I have been changed. I do not know what a good reaction to violence is, but I know in my heart that more violence in return may occasionally be necessary, but is never a remotely good act. I know there's a considerable body of literature about non-violence, and perhaps it's time for me to study it, since I would like to know strategies for dealing with violence that are both effective and acceptable. I don't expect to have to deal with violence in my own life, but I'd love to be able to offer advice to others who might that goes beyond the (to me) obvious truism that violence solves nothing. I suppose another thing that I would like for the holidays is a recommendation for well written and well considered books and on-line articles on this topic.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

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[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:December 18th, 2008 12:20 pm (UTC)
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For the average unarmed person, submission is the safest response when confronted with violence. The typically attacker probably has either a weapon, an accomplice, or both. If not, then the attacker is probably stronger and larger than the chosen victim. If the victim attempts to fight back, he or she will probably be killed, especially if the victim is female.
From:innocent_man
Date:December 18th, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)
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Violence is the last resort.

Unfortunately, it's sometimes necessary to skip all the other resorts.

The US reaction to 9/11 was deplorable, with the possible exception of toppling the Taliban (which we then proceeded to fuck up by botching humanitarian efforts, which is kinda what we do as a nation, I guess). That said, I'm fully aware that global events are out of my purview, because I don't have enough information to judge them properly. Give it 20 years, and we'll see what's happened and exactly how bad we've made it.

The passengers of United 93, however, were the only victims that day who did the right thing. Everyone else, apparently hoping for the best, did exactly what the poster above me suggested - lay down and take it. We saw the result.

We are taught that if someone attacks us, we shouldn't fight back. We're taught that because the dominant religion says it (sort of), because fighting back might open us up for lawsuits, because fighting is never justified (which is such a bullshit mixed message - we have the freedoms that we do in this country precisely because people were willing to kill for them). And the result is that when the wolves really do come for us, we can't fight, because we've trained ourselves to cower.

I agree with you about jingoism, and definitely that the events of 9/11 shouldn't be used to drum up a few bucks or some political cred (though that's exactly what they're generally used for). But I also think that it behooves us as citizens and especially as men, to know how to fight if the need arises.

Put another way, I hope that no student at my school ever snaps and sticks a gun in my face...but if it happens, I know how to disarm him.
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From:heron61
Date:December 18th, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
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We are taught that if someone attacks us, we shouldn't fight back. We're taught that because the dominant religion says it (sort of), because fighting back might open us up for lawsuits, because fighting is never justified (which is such a bullshit mixed message - we have the freedoms that we do in this country precisely because people were willing to kill for them). And the result is that when the wolves really do come for us, we can't fight, because we've trained ourselves to cower.

I completely disagree with almost everything you've said in this paragraph. As for the events of the flight, see the response by athenian_abroad immediately below your post, he says that better than I could. As for the more general point about what we are taught, I don't think your comment is remotely true. The US is an exceptionally violent culture (at least for modern first world nations - premodern and third world nations were and are far more violent, but that seems largely due to be a combination of higher levels of clan/honor based violence in the first world combined with an utter lack of useful law enforcement in much of the third world and in all of the premodern world).

The are about as many (or perhaps more, I don't have the current numbers) of privately owned firearms in the US as people in the US, and a high number of murders and other killings because of this. Moreover, there are a few Christian faiths, like the Quakers, who actually preach non-violence (and I support them in it). However, Catholicism teaches that non-violence is preferable, but also supports violence in the name of religion, national security, and similar causes, and most of US mainstream protestantism doesn't even bother to teach that non-violence is preferable. Instead there's a whole lot of truly horrifying rhetoric about "onward Christian soldiers" soldiers for God, and similar vile and twisted crap. We have no shortage of religiously based killing in the US - look at abortion clinic bombings and the killings of the doctors who perform them. Look at the vast amount of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US, combined with the undercurrent of Christian warfare that pervades the post 9/11 US military (and is actively encouraged by many evangelical Christian religious figures both inside and outside of the military).

We live in a culture that teaches that violence is a correct response to ideological conflict, which I find to be an astoundingly sick & wrong idea. We live in a culture where property is valued higher than human life, and where killing criminals and other "bad people" is actively praised by most of the population. Most of the sorts of Christianity found in the US is either silent about or actively supportive of this violence.

From:innocent_man
Date:December 18th, 2008 10:09 pm (UTC)
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I don't debate that this culture has serious issues about violence, and definitely about materialism. I do assert, however, that while violence isn't the best answer, sometimes it's the only answer. And, yes, I'm talking mainly self-defense here.

The reason I say this is because people who perpetrate violence will do so exactly as long as they can. That's the case with schoolyard bullies, abusive spouses, and criminals and other "bad people." The afterschool special notion of talking out your problems only works if the aggressor isn't specifically interested in hurting you, and I've seen all too many people who are, in fact, interested in doing just that.

I don't mean to say that a sock in the jaw is the best thing to solve a debate. But to me, not throwing the first punch isn't the same thing as not defending yourself.
[User Picture]
From:athenian_abroad
Date:December 18th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)
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We're taught that because the dominant religion says it (sort of), because fighting back might open us up for lawsuits, because fighting is never justified (which is such a bullshit mixed message - we have the freedoms that we do in this country precisely because people were willing to kill for them). And the result is that when the wolves really do come for us, we can't fight, because we've trained ourselves to cower.

The facts beg to differ.

(A) The response of the crews and passengers aboard three of the four hijacked flights had nothing to do with Christian quietism, peace-nik pacifism or some imagined generalized culture of learned helplessness. On the contrary. The pilots and flight attendants did precisely what they had been explicitly trained to do in the situation. That training was based, in turn, on decades of experience dealing with hijacking situations. It turns out that, in the real world, most hijackers are not suicidal, and most hijacking situations are made worse, not better, by "resistance." So, the crews did their jobs, and the passengers did what is generally the best thing during an airborne emergency: following the direction of the crew. (Aside: would we prefer that the airlines had prioritized keeping physical control of cockpits, like, say, El Al? You bet. The point isn't that the airlines got their tactics right. The point is that they were implementing a consciously selected tactic, not reflexively carrying out some cultural impulse to passivity.)

(B) One would think that the events aboard United 93 themselves would dispose of the notion that Americans suffer from some cultural learned-helplessness syndrome. When circumstances call for it, Americans seem perfectly prepared to offer forcible resistance, even at great personal risk.

(C) Why was United 93 different from the other three? Not because the passengers on 93 had more manly testosterone, but because they had more information. Via furtive cell phone contacts, they had learned the nature of that day's hijackings and the likely outcome of their own situation. They were the only victims to "do the right thing" because they were the only victims in possession of the facts needed to determine what the right thing was.

[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:December 18th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. As a woman, I was also taught that fighting is ineffective for me because I am female. (How many times on TV do you see a woman putting up resistance to some assailant and only getting slapped, beaten, or worse for her pains?) For me, passivity = survival.
From:innocent_man
Date:December 18th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
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That's TV. My brother is a cop in Atlanta, and has taught courses in rape and assault prevention to women. Said courses take into account that women, on average, don't have the muscle mass than men do.

Passivity is only survival if the goal of the attacker is to take your money.
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From:heron61
Date:December 18th, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
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Well said my friend.
From:innocent_man
Date:December 18th, 2008 10:04 pm (UTC)
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(C) Why was United 93 different from the other three? Not because the passengers on 93 had more manly testosterone, but because they had more information. Via furtive cell phone contacts, they had learned the nature of that day's hijackings and the likely outcome of their own situation. They were the only victims to "do the right thing" because they were the only victims in possession of the facts needed to determine what the right thing was.

Good point. And you can reply directly to me, I won't bite. Or flame. :)
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From:athenian_abroad
Date:December 19th, 2008 02:37 am (UTC)
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Oops. I meant to, must have clicked the wrong comment link.
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From:rjgrady
Date:December 18th, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC)
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Violence is the price of survival. We are violent to the animals we eat. We are violent to the creatures whose habitant we transform in order to grow crops. Government is, as Washington observed, nothing more or less than violent power. I can not reconcile the statement, "I have a right to live," with the statement, "I would not under any circumstances choose to perform violence." John, I'm not sure how you are formulating your definition of good. Fairly recently, you repeated your position that ultimately your ethics are selfish, that altruism did not make sense to you. So why do you balk at choosing your life over another?

As for the argument that resistance is dangerous... in most situations, passivity is dangerous. If you are kidnapped, if someone attempts to sexually assault you, if you are in a place where a gunman comes in and starts shooting, if you are in any of the likely scenarios where you are attacked by someone with little regard for your rights, you are almost always better off fighting and escaping than being submissive. If you are a woman, and a man assaults you, the advice I've heard is to vomit in his face, then injure his face or groin and escape. Only when you are held at gunpoint would I consider submission a good policy, and then only if you have a clear notion of how you are going to escape from that scenario. In most cases, victims are far more convenient when they are disposed of. In the cases where you are not likely to be disposed of, you are also not likely to be murdered for resisting. When you are likely to be killed for resisting, you are also likely to be killed for being a witness to a felony.

Violence is simply part of the human tragedy, along with grief, hunger, confusion and the rest. I think to be fully human, you must be ready to perform violence. Without rancor, but without hesitation, either.

What disgusts me about jingoism is not the violence, but the sheer, awful, stupid waste. The destruction of life, of culture, of leisure, of resources, of happiness. But when war is necessary, it's necessary, and I try not to regret the certain tragedy that will occur. Unhappy as it may be to admit, violence is glorious. To the conqueror, it is power over another. To the person who resists, it is power over oneself. Even if I do not lift a finger, even if I lay still and allow myself to be violated by an attacker, I am still fighting. I am ready to do what it takes to survive. And I am proud to be such an animal.
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From:heron61
Date:December 19th, 2008 08:24 am (UTC)
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Fairly recently, you repeated your position that ultimately your ethics are selfish, that altruism did not make sense to you. So why do you balk at choosing your life over another?

Indeed, for me the issue ultimately has less to do with others than with the fact that if I killed or seriously harmed someone deliberately, I would think considerably less of myself. It is then up to me to learn ways to make certain that this situation never comes up.

But when war is necessary, it's necessary

I can see individual violence as rarely necessary. I don't see war as ever necessary, at least no time in my lifetime or in fact within the last 50 years. Sometimes, it's the easiest immediate answer, but easiest does not always equal best.
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From:rjgrady
Date:December 19th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
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I think it's reasonable to say many of not most wars are worth avoiding at almost any cost.

As for personal violence... I think I am probably more comfortable than some people with the idea of inflicting violence if necessary. But I also would not want to do anything that violated my integrity.
From:quorpencetta
Date:December 24th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
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http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/

I keep wanting to get this video game.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:December 24th, 2008 04:10 am (UTC)
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Wow, that's very cool indeed.

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