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Many people seem to need a system of authority to make decisions for them. Does nonviolence assume that everyone knows what they want and can take responsibility for themselves? Not everyone is like that - and some of the people who know what they want are selfish or even criminal.

Nonviolence is concerned with what kind of authority people choose to live under. Yes, the principle is that people should be free to choose - but also that other people should not be harmed. This is something every group has to learn to work out, including how to handle its antisocial members.

Nonviolent action uses a lot of methods which could undermine well-intentioned authorities as well as tyrannies. What happens when difficult people use these techniques to get their way?

It's true that nonviolent action has to be principled to gain respect. So it's therefore true that unprincipled action can be rejected, and resisted, nonviolently. As in all cases of conflict, the cause of the problem - in this case, the 'difficult' person's motivation - has to be discovered, explored and, if possible, resolved. Any form of bullying is a form of violence; so is abuse of nonviolent skills.

Plenty of people enjoy making mischief, and a lot of nonviolent resistance action is a good way of doing it. We don't want to teach people how to disrupt.

We ought to be able to differentiate between fun and malice, and to deal with either. We ought to be able to contain maliciously disruptive people in a nonviolent way. This should include making sure we understand what motivates them, and dealing with the answer sympathetically (which is their right, however bad their behaviour). Are they testing the boundaries? If so, are we quite sure the boundaries are the right ones? Maybe some of our structures need a bit of disruption, and could be replaced with better ones. Many people coming together for nonviolent action are helped by thinking of their group as a small-scale model of the kind of society they are working towards.

'To die rather than kill': that's difficult. Nobody wants to die, and sometimes it looks as though you (or the army) have to kill to avoid it.

Yes, it is difficult. The urge to survive is very strong, and other people's deaths aren't quite as real as our own lives.
Pacifists find it's logical to say that if you think it's morally wrong for someone to kill you, then your killing anyone else (even - especially! - if it's to prevent them killing you) is morally wrong as well. To anyone, it ought to be logical that killing increases the threat of reprisals to killers, and that a world without killing would be a better, and safer, one for everybody. We don't usually approve of killing when carried out by individuals, after all: we punish them, for committing an act that's morally wrong as well as illegal.

But whatever views you may have about the value of individual lives, there is something deeply unpleasant and inhuman about training large numbers of people to kill, and developing expensive and horrific ways of doing it. Killing really doesn't have to be an option; and it would become much less of an option if we stopped organising it, making the equipment for it, and approving of it when it's carried out on a large scale - by our side, that is.It's also worth remembering that organised violence of all kinds ends up hurting, and often killing, a great many people who aren't even involved and certainly don't want to be, whether they are innocent bystanders or civilian populations of countries at war. That is an overpowering reason by itself for outlawing organised violence, and training people in nonviolent skills instead.



- introduction
- talking points
- nonviolent action


See also

- Pacifism
- Neither Victim nor Executioner

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