Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Moving towards idealism

NYPD (New York Pizza Depot) always brings out the best in conversation. Get a pizza, get some buds, eat and talk. I did that yesterday with Mohammad and Scott, two of my labmates and close friends, and we ended up talking for four hours. Scott is a fan of Bill Maher, and in a recent discussion, Maher asked his guests whether or not the US Constitution should be torn up and rewritten. One of the panelists, a conservative, said that he would have reservations with doing so, especially because of the prized Second Amendment, which, for those of you who aren't from the US, gives citizens the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment is still hotly debated, and rightly so. Times have changed since the 1770s and 1780s.

Talk of the Second Amendment brought up the possibilities of uprising against the government, and how and if changes in regime can be peaceful, or if peace is just a dying ideal. The issues of peaceful protests and movements are particularly apt right now, given the very peaceful Occupy movement, as well as the peaceful uprising in Yemen. (I am so fortunate to have been in the presence of Tawakkul Karman, Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2011, just this past Monday.)

I have written about the issues of peace and violence several times, although I have not written about them in contexts of environmental action. Indeed, there are many that do advocate for using violent means, such as the Earth Liberation Front, not against people, but against infrastructure that confines us to this ecologically degrading and oppressive culture. Derrick Jensen, the philosopher, writer, and activist is well known for voicing his belief that things like dams must be taken out through forceful means. He says, "Every morning when I awake I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam. I tell myself I should keep writing, though I'm not sure that's right."

When I saw Jensen, an amazing speaker, last winter, I asked him about such sentiments, particularly since violent force is something oppressors use, and this makes me nervous. I can see his point, but it is impossible to deny that once a culture of violence is overthrown with violence, you still have violent means present as an option in the end--an option in debate, an option in action. Violence breeds violence, and arming breeds arming. Just take the example of the most horrific Cold War. Violence is a deep manifestation of our insecurities. Because violence is overtly forceful, it gives us a sense of domination, and of power. We can bulldoze lands, blow the tops off of mountains, frack rocks for natural gas, or electrocute someone for a crime with no remorse. All of these actions in no way preserve the sanctity of life (which many death-penalty-loving, gun-toting people love to talk about), or speak highly of us as ethical and moral agents. Violence for peace makes no sense. Peace, on the other hand, is decidedly peaceful. There can be no violence in peace. Peace may be forceful, steadfast, determined, resolute, and intentional, but in no way can it be violent.

To my mind right now, violent force as a means to a sustainable world sounds eerily similar to the US military's perpetual war for perpetual peace. If we want to live in a world in which something does not exist, do we accept its existence now?

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