[Home]NonViolence

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A piece of blood-stained cloth cannot be washed with blood, we need water to do it. -- Jain scripture


NonViolence is a direct translation of the sanskrit word ahimsa. As I understand it, literally the "a" prefix means much the same as in English, and "himsa" means violence. Actually, "himsa" is deeper than that, it indicates a desire or intent to harm and not the actual harming. Unfortunately, there is also a cultural aspect to this translation which is lost. As explained by MichaelNagler?, in sanskrit it is common to name something through negation instead of naming it directly to show something is too great to be named. In other words, "ahimsa" does not just mean the absence of violence; it means the greater, unnameable force opposite of violence. (Another example is that the sanskrit word for love is "avera", literally "non-hatred".) This is, most definitely, the spirit in which MohandasGandhi? and MartinLutherKingJr? used the term.

I just wanted to share the etymology up front (I'm new to this wiki, I hope it's not impolite). It is too difficult to confuse the two senses of the word, especially when we hear about "nonviolent offenders" in prisons and people tend to name many forms of pacifistic non-resistance "nonviolent." When I first encountered this page and saw some of the confusions that stem from this translation, I was sad, because I'd really like people to know the idea of nonviolence that I know, and decide whether they respect and believe this idea, rather than what seems to be the more common idea that nonviolence is simply refraining from violence and leaving a vacuum behind. --JasonFelice


Violence is bad because it is destructive. Literally, it dismantles structure. Physical violence (e.g. DirectAction) destroys physical material, such as damaging property or injuring a person. Psychological violence unravels the emotional and mental framework of the victim so that they may not be able function as effectively nor feel very good. Destruction is expensive because it requires more energy and effort to put things back together, if that is even possible. Some violence is traumatic, leaving scars or open wounds that have not healed (e.g. the World Trade Center destruction or the bombings of Iraq left an open wound on the planetary psyche). Some violence is fatal, like Revolutions gone wrong (e.g. towards the Congolese government). When someone undertakes a violent approach as a means to an end, they do so believing that the value they are destroying (or the value it takes to replace it) is less than any gain they might acquire. This may be because they do not hold the same valuations as the victim(s), such as a rapist devaluing his victim's psyche.

We must seek to avoid violence, and to do this we must infuse our lives with the principle of NonViolence. The principle of non-violence often conjures an impression of weakness. We are taught since childhood that the only effective means to defend oneself against violence is violence in turn (TitForTat). In fact, some of us are encultured to believe that is wrong to avoid violent conflict and that we must step up to confront it. The world is a tough place and we have to be tough to live in it.

However, the problem with responding with violence is that begets more violence. Just as you feel you must respond to violence with violence, your opponent will respond to your violence with more violence. You enter a ConflictCycle that you cannot escape, and this cycle may degrade into a DeathSpiral? if it steadily increases in intensity. Further, violence teaches violence as ConflictResolution. If one watches violence, one is more likely to think it is acceptable, or at the very least, it will teach a new behavior. Witnessing violence need not be indirect; one may only see the outcomes and know that protecting our communal property is not a CommunityExpectation. This is why we must FixBrokenWindows (as they are GuidePosts) and adamantly and publicly DefendAgainstDiscrimination? (as we ModelDesiredBehaviour). Finally, if one is a victim of violence, one is more likely to pass on the violence. If someone does violence to us that we cannot fight, we sometimes project our AngryCloud onto others. This is human nature, and it sadly makes violence a virus that spreads throughout society.

Non-violence seeks to escape the ConflictCycle. This actually requires a lot of strength. In fact, unreasonable strength to do so in every situation, but it will result in less violence over all. As mentioned, it will avoid an escalating ConflictCycle; it will also avoid teaching a culture of violence. Further, if all of us were non-violent, there would be no violence. Thus, while it is not an easy solution, it is the easiest. The strength needed is an investment.

Violence is unavoidable

But of course, violence is unavoidable. The world is an open system, not a closed one. Some people may come to us with violence even if we are not violent to them. They may not have any other method of interaction than violence. They may have psychological disorders. They may be immature. They may be oppressed by your class, even if not directly by you (cf. ClassStriation). Being non-violent in these cases is the hardest because there may not be anything you can do.

Competitive life is brutal. The PowerLaw of PreferentialAttachment gives us a PeckingOrder that oppresses others. It's difficult to give so much of yourself that you will support those less meritous than yourself, especially if they are so much less efficient that they waste your time, patience, money, or love, which are all precious commodities. NonViolence is a sacrifice for a greater good, but some sacrifices are too much. Sacrificing your own happiness is violence unto yourself. Further, competing interests may be vicious, not just annoying. They may intend to hurt you to gain your resources, say by going to war against your country or your race. These people must be stopped somehow. Some believe this requires violence, as it is a trade off of violence now versus much more violence later. Others believe warmongers can be stopped through CivilDisobedience? and low-scale resistance, assuming of course that civilians won't be killed. Others believe perhaps fatalistically, that it doesn't matter in the LongNow because any society that is that destructive is sowing their own destruction by wasting so many of the most important resources (people).

We are also not perfect. We do violence to others without thinking about it because we cannot be holistically and omnipresently aware of everything, nor can we realistically control for everything. We step on ants, we buy products made in third world sweatshops, we pay taxes to bomb other countries, we misspeak encultured hate. Life is tough and complex. Sometimes we also have bad days or have bad things happen to us, and our moods hamper our fairness--we enter an AngryCloud. And violence is a virus as said above, so victims may transfer our violent reactions to others.

Some have dreamt of an utopian world where we are all non-violent. This is impossible because the world is a traumatic place. Violence may be a natural disaster; that is just how it is. The goal of NonViolence is to mitigate for the brutality of life as much as possible, between humans and nature, and within human nature.

This utopian world is also boring taken to an extreme, and it is boring because it will accomplish nothing. Nothing will happen in this world, value will not be produced, and that is because violence is necessary.

Violence is necessary

Of course, violence is not always bad. It is in fact necessary, as all things are violent because everything is finite, even CyberSpace. Creation is destruction. When you create something, you destroy resources. Yet, destruction is creation. When you destroy something, you free resources for new creations. At some extreme point, everything degrades to a ZeroSumGame. (Or even a less-than-zero game, due to entropy.) [Except, while it may be true that "when you create something, you destroy resources", what if your use of a few resources ultimately produces lots more total resources, such as by using a small part of CyberSpace to think of new ways to extend CyberSpace manyfold?]

(Is life really a ZeroSumGame? Some people really don't like the idear of LifeAsAGame?, it's not considered to be very healthy both emotional and psychological. Can't we asume that there are more then enough resources for everyone, and that although there may be local and transient shortages of some resources, taken over the LongNow there is more then we could ever hope to share. The idear of a ZeroSumGame will make people afraid to miss out on their share of good things and this can cause them to become violent: Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.)

Further, acting is violence, for a choice excludes the others. But inaction is also violence, for the world degrades on its own (entropy), so it demands our attention to maintain it.

Violence must be controlled towards a higher purpose; it becomes a BalancingForce against inefficiency. It is the selective force in evolution. Evolution is brutal, but it makes things better. The goal is always to produce something of greater value, to always AddValue?, and sometimes that means subtracting value from somewhere else.

This tension underlies liberalism and capitalism as the ideal of competitive virtue. That is, in a FreeMarket?, the fear that one may rise while you may fall will propel each to strive harder in an escalating race. While in fact this is valid, it can only be done at a backdrop of safety and fairness (e.g. SocialCapitalism, AntiTrust?) or else one's fall may greater than one can bear, resulting in excessive suffering. From an economic efficiency point of view, it's important to MitigateRisk? of competition as well, since otherwise only the already well off (and therefore those with prior SafetyNets) would undertake the risk of trying, the risk of living.

Similarly, a little HealthyConflict and a little FairCriticism is actually very constructive. But in these cases, the "violence" is intentional and controlled. Cooperating often provides more value than competing (cf. BarnRaising). In this case, a much more valuable approach may be to SeekCommonGround? through CommonContext to find a SuperordinateGoal that allows all parties to win.

It is only violence against living things that is of concern, and that includes violence against societies and violence against economies and violence against ecologies. Why? Because living systems are actually the machines that AddValue?. The goal is to maximize every living system's ability to AddValue?.

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is the Jain principle of NonViolence. It extends to all acts. To Jains, this means escaping the ConflictCycle of birth and rebirth, but one needs superhuman strength to do this, literally, so only a small number of humans have succeeded.

From http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/teachings/ahimsa.htm...

If you practice Ahimsa, you should put with insults, rebukes, criticisms and assaults also. You should never retaliate nor wish to offend anybody even under extreme provocation. You should not entertain any evil thought against anybody. You should not harbour anger. You should not curse. You should be prepared to lose joyfully even your life in the cause of Truth. The Ultimate Truth can be attained only through Ahimsa.

Ahimsa is the acme of bravery. Ahimsa is not possible without fearlessness. Non-violence cannot be practiced by weak persons. Ahimsa cannot be practiced by a man who is terribly afraid of death and has no power of resistance and endurance. It is a shield, not of the effeminate, but of the potent. Ahimsa is a quality of the strong. It is a weapon of the strong. When a man beats you with a stick, you should not entertain any thought of retaliation or any unkind feeling towards the tormentor. Ahimsa is the perfection of forgiveness.

Some have claimed that Jainism's excessive hold to NonViolence has made it a weak religion (qua LifeInText), and thus it is a small religion. Others respond that doesn't matter as reaching nirvana is the goal, not WorldDomination?, which would be violence.

NonViolence derives from the more central tenet of Jainism of NonAttachment?; which is egolessness in all things.

See also MetaWikiPedia:WikipediAhimsa.

NonViolence in practice

Perhaps this requires more expository.

Unclear thoughts.

Unexpected results of NonViolence

Humans are more good than bad (cf. ViceAndVirtue). In an environment free of purely destructive violence, they are free to express themselves fully. They emerge fully, reach their potential, and that creates a reinforcing effect of further emerged potential. The more we emerge, the happier we are. The more we emerge, the more productive we are. Happy people are more efficient. Not that contentment is complacency is boring, and that is also violence. A little bit of fear is good as long as it not overwhelming.

Further, happiness is not something you can buy, earn, deserve, build, create, express, fulfil, enliven, breathe, inflict, force, or self-generate. You can only give happiness. A violence-free environment must necessarily be an environment where others give joy to others (e.g. the BarnStar award), because inaction is also violence.

Thus, a non-violent society is a cohesive and coherent one, that is self-reinforcing without being limiting (cf. GroupThink), just as the goal of any living organism is to remain cohesive, coherent, and self-inforcing. Similarly, the goal of all societies is to be non-violent for their own survival and benefit and joy.

CategoryConflict


Ironically, sadly, as a Jain, I find the Jain principles the hardest ones to to follow here. NonViolence is the hardest. I am actually very weak. I am a single feather; only when together with many more can I cushion the weight of life. -- SunirShah

''Unfortunately, NonViolence doesn't work that well when you use it with non-civilized (more like not crazy) opposing forces. NonViolence wouldn't really work with Hitler for example, or imperialistic-era Japan. It would work with the British although, since they weren't so wacked in the head. Same with America and Martin King.

Also, Violence and Sacrifice are two different things aren't they? They may have the same nature somewhat, but one is destruction, the other the refinement of a gem. '' --MahyarMcDonald?

Maybe violence is like environmental pollution. It may be theoretically impossible to eliminate pollution, but one may be able to reduce it to an acceptable level. We are far above the acceptable level of violence, we are far above a level where it seems theoretically impossible to reduce the violence. So what we need is the goal to reduce violence and to make violence measurable by monitoring all types of violence in a transparent way. Then you can take measures and go by trial and error. Politicians don't like such transparency because it counters their effects of self-marketing. But democracy without sufficient transparency is a fake, so people have to insist on transparency. I think it's all simple, it just has to be done. -- HelmutLeitner

Is coming violently to someone's defence and protecting them from violence also evil? Is using violence to bring peace also evil? It depends on the result, I guess: If there is really peace and freedom afterward you may say that it was better, then non-violence would have been. Establishing peace through non-violence is better then through violence, but letting violence persist is not very good either. Is there really a difference between being violent and allowing violence?

My faith tells me that the meek will inherit the earth: Being meek is however not only non-violence; it's means also to defend the defenceless and protect the weak. Meekness needs to be an active force for peace and good. NonViolence is not enough; We need to become PeaceAble?: Establishing peace where there was non before. -- FormerContributor?

Two wikis care for the topic and all those questions:

Everyone interested is invited to participate. Currently I've not the time to write more about this. -- HelmutLeitner


The "a" prefix you're talking about is called [privative alpha]. -JonasDaltonRand


I heard HerbertBrun? say (via YouTube) that our misunderstandings about the nature of peace contribute to the existence of violence.

He says that ["peace is a need,"] like food to hunger. Conflict is necessary and good, for the continuation of peace. He said that [war is a defense against conflict.] Communications do not "break down;" People are communicating just fine; They just don't like what the others are saying. Thus he suggested [anti-communication] to retard decay in the social organism, and recurring peace in the embrace of conflict.

I find these ideas sensible and intriguing.

-- LionKimbro

A historical note

During a vandal attack over several days, where quite a few pages were wiped out and painfully recovered by the community, the core value of ahimsa had to pass the stress test: See NonViolenceWakeupCall for the peaceful end.


Discussion

NathanielThurston -- Wed May 5 08:55:46 2010

I've had some unusual experiences with life as a game, and the evidence is very clear to me that it's not zero sum. Most people agree that love exists and has some meaning; it's commonly perceived that love multiplies when it's shared; and that's most definitely not zero sum. See also LiquidityOfTrust for a more concrete example.


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