Figuring out one’s role, one’s place in the world …
The American Ideal
Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence articulates the American Ideal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights … Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”
An American Hero
Fannie Lou Hamer acted out these principles. A poor Black Mississippi sharecropper, Fannie Lou, in the early 1960s, stopped being afraid and decided to be free. After being beaten, arrested, and thrown out of her house for attempting to register to vote, Fannie Lou became a full time civil rights organizer. Fannie Lou demonstrated, with her life, that she was more powerful than the Klan, more powerful than the local sheriff, more powerful than the entire Jim Crow “Mississippi way of life”. The Jim Crow Mississippi never recovered and Fannie Lou inspired legions of other black citizens to decide to be free.
Responses to Evil
There are three possible responses to large scale evil:
•Submission – the way of the coward
•Violence – the way of the warrior
•Strategic Nonviolence – the way of the peaceful warrior
The way of the coward is the worst possible response to large scale evil because that is what the oppressor needs: submission, acquiescence, cooperation.
The way of the warrior is a vastly better response to evil. Violent responses do suffer from several drawbacks. 1) Large scale violence generates roughly ten civilian casualties for each combatant killed and these civilian casualties are largely women and children. 2) Violence tends to beget violence – the entire society is often brutalized before the conflict ends. 3) The oppressor is ready for violent resistance and, if in fact his forces are vastly superior, the violent response may end in defeat.
Strategic nonviolence is, in many situations, the most effective response to large scale evil. Practitioners of strategic nonviolence need no special virtue or qualities — the primary requirement is the simple human trait of stubbornness and our inclination to say a resounding “NO!” to those who would unjustly order us around. And when large fractions of a society say “NO” to a government, that government is helpless. The entire society – churches, trade groups, and social clubs; men, women and children; the old, middle aged, and children; everybody – can participate in resisting the oppressor. Recent campaigns of strategic nonviolence that threw out brutal dictators generated only a fraction of the casualties of a typical military campaign. A nonviolent campaign is more likely to win in those situations where the oppressor has the stronger military force. Finally, the very process of waging a campaign of strategic nonviolence increases the number of citizens who understand themselves to be free and dramatically disperses power throughout the various institutions of the society, thus making it more democratic.
All of my life I have been fascinated with the quest for liberty, equality, and justice.
I worked as an antiwar activist (Central Pennsylvania), a civil rights organizer (with SNCC in Mississippi), and a community organizer (Chicago and India). This taught me that freedom is a decision, not something external that anyone can grant to us or take away from us. And I learned that the human spirit is the most fundamental and powerful force of all.
I began to focus on spiritual issues and spiritual growth (being rather than doing). Along the way I realized that the means by which we fight absolutely determine the ends that we achieve. Violence, at best, may stop some great evil but it is always at great cost. Nonviolence, intelligently applied, may or may not “win” a particular conflict, but a nonviolent campaign always generates many good outcomes.
Eventually, after several other careers, I turned to fiction as a way to stimulate / coax / goad the spirit into moving. Along the way I also write essays on related topics. I see my role today as writing (fiction and essays) to help move toward the American Ideal articulated by Jefferson and embodied by Fannie Lou Hammer.
Contact me: I love to hear from readers. Email me at cyberneticapress at gmail dot com. Thanks, Barry Clemson