Is American Nonviolence Possible?


Writing in the New York Times, Todd May wonders if American nonviolence is possible and meditates on what it means:

We must understand first that nonviolence is not passivity.  It is instead creative activity.  That activity takes place within particular limits.  To put the point a bit simply, those limits are the recognition of others as fellow human beings, even when they are our adversaries.  That recognition does not require that we acquiesce to the demands of others when we disagree.  Rather, it requires that our action, even when it coerces the other (as boycotts, strikes, sit-ins and human blockades often do), does not aim to destroy that other in his or her humanity.  It requires that we recognize others as fellow human beings, even when they are on the other side of the barricades.

This recognition limits what we can do, but at the same time it forces us to be inventive.  No longer is it a matter of bringing superior firepower to bear.  Now we must think more rigorously about how to respond, how to make our voices heard and our aims prevail.  In a way it is like writing a Shakespearean sonnet, where the 14-line structure and iambic pentameter  require thoughtful and creative work rather than immediate and overwhelming response.

To recognize someone’s humanity is, in perhaps the most important way, to recognize him or her as an equal. Each of us, nonviolence teaches, carries our humanity within us.  That humanity cannot always be appealed to.  In some cases, as with the tragedy at Sandy Hook, it can even become nearly irrelevant.  However, in all but the most extreme cases nonviolence summons us to recognize that humanity even when it cannot serve as the basis for negotiation or resolution.  It demands that we who act do so with a firm gaze upon the face of the other.  It demands the acknowledgment that we are all fragile beings, nexuses of hope and fear, children of some mother and perhaps parents to others:  that is, no more and no less than fellow human beings in a world fraught with imponderables.

Is American Nonviolence Possible?   [NYTimes]


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