April 21, 2009
I mentioned this in one of our discussions: Wars apparently are becoming more and more deadly for civilians. Of the deaths caused by each of the following wars, here are the percentages of those deaths being civilian deaths:
World War I: 14%
World War II: 67%
Wars of the 1980′s: 75%
Wars of the 1990′s: 90%
(The book those statistics are from is: WAR AND PUBLIC HEALTH, edited by Barry S. Levy and Victor Sidel, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.)
April 16, 2009
I find Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action very interesting! Part One begins with an analysis of power. Sharp talks about how power is given to leaders from the people (rather than emanating down from the leaders). And power is given primarily through the people’s obedience. An implication of this is that if power is oppressive, even that oppressive power is permitted by the people’s own complicity.
Sharp outlines the reasons why people obey. Here they are (pp. 19-24):
- Fear of sanctions
- Moral obligation
- Psychological identification with the ruler
- Zones of indifference
- Absence of self-confidence among subjects
Sharp points out that none of these factors alone is sufficient to explain obedience: they work together in various combinations to explain obedience in different situations.
In general, obedience helps keep society organized and functioning smoothly. But when the ways that power plays out in society become problematic (unjust), it becomes important to question whether we wish to remain complicit. It can be helpful to go back to the above listing as a way of becoming aware of the mechanisms of our complicity. We can translate them into questions we can ask ourselves:
- Am I cooperating with this unjust system just out of habit?
- Am I cooperating with this unjust system because I am afraid? What exactly am I afraid of? What is the worst thing that could happen if I disobey? Is the worst-case scenario the most likely scenario? Is the most likely scenario really that bad (especially in comparison to the injustice currently being permitted by the unjust system)?
- Do I have a continued moral obligation to obey in order to preserve order, or do I have a moral obligation to disobey unjust commands (civil disobedience)?
- Am I personally benefiting from the unjust system? If so, can I rest content with that, knowing the cost for others? Or is it important for me to gain advantage while I can, in hopes that this can help me to address the problem more significantly in the future?
- Am I in some ways identifying with the rulers: giving them the benefit of the doubt; hoping to be in their place some day; etc.? Am I obeying because of loyalty? Is it okay to let that loyalty override my concerns about the unjust ways that the power is being played out?
- Do I just not care so much about these matters, having other things going on in life that I want to focus my attention on, not wanting to take the risk of disobedience because of how it might disrupt my life too much, interfering with my ability to attend to the other things I wish to do?
- Am I just not confident enough to think my concern matters, or that my disobedience would really make a difference? What is the source of my lack of confidence? Are these perceptions of myself grounded in reality?
I think this analysis can apply at various levels of life: not only in relation to political power, but in how power is structured within the institutions we interact with in our daily lives (work, school, health care, etc.), and also even at the interpersonal level.
I tried to phrase the questions as honest, open questions (not leading questions suggesting one “right” answer) — because sometimes fear, moral concern for the orderliness of society, loyalty, or having different priorities may be fine. Sometimes habit, self-interest, or not feeling ready are also justifiable reasons to refrain from withdrawing obedience. If realistically we might not be able to make a significant difference, and we can tolerate the situation as it stands, and still channel our energies to other good purposes, is it okay to live with some complicity with injustice, sometimes?
We do live in a morally complex world. These questions are not easy to answer.
April 4, 2009
Welcome to this site, set up for discussion of issues related to peace and nonviolence! A group of faculty and staff at St. Lawrence University are participating in a Peace Studies Reading Group, and this group blog is set up as an opportunity for members of the discussion group to share further thoughts between our meetings. Others are free to read and comment as well! Happy discussing!