“Nonviolence” = Nonsequitur

Just stumbled across a document which — well, just read the thing for yourself:

Some choice bits:

is whatever the person speaking at the moment decides to describe as violent. Usually, this means
things they do not like. As a result, the use of the category “violence” tends towards hypocrisy. If it
is done to me, it is violent. If it is done by me or for my benefit, it is justified, acceptable, or even
In the last ten years, I have organized or participated in dozens of workshops on the topic of
nonviolence. Whenever I can, I ask people to define “violence”. The curious thing is that no group
of people, whether they number five or a hundred, has ever agreed on the definition. And we’re not
talking about a random sample of the population, but relatively homogeneous groups who
participate in social movements, who live in the same town and often know each other, or in a few
cases a neighborhood association or study group. Excepting the occasional university class, we’re
talking about a self-selecting group of people who come out to a talk critical of or in support of
nonviolence. And even in that narrow sample, there is no consensus about what violence actually
Sometimes I would try teasing it out by asking folks to stand or raise their hand if they
thought a specific action or situation was violent. Then I named cases like, “a protestor punching a
cop who is trying to arrest someone,” “breaking the windows of a bank that evicts people from their
houses,” “buying and eating factory-farmed meat,” “buying and eating factory-farmed soy,” “a
person killing someone trying to rape them,” “carrying a gun in public,” “paying your taxes,”
“driving a car,” “the police evicting someone from their house,” “making a cop feel good about
their job,” “a predator killing and eating prey,” “a lightning bolt killing someone,” “imprisonment”
and so on.
After doing this exercise dozens of times, I noticed a few clear patterns. First, as I have
already mentioned: there was no agreement. But even more interesting was what happened if I
asked people to close their eyes while answering. If they could not see how their peers were
responding, there was an even greater divergence. If people had their eyes open, most questions had
a clear majority describing the case as “violent” or “not violent”. If their eyes were closed, many
more cases were divided clearly down the middle (this divergence was even more evident if I asked
people to position themselves on a spectrum rather than giving a simple yes or no). In other words,
“violence” is not necessarily a category that is reasonably defined, so much as one that is defined by
the reactions of our peers. What is considered normal or acceptable is much less likely to be defined
as violent, no matter how much harm it may cause.
Something that critics of nonviolence have long said is that nonviolence hides structural
violence or the violence of the State, yet it is this kind of violence, and not riots or liberation
struggles, that harms far more people around the world. It was no surprise, then, that many people,
especially outside the United States,
thought that it was violent for someone to carry a gun in
public, whereas hardly anyone considered working as a cop to be a violent act, even though being a
cop means, among other things, carrying a gun in public….
This is why we say that nonviolence privileges and protects the violence of the
State. This is why the most respected, longstanding pacifist organizations will prohibit people from
coming armed to their demonstrations (even armed with things as innocuous as sticks or helmets)
but will make no move to disarm the police, whom they often invite to oversee their protests. And
this is why the police, in turn, try to urge protesters and protest organizations to be nonviolent, to
publish nonviolent codes of conduct, and to expel or help arrest any “bad protester” who doesn’t
follow the law.
Not saying I agree with everything the guy says in the document, but….damn if he doesn’t make a case for the utter incoherence of those who denounce “violence” as such.

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