The Failure of Nonviolence
A few years ago I wrote an essay entitled “JEDI PATH AND AIKI PATH: AN INTERSECTION ON VIOLENCE” where I discussed how violence is portrayed by Jedi characters in Star Wars Media and the perception that nonviolence is always preferable. The essay opens:
The topic of violence and the Jedi Path can be a tricky one. Violence is one of those things that is generally accepted to be a bad thing, but you know that saying about absolutes. Non-violence can be a powerful force, probably most effectively employed by Mahatma Gandhi, who in turn inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Another less known proponent of non-violence is Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, usually referred to by Aikido practitioners as “Ōsensei” (great teacher).
Because we associate the Jedi with being a “force for good” many tend to think of non-violence as a “Jedi trait”. But if we look at the fictional narrative, this is clearly not the case. So what is the association with Jedi and violence?
As I write this essay in the last week in October of 2020, The United States is increasingly sliding into fascism with increased police violence, and an authoritarian administration who uses violence against its own people from teargassing peaceful protestors to clear them for a photo op to an extrajudicial killing of which the president brags about at his rallies to his fervent base. The successes of Gandhi and Dr. King in the past do not apply to the current situation, as well as a misunderstanding of just what the “nonviolent protests” of Dr. King looked like.
The protest movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was founded on nonviolence, and I feel many today especially those of my generation and later who learned about the movement in school got the impression that because Dr. King and his followers were nonviolent the protests were “peaceful”. The effective protests were nothing of the sort. Those marching for civil rights were brutalized. And this was part of the strategy. The underlying philosophy being that by not fighting, one would reach the humanity of the person attacking them, and when it was seen in the press, the people would be outraged and those perpetrating the violence would be shamed into changing policy. This was not popular at the time. In fact, during the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King was one of the most hated men in America. A contemporary anti-King cartoon depicts Dr. King in a wrecked city block talking to a reporter saying “I Plan To Lead Another Non-Violent March Tomorrow”. A copy I found online has this commentary written in pen on the image: "How can you, a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, be such a deceitful hypocrite? You're not fooling anyone but yourself in your nauseating talk about non-violence. You demand a program to overcome poverty and "flow in" untold amounts in your high living and running all over the globe to feed your own egotism."
In the situation we find ourselves in today, those in power do not feel shame for the injury, mayhem, and death that they dish out. Many times our legal system fails to hold them accountable. Today we have police unions that work to reinstate killer cops to duty and an entire police culture centered around not keeping those accountable for malfeasance except at times in extraordinary cases often caught on cell phone video. While we can see time and time again people being brutalized or killed by police, they and the country’s leaders revel in the violence, the departments of violent cops close ranks around and protect the violence while District Attorneys fail to even bring charges. And in today’s climate we do not just have state violence to worry about, but also far-right gangs and “militias” which get the cover of police who are out to do violence often based on an ideology of white supremacy many of whom are accelerationists who want to destabilize this country and bring on a race war where they imagine that in the chaos they will be the ones in charge of a new white ethnostate.
The fascists and far-right have already demonstrated that they are willing to employ violence and even kill to forward their agenda. To espouse nonviolence as the only response is immoral and unethical. It tells me that you are willing to have people brutalized and murdered in the name of some higher ideal instead of doing the difficult work of antiracism and antifascism and bringing an end to these structures and protecting people from harm. It is the farthest thing from a compassionate response – a response I hope that all Jedi will embrace. We utilize compassion to lessen the suffering of others, and if we do not come to the defense and even physical defense of those fascists would want to harm and espouse that through nonviolence we should just allow it to happen, then I really have to question what you mean when you call yourself a Jedi. Dr. King explicitly stated: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
We must ask ourselves, “when is a violent action also a compassionate action?” When you have the answer to that, your path will become clearer.