Strategic Advantage of Non-Violence

A nonviolent revolution has strategic advantages over one that relies on force or violence. This is because violence and force are blunt instruments. They are crude. They are imprecise. And they can cause a lot of collateral damage. Remember our purpose is to change people’s minds. The thinking behind using force or threats of force is that it will show the opponent that it is in his best interests to accede to our demands — that the violence is so costly to him that it would be better to give up and agree to whatever it is that we want. Or the threat of force, even though not strictly violence itself, is a threat to use violence, and thus cause the opponent to make the same calculation and give us what we want.

Notice first that this relies on the same discredited utility theory which we now know is not a very good model of human behavior. Thus we have no way of knowing whether our use of force or threat to use force will produce the results we desire in the opponent. He may under react, from our point of view, and not do the calculation we expect, and therefore not agree to our demands. He may not believe our threat is real especially if we have previously announced that we want to be nonviolent. Or he may over react with force or violence or threats. If we react similarly then we and our opponent are now beginning a deadly escalation spiral to war.

Of course we can change the minds, and thus the behaviors, of our opponents if we kill enough of them. But as I said, this is a blunt instrument. We have changed their minds by destroying them. And nobody “wins” a war. Both sides lose — a lot — in lives lost and things, property, wasted or destroyed. There are better ways. Much better ways.

We must change people’s minds one by one or often many at a time. We change people’s minds one at a time when we have a dialog, a conversation, with another person. The mass media — a one way communication vehicle — changes many minds at one time. Now with the internet we can have many dialogs and we can all become broadcasters. There is a lot going on between the extremes of one to one conversations and the mass media broadcasting.

Advertisers want to send their advertising messages to the people they think are most likely to want their products. So they will send different messages to different groups of people. We can do the same. This is not a blunt instrument.

We must send different messages to different groups of people. And different messages to the same groups at different times. This is so because to help a person gain new knowledge we must know what knowledge that person has already so that we can build upon it. We can’t teach second graders about compound interest. And we can’t teach most adults about tranched collateralized debt obligations without first teaching them about a lot of other things. So if we are to help people to change their minds — to get them to accept the goals and methods of the revolution we want — we must prepare them step by step by giving them new knowledge that will take them, step by step, from wherever they are now to our desired final state where they freely, without being forced or pressured, understand and accept, the goals and methods of the revolution. And they integrate this new knowledge with whatever they started with so as to provide a consistent a guide for their new behaviors. This is what we do when we formally teach children and adults in schools, except maybe at times we use too much pressure. To make a revolution is an education process!

Some groups which will require specific new knowledge are all those identifiable groups which have different roles in our present system: academics, teachers, scientists, police, military low-level, military high level, military middle level, small business owners, low-level business managers, high level business managers, workers in largest corps, in middle corps, in small businesses, government workers at all levels, politicians, judges, children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, older adults, those retired, women, men, gays, minorities, ethnic, racial, religious, etc.

There are some new ideas, information, knowledge that many people already have, but that must be spread to almost all the rest of the population regardless of their present roles. Some of these are the goals of the revolution. Some people who think we need a revolution or want a revolution may have only a limited goal for the revolution such as removing the dictator or the oligarchs or whoever they blame for the present poor conditions. If you just remove one or a few people and do not change the underlying system you are likely just to get a new dictator or new oligarchs who likely are not better than the last ones. So you really haven’t made a revolution. Our societies, our cultures are complex systems and if they are not working well it is not due just to the incompetence or evilness of one or a few individuals. A system problem requires a system solution, a change to a new system. So the goal of any revolution must be much more than just replacing one or a few people in power.

OK, so then what is the goal? A better system, yes. (We have already ruled out perfect systems because there are no perfect systems.) But what does better mean? I think the following is a good goal or set of goals that almost everyone can agree on. I would like to live in a society, in a culture, in a system that provides for, satisfies, the basic human needs of every living person compatible with the earth’s limited natural resources without degrading or destroying the natural environment. I consider the following to be basic human needs: clean water, nutritious food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, maximal individual freedom, and peace. This has been called social justice or peace and social justice. Some will say that such a system is not possible within the constraints of the earth’s limited resources. We can’t know whether it is possible or not, unless we try. So, considering this, it would be enough if the new system had the goal of working towards social justice. This goal is clearly different from the goal or goals of the present system. One goal of the present system is to allow certain individuals — not all individuals — to acquire, control, and allocate as much of the world’s things — resources, property, money — as they possibly can irrespective of any harm this may cause for the vast majority of other individuals and irrespective of any harm, degradation, destruction of the natural world. So don’t try to claim that the present system has a goal of social justice. It plainly does not.

So we need to spread the goals of social justice to most of those who do not have them already.

Also we need to spread the methods of the revolution to almost everyone. The most important of these is nonviolence, but there are many other specific positive methods to be described and discussed later.

What are some other chunks of knowledge we want to help people acquire so that they will have prepared themselves to embrace the goals and methods of the revolution? I will first list some in the order that they come to mind and later I will try to organize them in a way they might be taught.

OK here’s a list: Human nature is not fixed. Perfection is an illusion. Utility theory is grossly simplistic. Not everyone is greedy all the time. It is natural for people to cooperate in almost all situations. Cooperation can be taught. The specific things we fear have been learned and therefore can be unlearned. We can learn to limit anger and many people can learn to eliminate anger from their lives. Thinking requires feelings. Excessive amounts of feelings degrade thinking. Repetition is very effective. Propaganda works. Truth has an advantage. People have a strong sense of, a feeling for, justice, fairness which can be increased or decreased by learning. Most economic talk and theorizing is total bullshit. The superrich run things, or think they do. No one controls anything. At most we can have some influence. Information leaks always. Most people are not stupid. Almost everybody can learn new things at any age. Force and threats are counterproductive. Altruism exists. Altruism can be taught. Generosity is taught. Excessive selfishness is taught. We must take care of ourselves. In everything we do we are helped by others. We learn and create only by building on the knowledge, the work, of others. We are almost never alone. Conflict and competition are not the same. Competition is a form of cooperation. Conflicts exist but they can be limited. Thinking with too much fear, anger, or hatred can lead to wars. Everything evolves. Everything changes only slower or faster. We can influence social change. From the day you are born till you ride in the hearse there is nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse (or better). Depression is dangerous, even deadly, and anyone with even a little depression should seek professional help. Mania is dangerous too. Authority is dangerous. Ideologies can be, and probably most are, traps. Limiting your thinking is limiting yourself. Fear, anger, hatred, disgust are effective propaganda tools. Complex systems must be changed very carefully one step at a time. Complex systems can sometimes do very unexpected things. There are almost always unintended consequences when a change is made to a complex system. Some knowledge speeds up the evolution, the changes, in a society or culture. Freedom of speech should speed up the evolution of a culture. Freedom of behavior consistent with nonviolence should speed up cultural evolution. Both of these allow for increased spreading of new knowledge. Secrecy limits cultural evolution. There are many chunks of knowledge that if spread to enough people could significantly speed up the changing of our present system to a socially just system. Big changes can occur quickly. Some ideas, some chunks of knowledge, can spread very fast throughout a whole population, especially if the population has been prepared by being supplied with the intermediate knowledge required so that the new or radical idea makes sense. The foundation is already there and when the new idea is heard even once the reaction in the vast majority of people is “Yes!, Yes! That’s exactly right. That is what we must do.”

The above list is not complete and of course there could be many variations on it. Next let’s see if we can put the items in this list in some kind of strategic order to make it easy for us and for others to acquire these new chunks of information, this new knowledge, and thus make a revolution.

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