thu 16 nov 2000 12:00:00 allston, ma
consequences of nonviolence
16 nov 2000
so it goes like this.
i reject violence.
because i reject violence, i also reject coercion, which is is just a latent form of violence.
because i reject coercion, i reject pretense to authority. i reject the claim to right of anyone who tries to interfere with other people's liberty — including governments, religions, armies, gangs, kings, nations etc.
i respect liberty, because i think god gave us free will for a reason. it's each person's job to work out the morality of their actions. we must each be responsible for our own behavior.
no one has the right to interfere with anyone else's liberty.
that doesn't mean people have a right to liberty. they don't. if i had a right to liberty, i would be free to choose my skin color or body type.
rather, liberty is something we can give each other. you can give me the freedom to be whatever i can be.
you see, i am describing a world without "rights." i am describing the world as it really is.
the only rights are those implicit in the natural order of things. superimposed rights are imaginary.
some people like to talk about their inalienable right to liberty. but that's not very practical.
most often when we talk about our rights, we are really talking about our wishes.
a right is something you can proclaim. you can proclaim it with your voice, and it lasts for a few seconds. you can write it down on paper and it might last 300 years. you can write it in stone and it might last 10000 years. but if you don't bother proclaiming it, and just give it, it lasts for the life of the species. so a gift of liberty lasts a lot longer than a claim of liberty.
some of us think we can force others to respect our freedom. that's been proven wrong so many times i can't imagine why people still think it. of course, you can scare the livin bejeezus out of people so they keep their distance. but you cannot force them to actually respect your freedom. that's something they have to do inside their own consciences.
the simple fact is, that liberty is something that we do, or do not, give each other. to the extent we do give each other liberty, we tend to be happier. and to the extent we try to enlave each other, we are unhappier.
put these things to the test.
when i say each of us must be responsible for our own behavior, what does it really mean?
in the case of individual action this is not too hard. i should try to do the right thing. i can not control all the consequences of my actions, but i can control the my actions themselves, and the spirit in which i perform them.
in the case of collective action it's harder to granularize personal responsibility.
one issue with collective action, is that action by concensus is usually slower and weaker than action by authorship. i see of two kinds of authorship in collective action: parallel authorship, and concentric authorship.
let's talk about dinner and a movie.
movies and dinner are both cases where authorship of action makes the product possible.
example: making a movie. when you're making a movie, not everyone can be the director. but somebody has to be, or else it will never get done. the trouble is, if i take pride in my work, i can do a great job on my part of a really bad movie. that's why people prefer working on a movie when they approve of the director and the script.
example: making dinner for a feast. we can't all make all the courses of the meal. also, if we stop long enough to discuss to concensus every aspect of how each person will prepare each part of the meal, we will die of starvation. it requires trust, and division of work: you make the salad, i'll make the pie. i must, provisionally, trust you to make the salad. in the end, you might ask, how did i like the salad? and i might say i wish you had used more cucumbers. but if i want to eat, i must be satisfied that somebody made the salad — not everybody, and not nobody.
since a movie is supposed to be a work of art, the director really does have to directly approve many of the small parts. the director will feel better the more he or she can trust those who work on the parts. but in terms of basic geometry, making a movie requires people to work concentrically, toward the vision of one author.
dinner is different from a movie. it is more temporary. it will be over soon, and we'll do it again sometime. making a communal dinner requires people to work in parallel without totally supervising each other. feast making does require some central planning; the person bringing the wine is supposed to know what the main course is. but a feast requires less central direction than does a motion picture.
both the dinner and the movie will be better if everybody working on them puts forth their best effort. cinematic and culinary projects wrought in the midst of distrust and disharmony will tend to be "distasteful."
trust is an issue in both situations. movie crews and directors work better together if they trust each other. dinner is more enjoyable if you are pretty sure nobody is trying to poison you.
so far the dinner and the movie have not presented any of the collaborators with a profound moral dilemma.
but if the film crew discover the movie is a piece of nazi propaganda, they may begin not to like the job any more.
a vegan cook will be upset to find out their job is to kill the lobsters by throwing them into a pot of boiling water.
that's why it's better when people know what they're getting into ahead of time.
some people feel forced to work in enterprises they don't approve of, just to put food on the table.
economy is about being intertwined. it's a web of give and take. today things are so intertwined that it is nearly impossible to take a job, buy a shirt, or eat a meal, with assurance that no one is being somehow harmed in the course of the transaction.
the best rule of thumb is, do your best work all the time, and choose what to work for according to your best understanding at the time.
but never give up your own responsibility to do the right thing. never do something that feels wrong, just because somebody else says it's okay.
for example, never use the soldier's excuse, that it was okay to dress up and kill people because somebody else said they'll be responsible for your actions. if you want to murder people, do it because you want to murder.