The Opposite Of Violence Is Connection
Today, August 6, is Hiroshima Day, 77 years after the detonation of an atomic bomb over the Japanese city caused unimaginable death, destruction and devastation.
It’s a day to ponder peace. And, as such, a day on which I thought I’d share an extract from my book, Living Democracy, from the chapter on what I fear is the least understood of the Greens’ four pillars.
With too many Australian and global leaders seemingly determined to push the world towards war between nuclear powers, it is vital and urgent that we think deeply about how we work for peace, how we talk about peace, how we understand peace. I’ve attempted to do so in a way which draws it out of the ecological metaphor that is the core of my book.
Before I share the extract, however, let me briefly note a number of upcoming book launch events that I would love you to attend:
This coming Thursday, August 11, is our online book launch. I’m delighted to tell you that the wonderful Dr Millie Rooney, National Coordinator for Australia reMADE and one of the people whose advice was fundamental to the development of the book, will be joining us to talk about the ideas.
The following night, Friday August 12, is the Sydney book launch at Gleebooks. This promises to be an exciting conversation with Greens MLC Abigail Boyd and Deputy Director of the Sydney Environment Institute, Dr Danielle Celermajer.
And then the next night, I’m heading up to Leura for an event with the Blue Mountains Greens! Register here if you’re in that neck of the woods on August 13!
A couple of weeks later, I’m heading to the Byron Writers Festival for August 26-28, which is super exciting. I’ll be on three panels there, and I’m personally hugely looking forward to hearing Masha Gessen speak. Mandy Nolan and I are hoping to be able to put on an event for the local Greens while I’m there, so stay tuned if that’s your area.
And I’m very happy to announce the official Canberra launch, on August 31 at ANU’s Kambri precinct, where I’ll be joined in conversation by ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury and ANU Human Futures Fellow Dr Arnagretta Hunter.
Melbourne, Brisbane and Hobart events are in planning, as are a bunch of regional ones in Cobargo, Bega, Beechworth and more, and I’m hoping to get to Adelaide, Perth and maybe even Darwin at some stage not too far away.
You can also tune in to hear me on Late Night Live with Phillip Adams on ABC Radio National this coming Monday at 10.20pm.
Now, here’s a section called The opposite of violence is connection.
There’s a reason why institutions of violence, be they armies, police forces, gangs or authoritarian regimes, dehumanise those they target: we humans don’t actually like hurting each other. Rutger Bregman, in his book Human Kind, detailed tremendous evidence that soldiers in the heat of battle often try not to hurt each other, aiming over each other’s heads or not firing at all. Dehumanising rhetoric, from calling prisoners by numbers to racist propaganda, puts sufficient distance between us and our target to do what we would otherwise resist.
In one of his many startling insights, David Graeber wrote that violence:
‘is perhaps the only form of human action that holds out even the possibility of having social effects without being communicative. To be more precise, violence may be the only way it is possible for one human being to do something which will have relatively predictable effects on the actions of a person about whom they understand nothing. In pretty much any other way in which you might try to influence another’s actions, you must at least have some idea about who you think they are, who they think you are, what they might want out of the situation, their aversions and proclivities, and so forth. Hit them over the head hard enough, and all of this becomes irrelevant.’
Violence is fundamentally anti-democratic in that it shuts off consideration of others’ views. Violence severs connection. It requires us to disconnect from each other in order to commit it, then feeds off that disconnection.
Conversely, nonviolence is about interdependence. It’s an ecological philosophy and practice that values the whole and the parts, and the connections between them. As philosopher Judith Butler wrote, ‘an ethics of nonviolence cannot be predicated on individualism, and it must take the lead in waging a critique of individualism as the basis of ethics and politics alike’.
Tyson Yunkaporta explained how, in his Indigenous culture, the reality of violence is drawn into rituals of reciprocity: when people fight each other, for each time one fighter has cut their opponent, they have to also cut themself. In this way, interdependent coexistence is made painfully concrete.
Coexistence means we need to get comfortable with difference. And getting comfortable with difference means, somewhat counter-intuitively, that we need to be comfortable with ourselves, confident in our own identity. Prejudice is often closely related to the fear of losing what makes us special, and coercive systems of supremacy explicitly play to that fear. Hence fears of being ‘swamped by Asians’, and chants of ‘Jews will not replace us’. As Rutger Bregman said ‘We need to realise it’s okay that we’re all different – there’s nothing wrong with that. We can build strong houses for our identities, with sturdy foundations. Then we can throw open the doors.’
We’re beginning to see now, I hope, that, where violence is the opposite of connection, living democracy is the opposite of the state with a monopoly on violence.
The idea that really brought this home for me is Hannah Arendt’s insight that violence can never create genuine power. Power needs legitimacy, and that, Arendt said, comes from a process of connection and communication: ‘Power springs up whenever people get together and act in concert, but it derives its legitimacy from the initial getting together rather than from any action that may follow.’
This dovetails with Graeber’s insight that, in any form of human interaction other than violence, we need to make an effort to understand each other if we want to influence others’ behaviour. Violence might work to assert control, but turning that control into power requires a coming together, even if it’s uniting against others. What grows from that contradictory process, however, will always be a fragile power, with every act of violence undermining power by driving people apart. There’s a constant tension in such a system between the construction of power through connection and its destruction through violence – a tension that runs through history, as we learned in Part 1.
Power through people coming together and acting in concert needs to be constantly renewed through the next process of coming together. Which is a reasonably concise definition of living democracy.
Yours in peace,
PS: Remember, while the book is now in stores, you can still support the Green Institute by buying it direct from us here.