You are hereBlogs / Robert J. Burrowes's blog
Robert J. Burrowes's blog
Nonviolent action is extremely powerful.
Unfortunately, however, activists do not always understand why nonviolence is so powerful and they design ‘direct actions’ that are virtually powerless.
I would like to start by posing two questions. Why is nonviolent action so powerful? And why is using it strategically so transformative?
On the day that you read this article, 200 species of life on Earth (plants, birds, animals, fish, amphibians, insects, reptiles) will cease to exist. Tomorrow, another 200 species will vanish forever.
One of the more subtle manifestations of the intimate link between (unconscious) human emotions and behaviour is illustrated by the simple concept of choice and how this is so often reduced to a dichotomy between two bad options. In such circumstances, most people choose whatever they consider to be ‘the lesser evil’.
But how often are there only two options, even if they appear ‘good’ and ‘bad’? Frankly, I cannot think of one circumstance in which my choices are limited to two, however good or bad they appear to be.
In early 2011, as the Arab Spring was moving across North Africa and the Middle East, small groups of nonviolent activists in Syria, which has been under martial law since 1963, started protesting against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and demanding democratic reforms, the release of political prisoners, an increase in freedoms, abolition of the emergency law and an end to corruption.
Punishment is a popular pastime for humans. Parents punish children. Teachers punish students. Employers punish workers. Courts punish lawbreakers. People punish each other. Governments punish 'enemies'. And, according to some, God punishes evildoers.
What is 'punishment'? Punishment is the infliction of violence as revenge on a person who is judged to have behaved inappropriately. It is a key word we use when we want to obscure from ourselves that we are being violent.
As the evidence mounts that we are fast approaching the final point-of-no-return beyond which it will be impossible to take sufficient effective action to prevent climate catastrophe – see 'The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently' – the evidence of ineffective official responses climbs too. See, for example, 'Climate Con: why a new global deal on aviation emissions is really bad news'.
As most of the world ignores or hypocritically celebrates the 147th birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the International Day of Nonviolence on 2 October, some of us will quietly acknowledge his life by continuing to build the world that he envisioned. When asked for his message for the world, Gandhi responded with the now famous line 'My life is my message' reflecting his lifelong struggle against violence.
Gandhi's life was dotted with many memorable quotes but one that is less well known is this: 'You may never know what results come of your actions but if you do nothing there will be no results'.
As citizens of the USA with a presidential election approaching you have a wonderful opportunity to ponder whether to participate in this election or to participate in the ongoing American Revolution.
As I read of the latest coup in Brazil, once again removing a democratically elected leader from power, my anger surged. Not again! However, as I see and read about the ongoing massive protests, as well as calls by prominent community leaders to mobilize in defense of your country's democracy, I feel great hope for Brazil. Having been a nonviolent activist for many years, I would like to support Brazilian activists to develop a nonviolent strategy that will increase your chances of success.
I sometimes wonder whether one of the ways in which 'Amercian exceptionalism' manifests is that many US scholars and others are unable to consider the contributions of those who are not from the USA. For example, I routinely read about studies of Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates (such as strategist James Lawson) in relation to nonviolence while the much more insightful and vastly greater contributions of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the same subject are largely ignored by US scholars (although not, for example, by Professor Mary E. King, one of the best in the field).
There is a long history of anti-war and peace activism. Much of this activism has focused on ending a particular war. Some of this activism has been directed at ending a particular aspect of war, such as the use of a type of weapon. Some of it has aimed to prevent a type of war, such as 'aggressive war' or nuclear war. For those activists who regard war as the scourge of human existence, however, 'the holy grail' has always been much deeper: to end war.
Two of the drivers of world affairs that manifest in the daily decisions that affect our lives are ideology and religion.
Ideology is the term widely used to describe the underlying set of values, myths, ideas, attitudes, beliefs and doctrine that shape the behavioral approach to political, economic, social, cultural and/or ecological activities of an individual or organization. This organization might be a political party, government, multinational corporation, terrorist group, non-government organization, community or activist group.
One of the many interesting details to be learned by understanding human psychology is how a person's unconscious fear works in a myriad of ways to make them believe that they bear no responsibility for a particular problem.
Deeply affected by the death of my two uncles in World War II, on 1 July 1966, the 24th anniversary of the USS Sturgeon sinking of the Japanese prisoner-of-war ship Montevideo Maru which killed the man after whom I am named, I decided that I would devote my life to working out why human beings are violent and then developing a strategy to end it.
The good news about this commitment was that it was made when I was nearly 14 so, it seemed, anything was possible. Now I am not so sure.
There is a long history of social critics and progressive thinkers offering critiques of human society.
Islamophobia has become a significant factor driving politics in many western countries.
Islamophobia – fear of Muslims – is now highly visible among European populations concerned about terrorist responses from Islamic groups claiming Jihadi links. However, it is also evident among those same populations in relation to the refugee flow from the Middle East. In addition, Islamophobia is highly evident among sectors of the US population during the presidential race. It is a significant issue in Australia. Outside the West, even the (Muslim) Rohingya in Burma are feared by Buddhist monks and others.
I have enjoyed reading accounts and seeing photos of those committed and courageous climate activists who participated in the recent Break Free from Fossil Fuels actions conducted at various locations in 13 countries from 4-15 May 2016. See 'Break Free from Fossil Fuels'.
A previously little-known law firm called Mossack Fonseca, based in Panama, has recently been exposed as one of the world's major creators of 'shell companies', that is, corporate structures that can be used to hide the ownership of assets. This can be done legally but shell companies of this nature are widely used for illegal purposes such as tax evasion and money laundering of proceeds from criminal activity. See 'Giant Leak of Offshore Financial Records Exposes Global Array of Crime and Corruption: The Panama Papers'.
Do you think that ending human violence is impossible? Do you believe that even aiming to do so is unrealistic? Well, you might be right. But you might also be interested to know that there are a lot of people around the world who are committed to trying. And, if you think the aim is worthwhile, you could be one of them.
If you have ever wondered why the global elite hoards their wealth instead of using it to help break down the violence and injustice in our world, I would like to suggest an answer to your question: self-hatred.
If you have ever wondered why weapons manufacturers make weapons to kill other living beings and destroy the Earth, I would like to suggest an answer to your question: self-hatred.
James Burrowes & Robert J. Burrowes
Wa wa wa wa.
We have recently been discussing your ongoing courageous struggle to liberate yourselves from more than 100 years of occupation, first by the Netherlands, briefly and brutally by Japan during World War II, and now by Indonesia. In that regard, we would each like to share a brief message with you, our friends from West Papua.
A new book, edited by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes, both involved with The Transnational Institute, brings together a thoughtful collection of scholars, journalists and activists to explain the pre-eminence of the military and corporations in shaping the global response to the climate catastrophe as an 'opportunity'. See The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World. Do you think that this catastrophe is an 'opportunity'?
It has been argued that nonviolent struggles to liberate occupied countries – such as West Papua, Tibet, Palestine, Kanaky and Western Sahara – have failed far more often than they have succeeded but that secessionist struggles (that have sought to separate territory from an existing state in order to establish a new one) conducted by nonviolent means have always failed. See Why Civil Resistance Works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict.
What do the Pyrenean ibex, St. Helena olive, Baiji dolphin, Liverpool pigeon, Eastern cougar, West African black rhinoceros, Formosan clouded leopard, Chinese Paddlefish, the Golden Toad and the Rockland grass skipper butterfly all have in common but which is different from the Dodo?
The answer is that these species all became extinct since the year 2000, that is, in the last fifteen years. The Dodo became extinct in 1662.
As expectations build for a global consensus to emerge from the United Nations climate conference in Paris, starting on 30 November 2015, that could agree to taking action to limit any rise in global temperature to 2 degrees celsius, I would like to explain why these expectations are misplaced. And what we can do about it.
For many people, it is easier, safer and more comfortable to live in a world of delusion, particularly when this delusion requires no effort to seek out and understand truths that might prove unpalatable. If the delusion is one that is reinforced by the persistent promulgation of elite propaganda, then the idea of questioning the delusion might not even arise.
Since the publication of vast troves of official documents by Wikileaks, however, knowledge of deeper geopolitical realities has exited the select world of progressive academia, exemplified by scholars such as Noam Chomsky, with its enthusiastic but relatively limited audience in activist circles, to become more readily and widely available.
On behalf of those of us who struggle to honor Gandhi's legacy to the world, I would like to wish Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi 'happy birthday!' Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 and had he defied both the assassin's bullet and the aging process, he would have been 146 years old this year.
In his just-released book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe, Antony Loewenstein offers us a superb description of the diminishing power of national governments and international organisations to exercise power in the modern world as multinational corporations consolidate their control over the political and economic life of the planet.
There is much being written about the refugee crisis in Europe at the moment but none of what I have read explains why the problem is occurring and what will need to be done for the problem to be addressed.
Understanding human conflict requires us to understand human psychology. And it is only when we understand the psychology that drives conflict that we can take intelligent steps to address it.