Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I've been nerding out on the history and philosophy of nonviolence.
Sparked (kinda) by Mahatma Ghandi and brought to the US by Dr. King, nonviolence has had a profound impact on the way that we think about social change. The biggest misconception about nonviolence is that it is a form of absolution, swearing off the use of force because hitting people isn't nice. Nonviolence is a tactic. It's a set of principles and strategies for groups to create social change which are, in almost all circumstances, MORE EFFECTIVE than hitting people.
This seems kinda counter intuitive. After all, isn't power ultimately about who has the ability to hit who? Isn't refusing to literally fight for what we believe in a cop-out? Aren't we just yielding power to those willing to use violence to achieve their ends?
Non-violent activists would give a calm, resounding "no" to all of the above. Power isn't about who can hit who, it's about who can stand together. When given the option between a powerful violent group and an equally powerful nonviolent one people will almost always choose the latter. Sure, it takes guts to fight for what you believe in, but it takes even more guts to stand up to anger and violence with compassion instead of retaliation. Standing up to anger and violence this way doesn't yield power to it, quite the opposite. If someone wants to hit you and you show them compassion, they stop wanting to hit you. Effective nonviolence dismantles violence, and in doing so it demonstrates that violence is a lot less powerful than everyone thinks.
I bring this up here because increasingly when I think about what it means to be "nonsexual" the idea of nonviolence comes up. To be clear- unlike violence, sex is NOT a Bad Thing. But like violence, sex is a massive source of fear, power and control in our society. And like nonviolence, nonsexuality can be an extremely effective tactic to dismantle that power. Replace "violence" with "sexuality", "nonviolence" with "nonsexuality" and "social change" with "intimacy" (or vice versa.) When used correctly, nonsexuality can be a more effective tactic to create intimacy than sexuality. This is counter intuitive. We live in a society which largely equates intimacy with sex, which loudly celebrates sex as a THE way to create intimacy in popular media. Sex is a blunt instrument, a way to monitor and control the intimacy that people create without really delving into the reality of what makes that intimacy happen. But the power that sex has is also fundamentally fragile. As someone experienced in the practice of nonsexuality, I have learned that if I respond to sexuality with open, nonsexual compassion the sexuality miraculously dissolves and the other person winds up thanking me for it.
There are some powerful implications here. In our society, both sex and violence are tightly controlled as a way to control the ability of people to create social change and form close connections (two pasttimes which are more than a little connected.) What if nonsexuality works like nonviolence? What if we can go around creating whatever kind of intimacy suits our fancy without regard for society's tight constraints? I'm not suggesting that sexual people start lining up to take vows of celibacy, just that we asexuals should think of the nonsexual stuff that we're doing as more than a form of absolution. Nonsexuality is a tactic. It's a set of principles and strategies for individuals to create intimacy which are, in almost all circumstances, more effective than sex.