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Reflections on Modern Non-Violence

I lost my job recently, so I decided to start writing more in my blog (this) and to start a YouTube channel.

I told all my friends and family my intentions, because of course, and they were all like “Great! What are you writing/filming about?”

And I was like, uhhh… I dunno? Like, stuff I’m interested in?

To me, in my mind, my interests have a coherent theme — but it’s more of a feeling rather than a rational division. So, I was always like “I mean, it’s sort of about agency? But, maybe like, why people are violent too — and I guess dating as well, because I like writing about dating.”

Then, all my very kind friends and family would say “Ah, you’re still figuring it out! Great, that’s a great place to be!”

Yet, all those subjects did feel related to me but I struggled to explain why. But, I think maybe, I’m starting to see what the relationship is.

I am very interested in areas of our lives that could be improved by non violence. I want the world to be a place where people have more personal agency, I believe the primary obstacle to personal agency is violence — aka — the threat of physical or emotional harm.

So, that’s great — but, then, where does dating fit it? Do I have two interests, non-violence and dating?

Then, it occurred to me, that part of the reason I’m so interested in dating is that the majority of my experience with violence has been sexual violence. And when I reflected on that, I reflected on the fact that in most of my studies of non-violence, domestic violence is generally not included, or is technically included as something to be avoided, but is lightly skipped over. Yet, from where I sit in the world, the reason nations go to war seems deeply connected to the reasons abuse their partners.

Yet, most of the non-violent thought I have read has been put forward by men so it makes sense that domestic violence has been overlooked.

Is there a good non-violent response to domestic violence? If so, what is it? If anyone has resources on the topic, I’d love to consume them.

Because, it strikes me, that much of non-violent resistance happens at the community level. However, much domestic violence happens within a community; it happens when you are alone with one other person. And so, much of the places where non-violent resisters may draw strength from are not available to individuals experiencing domestic violence.

So how do we handle that?

However, from the motivator of the abuser, domestic violence seems similar to systemic violence — effectively, a desire to dominate or increase social status by making yourself superior to another person or group of people. This type of superiority may involve bogarting/colonizing their resources for yourself, but it doesn’t have to.

Another area where I’m curious about, is uncovering the emotional underpinnings of violence. James Gilligan claims that violence is primarily motivated by shame, yet David Adams cites jealousy as a more common motive for men killing their wives. Is one of them wrong, or are shame and jealousy overlapping/related emotions? Could we also say that people who kill out of jealousy are also killing out of shame?

I don’t know. Ghandi has always advocated for understanding the roots of violence, advocating that true non-violence starts well before people start to get physical. Ghandi was also born in the 1800s, and it seems, that our understanding of modern psychology has advanced since then, and so our understanding of what behaviors are “seeding” violence must also be updated.

Similarly, Marshall Rosenberg invented “non-violent communication” in the 1970s, which I have studied and enjoyed very much. Yet, in more modern years, one of the common critiques of it has been, that it is inadequate when dealing with interpersonal abuse. (That’s a critique I happen to agree with, incidentally.)

Effectively, non-violent communication (or, NVC) holds that by giving another human empathy, you can reduce their impulse to react violently. And, this is often true. However, other studies of abusive situations suggest to me, that giving too much empathy without boundaries to an abusive person can actually increase their abusive behavior — or, perhaps it simply becomes too difficult to maintain a high level of empathy to use NVC effectively when you are being abused. Either way, I believe that in situations involving domestic violence, NVC (in practice) can often come up short.

Anyway; to my mind, incorporating the meaning of domestic violence and considering systemic changes motivated by reducing the emotions associated with violence are two areas where modern non-violent thought leaves me wanting more. Perhaps there is some thinking around this that I haven’t encountered yet, if so, I would love it if someone passed it along to me.

In the meantime, I guess, I think that my personal intellectual interests lie in an expanded view of non-violence which is capturing more topics than is typically included under such a label.




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Emma Lindsay

Emma Lindsay

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