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29 June 2010

Criteria for the Use of Violence in Resisting Oppression and the Destruction of the Environment

In response to the statement "When is violence better than non-violence? When there are no other options." I think it's a little more complex than that, so here are my criteria - I reserve the right to add or subtract from this list as new issues arise:

1) There is absolutely no chance that any human being or animal will be physically harmed by the action.
2) The environmental harm caused by the action is less (cumulatively?) than the environmental harm caused by the activity to be stopped.
3) The action will not bring about massive resentment or antipathy from the local community or from the general public.
4) The action will effectively and permanently stop the activities.
5) There is no other option.

I don't know if there are any circumstances that meet these criteria, but I'm willing to entertain the possibility that there are.

Resistance is Not Futile

This post is in response to Michael's post, which was in response to my comment on another of his posts. I should mention, too, that I have a great deal of respect for Michael, and I don't intend for this to be a condemnation of him, but a thoughtful discussion of the issue of violence in the search for environmental and social justice.

Michael,
I think we agree more than you realize, and I've only come to my current position recently and through a great deal of consideration and self-searching. I've taken hard line stances, and advocated a violent approach in the past - look through the archives of this blog and you'll see what I mean. I haven't completely abandoned my position, just tempered it a bit. I'm still willing to consider violence as an option (I'm not a dogmatic pacifist, as Jensen would have it), but I've realized that violence is simplistic and most of these problems are very complex. Let me add to your pseudo-dialog, and see if we can work this out.

Michael: As for destruction – or might we say ‘deconstruction’ – I think there is definitely a time and place for it. Some buildings need to go (but without harm to others), and some dams need to be destroyed, and some technic-material systems need to be dismantled. Murder is never justifiable - but the deconstruction of “property” I have no problem with (who really owns the earth anyway?).

Jeremy: Yes, I like the term deconstruction, I've used it myself many times in the past. And I agree that buildings need to come down, dams need to come down, and certain systems need to be dismantled. However, there are ways of doing that without harming the people who live, work, and play on or near the sites. I'm not talking about the protection of property, but the protection of lives, and the environment. I'm concerned about the random (or even strategic) use of explosives advocated by many, because it may harm or kill people unintentionally or collaterally, and may spread toxins in a way that is worse for the environment than the facilities themselves. Also, we need to be effective in our deconstruction. Random smashing of windows, burning of cars, etc. does little to stop the corporate machine. Hell, terrorists took down the whole damn world trade center, killed 3000 "little Eichmans," and business went on as usual. There has to be something else, something more effective, and I don't think that something is violence.

Michael: Would we be justified in jumping the fence of said factory and sabotaging or blowing-up their facilities – halting production and the subsequent generation of toxic waste? If even once child was prevented from developing cancer as a result would such ‘violence’ be justified? Or should that community continue to drink the water while non-violently holding up signs and protesting outside corporate headquarters?

Jeremy: First of all, this scenario is not at all comparable to the kinds of random violence staged at the G20 protest, or that you advocate later in your post (i.e. smashing windows, vandalizing property, etc.). Second, would blowing up or sabotaging the facility really do anything to effectively stop the activities? What happens when they fix the machinery or build a new facility? You may give them a headache, but if you think it's going to stop anything, I think you seriously underestimate the resolve of the capitalist system. The company will just get a huge insurance payment and go right on with what they were doing before. You've done nothing to help the community, or to prevent the deaths of those children. Meanwhile, you've been labeled an eco-terrorist, and lost any credibility with the local community, mainstream environmentalists, and the public as a whole - if you're lucky you'll just end up in jail for a few years.

Michael: I think many people in the so-called West have been pacified into thinking that there actually is a “civil society” out there somewhere.

Jeremy: I'm not talking about civil society, or using the system to fight the system. I think we have to work outside of the system to bring it down. But that doesn't necessarily mean violence. MLK fought the system, using tactics external to the system, without resorting to violence. We can be confrontational without blowing things up or smashing things (and I do think that anger can be useful, but, again, anger doesn't have to be violent).

Michael:why do they still flock to the shopping malls and drive SUVs? Why do more people watch American Idol than vote during an election? Why do they “grudgingly accept” or rationalize their role in this maladaptive ‘game’? Why are they NOT rising up for a better more human world?
Could they not choose otherwise?

Jeremy:You can't expect everyone to be radical - people have to live day-to-day - like it or not, radicalism is a privileged position (Who made up the majority of people marching in Toronto, breaking windows and destroying property? Were they indigenous people from Africa and South America or poor African Americans from New York or Washington D.C.? I doubt it). And you can't simply reduce all of those who are not radical to mindless servants of the system. By doing so you deny their agency, you risk alienating them from your cause, and you ignore potential points of agreement that can but built upon to create a broader movement.
People can and do make choices everyday - sometimes their choices coincide with the corporate system, and sometimes they don't - but you can't expect all of their choices to be in line with your philosophy (I would venture to bet that even your choices are not 100% in line with your philosophy). However, despite these problems, and despite outward appearances, people do make choices that subvert the corporate system. A person may choose to buy food from a farmers market or grow some of their own food instead of a going to a corporate chain grocery story, they may protest the destruction of a piece of land, they may give money to an environmental group, or a thousand other things. Small? Yes, but these small things add up, and, with a little work on our part, they can be built upon to generate a larger movement. But if you simply degrade them as "sheeple" then you've lost them already.

12 June 2010

A Christian Environmentalism?

As I was driving across the country last week on my way to Nevada, I passed through several parts of the country where there were no NPR stations. As a result, I ended up listening to country music or Christian/Conservative talk radio - out of a sense of curiosity. I was particularly interested to hear the commentary on the Gulf oil spill and its ecological, social, economic, and political repercussions. Most of what I heard was condemning the Obama administration for failing to deal with the spill quickly. Then, when the administration pointed out that they had been there from the beginning, the commentators turned it around and claimed that it was a clear example of how the government doesn't make things better. I wondered when I heard that what exactly they think the spill would have looked like if the government hadn't been there? So most of what I heard was not very encouraging.

However, while passing through Utah, I was listening to Chris Fabry Live, and he had a segment on the oil spill as well. He referred to an editorial in Christianity Today titled "Judgement in the Gulf: Woes and Blessings of the Oil Spill" by Mark Galli. Before continuing on, go read the essay and maybe listen to the show.

Now, I'm not going to say that this is a perfect piece of environmental literature. There are a lot of things that I don't agree with (e.g. the part about how only the Lord can destroy the Earth, the part about how He will destroy the Earth, and the fact that Galli and Fabry continually use the word "Dominion" to express our relationship with nature). However, I do find some encouraging things in the statement and in the show. There is a recognition in the essay that our way of life is harmful to the Earth, and that we need to change. This is a far cry from the Bush era doctrine that the world will be destroyed soon and all of God's children will be raptured, so we should get as much as we can from it while we're here. It was also clear in the radio show, though not so apparent in the essay itself, that the idea is not that God caused the oil spill to punish us for our sins (i.e. gay marriage, abortion, etc. - the usual conservative Christian fare), but that our way of life is harmful to the planet and we are feeling the consequences of that way of life in the oil spill.

I also found this section interesting:
Woe to you, O environmentalists, who lose sleep over shrimp that will vanish and do not remember the eleven created in my image who died in the explosion, who wax eloquent about the suffering salamander and are blind to the plight of those who suffer most when my earth suffers.
Of course environmentalists do care a great deal about the people who have been killed or otherwise harmed by the spill, and it is precisely this concern for human lives that drives us to protect the environment. But this is, like it or not, how we are viewed by a large portion of the population. Clearly, we could do a better job of showing that environmental problems are human problems.

All in all I think what this essay and the program represent is not the kind of environmentalism I practice or endorse. But it reveals the potential for an environmentalism that conservative Christians might be able to relate to. There were a lot of positive calls on the radio program, and that is encouraging. Perhaps this oil spill has a silver sheen after all.

Addendum 6/13/2010: I'm listening now to Speaking of Faith on NPR. Krista Tippett is speaking with Ellen Davis on her new project of examining the bible from an agrarian/environmentalist perspective. It's not in the same vein as the article mentioned above, but another view of Christianity and environmentalism.
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