The Value Of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

As the human population races towards 8 billion, the deep flaws of our dominant social systems are obvious and no longer tolerable. The severe and growing degree of economic inequality speaks volumes to an urgent need for change, as does the horrific degree of human caused environmental destruction. Nonviolent civil disobedience against income inequality and environmental destruction must now become widespread if we hope to avert disasters from climate change and social upheaval. 

The Need for Change

Much of earth’s water systems are in danger of pollution and depletion from resource exploitation as formerly healthy fire seasons consume the land due to forest mismanagement and rising global temperatures. The increasing frequency and power of deadly hurricanes is a direct result of human caused climate change, and our agricultural systems exploit the land and damage ecosystems with profit driven monoculture farming. Human consumption patterns that are driven by institutional greed and inherent disregard for the long-term damage of short-sighted economic ventures are driving these factors.

The very foundations of infrastructure and public discourse are controlled by corporate manipulation that enables the destruction of ecological communities that we depend upon for survival. Unethical corporate lobbying has hindered sustainable technological progress, and this must cease immediately. Fossil fuels have created undeniable economic opportunity for those who were able to manipulate public opinion against the public’s best interest, but this cycle of greed must be stopped to save the lives of millions and prevent social upheaval.

The sad fact is that our current economic paradigm prevents the ethical consideration of pretty much anything since profits are the chief concern of every business venture. Like a drug addict concerned only with the next rush, this hawkish mentality directly enables destructive patterns of greed and exploitation to further empower corporations and their goals of short-sighted profit. 

And as we consider vast communal resources that go wasted and hoarded to empower a small few, it’s also fair to consider money wasted on unethical wars in the middle east. The Taliban victors of America’s longest war are now wielding billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment that they’ve seized from the destabilized Afghan government. Could this money have been spent on universal education, healthcare, and housing? It absolutely could’ve been, and compassionate citizens of the U.S. now must act to prevent corporate culture from bringing us further towards poverty and destruction. 

The Ways of Nonviolence

There is no question that common people must radically question the systems that relegate social power since the dominant institutions of society have proven themselves to be horrifically destructive. Our future can only be won with ethically innovative solutions that go against the grain of profit driven economic progress that drives destructive social patterns. The most effective and ethical way of influencing these unjust power dynamics is the use of nonviolent civil disobedience.

Henry David Thoreau

In his iconic essay titled Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau described the method that he encouraged to protest the Mexican-American War. “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine,” he wrote about his refusal to pay taxes, “what I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.” Thoreau’s practice was driven by the notion that one’s conscience should supersede laws that create needless suffering, destruction, and death. He noted that passive resistance was often met with violence, and he held a conditional support of violence in self-defense against tyrannical oppression. 

Mahatma Gandhi

The practice of resisting oppressive power structures through communal action wasn’t even novel in Thoreau’s time, but it has had a profound effect on global society in the 20th century. Mahatma Gandhi led millions of Indians against British occupation on the principles of civil disobedience and the Hindu concept of ahimsa. “True ahimsa,” he wrote, “should mean a complete freedom from ill-will and anger and hate and an overflowing love for all.” Through his philosophy of nonviolent resistance called Satyagraha, Gandhi organized a massive movement of civil disobedience that ended the British Empire’s rule over India.

Besides Gandi, the most influential leader of nonviolent civil disobedience in the 20th century was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His nonviolent stand against American racial injustice was heavily influenced by Gandhi and satyagraha. King adopted this practice of creating social change through nonviolent, grassroots organization with astounding success that enhanced the rights of black people around the world. The two most significant actions in the civil rights movement were the boycott of Montgomery, Alabama’s bus system and the massive Freedom March on Washington D.C.

MLK being arrested in Montgomery, AL in 1958

The civil rights movement won substantial victories for black communities, but King realized that the fight for human rights was far from over. In the last book that he wrote before being assassinated, he made clear that the goals of our economic paradigm reduced the freedoms of all but the super rich. He wrote that, “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look at thousands of working people displaced from their jobs with reduced incomes as a result of automation while the profits of the employers remain intact, and say: ‘This is not just.’’

Social Change and The Second Amendment

Gandhi and Dr. King made it clear that nonviolent action is the most effective way to challenge unjust power structures in the modern age. There’s no doubt that violent conflict from minority actors is a proven method of creating social change, but it’s usually at the cost of severe destabilization and suffering. On the other hand, nonviolent civil disobedience requires the efforts of a communal majority to create solutions that evolve cultural norms and social institutions. 

There are many Americans who believe that armed conflict against unjust power structures is the most viable option to achieve their goals. The second amendment is often cited to justify the right to bear arms against the power of tyrants, but there are many reasons to question the expansive power of this law. Widespread gun violence in America creates significant safety concerns that shouldn’t be caught up in ideological arguments about fighting tyrants since this is an impractale way of making society better. 

The Boston Tea Party was an act of civil disobedience to protest imperial tyranny

The American Revolution was heavily reliant on both armed conflict and civil disobedience; the Boston Tea Party was an obvious example of nonviolent protest against taxation. But there are stark differences between our technologically advanced world and the pre-industrial world of colonial revolutionaries. The scale of civil disobedience practiced by MLK and Gandhi simply wasn’t possible in the agricultural economy of colonial America. The American colonists had to arm themselves against the British empire since they lacked the numbers and resources to transform economic factors in their favor, plus there were only a few moderately populated urban areas.

Another consideration is the evolution of weapons technology that has occured since the 17th century. The single-shot musket was the military weapon of choice during the revolutionary war, and many colonists fought the British with hunting rifles that had to be cleaned after only a few shots. Modern weapons that are often used in mass shootings and armed conflict have significantly greater rates of fire, accuracy, and damage than anything the founders could’ve dreamed of. The first automatic weapon wasn’t even invented until over one-hundred after the declaration of independence was signed, so it’s fair to say that our current problems with gun violence were not on the founding father’s radar. 

An assault rifle that was used in the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School

In a post-industrial economy that now stretches from coast to coast with cities containing millions of people, it’s obvious that nonviolent civil disobedience is more effective at challenging tyranny than causing death and destruction with machines of war. Gun rights activists that support armed revolution against tyranny promote unnecessary action that would cause untold suffering and make American cities look like Aleppo. The fact is that in the information age, citizens should be much less concerned about having their guns seized than having their access to education limited.

Building a Better Future

Having access to unprecedented amounts of information means that people need proper training to develop critical thinking skills. Public education should be a budgetary priority and free access to a college education should be recognized as a human right, just as bearing arms was a sacred right for colonial revolutionaries. Well funded and updated educational institutions that focus on building empathy, understanding, and the ability to think of novel solutions to growing global problems must be prioritized.

In order to effectively approach these problems, our culture must develop a land ethic that recognizes the intrinsic value of all life and ecosystems. Building a personal land ethic should be a mission for anyone that cares about their place in the world, but this ecocentric perspective must grow to influence radical social change up the the policy level. The land ethic doesn’t mean that sympathetic people should merely buy green, recycle, and vote for progressive politicians. Rather, it means finding ways of creating mass civil disobedience to mitigate the power that big polluters have over our shared habitat.

There is no denying that corporate power is not just standing in the way of humanity’s social evolution, but it’s also compromising the ability for people to survive on this planet. Top heavy business interests are not just threats to human rights, but these greedy ways are now a significant threat to life on this planet. Like parasitic life forms, corporations drain resources and health from human communities and natural ecosystems, and they do this through manipulation and cunning. Such shadowy public relations are necessary since the core interests of corporations run counter to the public interest. 

As corporations suck economic, social, and natural resources from communities, people living in them become impoverished in many ways. Inversely, corporations grow weak when communities are economically strong, which is why big business spends billions to influence public opinion in their favor. Today, corporations influence our government in ways that are unavailable to citizens and communities that policy is supposed to serve. Therefore, environmental civil disobedience must focus primarily on destabilizing corporate power while secondarily holding policy makers accountable for complacency with the engines of catastrophe. 

Melbourne activists during the 2018 Climatestrike

We cannot hope to demand that parasitic corporations and their state enact novel solutions to evolve humanity. The fact is that new infrastructure and social systems must be engineered outside of their paradigm since it’s proven itself to be incapable of anything but greed. One way of achieving this is by organizing massive boycotts that are aimed at severely crippling the spending power of harmful corporations, and this will require resourcefulness at community levels since corporations control so many aspects of our lives. 

The land ethic can guide us in rethinking backwards systems that stifle innovation. For example, why should we tolerate homeowner association (HOA) laws that prevent the development of front yard permaculture for mere anthropocentric aesthetic? What if HOA laws instead encouraged homeowners to integrate with the ecosystem that they live in? But besides botanical considerations, such organizations can encourage sustainable water and electric practices as well. This type of holistic communal organization can also strengthen social connections too. 

The type environmental civil disobedience that The Green Flavor promotes seeks to replace venture capitalism with social capitalism. This simply means changing the paradigm from prioritizing shareholder gain to empowering communities, and one of the ways to do this is by developing land ethics. According to the U.S. Supreme court, “Modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else.” So why do they? Because we let them. Communities must take control of spending power at the local level to ensure stability and prevent further climate related catastrophe.

Taking the Next Steps

Were we go from here is dependant upon our ability to create innovative solutions at a grassroots level. It must be realized that the dominant cultural paradigm that we live in is inherently unsustainable and must be challenged with creative and nonviolent solutions. Localization, cottage industries, and the development community oriented infrastructure must become mainstream priorities, but the value of boycotts, marches, and other acts of protest must also be valued.

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