TODAY, June 6, marks the anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. It is also, given the time difference, the day in 1893 (June 7th, over there) that Mohandas Gandhi was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The former event marked the beginning of the end of World War II. The latter — if we can truly grasp its significance — marked the beginning of the end of all wars.
In 1893 Gandhi was not yet styled “Mahatma,” or Great Soul — an appellation he disliked intensely — and the word “nonviolence” had yet to enter the English language. The violence that was temporarily suspended, or shall we say rearranged, in WWII continues unabated, in many forms. But nonviolence is slowly gaining on it.
Two years after the conclusion of WWII the British domination of India also came to an end. Moreover, some fifty other nations got free of one or another form of colonialism; it could be said that an entire dark period of history came to an end. This can be attributed, at least indirectly, to the loss of prestige of Europe and the West after its two brutal internecine wars, but it can be attributed much more directly to India’s freedom struggle, at the climax of which, the Salt Satyagraha of 1930, an American journalist, Webb Miller, wired in to the Chicago Tribune that “any ascendancy the West had over India was lost here today.”
But there is an even greater significance to what began that night in Pietermaritzburg and led to Independence Day, 15 August, 1947, for on that day Great Britain and India together, amicably, declared India free. As British historian Arnold Toynbee wisely noted, “He (Gandhi) made it impossible for us to go on ruling India. But he made it possible for us to leave without rancour and without humiliation.”
It was his utter refusal to accept humiliation or inflict it on anyone, no matter their cruelty and shortcomings, that moved Gandhi not to run back to India but to stay and fight what Europeans had done to him at Pietermaritzburg.
Since India’s Independence Day the world has seen (if you know where to look) a remarkable growth in both the quantity and quality of nonviolence; in the number of places where it has been applied, almost always successfully, the range of techniques people have learned, and the various schools and programs where they can learn it — including, of course, the essential “finishing school” of direct experience.
Yet the celebrations of Normandy will be far greater and more widely recognized than whatever celebration we will see of Pietermaritzburg, and that is a measure of how far we have yet to go in learning what makes for a successful life that takes us closer, rather than further, to the fulfillment of human destiny.
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This week, Nonviolence Radio hosts Mubarak Awad, founder of the National Youth Advocate Program, which provides alternative foster care and counseling to “at risk” youth and their families. He is also the founder of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence in Jerusalem and of Nonviolence International, which works with groups and organizations all over the world. Michael asks Mubarak about his path from Palestine to the US, about his early work with kids in prison, about his long commitment to nonviolence (sparked by his mom), and about the recent violence in the MIddle East. Mubarak goes to the deep and entrenched roots of the problems between Palestinians and Israelis and finds clarity and hope:
There is always an alternative. It doesn’t matter what is the conflict, what is the problem, you have to create an alternative. Many times, people will come to [Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence] and they would say, “The Israeli soldiers, the Israeli settlers came and uproot all our olive trees that are hundreds of years old.” And I said, “Okay, so what do you want me to do? Is it to find those trees and bring them back?” They said, “No, we don’t know where they’re at.” I said, “Okay, let’s get groups together. Let’s get even Israelis with us and let’s go.” And they took 100 trees, 1000 trees. We’ll plant 4000 trees so that in years to come, we’ll have more trees than the original. And that’s how we start.
He highlights the need for both sides to listen and respect each other, however different their individual beliefs might be, “Our idea of understanding is first to respect other peoples’ beliefs. It doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not, they believe in it. That’s an important thing.” He stresses the need for equality amongst all people, “The Israelis have to see that they are not better or worse than the Palestinians, we are equal to them. That equality is important.”
Creative solutions, respect and equality are all, according to Mubarak, essential aspects of living, active, effective nonviolence.
This program is open to anyone who is ready to develop their understanding of one of the most important, and often overlooked, powers at our disposal: nonviolence.
The program is taught by college-level professors who will expect deep engagement with the course topics in exchange for support and mentorship in your learning. We are especially eager to work with earnest students who will engage thoughtfully with required assignments, participate in in-person course sessions, and are prepared to do self-exploration with the concepts and topics covered with the aim in mind of finding a deeper sense of harmony with the world around and within them (what we are calling The Third Harmony!).
CEUs and the possibility of credit from your educational institution are available.
This is a unique opportunity to study and share learning with two very gifted teachers of nonviolence.
Registration is limited.
The Certificate-Track Courses for 2021 – There are four required parts of our 2021 program: Foundation, Theory, Practical Experience, Projects. (Click on the links below to learn more about the program as it is broken into shorter parts.)
Dates: June 13-December 2021
Foundation – The Path to Nonviolence, taught by Michael Nagler will take place over five weeks from June 13-July 17. In addition to weekly course materials shared on our online platform with online conversations encouraged, the course will meet in person for meditation and discussion sessions on Saturdays from 8:30-10:30 am Pacific Standard Time on Zoom.
Theory –Alternate Cosmologies: Nonviolence, Feminism, and (self) Transformationtaught by Safoora Arbab will take place over 8 weeks from July 21-September 8 for the main content and one extra week for project discussions. In addition to weekly reading assignments, the course is largely discussion-based and will meet weekly: on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, Pacific Standard Time, on Zoom.
Projects will be submitted by Dec. 1, 2021 and reviewed for Certificate before December 31, 2021.
Registration is now closed. To express interest in joining the program late, please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The entire 2021 Certificate Program will cost $1,200. Payments can be made in installments and some financial aid is available.
Go to the Register Link, fill out the form, and we’ll be in touch to finalize your registration, answer your questions, and get to know you and your goals for this program a little better.
What if I want to take a course without signing up for the full program?
It’ll work. You do not need to be on the Certificate Track in order to take any of the courses. Please feel free to register for any course as a stand-alone if you would like on the individual course pages as we publish them.
Please contact us with any questions. (Info@Mettacenter.org)
Myanmar has been a recurring scene of repression and resistance, and today’s resistance is probably more organized, more courageous — and more costly than ever. This little booklet is offered in the spirit of solidarity and support to the people standing up to the military in the face of severe repression. It contains basics about nonviolence, which Gandhi rightly called “the most powerful force” we have been endowed with. We sincerely hope they (you) can use it.
On Aug. 24, 410 C.E., Alaric with his army of Goths entered Rome and sacked the capital of the empire. The shock echoed throughout the circum-Mediterranean world and Europe: How could this happen to the “eternal city”? Though the scale of the attack was so much smaller, and it failed, many people throughout the much larger modern world today were shocked that this could happen to the “indispensible nation.” There are other differences, of course. The Roman emperor did not call down the attack on his own city! Nor did any senators join in the carnage. The Goths were an outside enemy, not Roman citizens, and were a relatively disciplined army, in contrast to the disorganized mob that attacked the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. But one cannot help seeing a parallel to the affront to the capitol, and wonder if there’s something we can learn from it.
In response to the events of 410, St. Augustine created his mighty classic, the “City of God.” He did it to reassure Christians that their abandonment of their pagan gods had not brought this punishment down on them, but along the way he managed to build a comprehensive vision that laid the foundation of a Christian order that prevailed through the Middle Ages. He was building on the essentially Jewish discovery of the unity of God, and by extension the unity of all creation, including the human family. It is no coincidence that this work includes the first in-depth discussion of peace, to my knowledge, in Western civilization. This is the component into which today Pope Francis has been breathing new life, for example with the nonviolence retreat hosted recently by the Vatican.
I think this emptiness of meaning is the core of our problem. As the Washington Post reported on Jan, 13, “QAnon theorists were involved in every level of planning and carrying out the Jan. 6 insurrection;” and surely QAnon could not be swallowed for a moment by large numbers of otherwise adult people if they were not grasping at straws for some sense of purpose, of stability. Nor would the puerility of video games and action movies, which furnished the scenario in which the crowd could figure as the heroes who were saving the world. The world is in fact going through a crisis of meaning that will lead to more outbursts like this if we do not somehow fill that legitimate need.
We have somehow to do what Augustine did: come up with a worldview that gives meaning and stability, such that people would have no need to grasp at fantasies like QAnon or take to destructive violence to act them out. The worldview would not need to arise from the Judeo-Christian worldview specifically, but it would certainly want to be in harmony with the Wisdom Tradition, as the late Huston Smith called it: that vast cultural heritage of human traditions that hold out a vision of humanity as evolving spiritual beings in a meaningful universe.
Until recently, Augustine had an advantage over us: The science of his day, such as it was, offered no serious competition to the Christian worldview. He carried out many arguments with Neoplatonic and other philosophical schools (which carried more weight than the science). He was able to prevail, in my view, because Cristian scripture furnished a better way to talk about the inner life, which was what the world at that time was looking for.
Until recently. The material science and material worldview that has dominated Western civilization for several centuries seemed to deliver an airtight explanation of reality based on the random motion of material particles, and gained great credibility when it was able to deliver a dizzying surge of technology and material abundance — including very real advances in healthcare that we would not wish to be without. But when push came to shove it failed to account for the most vital endowments of the human being — our emotions, the intellectual achievements that distinguish us from the other animals, consciousness itself. A bit over a hundred years ago now the theoretical underpinning of materialism was exposed to the glare of quantum theory, with its discovery of the primacy of consciousness and “non-locality” or interlocking unity of existence. Come down to today and you find physicists talking about “non-local consciousness,” biologists unearthing precious legacies of cooperation running throughout evolution, psychologists leaving behind Freud’s misguided focus on disfunction to work out a “positive psychology” — and Gandhi gifting the world with nonviolence and daring to claim that “nonviolence is the badge of the human species.” Even military personnel now, faced with the trauma suffered by troops who are not wounded in body, are now speaking of “moral injury” — the harm caused by hurting others that they tried to make recruits shed through the dehumanization of military training.
One group of “new scientists” — this movement is often called “new science” as opposed to “classical,” i.e. materialist science — has formed an Association for the Advancement of Post-material Science. The fact is, we need post-material everything. Starting with a post-material image of the human being. The vast common inheritance of human wisdom in virtually every known culture has unwaveringly maintained down the centuries that we are endowed with, if not actually are, spirit, soul, or call it what you will. We now possess innumerable scientific experiments showing that we can affect one another at a distance via what scientists call “subtle energy.” We can influence to some degree how quickly others heal, what they’re thinking, even the neuronal activity of their brain. As one group of researchers showed, when two subjects meditate together for some time and then are widely separated, with both wired to fMRI devices and only one shown a flashing light, the other’s brain will show the same rhythmic firing. The point here is not to refute Einstein, who famously refused to believe in “spooky actions at a distance,” or to make a case for parapsychology, but far more importantly to make us aware of our full humanity; to save us from feeling “like gypsies in the universe,” as one writer put it, and feel good about the undiscovered capacities inside us — and take responsibility for how we use them.
Above all, it is to make us aware of the undeniable connection among us. It is inspiring to imagine the changes that would follow this awareness. Racism, which is after all based on a reaction to physical difference, would disappear. As Gandhi said, “Even differences are helpful where there are tolerance, charity, and truth.” Most kinds of alienation would be substantially resolved, taking off with it vast amounts of the depression, hostility and meaninglessness plaguing human life today.
Post-material economics would go on from E.F. Schumacher’s famous “economics as if people mattered,” relieving the earth of its crushing burden as people stopped frantically trying to make themselves happy by manufacturing more, buying more, eating more, throwing away more than they could ever need — often at others’ expense. Think of the relief of the people themselves when they realize that frantic consumption isn’t working, and they don’t need it. They can start working toward happiness where it does come from: rich relationships, meaningful work, ways to serve, etc.
Another name for nonviolence, of course — at least the kind Gandhi and King employed — is “soul-force.” it would cease to be a mystery that nonviolence works at a deeper level to improve relationships and social arrangements, while violence, as Martin Luther King said, “solves no social problems; it merely creates new and more complex ones.” Violence would be revealed as against the grain of human nature, while nonviolence springs from it. Like other natural endowments, to be sure, it has to be recognized, learned about and trained for if we are to deploy it for meaningful change. But at the heart of it is a simple change of attitude: where violence would say that a person is a problem, nonviolence would counter, no, that person has a problem. On the solid basis of this new attitude, which really implies, at bottom, a different worldview, highly successful nonviolent work can proceed through the trajectory of personal empowerment, constructive action and resistance where necessary. Given strategy and training — and we’re getting better at both — it’s not hard to imagine that we can build a new order out of the present chaos.
There are people right now hard at work on this “new” worldview (which has been around for millennia). This work is building the infrastructure, or less metaphorically, the conceptual framework that will bring many forward-looking experiments already going on in the fields of nonviolence, economics, education, popular culture and science itself into prominence. It will support suggestions being made, for example just now by Maria Stephan’s article in Waging Nonviolence, “We need to prepare for ongoing insurrectionary violence and address its root causes.” But this effort needs to stop being the preserve of a few specialists; all of us can help by simply familiarizing ourselves with the outlines of the new story — starting perhaps with the simple formulation offered above, that we are evolving spiritual beings in a meaningful universe — and talking it up wherever there’s the opportunity. Consider it your personal “Constructive Programme” that, like the spinning wheel in Gandhi’s program, can be done by any and all of us and be not only a set of effective actions but a concrete expression of our common purpose.
We have a new president. Let us give him a new mental climate to make his work fruitful.
Though I pride myself on being familiar with Gandhi’s voluminous writings, there was one aspect of his thinking that never registered with me until I saw the back window of a truck the other day with a death’s head on the rear window and a bumper sticker that read, POLITICALLY INCORRECT / AND PROUD OF IT. When people call themselves “the Proud Boys” and display bumper stickers like that, what they’re telling us, between the lines, is they feel disrespected. We had better listen to them. Psychiatrist James Gilligan, who worked with men incarcerated for violent crimes for 25 years, reported that, “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed.”
Today there are 73 million Americans who have been outvoted, but they have not been won over. Not all of them are less educated or less well off — as in Hitler’s Germany and other totalitarian regimes, intellectual endowment does not, apparently, automatically confer reason or moral awareness. That said, however, many are in that class, feeling disrespected and sometimes ridiculed. A few of them are quite violent. This is why Gandhi, who instinctively shrank from any disrespect toward anyone, seized on Ruskin’s idea that manual labor is worth just as much as the work of a lawyer, professor, or corporate manager. He stressed the need, on the one hand, to develop the “intellectual life of the villages,” and on the other that his followers, who were by and large well-educated and well off, to do “bread labour” for their daily upkeep. If we had picked up on this aspect of his social program we may have been able to head off the prejudice that resulted in four years of Presidential disaster and is not going to go away by itself on January 20th .
It’s not too late to rebuild. We have made progress in other areas, but as political philosopher Michael Sandel recently wrote in the New York Times, “disdain for the less educated is the last acceptable prejudice,” and, “it’s having a corrosive effect on American life” — unfortunately an understatement. Sandel focuses on the way people without a college degree are left out of our increasingly technological meritocracy, and Arlie Hochschild has also covered this very well in her sensitive study of Bush voters who, while they might be voting against their economic needs, are actually voting to serve their emotional needs (see her Strangers in Their Own Land). And as Gilligan points out, when that emotional need is for respect — which after all every human being needs and deserves — the resentment can take to violence.
This kind of resentment has in fact had devastating consequences throughout history. In the Khmer Rouge uprisings in Cambodia you could be summarily executed because you wore glasses and therefore looked like an “intellectual;” the Chinese revolution had the same feature, and so does Fascist populism, despite its being politically the opposite of its communist counterparts. I’m old enough to remember a newsreel where Mussolini’s elite soldiers pull out their daggers and cry in unison, “The greatest intellect in the world can be silenced by THIS!” Making Trump a figure of scorn, justified as it may feel it to be, is only making things worse. When Hillary Clinton called his followers “deplorables” it probably did her — and us — more damage than then FBI director Comey’s ill-timed noises about some mishandled emails. The communists wanted to eliminate intellectuals; Gandhi wanted to wake them up to the dangers of their prejudice. It’s obvious which way leads to disastrous violence and which can take us to beloved community.
I’ve been stressing the dangers of disdain, but it’s just as important to note that the opposite is also true: when you can respect the person of an opponent even while resisting their injustice you gain a powerful tool in creatively reducing conflict. British historian Arnold Toynbee famously pointed out about Gandhi that, “he made it impossible to go on ruling India, but he made it possible for us to leave without rancour and without humiliation.” That skill was a critical component of Gandhi’s belief in democracy and the power of nonviolence to protect it. As he said in 1938, “Democracy and violence can ill go together. The nations that are today nominally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or, if they are to become truly democratic, they must become courageously nonviolent.”
Disdain for the less educated is embedded in our thoughts and institutions, but for that very reason we have several ways to tackle it. We can be rebuilding on at least three levels: personal, structural, and cultural.
I am a great believer in the power of the individual. After all isn’t the most destructive myth of the material age the belief that we are “just one person,” that we have no inner resources? It is no coincidence Gandhi and Mother Teresa — who said “I believe in person to person” — got big by starting small. They tackled the foundational myth of human insignificance that lies at the root of the problem we’re now faced with in ominous forms.
I grew up lower middle class economically and had the advantage of a good education, which had, as I now recognize, the serious disadvantage that I did not escape a certain feeling of superiority to the “low-brow” world around me, especially as television began its devastating drive toward the lowest common denominator. Whenever this feeling sneaks up on me now, I immediately remind myself that everyone has the same spiritual core, the same exact value as a human being in the sacredness of life. My subtle prejudice felt good to my ego, no doubt, but was causing a not-so-subtle sense of alienation from my fellow beings, which is a deep kind of distress whether we’re conscious of it or not. When we make the kind of correction I’m talking about, and especially when it becomes second nature, it becomes much easier to have a fruitful conversation with people who are coming from the other side of the political spectrum, and sometimes persuade them. It is, after all, a core principle of nonviolence that “the person is not the problem;” someone may hold the most outlandish, fantastical and dangerous ideas; but it’s the ideas we have to eliminate, not the people holding them.
Of course this is small scale, but again, inner and relational work is the foundation of the structural and cultural changes that can eventually follow.
When white supremacists cry, “you will not replace us” they are expressing fear of people they consider different, and have no way passed that fear as long as they cannot conceive of any relationship — like cooperation, like unity in diversity — other than the pseudo-Darwinian competition they think life is based on. That said, there is an underlying quite concrete reality behind the fear, as Sandel has correctly pointed out. In our increasingly technical, and thus technocratic economy that favors huge corporations and the people who know how to run them, people without these skills or ways to develop them are being increasingly replaced by others, and often by machines.
For every reason then; environmental, economic, and social, healing must include the long-term process of building down our technocratic and centralizing economy. “If India is to be nonviolent,” Gandhi said, “she must decentralize many things.” And so must we, to restore human scale and meaningful work that’s available to people across the societal spectrum. Fortunately, again, experiments in this kind of future are happening: Transition Towns, other intentional communities, revitalized family and organic farming, CSA’s, and local coinage and cooperatives, to give a sense of the richness and variety. Benefit corporations and large-scale worker-owned corporations like the highly successful Mondragón conglomerate in the Basque region of northern Spain are another example.
We now go to an even more far-reaching effort we need to take up, and it’s less clear how to go about it: nothing less than changing the underlying narrative of Western Civilization. Peter Hammond Schwartz, writing in Salonon December 13th, has finally pointed out the rarely if ever mentioned underlying reason Democrats seem to never gain any traction in the ‘culture war’ with Republicans. He calls it “the cosmological emptiness of liberalism: Right-wingers have a theory of human nature. Democrats have failure.” That is, as I have argued in my recent book, The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature, we are at the end of the materialist paradigm, but have not been able to lift up the alternative. We are still stranded in a cultural story, that causes people, no matter what class they identify with, to think they are separate, material objects with no control over their fate in a random and meaningless, universe. The commitment to radical separateness condemns us to a life of competition and violence. Far beyond the Democratic or any political party our civilization as a whole, with our imitators around the world, keeps us from believing in empathy, goodness, or community because they give us no way to explain the effectiveness of cooperation and nonviolence even if they happen to catch sight of these forces doing their work. The Democrats’ plea for “compassion” falls on paradigm-deafened ears.
Today, U.S. servicemen and women feel they are driven to suicide in appalling numbers because, as they often say, “I lost my soul” in Iraq or Afghanistan. You cannot “lose” your soul, in my belief system, but you can certainly lose sight of it. Thus, again, it is not just the less formally educated who are suffering the lack of self-esteem: all of us are starting from a baseline of a lack of respect for life, and consequently for ourselves, built into the false narrative that conditions our belief in who we are. Of course we will be sensitive to any disrespect based on our race, class, educational level or whatever, because we’re suffering from a lack of self-worth to begin with. You need a robust sense of personal value to be able to laugh something like that off. Even those who feel superior based on any of those criteria feel unconsciously diminished since they also cannot really grasp what their actual value is, which is not theirs but everyone’s.
The Devil is in the narrative, and that narrative is ripe for replacement. Just as this need to replace it has become urgent, the human inheritance of the world’s wisdom traditions, which is where the healthier and more real story comes down to us, has become more accessible. This it’s the biggest obstacle to accessing it has become its greatest support, as the “new science” is confirming it from many angles.
How paradigms change is mysterious; you cannot vote on them. But you can learn them — learn, for example, the scientific evidence for our non-material, cooperative nature. endowed with a critical capacity to change. Last month, the New internationalist reported on a 2015 study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, showing that, “through the cultivation of our mind and heart, we can change our motivations from self-centered and selfish to ones that are more caring and affiliative, and these in turn promote prosocial behavior and cooperation.” These motivations and behaviors become all the more natural when we begin to sense that life is sacred, and our sacredness does not come from our intellectual or financial prowess but from the very fact that we are human beings.
As the new year comes in, and the imminent threat of totalitarianism is at least forestalled, let’s take the deeper dive, personal and societal, to its underlying causes and make sure it will not rise up again.
One of the most striking aspects of principled nonviolence is the way in which it compels us to reconsider our understanding of familiar terms and practices. For instance, our commonplace idea of what it means for something ’to work’, or for someone ‘to win’, or how to distinguish ‘ends’ from ‘means’ are reconceived when explored through the lens of principled nonviolence.
The same is true for the word ‘prayer’. If we think about what it means to pray, we tend to imagine that we send our prayers out from within us towards someone or something else: we have a need or a desire — some kind of lack — and we pray for support, we pray to be fulfilled from a source that lies beyond and above our own particular selves.
Professor Michael Nagler explains how we might think about prayer differently, and this new understanding is grounded in the notion that prayer is not something that flows from us, asking something of the same entity external to our individual being. Instead, genuine prayer grows from the idea that reality, that entity to whom we pray, is actually within each and every one of us. This reality is the source of our power, and a reflection of the fact that we are inextricably connected to one another, to the earth and all other beings. Most people already feel a kind of connection to families and close friends, but principled nonviolence sees this unity as the dynamic force of love, embracing not only our dearest but our fiercest enemies. Meaningful prayer must be directed to that deep, eternal and internal reality which is our own true self.
This relocation of reality from without to within is perhaps the most radical shift principled nonviolence makes to the usual notion of prayer. But Gandhi recognizes two other key aspects of prayer, the first might seem counter-intuitive: prayer must be selfless. Prayer cannot be aimed solely at one’s own private gain, rather it must serve the greater good and benefit others as well. And given the notion that we are all in and of the same reality, the entire notion of selfless is another term that’s turned on its head!
Finally, prayer entails real concentration. Prayer is not a casual exercise, to be taken up lightly, on a whim. It must be thoughtful, pointed and deliberate. After all, a prayer is an attempt to shift reality in some way; in a sense, when we pray, we want to make the force of love shine brighter. This exalted aim deserves our full attention.
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