April 20, 2012

Of the 99% spring, nonviolence, civil disobedience, Plutarch and the Spartans

I've been reflecting lately on the 99% Spring campaign lately, which aims to train 100,000 people in nonviolent direct action in April. Earlier posts are here and here.

One good decision on the part of the campaign was to try to convey the range of possibilities for nonviolent action without really getting into civil disobedience. That is a topic of its own and requires a great deal of planning and preparation to be successful in the best case scenario.

While it can at times be a very powerful thing, in my opinion, civil disobedience is an option that is greatly and grossly overused. Some people apparently think that you get points for getting arrested. You don't. As I see it, you get points for winning. Some people use civil disobedience not as a last resort but as a first resort when they haven't even come close to exhausting alternative strategies. Sometimes it seems to me that it's the refuge of the politically inept.

This is the martial artist in me talking, but the value of a technique generally diminishes with its repetition. Habituation happens. If you overuse one technique you become predictable and your opponents can easily counter and/or dismiss it. The last reaction a group working for social change wants is for people to say, with a sigh of boredom, "there they go again."

Random classical digression....This train of thought was inspired yesterday as I was re-reading Plutarch's Lives. I'm on the life of Lycurgus, the ancient lawgiver of Sparta. The author states that the Spartans made it a policy that

"they should not make war often, or long, with the same enemy, lest that they should train and instruct them in war, by habituating them to defend themselves."
(Random historical digression...Eventually the Spartans failed to follow this advice, which resulted in them getting their butts kicked by the Thebans.)

1 comment:

John D. Treat said...

Amen or Salve, as the case may be.