Sunday, April 22, 2007

Peace and Justice

In church today I listened to a few songs done by a member of the congregation. She is, like most Unitarians, upper-middle-class, white, and liberal. her songs were musically well done, but the lyrics were more than a tad lacking.

I am not a person opposed to the notions of peace and love, and global harmony, and all the other, overdone hippie idealism. What bother me, and what really, for me, devalues this idealism, is the notion that is is all so simple to just stop conflict, and then we have peace.

Certainly, immediately ending conflict and then not having any more would lead to a peaceful world. And if you're an upper-middle class white American, that certainly sounds like a good idea.

For the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and those generally not benefiting from the high points of this civilization, it is effectively ending the possibility of radically improving their lives. Now, I am not saying that violence is the way out of poverty, but I am saying that conflict certainly is. The threat of violence, especially large-scale violence, is a powerful bit of leverage, and more importantly, a powerful fear of those who have plenty to lose. Hell, the US of A was formed from a tax revolt. Violent resistance to injustice, and other forms of resistance and conflict that bring about the end of injustice, are a very important part of how the world functions.

Wherever we cannot understand why people are fighting, it would be a good idea to look at how much rhetoric in the conflict concerns writing wrongs and establishing justice. Because, honestly, faced with peace and oppression or conflict with a potential ultimate goal of more justice, I'm surprised at how many people pick oppression.


Nora said...

Isn't oppression only maintained through threat of overwhelming violent force, though?

Kelsey Atherton said...

Overwhelming violent force is one of the things that keep oppressors in power, certainly.

There are others. Preferences for stability weighed against the risk that accompanies change is a biggie. Following this, the less oppressive a state is, the more benefits stability has, and the more risk there is for radical change. Violent force used by those in power is factored in as a risk for change, and if sufficient force is concentrated, then almost any oppression becomes acceptable, as the benefits of not dying in a stable system beat the immediate risk of dying in making the system unstable.

That's state oppression. Economic oppression is harder to argue, but I believe that this is where fear of violence against the propertied, etc. is weighed against degree to which people are willing to exploit the working class/impoverished folk. If people engaging in oppression do so on a small scale, they have a lot to fear from violence aimed at reversing oppression. A good case study would be slave revolts in all of history, but especially the fear of slave revolts in the antebellum south.

This relies on a point being reached at which any risk is better than oppression.

This also doesn't allow for change that isn't radical. Certainly, long-changing cultural ideas, developed in periods of relative tranquility, or in periods without open conflict, can work to end injustice to.

The main gist of my post was that "It's really easy to say 'let's have peace' when having peace costs you nothing, and it is very hard to not understand the impulse towards violent action when the benefits of stability just aren't worth it.

Oh, and China right now is an interesting exception, but i think the granting of capitalist freedoms is an effort to make the risk of instability much greater than the benefits of staying under the oppressive regime.

Kelsey Atherton said...

oh man, and the phrase "pick oppression" was a good choice on my part. whoops