To all of The Walking Dead fans out there, I’m sorry for the triggering picture. I know, it still hurts me too.
Among the many philosophies I have learned about in the course of my Humanities Core class, learning about satyagraha through Gandhi has been most interesting.
According to Gandhi in Hind Swaraj, “satyagraha” can be translated to Indian-modified civil disobedience. Civil disobedience and more generally pacifism are most notably the ultimate forms of resistance believed by Gandhi. He says that the force of your soul compared to brute force is far more powerful and effective and that “fear’s effect lasts long after what causes the fear to go away” (Gandhi 77). This is to say that by acts of civil disobedience and “satyagraha,” the people of India could rebel against British colonizers and eventually lead to the taking back of their empire. Though I for one definitely prefer nonviolence to violence, I have to relate it to the reality of my world today and think about the ethics of this kind of technique.
During lecture, my professor would quote Gandhi’s philosophy saying “violence is easy, but what is more difficult is sacrifice towards swaraj.” “Swaraj”translates to self-discipline and self-determination (Gandhi 5). Fasting in order to protest something would be an act of satyagraha towards swaraj. Of course, Gandhi’s main idea was to convince people to use his philosophy to foster swaraj within themselves so they could be fit to rule over themselves in order to driving away the British empire.
But, we have seen over the course of history other people who have adopted the idea of satyagraha and civil disobedience to use against the forces or empires that oppress/mistreat them. As with protests, boycotts, and sit-ins during the segregation era of the US, though participants were engaging in peaceful protesting, those opposed or with the law enforcement would sometimes respond with violence like beating people with batons or flushing them with water from fire hydrants at extremely high water pressure.
Is it all worth it though? Is being peaceful in protesting really worth it even if you receive violence anyways from respondents? I would like to gamble all of my marbles of faith into human society and assume that some sort of revelation will happen when the opposing and violent side is presented with peace and pacifism before them, but as the world is today people just aren’t easily transformed by peace.
Such is the case with #NoDAPL protestors and police forces initiating brutal tactics to deal with protests. This article from The Intercept states that in once instance, “[s]everal Native American women leading the march were targeted, dragged out of the crowd.” Also a man “was body-slammed to the ground” (Hafiz). Protestors endanger their lives when they peacefully fight against authorities, and because the police come in armed with fighting techniques and weapons they are already at a disadvantage to protect themselves. Of course peaceful protests are powerful statements, but they are to the public when word gets around. Not to the law enforcement agencies and the government.
A perfect example of peaceful action not working to change the perspective of the target oppressor is the sad case of Episode 1, Season 6 of The Walking Dead. It was one that literally shook the Internet (and pulled a little too hard on my heartstrings), and definitely a merciless episode.
Negan (pictured above with a baseball bat) is the leader of a group of people trying to survive in the zombie-apocalyptic world the show takes place in by using other people to get the resources they need to survive. Rick (kneeling in the center of the picture) is the leader of the main group of people the show focuses on. Rick has become more and more merciless as the the world he is in is harder and harder to survive in.
However, although it is more like the group to take on their oppressors with brute force, in this case they complied to Negan’s words because they were scared. He had beaten one of the members of their group to death in the head with his baseball bat, and so the group knew that they were indeed powerless in this situation. But after telling Negan that they would cater to his wills, his torment continued causing one of the members to want to get up from kneeling. None of the main group had weapons on them, and so they did not pose as much of a threat to the man with the barbed-wire coated Louisville slugger. Even after senselessly beating one of their members as punishment for the whole group and their peaceful cooperation, Negan deemed it necessary to off another person because he felt disrespected yet again.
There is nothing the group could have done differently to prevent this from happening, and if they had weapons and prior knowledge to his existence, they could have killed Negan before he had a chance to kill any of them. The show continues on and Negan’s group takes another member as prisoner and locks them in a closet, feeds them rotten food, and reminds them daily that they were “responsible” for the second death. Though the prisoner does not try to escape or rebel against Negan or his group, he is still poorly treated.
So the question arises: was it worth being peaceful if their friends were going to die anyways? This is just something that arises in my head when thinking about Gandhi’s philosophy with satyagraha, but what do you think? Take to the comments to discuss!
Gandhi, M.K. Hind Swaraj. Navajivan Publishing House, 1938.
Hafiz, Jihan. “Video: Police Viciously Attacked Peaceful Protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline.” The Intercept, https://theintercept.com/2016/10/25/video-police-viciously-attacked-peaceful-protestors-at-the-dakota-access-pipeline/.