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ajnabi ([personal profile] ajnabi) wrote2010-04-26 06:55 pm

Philosophy of Civilizations: assignment 4 [rather crappy and irate]

Response to Uncivil Disobedience: Violating the Rules for Breaking the Law

In this article, James J. Lopach and Jean A. Luckowski lament the "improper" teaching of the concept of civil disobedience in secondary school education. They argue that a "correct" teaching of civil disobedience would involve a clear definition of its four main principles: "civil disobedience differs from peaceful and legal protest; .. civil disobedience involves violating a law that a rightly formed conscience determines to be in conflict with a fundamental principle of human dignity; .. civil disobedience is circumscribed by the practitioner's obligation to honor legitimate government by accepting punishment openly and respectfully" (Lopach & Luckowski, 43).

The very subtitle of this article—"Violating the Rules for Breaking the Law"—seems to imply only a superficial breaking of the law. In a sense, civil disobedience is and has only achieved superficial changes in systems. Lopach and Luckowski derive these four principles primarily from Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi's philosophies.

The authors of this text clearly are speaking from a privileged viewpoint. I notice this particularly in the way they speak of Gandhi, probably because I have more knowledge of that context. Gandhi is much credited with bringing independence to India through his strategy of nonviolence (which, actually, really only applied in the specific political context of the nationalist struggle for independence in India). However, colonialism—imperialist hegemony—goes far deeper than merely displacing some superficial state authorities on the scene.

This is evident when one considers, for example, the fact that India constructed its new, "free" government and constitution by drawing on constitutions of other western powers. The very existence of India owes itself to British dominance; for British (now American, and generally western imperialist) dominance to truly end, India would have to cease to exist as a nation-state. Gandhi was involved in an elite nationalist struggle that did not, for the most part, displace structures that came along with and were developed through colonialism. One of the most insidious things about oppression is that it changes, reimagines and distorts the context of the oppressed (hence internalized oppression).

Lopach and Luckowski are rather bothered by the idea of "outrageous" or "unpleasant" civil disobedience; they rather advocate a peaceful and willing submission to the consequences of one's lawbreaking actions. The idea is that it is only through "honourable" action that problems in state structure will truly be seen; even when people are "nice" and "polite," they are punished. Therefore, the public will demand change in the system. There are several problems with such a philosophy. It boils down to a privileged idea that "If you ask nicely, you'd get it! (We'd give it to you)." This is an entirely reprehensible idea. Firstly, oppression is cruel, violent and brutal. Brutality is and has been inflicted regardless of whether the victims were silent, spoke, or just plain existed. As Audre Lorde says, "Your silence will not protect you." The history of racial oppression in the US, for example, includes mob lynchings of black men for the "crimes", among several others, of wishing to be given proper change by white storekeepers, or passing by white women in the street, or dressing in clothing that was too fancy, too white. Basically, just for existing while black. The lynchers were sensible, nice white people living in sensible, nice white society. (These rationales are exposed, for example, in Ida B. Wells' reports, and Langston Hughes' stories in The Ways of White Folks).

It seems to me that civil disobedience, and particularly the policing of civil disobedience that Luckowski and Lopach are involved in, is merely a strategy of learning the language of the oppressor. Naturally, it is only those who are relatively privileged who have access to or can afford to do this. Gandhi had access to western education, the resources of the Indian National Congress, male privilege, etc. In any event, despite the sensationalizing of Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence in the international west-dictated media, it was not civil disobedience, and especially not civil disobedience alone, that won India its "independence".

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