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".
Response to When Corporations Rule the World, by David C. Korten

In this book, David Korten exposes the exploitative nature of corporate colonialism. He elaborates on the visions, policies and practices of corporate giants and institutions that "regulate" them, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). He talks about how the vision of this contemporary brand of capitalism, economic globalization, exploits those nations, societies and peoples who are disadvantaged in terms of historical systemic power.

Korten offers the idea of a people-centered development politics in lieu of corporate colonialist capitalism. He defines the people-centered vision as aiming to pursue "policies that create opportunities for people who are experiencing deprivation to produce the things that they need to have a better life" (165). Although his analysis of the oppression so insidiously inherent in the corporate/economic globalist vision is important and useful, this solution (people-centered economics) may not really change the system of capitalism that gives rise to current corporate economics.

It is perhaps more problematic that Korten lists countries such as Japan, (South) Korea and Taiwan as more or less successfully carrying out people-centered development policies. These countries are often listed as economic "successes" in several respects, but their successes are measured in terms of how much they are able to assimilate into the first-world (western, capitalist, privileged bloc of nations).

I would prefer to see Korten recognize the links between the development of liberal democracy, imperialism and capitalism, and how these processes have given rise to corporate hegemony. He does recognize the links between corporate hegemony and colonialism, but does not seem to fully grasp the manner in which liberalism allows for the perhaps more directly assaultive consumerist, corporate culture to exist, or how, similarly, liberalism and its ensuing notions (and impositions) of the model of the nation-state and democracy reinforces and creates imperialism.

Korten does seem to be trying to find a "practical" way to help less privileged (third world, non-western) countries "progress," hopefully more on their terms than on the first-world terms. However, oppressive power dynamics are perpetuated by the rat-race to accumulate more power. So long as the ideas of progress and development, in themselves such exploitative ways of seeing human life, continue to be upheld, I am not sure that global economics can function any way other than oppressively. Of course, the underprivileged (whether cultures, communities, individuals, etc) are justified in wresting power away from the privileged. However, any move on the part of the privileged to "help" the underprivileged "progress" will only be a continued exercise in privilege. It seems like Korten could very easily fall into this trap.

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