Salem, in Kenya.

One of the early black marks of colonists in the US are the Salem with trials.  A few adolescent girls accused powerful and upstanding members of the community of witchcraft.  Instead of reacting with sense, the community reacted with fear and envy, basically tearing the tightly-woven community apart.  Why did it happen?  Why, in some cases, can small communities deal with petty rivalries and power in the hands of a few, but in others demand retribution for every imagined crime?  Why do some situations allow for this dysfunction, and others root it out, tree and branch?  If such a small community can tear itself apart, what hope is there for any nation attempting to function as a united whole?

When people live together in close proximity, those people need certain outlets for the accumulated stress of living.  The criminal justice system, the civil courts, the right to assemble and speak and protest, unions, campaigns, boycotts, and lobbying are all modern outlets that we use to vent our grievances against our fellow man and living with him in a society.  Other societies have other means, including ritual, religion, tradition, exorcism, shamanic practices, and even witchcraft.  These different means are not necessarily better or worse than our own.  Sometimes, they fail – murderers we cannot catch, the criminally insane, an angry mob that kills suspected witches because of envy, greed, and malice rather than evidence.  But I do not think such failures render the system invalid.

For the most part, it seems that members of the community in Western Kenya recognize a crime has been committed.  They recognize that these accused and killed ‘witches’ were most likely nothing of the sort.  They realize that there are vendettas being carried out in the name of witch hunts.  But they are not willing to give up on the system as faulty quite yet.  One of the families of a victim continues to play by the rules in abandoning the home of the accused witch though they know she had done nothing wrong.  It remains a bad luck sort of place, and they are willing to let that go to maintain order in the community.  A nearby shaman also has encouraged others to speak to him of suspected witches, so that they can be dealt with appropriately.  Hopefully there will be a societal push to deal with some of the underlying vendetta, striking to the core of struggles over increasing poverty, a lack of land, and the general struggle to survive.  If not, this community may tear itself apart as well.

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Off Road Rage

I don’t like people acting dumb.  I get really annoyed especially when someone else’s dumbness impinges on my freedoms or activities, or especially when it reduces my safety.  Still, I do have my limits.  I might use a horribly annoying tone of voice, or yell, or even smack someone.  But it’s rare for me to revert to more serious violence.

Especially on the road, this is not the general rule.  People hate other drivers cutting them off, or driving unsafely or too slow, or generally not knowing or communicating what they are doing.  People steal parking places from one another, park illegally, or leave their moving vans blocking the entire road.  People, as a general rule, suck.  Sometimes in these situations they resort to physical violence against each other, for real or imagined slights, as in this case of two men tasering each other.

Was this the case of a tense situation escalating?  Did the security guard have the right to inspect the area in the first place, and in particular, put the boot on a van behind a restaurant?  Even if he didn’t should the restaurant owner have attempted to get the boot off himself, rather than calling security?  Was anyone really right here, or is it just a case of selfish annoyance at the situation, and why do we feel like we shouldn’t have to ‘put up with’ such things?  I am sure both sides felt justified in their actions.  Are we so eager for others to listen to our side and understand, that we’re like perpetual teenagers, always acting out so someone else will be forced to deal with us?

Peaceful Protest

It would be my guess that the violence in Tibet will get worse before it gets better.  There are all kinds of subtle clues.  The situation remains murky, with the Chinese government not allowing reporters in.  Additionally, conflicting reports mean that potentially more than two parties are trying to manipulate the situation for their advantage.  Finally, there’s the Dalai Lama’s recent statement that he will resign as head of the government in exile if the violence continues.

On the one hand, I completely understand his motivations.  These are his people, and he’s a staunch advocate for nonviolence.  At the same time, I don’t think him stepping down would solve the situation.  Both Han Chinese and Tibetans in the area are too angry, and feel too strongly.  The Lama washing his hands of the situation is not going to help matters.  But what else can he do?  What happens when the fight you are championing becomes angry and aggressive, despite your best intentions?

The idea of nonviolent protest is rooted in a language of alternatives.  It is a means of being radically different from the frenzy of most revolutions.  Its shortcomings come from its expectations and motivations.  Peaceful protest, for all its agreeableness, is based on the assumption not only that change is possible, but that is achievable relatively quickly.  The other primary assumption deals with the basic decency of others.  A tree sitting doesn’t work if the lumberjack is not afraid to use violence to move you.  The second major shortcoming comes from the motivation for the nonviolent resistance itself.  Whatever the cause, it will be something that participants believe in strongly.  With this strength of belief, how can we expect that all or most of such protests will not devolve into violence as tensions mount?

I’m not saying the Dalai Lama was wrong to resist the PRC’s assumption of control over his homeland, or wrong to stir up fervor in favor of his cause in the West.  I’m not saying that the PRC was even wrong in its policies of dominance, intrigue, and the importation of Han Chinese to the region.  What I am saying is that both sides are losing control.  Beijing may say they have the ability to handle any situation, but at what cost of human life?  If greater attempts are not made to reduce tensions int he region, we’re only seeing the beginnings of violent escalation.