The Power in Peace – Non-Violence and Deep Adaptation
Participating in the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF), according to our mission statement, is about enabling and embodying loving responses to our predicament. As pointed out in the article “The Love in Deep Adaptation: A philosophy for the forum,” shared on Jem Bendell’s blog in the early days of the forum (almost exactly two years ago!), this spirit is largely about being more critically conscious and aware of all forms of violence that any one of us – in the forum and elsewhere – may be perpetuating, or may perpetuate in the future, including forms of “microviolence.” Being aware of these forms cannot be enough, of course: this is why the Deep Adaptation Forum is about practising non-violence, and advocating for non-violence.
Another post on Jem Bendell’s blog, from February 13, had prompted us to further examine the fundamental importance of non-violence for DAF. This more recent post has been a source of encouragement for many of us across Deep Adaptation Forum spaces. It has also been a source of some discomfort, and we are taking the opportunity to speak to both of these two aspects.
To begin with, it is important to point out the two main aspects of non-violence: it can be both a principle and philosophy, and a strategy or tactic for social and political change.
NON-VIOLENCE AS A TACTIC TOWARDS SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CHANGE
Let’s first consider non-violence as a social change tactic. How does this relate to activities ongoing in the Deep Adaptation Forum?
The Deep Adaptation agenda is primarily an agenda for collaboration, social learning, and unlearning. The Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF) aims to provide online spaces where people from all walks of life can explore together the implications of their varying experiences and anticipations of societal disruption and collapse. As such, the Deep Adaptation agenda is not primarily about activism or seeking political influence.
However, in people’s journeys to more deeply adapt to the implications and realities of collapse due to climate change, many of us are in the process of re-prioritizing our engagement with society in ways which may help slow or lessen the impacts and save more of society and the natural world. Some are doing that explicitly in relation to Deep Adaptation, whereas others are engaging in political influence in other contexts, such as activism in the fields of climate change mitigation or social justice, recognizing that our global social and environmental predicament arises due to the systemic oppression and exploitation of people and the rest of the living world over centuries, and which continues today.
Such engagement includes thinking about and trying to influence policies of organisations from the local to the national or international levels. Because of this evolution, the way the Deep Adaptation concept relates to methods of social and political change, and the way DAF relates to such methods, are becoming more important to consider and communicate.
Part of the reason that DAF was launched was to invite conversations and collaborative action that could powerfully demonstrate that there are meaningful and effective alternatives to some more worrying responses, which are based in denial, or fear, or blame. The intensity of the difficult emotions that arise from anticipating the breakdown of the systems that we currently rely on to meet our needs, has meant that a whole range of harmful responses continue to be normalised in public discourse, along the whole spectrum of ‘prepping’ and bunker building, through to support for militarised borders in countries in the global North against predicted climate refugees, and eco-fascist responses that frame the climate crisis in racist and xenophobic terms, tolerating or even calling for genocide as a realistic or desirable environmentalist solution.
History shows us that, no matter what explanations or justifications are offered, violence more often than not begets more violence. We do not endorse or condone any of these responses, and exist to suggest alternatives to them. Therefore, regardless of the scope of our activism within DAF, we will only ever advocate for non-violent means for bringing about social and political change.
NON-VIOLENCE AS A PRINCIPLE AND PHILOSOPHY
Furthermore, as we pointed out above, the principle of non-violence has been central to conversations and activities taking place in DAF from the very beginning.
Non-violence as a principle or philosophy is more holistic. At its heart is the belief that all beings – human and non-human – are equally valued, and deserving of respect. We may not agree with their views, or condone their actions. We may even view them as our opponents. But it is our intention, in the forum, to always engage with everyone from a place of curiosity, compassion and respect.
This is why every new participant joining one of our platforms is required to read and agree with guidelines which forbid hate speech or bullying, forbid communications that might incite physical violence or be seen to endorse or tolerate such violence or organised conflict, and warn that arguing for fascistic or violent approaches will lead to posts being deleted and accounts blocked. Here, we define violence as “the intentional use of force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation (https://www.who.int/violenceprevention/approach/definition/en/).
Occasionally, some participants have expressed puzzlement at this refusal to even discuss violent tactics or approaches. They have pointed out, rightly, that DAF exists in order to enable conversations about likely, ongoing, or inevitable societal collapse; and that however one understands this (see a definition here), it is unlikely to happen peacefully. Indeed, many examples of past collapses, such as those experienced by peoples subjected to slavery, colonization, genocide, or other forms of oppression, show that violence seems to be the norm in situations of collapse.
Standing uncompromisingly for non-violence as a matter of principle isn’t about finding ways to silence or condemn people, based on a nebulous idea that human beings should just be nice to one another. Rather, it is because DAF is about “enabling and embodying loving responses to collapse.” The word “loving,” here, means more than just being kind. It implies two things:
1. Acknowledging that separation is at the root of the predicament that we, humans and non-humans alike, are grappling with as a result of the destructiveness of the modern Western culture. Separation between genders through patriarchy, between people through colonialism and racism, and between humanity and the rest of the living world through ecocide, are all facets of the same psycho-social process: “Othering.” When we “other” someone, the “othered” person or group is then easily objectified, dehumanised, made “less than.” As a result, it becomes more difficult to empathise with them; and that person (or people, or species) can thus become a legitimate object of violence. It is no coincidence that dehumanising the “enemy camp” using animalistic terms has been a staple of the most violent wars ever fought in history, but also in the case of colonization, slavery or genocide (see here, or here for example).
2. If “othering” is both the root of the global predicament, and a key component of violence itself, which all of us have been socialised into as we grew up in the “house of modernity,” then the response is to dissolve the polarities of othering through the tools of belonging, based in compassion, curiosity, respect – and loving-kindness. This is the ethos of DAF, and the reason why reconciliation is so fundamental to the conversations that we want to be having. Our aim is to strive to constantly expand who we define as “we” when we say we, until all beings – human and non-human – are included. Reconciliation also means, for those socially seen as white whose entire lives and identities are predicated on a history of colonialism and violence, to allow for the practice of repairing relationships, not just among individuals but also and especially among peoples, as an essential part of any attempt to reduce harm and soften the crash of our crumbling house.
Jem Bendell’s blog post is a powerful reminder of many other reasons for embracing non-violence, which needn’t be repeated here. As the DAF Core Team, we did note that Jem’s post – in calling out an (unnamed) individual – appears to be out of alignment with his and the DAF community’s desire to live more lovingly right here and now. This therefore also acts as a powerful reminder to align ourselves with the spirit of that which we are promoting, as we speak and write.
Given recent discussions, we realise it is an important moment to clarify the principles underlying these guidelines for participants. In view of the importance of this topic, the Core Team has published an official statement reiterating and further clarifying why we advocate for non-violence as both a tactic for social and political change, and a holistic principle underpinning engagement within DAF.
The DAF Core Team