This week, Nonviolence Radio broadcasts a talk by peace researcher and award-winning author, Maria Stephan. Maria is chief organizer and co-lead at the Horizons Project and collaborated with Erica Chenoweth on the book, “Why Civil Resistance Works.” In this episode, she explores how nonviolence might be effectively used in Ukraine – and the ways it already is:
… right now, inside Ukraine, in towns, villages, cities that have been invaded and occupied by Russian forces, you are seeing actions by ordinary unarmed civilians to stop, thwart, and slow the invasion of Russian troops, tanks, convoys, including these scenes in Kherson and Melitopol, where you’ve had literally people putting their bodies in front of tanks and convoys. In some cases, forcing them to turn around and leave the cities or towns.
Given past work on Syria, Maria understands the nuances of nonviolent tactics such as sanctions and is able to explain how they might be used constructively, as a way gradually to dismantle “key pillars” of power within Putin’s regime. Her sense of hope, her conviction that nonviolence truly works, rests on concrete evidence that is too often overlooked by mainstream media.
Michael Nagler’s Nonviolence Report following Maria’s talk is also firmly grounded in evidence, the evidence of hard science. Instead of the usual round-up of nonviolent action taking place across the globe, Michael offers us a cogent and compelling account of how contemporary physics dovetails with the ancient Vedanta tradition, revealing our individual consciousness – here and now – to be a vital force in shaping the world we inhabit.
Stephanie Van Hook: Greetings, everybody, and welcome to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook, and I’m from the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, California.
On today’s show, we’re pleased to share a talk by the celebrated peace researcher Maria Stephan. She co-authored Why Civil Resistance Works with Erica Chenoweth. And this talk entitled “Do This In Memory of Me,” was delivered to the Catholic nonviolence organization Pax Christi International on April 8, 2022.
Marie Dennis: Hello, everyone. My name is Marie Dennis. A big welcome to all of you.
We have all watched in horror as the Russian invasion of Ukraine escalated into a war of immense brutality, with vicious attacks on civilians and essential infrastructure. And an ominous threat to use nuclear weapons.
This war highlights all that war and vicious violence have wrought in Yemen and Afghanistan, in Syria and Colombia, in Myanmar and Iraq and Ethiopia and South Sudan, the D.R. Congo, Guatemala, Palestine and beyond. The war in Ukraine is not more important than the other wars destroying human lives and the Earth. But as the Tablet editorialized a few weeks ago, it is “History-making, game-changing, paradigm-shifting.”
We begin our conversation this afternoon with a message from Sister Wamuyu Wachira, the co-president of Pax Christi International from Nairobi, Kenya.
Sr. Wamuyu Wachira: Peace to you all gathered here. Each year during Holy Week, which begins this weekend, Christian communities around the world gather to recreate the story of Jesus’ passion and death. In dramatic public liturgies, we remember who we are as people of faith and why we believe that even the greatest of evils will not have the last word.
We enter this Holy Week in a time of war, in what Pope Francis calls, “A Third World War fought piecemeal,” in Yemen and Colombia, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Myanmar, Afghanistan and South Sudan; in communities protecting their land and water from exploitative mining; in favelas, barrios and street corners and now in Ukraine.
We also remember that during the brutal Roman occupation of Palestine, Jesus was fully engaged in nonviolent efforts to change systems of violence and oppressive injustice at the root of suffering and exclusion. Not only did he leave nonviolent to Himself, but to use nonviolent actions to fight for social justice, peace, and inclusive communities.
This week, even as we wait for the resurrection of Jesus, we remember that Jesus was crucified because of the way He lived. That He was crucified because He was upsetting an unjust and violent system, that He died as He lived, expressing forgiveness for those who were killing him. And He invited his followers to do the same, to love their enemies, to become nonviolent seekers of justice and peace, to forgive and repent, to build the beloved community.
This is an important week to reflect on the structural, cultural and ecological violences for which we are responsible, on the wars that are raging, and perhaps most especially, on the war in Ukraine, where powerful lessons about nonviolent conflict and nonviolent resistance abound.
May our God of new beginnings enkindle in us a new heart, and a new spirit that we may follow in the footsteps of Jesus who lived and exemplified a nonviolent way of being and doing. Come, Lord Jesus. Let our hearts burn within us as you speak to us.
Marie: Thank you so much to Sister Wamuyu, in Kenya.
The war in Ukraine has been examined from every possible angle. The shocking, deliberate, unjustified Russian attacks on civilians and on essential infrastructure. The deep complexity of root causes and culpability on the part of NATO, the U.S. and so many others. The clash of worldviews and interests. The mind and motives of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The impact of nationalism and disinformation. The role of the Russian Orthodox and other churches. The palpable threat of nuclear or chemical warfare. The usefulness of a just war or a just peace framework.
But critically important stories about creative active nonviolence in Ukraine and Russia must also be told. We are so grateful that Maria Stephan is with us to help us understand what she calls, “A moment of profound moral clarity.”
Maria is now chief organizer and co-lead at the Horizons Project. She is an award-winning author and an organizer whose work has focused on the role of nonviolent action and peacebuilding in advancing human rights, democracy, and sustainable peace in the United States and globally. Maria is the co-author, with Erica Chenoweth, of “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” And of their second book, “The Role of External Support in Nonviolent Campaigns: Poisoned Chalice or Holy Grail?”
Maria previously worked at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where she founded and directed the program on nonviolent action. She served as lead Foreign Service Affairs Officer in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, where her work included projects in Afghanistan and with Syrian activists in Turkey. Maria has also worked at the Atlantic Council and at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, and she has taught at both Georgetown and American universities. Maria, thank you so much for being with us.
Maria Stephan: Well, thank you, Marie, so much for that introduction. And thank you to you and to Pax Christi International for hosting today’s conversation. I’m so grateful for the tireless role that Pax Christi continues to play in shining a light on the often less noticed, less appreciated stories of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance in its role in combating war and tyranny and authoritarianism in Ukraine and also around the world.
And I so appreciated hearing the beautiful remarks from Sister Wamuyu earlier and how she articulated the interconnectedness of these different struggles that are happening around the world. And while today we’ll be focusing on the brutal aggression and resistance in Ukraine, these struggles are so connected, whether in Yemen or DRC or even in the United States, as we battle brutality of racism, authoritarianism, in our own country.
And really appreciating both the interconnectedness of these struggles and also the importance of transnational solidarity to be able to combat war, violence, tyranny together as a global community, I think is so critically important.
And, you know, I’ve been reflecting a lot on – as someone who worked on Syria, at the State Department – and just reflecting on a peaceful revolution that began with nonviolent protests and demonstrations involving so many parts of the Syrian population, and then transformed into violent civil war. And the role that Vladimir Putin played in backing the Assad regime and supporting the use of barrel bombs of chemical weapons. And so we’ve seen this pattern of Russian support for aggression before.
And, you know, earlier many years ago, I worked at a Russian human rights organization called the Soldiers Mothers Organization. And at that time, it was right after the second war between Russia and Chechnya. And I was working with these mothers who were desperately trying to get their Russian sons out of the ranks of the military and to prevent them from being conscripted into the army where there was terrible abuses being committed, not only among soldiers but certainly towards Chechens and others.
And it just made me reflect on just how interconnected violence and brutality can be, and how it’s showing up in the scorched-earth policy that we’re seeing being enacted by the Russian regime and in Ukraine.
So as Marie mentioned, you know, it is such a complex, complicated situation in Ukraine. Yet at the same time, I do believe this is like a very momentous global event. And I think we are seeing tectonic shifts happening. And there really is an appreciation that we’re facing – we’re seeing kind of a David and Goliath scene playing out in Ukraine between people who are struggling to protect themselves and to defend democracy against authoritarianism and against violence and war and aggression.
And so, I want to talk a little bit about some of the remarkable civil resistance and nonviolent action we’re seeing both inside Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and occupation, and also inside Russia and in the region, including the international community.
I was really struck by this particular image. It’s a picture of a 6-year-old boy who brought canned food to the graveside of his mother, who was starved to death in Bucha. And I’m sure you all have been seeing the scenes from Bucha. And then, of course, Mariupol, which has been decimated and destroyed in the context of a barrage of aerial attacks, bombings and shellings. Just to offer the context in which we’re having this conversation.
And while it’s true that right now we’re looking at two armies facing off, two armies of two sovereign countries in an interstate war, there is also a very powerful form of popular resistance being waged by ordinary people, which I would argue will play a very important role in ending the Russian aggression, and in paving the way for an eventual reconciliation between the Russian and Ukrainian people.
When I’m using the term civil resistance, I’m talking about a method of waging conflict that involves the use of nonviolent direct action tactics like vigils, boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, mass non-cooperation, blockades, sit-ins, all used to shift power dynamics and to impose costs on an opponent without the threat or use of violence. So that’s the definition that I’ll be using when talking about civil resistance today.
And right now, inside Ukraine, in towns, villages, cities that have been invaded and occupied by Russian forces, you are seeing actions by ordinary unarmed civilians to stop, thwart, and slow the invasion of Russian troops, tanks, convoys, including these scenes in Kherson and Melitopol, where you’ve had literally people putting their bodies in front of tanks and convoys. In some cases, forcing them to turn around and leave the cities or towns.
And, you know, in Kherson, you probably have seen this image of the elderly Ukrainian woman who approached an invading Russian soldier, and began to engage with him, confronted him, “Why have you invaded my country? Go home, you know, leave us in peace.” And so these scenes are playing out all over the country right now in Ukraine.
I was so amazed by this particular scene in the south of Ukraine where the deputy mayor – so this village is currently occupied by Russian forces. And the deputy mayor was kidnapped by Russian soldiers. And the entire village came out to demand that this deputy mayor be released, successfully. And so you’re seeing this again and people are going out protesting, standing in front of Russian troops and convoys, demanding that they go home.
And so, it’s setting the scene, “We will not accept this invasion. You were told that you would be welcomed by us as liberating forces. This is what you were told, but this is not true. This is not the case. This is not a country full of Nazis. What you’ve been told as part of your mission.” Such remarkably powerful scenes.
Also I was very much touched by the scene of Ukrainians offering a soldier who surrendered and defected – they offered him tea, food, and called his mother in Russia. And so, just this contrast between the compassion of ordinary Ukrainians, and the barbarity of the Russian invasion, is kind of on display in this scene.
And if folks have not listened to President Zelenskyy’s televised appeal to the Russian people, I would encourage you to do so. Because in his speech, he was calling on a great Russian people, friends of Ukraine, to end the war in Ukraine.
And it was remarkable in that President Zelenskyy is trying so hard not to dehumanize Russians, and instead to welcome them to stop the aggression so that peaceful coexistence can be possible.
There are a lot of actions now being used to incentivize defections by Russian soldiers, which we know is a key dynamic in successful civil resistance campaigns.
So here you see the Ukrainian government offering amnesty essentially for Russian defectors. European governments are similarly starting to discuss offering asylum to Russian soldiers and their families who defect. So, I think this is one very important nonviolent option for putting an end to this war.
And, you know, notwithstanding an incredibly difficult, violent, repressive environment in Russia, where any form of protest in dissent, speaking out against the war, is met with criminal arrest and prosecution. We’re seeing protests, demonstrations happening in thousands of towns and villages across the country.
I lived for a time in Saint Petersburg so I’m very familiar with the Nevsky Prospekt, where you had hundreds of Russians coming out and protesting the war. You all may have seen this image of the Russian woman who had lived through the Nazi invasion of her country coming out to say no to war. She was arrested. When she was released, she went right back out in Saint Petersburg and began to protest again. So, these are some of the scenes.
We’ve also been seeing remarkable acts of dissent by what I would refer to as key pillars inside Russia. These are the organizations and institutions that are holding up Putin’s regime and making authoritarianism, aggression possible.
The key thing about civil resistance – and kind of the secret to the success of civil resistance – is when people within these key pillars of support stop providing their consent and cooperation and start engaging in acts of dissent and non-cooperation; this is what shifts the balance of power. And this is what ultimately severs an authoritarian from his pillars of support.
So, this is how I believe the war will eventually end, when there is enough mass organized dissent happening in Ukraine, in Russia, around the world. Even though the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill has blessed the war, essentially – very controversially, there have been a number of Russian Orthodox priests who have come out to condemn the war.
This particular priest is the Reverend Burdin, who is a priest with the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Church. He joined the letter writing with, I think, around 200 other priests to say, “My conscience dictates that I speak out against this war.” And so that’s a critical pillar of support.
And then the scene of the editor of the most popular Russian television news station, who, in the middle of a live broadcast, walked out with this sign that said, “No to war.” And she directly told the Russian people during the live broadcast, “You are being lied to.” She was arrested. I believe she was later released. But this is, again, a critical pillar where more dissent would mean significant difficulties for Vladimir Putin.
And then the Russian tennis star Andrey Rublev, who after a victory – I think it was the Dubai tennis competition. You know, tennis players are often invited to write something on the camera screen. So he wrote, “No to war.” Again, a pretty brave act and knowing that you could face significant consequences back in Russia. So these are the acts of civil resistance that are happening.
I was particularly struck by this young woman, I think she’s about 15 or 16-years-old. Her name is Olga Misik, and she’s known as Russia’s Tiananmen Teen. And you see her sitting there in the front of a group of riot police, reading the Russian Constitution and demanding an end to the war.
So again, these are the acts of defiance. I included the images of the women and mothers protesting because I think the role of women and mothers in showing dissent and demanding an end to the war is going to be very key.
I remember from research and when I was working with soldiers’ mothers in Russia, I had studied the role of Russian and Chechen women who literally marched on to the battlefield to demand the return of their sons and to demand an end to the war, and ultimately played a critical role in the end to the first Russian-Chechen war. So these are the key pillars and the key dissenters.
Then, of course, the other battlefield – nonviolent battlefield, if you will, where civil resistance and nonviolent action is taking place – is in the international realm. All around the world, we’ve seen mass protests, demonstrations, vigils, sit-ins. I was just walking by the Ukrainian embassy in Georgetown the other day and was struck by the images, the candle lights, the teddy bears, the signs, the written notes of solidarity.
So you’re seeing this play out around the world, which has been quite remarkable. And I think many of these demonstrations have been led by members of the Ukrainian diaspora who have been very active and involved. I saw a number of these marches and demonstrations in New York City. So I think this is just a sign that people are coming together to demand an end to the war.
But it’s also a sign, I think of it, in the midst of this tragedy, of an opportunity to come together and not only demand an end to war, but to demand a massive reallocation of investments and a massive reinvest in nonviolent alternatives, in support for nonviolence, in support for civil resistance, nonviolent organizing, in civilian based defense. Countries in Europe have adopted civilian based defense, which is a strategy for unarmed mass non-cooperation in the event of a military invasion and occupation.
Lithuania, for example, has integrated civilian based defense in their national security strategy and other Baltic countries have done the same. So now is the time to demand of religious congregations, religious leadership, and certainly our governments, to make a much greater investment in nonviolent options. And to continue to amplify the stories of civil resistance, nonviolent struggle that are happening in Ukraine, Russia, the region, internationally.
We need to get these stories out so that not only do the nonviolent resisters see that we’re with them, the eyes are on them, but that people know that this is a legitimate, powerful means of challenging tyranny and aggression. It works. We know from the research that nonviolent resistance has been twice as effective as armed struggle. So there’s a lot of work out there that we know that we can invest in.
Even though there’s a lot of focus now in increasing military support to Ukraine, increasing defense budgets, now’s the time to say, okay, we also need to be putting massively more attention focused emphasis on a methodology of waging struggle and waging peace that is far more effective in the short term and longer term. And that, I think, is now both the challenge and also the opportunity of our moment.
The complexity of sanctions
Erica Chenoweth and I were invited to do a presentation with the National Security Council in the White House on options for supporting nonviolent action and nonviolent resistance. And this was one of the first questions that they asked as well, “What is the research on sanctions, and when are they effective?”
My colleague, Erica, has done a lot of thinking and research and writing about this and they were saying that the story on sanctions is complicated. And you’re right that there is a long history of extended sanctions harming populations. I’m thinking about Yemen. I’m thinking about Cuba. I’m thinking of a lot of places.
We also saw, like in the Syrian context, there were large scale sanctions by the U.S., a few European countries, some Arab countries. And Assad, in that case, was able to go around them and was able to secure funds, support to keep up, prop up the regime, notwithstanding the sanctions.
I think what a lot of the research shows is that targeted sanctions of individuals and key perpetrators of violence, and their families, tend to be effective in changing incentive structures. So you’re already seeing targeted sanctions of Russian officials, Putin himself, his children.
Because what often happens is that the families of authoritarian leaders are studying in fancy private schools in London and other places. And only when they start to feel it in their pocketbooks, and in their inability to, you know, go to these fancy schools and have luxury yachts, do they actually start to do something. People need to feel economic pressure so targeted sanctions tend to be effective.
I think the story on broad-based sanctions is where it gets murky and is complicated. I understand the sanctions strategy. One thing I would say that’s different in this case compared to other U.S. backed sanctions, where it’s often the U.S. going at it alone – I’m thinking Cuba, for example, in other cases, you know, where it’s just unilateral sanctions that are punitive in nature.
In this case, you have almost the entire European continent, the E.U., and other countries involved in a broad-based set of sanctions targeting financial institutions. So the theory is that the sanctions are intended to limit the Russian government’s ability to wage war: stop the transactions of funds, stop the oligarchic base of support for the Putin regime.
So in that case, I think those types of sanctions can be very effective at eroding the ability of the Putin regime. Where it then becomes complicated, though, is okay, is banning and boycotting all products and services, is that helpful? Certainly if there was humanitarian assistance that needed to get to Russia, cutting that off probably wouldn’t be a good idea. So I think it’s not a straightforward story. I can’t say good / bad. But that’s at least what some of the research on sanctions suggests.
But another thing, here’s another interesting research point on sanctions. Sanctions tend to be most effective – I’m thinking of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. This case reminds me a lot of the global anti-apartheid struggle that was taking place to end apartheid in South Africa where there were massive sanctions, boycott, divestment, the like, the gamut. It was very internationalized.
And in that case, it was the resisting population that was also demanding the sanctions. So people who were protesting were kind of dictating the sanctions. And so it was led by the resistance on the ground. And I think that’s an important point. And what I would be curious to research is whether prominent Russian dissidents, what they are saying about sanctions. And what they are asking for, and what they are saying would be most effective, because I think that would be revelatory in terms of the possible way ahead.
What can we do?
As we’re talking about what the U.S. government should do vis-à-vis Ukraine. Right now, the focus is on humanitarian assistance and military aid. So the appeal needs to be significantly increasing assistance, non-lethal, non-humanitarian assistance, so through various advocacy channels and Pax Christi is a wonderful channel for advocating policy investments in nonmilitary alternatives. So, making that an ask.
And I think you will find a lot of resonance and support within the U.S. government for exactly these appeals, because right now what I’m seeing is that there are a lot of offices and agencies in the U.S. government that are trying to figure things out. And what do we do? How do we invest? I think this is one particular, very specific area, vis-à-vis the U.S. government.
There are also a number of nonprofit, non-governmental organizations that are now very actively involved in supporting nonviolence and nonviolent resistance in Ukraine in the region. I shared in the list of resources at the end, the webinar for the Kroc Institute event on civil resistance in Ukraine and the region.
And I encourage folks to listen to that only because one of the speakers, Kai Jacobsen, who’s the executive director of PATRIR, has been working with other organizations to organize a platform called All for Peace. And All for Peace is being used to both inform, amplify and coordinate assistance for nonviolence, nonviolent alternatives. And to coordinate policy advocacy, vis-à-vis European, U.S. and other governments.
But at least in that webinar, you’ll have a sense of what they are, kind of how they’re organizing the kinds of asks. The other thing is that PATRIR and these organizations were recently in Ukraine where they met with a number of activists, humanitarian assistance leaders and others, to listen directly to them about what types of assistance would be most helpful in this moment.
I think hearing what Ukrainians are asking and demanding and trying to be responsive, where possible, is generally a good way to go. So those are a few immediate thoughts.
Shifting the dynamics and pillars of support
Maria: So there was a lot of interest in how to support nonviolence, nonviolent resistance. There’s always an education element involved of like what is nonviolent resistance? How does it work to affect change? What are the tactics, the strategies? And the very clear notion that civil resistance works because it’s led by people living under oppression, civil resistance doesn’t work because the U.S. government is supporting it. And, you know, there’s a whole lot of research about when external support can be helpful and when it can be harmful.
But there are certain things that the U.S. government can do and ought to be doing. And so a lot of the discussion was about, there was a lot of discussion about sanctions. There was a lot of discussion about defections. So, what brings about defections in the key pillars of support that I was talking about earlier? Because, again, defections are very strongly correlated with successful civil resistance campaigns.
When members of the security forces, when members of the state-run media, when members of the strong religious establishment, when cultural figures, when educational leaders start saying no and engage in collective stubbornness, that’s what shifts the dynamics in these conflicts. So, their questions were about, how does this work? And what can we do that maybe is at least not harming those efforts?
Because, again, I was also very clear that there were certain things the U.S. government absolutely should not be doing, and that’s when we had the discussion about certain sanctions. This is when we had the conversation about certain funding options like, how do you support Ukrainian organizations that are already doing this work? And what does that mean?
So, whether it’s through the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, whether it’s in State Department officials meeting with civil resisters, dissenters, others, listening to them for what they need and what is unhelpful. These were some of the things that we were talking about. But my main recommendation – which again, you know, the U.S. government is a big bureaucracy and like getting it to change or shift takes time and effort.
Based on my experience of trying to support the nonviolent resisters in Syria, which was just a very, very difficult but also informative experience, I saw so much dysfunctionality in the U.S. government. All different offices doing different things. Everyone having a piece of the puzzle and thinking that what they’re doing is the only thing that matters. Very siloed operations.
So a lot of my recommendations had to do with how you can align the bureaucracy to coordinate your work and to bring in different perspectives to have it be part of a holistic strategy as opposed to this office doing this, this, this, which can work at cross-purposes. Those were some of the things that we were discussing. Some are not sexy for the purpose of this discussion because they’re very bureaucratic in nature. But when you’re working in government it is also very important because that’s kind of how you know how the work flows, having the bureaucracy. Right?
Nonviolent strategies for Ukraine
I think Zelenskyy has been very strong in just maintaining morale and in sending a clear message that “We’re against the Russian regime, not the people.” I think that’s been the strongest aspect of his outreach, but it did come up in one of the earlier conversations, The All for Peace platform.
So, the PATRIR platform, there’s a working group that’s part of that platform that’s focused on nonviolent direct action support to Ukraine, Russia and the region. So there are a number of different kinds of working groups and taskforces.
And I had offered just an idea in that context, which was, President Zelenskyy’s really good in front of a camera. He’s really good at making videos. What if someone helped him make a video about, what is civil resistance? How is it different from armed self-defense? And what are its applications in this context? And in a potential future context?
Because right now it’s true that it’s a little bit difficult to imagine mass-organized civil resistance because you still have the massive shellings and bombings and the Russian kind of – the militaries are confronting each other.
But what would happen in a situation where significant parts of Ukraine are occupied by Russian troops? Then it becomes a question of what is the most effective means of resistance in that context? And one could argue that a pure, disciplined, nonviolent resistance strategy would actually be more effective. And that combining armed insurgency with nonviolence could do what it did in Syria, which is intensify the violence, like get a lot more people killed without necessarily advancing political objectives.
So, then it needs to be a strategy conversation. And I feel for Zelenskyy and the leadership, because when you are being – and this is why I sympathize with Syrians – when you are being bombed by a vastly superior military, and it’s coming from all sides and you know they don’t respect humanitarian law. You know they are going to target hospitals and schools and civilian populations because they’ve done it so many times in the past. There is a reason why your instinct is to say, “Give us whatever it’s going to take to make the missiles stop.” I understand that.
But at the same time, it has to be part of a strategy conversation. What is it going to take, in the most effective and efficient way possible, to erode Putin of his key pillars of support and to prompt maximum defections?
The problem with armed insurgency – and the reason I get nervous about foreign mercenaries coming in – is that when armed insurgents confront invading and occupying soldiers, they don’t tend to defect. They fight back, and they kill a lot of civilians. So, then it has to be a conversation about how do we protect our people and sever Putin from his pillars of support? And what is the role of civil resistance in doing that?
I think Zelenskyy could be brought around to that. It’s just like, could someone help develop the video, the transcript, the materials, package it in a way that then he can – you know, he’s not the only one, but of course he’s got a lot of attention, and he’s got a great platform.
So, that would be an idea, maybe.
War of energy consumption
I was just reading something today about how Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is turning so many people into climate activists. Because of course, if Europe and the West were not reliant upon Russian fossil fuels to fulfill their energy needs, this would make his war of aggression a lot more difficult, and less likely.
I mean this is the strongest case for massive investment in energy alternatives. There are a couple of initiatives. I know we’re providing some energy sources in kind of the temporary period.
But I think Germany is facing a lot of domestic pressure now, to end the import of Russian coal and natural gas. So, it’ll be interesting because it’s such a difficult balance; the German economist will say, “If we turn off the spigot today, we will face a profound economic recession.” And oh, by the way, there’s another dynamic happening in neighboring France.
I don’t know if you all are watching, but Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the far-right fascist leader, won something like 50-plus percent in the last polls. So, there is a concern that you will have a far-right leader assume power in France which has to be making a lot of leaders really nervous about doing anything that would lead to a major economic downturn. That always benefits the kind of extremist populist types.
So, there are a lot of considerations, I imagine, right now. But your point of like, let’s use this as an opportunity to press for alternatives, and alternative investments, and alternative energy, I think is absolutely the right one, around the world. I mean, how many dictatorships has the United States backed up because we wanted access to oil reserves? It’s ridiculous.
So if we’re serious about ending support for authoritarianism, we have to do a massive rethink of our energy consumption, for sure.
Legislation, funding and support
Humanitarian assistance is usually kind of the easiest thing to fund. There’s usually the least resistance. What I’ve been suggesting is that they need to have a commensurate focus on non-humanitarian assistance, other non-lethal forms of support. So that it’s not just humanitarian, as the only nonviolent kind of option.
So definitely there is discussion and I think a budget is in place. It’s maybe an omnibus bill that is in whatever stages. But yes, I know absolutely there’s something and a lot of people are working on that. And what should be included and who should administer the budget and all this kind of things which, traditionally in the U.S. government leads to territorial fights and food fights.
So, my friends who are still in government are hoping this can be avoided and that they can just start getting the right offices to do the right things and bring all the pieces together. But this is always a slight challenge for the U.S. government.
Stephanie: You’re at Nonviolence Radio. And that was Maria Stephan presenting for Pax Christi International, “Do This in Memory of Me.”
We turn next to the Nonviolence Report with Michael Nagler.
Michael: Greetings everyone. I’m Michael Nagler.
We have taught a course recently in Metta Center, something that I have wanted to do for quite a while, to knit together two aspects of my upbringing. And that is, a course called “The Science of Nonviolence.” And the point was that this term could be interpreted in two ways, and we try to cover both.
One is that nonviolence itself is a science. And that was one of the great discoveries of Mahatma Gandhi, that it could be reduced, if you want to call it that, to a certain set of predictable dynamics. I mean, that’s part of the definition of something being a science, is that it can be predicted and controlled.
And of course, there are – what should we call them? I’ll just use the unscientific term – fudge factors, given human personality. You can sometimes try to be nice to a person, and they take it ill and vice versa, sometimes.
But generally speaking, there is a recognizable and predictable dynamic about nonviolence, such that if you are kind to people, they recognize it and respond with kindness. Sometimes it may take a while for them to realize that it’s happening and so forth. But by and large, there is an underlying “real scientific dynamic” there.
And I started off by quoting four general principles that were derived by a colleague at the University of California, Henry Stapp, who was very well grounded in quantum theory – maybe I should drop back and say a little bit about that for a second, but also very much aware of the social implications of science. So he is not just, you know, buried in the formulas. He understood that quantum theory was a tremendous breakthrough that really changed our fundamental understanding of the nature of reality.
And that primarily meant, for these physicists, external or material reality. But it could not be limited to that. It also applied to the behavior, the dynamics of consciousness, which is what made it different from the preceding Newtonian science, which tried to explain everything and which worked up to a point by a combination of two perfectly rational systems of thought.
One, Newtonian mechanics, you know, little particles fly around, they bump into each other. They have electromagnetism as forces interacting between them. And they are more or less similar, except for the vast difference in scale, creating other differences similar between the interactions of subatomic particles and the nucleus of an atom and the dynamics of a solar system, or even a universe.
So the hope was to derive a simple set of scientific laws and principles that they hoped could be reduced to mathematics. And that would explain everything. And it didn’t quite work because when you get right down to the behavior of subatomic particles, when we’re able to observe minute shifts in energy at that scale, which became possible with the discoveries of Max Planck and Albert Einstein on the one hand, and the development of technologies which enabled us to apply really brilliantly conceived experiments to reflect what was going on at the atomic and subatomic level.
And when you were able to do that, the astounding discovery was that these behaviors, this dynamic, did not obey mechanistic mechanical rules. It was something else going on.
So here are the four principles that my colleague Henry Stapp enunciated that help us kind of put this in context. So, four conclusions on the universe, an external reality external up to a point.
One, and perhaps most astounding of all, even material reality is nonlocal. I know that seems like an innocuous enough term, but what it actually means is that a subatomic particle – so let’s say an electron or a photon, you know, the particle that’s responsible for light. Which, as we know, could appear as either a particle or a wave, depending on your experimental setup. But the nonlocality goes even further than that.
It says at a given moment in time, you cannot specify the location and velocity of a particle. Not because your equipment wasn’t accurate enough, which it is not, but because inherently things are – and I’m going to use an unscientific phrase that they came up with for us unscientific types, things are “smeared out.”
So you cannot say that a subatomic particle is here. You can say that the likelihood that it’s here is very high, but the likelihood that it is anywhere else is finite. That particle could be anywhere in the universe, in the sense that it would interact with the equipment, if you could set up the correct equipment.
So, that’s completely – I’m going to a French expression, It [French] or upended, our concept of what material reality is all about. So that’s all resonant in that one astounding discovery here expressed in three simple words, “Reality, particles, etc. are nonlocal.”
Secondly, the universe is both the action upon and the result of ongoing creation. In other words, the creative process did not just happen, Bang. What is it? 13.4 something billion years ago. But it is an ongoing process.
Three – and here’s where we really start to get interesting – quote, “It is a natural cohesion of the mental and physical aspects of nature.” Now this goes back to the principle that was formulated by Werner Heisenberg, the uncertainty principle. Which basically means we really cannot specify the state of an object, let’s say, of any size at a given moment in time without taking into account the measuring device. And the measuring device will itself be a part of the description of where that thing is, where it’s going, how much charge it’s exerting, etc.
So, there really doesn’t seem to be any such thing as an external material universe that’s just clicking along by itself without the intervention of consciousness, which means the intervention of human beings. So that’s point 3. It’s a natural cohesion or interaction of the mental and physical aspects of nature.
And point 4 follows from this and its most important one, it allows meaning. Choices can have intentionality. Hence, meaning. But what it does essentially mean is that there isn’t an objective universe out there which banged around for 14 billion years. And guess what? It created us. It’s more like consciousness has been there from the beginning.
And that brings us much more in line with the worldview of ancient India. Which is, to sum it up in one term, is called the Vedanta. The Vedantic worldview, Vedanta meaning the end of the Vedas, those four collections of classic hymns that are the oldest literature that we possess in our family of languages, the Indo-European languages. But it meant the end of the Vedas in two senses.
One in the simple mechanical sense, that these texts, which include the Upanishads and a number of other lesser known texts. These embed the spiritual wisdom of India, that they just happened that – they were tacked on to the end of the Vedic collections in order to have them be preserved. Because Indian Vedic Brahmins would memorize these things backwards and forwards and thus kept them alive much longer and much more accurately than written recording would have done.
So, it’s Vedanta in that simple sense. But it’s also Vedanta in a much more profound sense, in that it is the end of all the spiritual realizations that are incorporated in the Vedic hymns. And those hymns are largely expressed in mythological form. But as you know, at one time I was a scholar of myth. You learn how to decode myth. It adds up to a really profound Upanishadic concept or vision of the universe.
And what can we say about that vision? Well, we can say one tremendous thing, which was then finally discovered when quantum theory came along. And so you have a confirmation from the observation of the physical world of what the sages of ancient India had arrived at through intense inspection of the inner life, the mental world. You know, what is my consciousness? Where is it going? What are the forces that move it?
We were just listening to a really wonderful recitation of one of the testimonies of the Buddha, how he said how he found enlightenment. And says, “I brought down my mind from the physical to the mental plane.” So, these two things converge on one tremendous fact. And that is that there is really no separation anywhere in the universe. Everything is connected. Maybe not to where you’d notice it.
You know, we talk about the butterfly effect. That a butterfly fluttering its wings somewhere, I don’t know, maybe in Canada, it cascades into a series of events that result in a storm in Ecuador. Such things are possible because of the complete interconnectedness of the universe, which becomes visible and manipulable, observable on the quantum level.
And so, that the universe is brought into being by consciousness, sustained in consciousness. And that means that to a really encouraging and much greater extent we human beings, who have as far as the planet Earth is concerned – though you wouldn’t always notice it, the most highly developed consciousness – that we actually can control, in a significant way, life, our destiny. And it doesn’t mean in the sense of, you know, that showman, that I could move a key across the table with the power of my mind. I have no idea whether such things are possible.
But to a much greater extent than we usually realize, our consciousness co-creates the universe that we experience. That gives us, on one hand, a breathtaking kind of liberty. And on the other hand, simultaneously, a very challenging kind of responsibility. That if I sit here brooding on myself and having negative thoughts, which I haven’t done all morning, it means that I am worsening the world around me in ever-widening circles.
So, thank you very much. I’m Michael Nagler. That was the Nonviolence Report, and I wish you well. Take good care of yourselves. And until next time.