A lot of angst is spilt in some circles about the morality of direct action and when and whether it should be branded as non-violent (NVDA – a nice safe sounding acronym) or even whether direct, presumably as opposed to indirect, action can ever be justified.
Let’s nail that one right from the start. Indirect action, for example political pressure through the ballot box or through petitions and letter writing, or mass walks in the streets with nice policemen shepherding the route and some pretty and self-congratulatory speechifying at the end of the shuffle, have signally failed to have any useful effect in tackling the crisis of our times.
The only indirect action that has proved effective is that taken by global corporations and interest groups promoting their self-interest in keeping the fossil fueled gravy train rolling for as long as possible.
By spending large sums of money and playing the game from the inside these power players have demonstrated just how effective indirect action can be – if you happen to have their advantages. The climate, or green, or ecological movement is not so blessed.
For us indirect action has proved to be a complete waste of time. Small gains that have been achieved have been more than offset by the worsening situation. In fact one could argue that ALL green indirect action has been counterproductive. The few positive results have served only to persuade many good people that it is worth continuing to beat their collective head against the wall in the hope that skull bones prove stronger than stone.
So one way or another Direct Action has to be the only way forwards.
And sudenly another rabbit hole opens up before us, but let us stop before we disappear down it.
Given the situation we are in do we really need to waste time debating whether or not violence is ever justified, or whether non-violent direct action can be effective. If we get drawn into taking sides in that, then again we are being distracted from the task in hand.
We could discuss at length the relationship between pacifism and non-violent direct action (they are not the same thing, even if frequently confused). We could try and set rules about exactly how much force it is right to use in resisting violence used against us or against those we care about (probably just enough to neutralise the violence being done, but not enough to create new violence). This may be an interesting question for practical philosophy. It may even be helpful in unpicking why so often revolutions end up with a new regieme that is worse than the ancien regime the revolution overthrew.
But do we actually need to spend time on this? If we are committed to the need to take direct action to disrupt, destabilise and destroy the industrial juggernaut that is pushing us over the edge, then there comes a point when the urgency of the need for effective resistance trumps any moral scruples.
If we waste any more time discussing whether this or that course is good or bad, criticising each other for doing the “wrong” thing, pursuing the “wrong” goal, or doing the “right” thing in the wrong way then we all lose.
What actually matters is how effective our actions are in stopping anything that is destructive of our ecosystem.
It doesn’t matter if you personally take holidays in India by catching an areoplane. What matters is that there are aeroplanes flying to India. It doesn’t matter if you drive a gas-guzzling 4×4. What matters is that there is gas for you to guzzle. It doesn’t matter what you eat. What matters is that vegetables and animals and your health suffer unnecessarily.
There are many forms which effective action can take. Even the simple boycott can be powerfully effective, especially when it morphs into divestment or retaliatory sanctions (a good example of the principle of meeting violence with matching force.
Disruptive action by individuals is a starting point. Group together and the disruption can grow, to the point where it destabilises.
Just to pick one example I do not believe that a law will be passed banning flying. But I do know that it is possible for a small band of activists to shut down a major airport for a day, or a week, or even forever. And we should praise them for doing so whatever the cost.
And there will always be costs. No more flying means no more love miles to visit relatives in distant domains. No more fossil fuel now probably means no more private motorised transport. Perhaps if we had started being effective in the 1970s it might have been possible to transition to using personal electric transportation, but I rather suspect that that project is on the back burner until we are through the period of eco-system destabilisation and are living with a new normal. No more oil based fertilizers does mean a lot less meat is eaten until agriculutre is re-invented on a non-industrial (ie exploitative) basis. No more fish in the sea does mean no more fish and chips.
Effective action does have to start in your own life, but it can rapidly extend out into your interactions with the world. It may be meeting violence with violence, or it may be simply disruptive, but either way it must be effective in some measure. Effective in protecting and restoring our shared eco-systems. If it doesn’t achieve that, then it is not worth doing.
Conventional politics and passive protest actions are clearly not worth doing.