Anthropological Motivation For Not Fighting About Politics

For context, look up popular American news articles for March 12th, 2016.

Raja Yoga (the Hindu philosophy of using physical movement to achieve a higher spiritual state–called simply “yoga” by most westerners) seems to have arisen out of a collection of movements and postures practiced as part of human life. From bowing to a king, to taking a wide stance in preparation for delivering a sword blow, to stretching in the morning and evening to alleviate muscle and joint pain, to picking up a baby–this is a system of kinetic learning intended to explain and teach the human condition and how to function within it.

Humans are loving. Humans are powerful. Humans fight for survival, spend their days gathering resources; humans follow leaders; humans battle for control over the followers and means of acquisition. (Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably seeing you as their follower…) This method of teaching translates literally to “royal yoga”. As profound as it once was, it fails to teach apt governance or understanding in the absence of the cultural understanding that could only be truly had in the more revered and wealthy circles of the ancient world.

What would such a system look like, if it were created out of the successful strategies of governing and being governed within our own society? Are there any motions that we can still use to universally increase our usefulness and success as a part of the human meta-organism? Today, we crave a method that works for almost everyone, and mourn the absence of any such thing that can make us happy. There is currently no “one size fits most” method for anyone born after 1980, or, perhaps, before.

In politics and religion, alike, we are bereft of truly effective guidance. We celebrate the death of “storge” love while complaining about lack of agreement in public matters. (This is a contradiction.) We seek ancient wisdom that hardly translates to how to make a real living, today. We are amply taught, in school, church, home, and in casual society everything but what is known to be truly, universally effective–because nobody knows of any universally “human” means of survival that has, itself, survived the test of time.

In the last decade, much of the world has awoken to this predicament, and we are fighting each other because nobody can figure out how to make things work, again. The information age arose out from Pandora’s box, and our greatest minds have yet to tame it in a way that lets everyone live happily, who is willing to keep trying.

Or maybe that is the nature of the human condition: as the Buddhists say, “suffering exists”, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with that.

It is a part of human nature to fight. We committed genocide against every human species that came before us, until only Homo sapiens remained. (A chilling thought, but true, according to archeologists, evolutionary biologists, and anthropologists.) A new way of living will one day emerge out of the ashes of analog society and the minds of those who, like Homo erectus, failed to adapt (despite having a larger brain). In the mean time, let’s limit our battles to the ones that actually matter.

If an idiot or a fool gets elected president, let them show us how not to do things.

Some arguments can only be won by letting your opponent win, and then realize, on his own, that he should have been wiling to compromise (A.K.A. “adapt”). We decided in the late 40s that killing all the stupid people is wrong, so if such people end up running things, and we don’t crash and burn because of it, we will have proven that the antiquated morals of centuries past–survival of the fittest, when you boil it down enough–are truly not as good as the softer ones we revere, today.

And if letting stupid people self-actualize turns out to be a problem, we can always decide that Hitler had the right of things and commit genocide until all the stupid people are extinct, and we evolve into a species that’s better than Homo sapiens. (Personally, I don’t advocate this method.)

Seriously, folks, don’t get into physical fights over political beliefs unless you think we should silence, cage, and eventually extinct all the imbuciles–including, possibly, you.

Trump and Sanders fans, I’m looking at you.


Proverbs That Last Forever

“However, a much older Near Eastern origin is suggested by a near equivalent in the 6th century BC Proverbs of Ahiqar: ‘a sparrow in thy hand is better than a thousand sparrows flying’.”

I love finding proverbs that have somehow survived 25 centuries of linguistic translations and societal changes. Such proverbs are almost certainly somewhat accurate (in the right context), because the only way people would keep saying them for 2,500 years is if they feel like they have a decent reason to do so, themselves, and to teach their children to say them, too.

Interestingly, it’s possible that personal adherence to old texts of philosophy, poetry, mythology, scripture, and fable–stems from the same phenomena; and that, therefore, religion, philosophy, ethics, and more are a result of old thoughts being consistently seen as worthwhile enough to repeat and teach future generations to repeat.
The historic use of force to enforce adherence to ideas skews this effect, somewhat. This includes classic examples of European churches imposing laws and punishments, as well as popular non-religious philosophies making law with legislation and court cases (incl. case law), and punishing those who violate those laws. It can’t really be argued that the modern law and punishment is as brutal or authoritarian as ancient law and punishment; but when an armed person can come to your home and put you in shackles (handcuffs) for not obeying, one can neither argue that this isn’t the use of force. Sure, the methods are different, but disobeying gets you punished.
How do we decide whether and when old ideas are more/less valuable to us than new ideas? How effective have those uses of force been in making a given idea persist? Does an idea that has been appreciated (even/especially out of pure expediency) for 2.5 millennia have more (objective) believability than an idea that’s been around for 50 years? Each person chooses how to weigh these and other factors to create a personal philosophy. Then, they explain their philosophies to their children using proverbs.

When It’s “Worth It”: The Ratio of Human Interaction

There’s an inherent calculation of human interaction that goes something like this:
(How much they improve your life) : (How much trouble a person causes you)
Put another way, it’s a ratio of Benefit:Cost or Happiness:Trouble.
Most people phrase this in an emotional context, but the meaning is ultimately the same. Personally, I find a simple mathematical ratio easier to convey than the amount of prevarication it would take to express such a thing emotionally.
When that ratio is consistently greater than 1:1, that’s a person who is worth “keeping”. If it’s only greater than 1:1 in some situations, then those are the only situations when it’s worth interacting with that person. When that ratio is consistently less than 1:1, it’s time to let that person go, and avoid him/her as necessary.
Naturally, foresight and personal preference comes into play, here. If a person is mostly troublesome, right now, but you foresee him/her being beneficial in the long term, then it might be worth keeping them around. If you’re OK with 1:1, even if it’s never greater than that, then that’s your threshold for deciding whether it’s “worth it”. Most people require a ratio much greater than 1:1 to consider it “worth it”. People with large circles of close friends that they consistently have problems with are less picky (requiring a lower ratio to be satisfied); whereas those who only really want to hang out with a few people who are particularly valuable to them are more picky (requiring a higher ratio to be satisfied). I’ve noticed that this level of “pickiness” directly corresponds with the amount of energy a person has for social interaction. Those who are more concerned with other things tend not to have any interest in those with less than, say, a 2:1 ratio of benefit:cost or happiness:trouble.
If you’re not providing at least a 1:1 ratio for someone, you’re doing it wrong. If you really want someone in your life, you need to provide them a higher ratio, and be sure that they’re doing the same for you, before committing to anything long-term.
Charity is an exception to this rule. (I’m using “charity” to refer to selfless love, rather than “giving money”, which, as an exclusive term, is a perversion of the original concept.) Charity is when someone offers you less than you would otherwise accept as a ratio of happiness:trouble, but you give that person your time, energy, and resources, anyway. You self-sacrifice for that person out of kindness. We can only do this to the extent that we have personal resources (time, energy, patience, emotional stability, money, etc.) to spare, and when we run low on this excess, we can no longer afford to give without receiving; otherwise, our own lives will suffer quite substantially. One only allows that for those we love most, such as family members. We give what we can, when we can, because we choose to; “obligation” is anemic to true charity, unless it’s someone we’re truly responsible for taking care of (such as an aging parent, a sibling in distress, or a child). Nevertheless, charity is what makes society worth having. We care for people who can’t give back as much as we give them, and, in turn, people do the same for us when we’re in need. Sadly, our society isn’t quite at the point when we can do this for each other very effectively (due to economics, and anger, mainly); but as we improve our way government and interpersonal interaction, this will slowly change–as it has been since the dawn of civilization.

A Centrist’s Analysis of the 2016 Presidential Election

A.K.A. “You heard it here, first!”

This started off as a Facebook post, about a week ago.  Many of the people who replied to the original post are of a liberal persuasion, and some took umbrage to my assertion that Sanders isn’t as intelligent as some of the other candidates.  The second half of this essay is a response to those objections.  As with all my posts, I take no offense at being disagreed with, but do request that any disagreements be presented respectfully and intelligently.

The Analysis

As a self-described centrist, I’ve watched the most recent Republican and Democratic presidential primary debates. I’ve noticed some striking differences that have influenced my opinion substantially, at this juncture.

1) Right or wrong in her policies, Hillary Clinton is the most intelligent person in the running.

2) Sanders is the only one who seems to care about or understand the major concerns of the millennial generation. He is, however, extremely vague (compared to Clinton) about how to fund any of the changes he wants.

3) The Republican candidates disagree with each other a lot less, but they don’t go into as much detail about their positions, or how they intend to accomplish their goals.

4) The Democratic debate facilitators ask much harder questions. Their candidates often dodge the question, but have stayed on topic better than in past elections. Republican debate facilitators ask much easier questions, and their candidates don’t dodge them as often.

5) The Democratic candidates put more focus on how they intend to do things, and are more specific about what they intend to do. The Republican candidates focus more on who they’re angry at.

6) Governor O’Malley makes much more concise, salient remarks, and asks harder, more intelligent questions than the facilitators or other candidates. He seems to lack the assertiveness to lead effectively at the presidential level, but he adds much to the election by way of keeping the other candidates honest.

7) Sanders and Trump are more childish than the other candidates, in their mannerisms and speech patterns. Trump is extremely so, to the point that I wonder if he suffers from a neoteny-related disorder.

8) Bush made more sense than any other Republican candidate, and seems to have some understanding that issues that have yet to be solved are unsolved because they’re complex and are trade-off centric. Clinton has a much better apparent understanding of this than any of the other candidates, including Bush, although Bush may be catering his responses to the less detail-oriented format of the Republican debates.

9) Sanders and O’Malley seem to be the least corrupt, in terms of taking money from special interests.

10) Sanders and Clinton get almost all the attention, and are rude to O’Malley when he tries to speak.

11) Trump really is an idiot. He has basically no understanding of politics, diplomacy, foreign affairs, economics, the economics of immigration, etc.  (Research early 20th century immigration and it’s effects, if you don’t believe me.)

12) Sanders is also pretty stupid, but he has a handful of ideas that could basically save my generation if he implements them with sufficient foresight (which he may or may not possess). If elected, he would screw a lot of stuff up, but maybe fix the things that most need fixing. He also doesn’t understand foreign relations, many aspects of economics, diplomacy, etc. In other words, a vote for him is a vote for sacrificing a lot of things that (mostly) work in favor of fixing a few things that are severely broken–if he’s clever enough to pull it off, which is worth questioning.

13) Clinton would hold down the fort with stunningly apt alacrity, but not seriously work on our country’s most severe domestic problems. She would make small, incremental improvements, and do a darned good job of that…slowly. Under her rulership, we should expect small, consistent improvements across the board (barring unforeseen circumstances). She has foresight, leadership ability, and genius-level I.Q. She’s one of the greatest diplomats alive. What she lacks is out-of-the-box thinking on some pressing issues.

14) I’m sad to admit that, in spite of my centrism, I can’t see any of the Republican candidates’ proposed solutions as being very sapient or realistic. Sorry, guys: you’re going to lose, this year.

15) Clinton listens intently to each of her opponents and nods appreciatively, apparently to herself, when they say something particularly intelligent. I expect that, like Obama, she’ll ask some of her former opponents to join her cabinet. Sanders is an ideologue who is too busy concentrating on making his next point to listen very well. (Referring to active listening, not hearing loss.) He may or may not have the wisdom to hire his former competitors.

16) Sanders has an annoying demeanor. Those I was watching the debate with (stalwart democrats) kept turning him down because he was a “loud mouth” and a “hot head”, which mostly speaks to his presentation, rather than his ideas. If people can’t stand listening to you, it doesn’t matter how good your ideas are.

In conclusion, either Sanders or Clinton will most likely be our next president. I like what Sanders is trying to do, but his demeanor is unpalatable, and he lacks the intellect to do a good job, on most fronts. He has admirable compassion, but precious little logistical sense, and would end up a lot like Jimmy Carter, in the eyes of history, were he to win. Clinton will probably be our next president, and will almost certainly do a very solid job of it, taking into account the quirks specific to her party (fixation on gun control, LGBT/race/female issues–all of which are sometimes sensible, and often not), and a penchant for small, safe changes, rather than large, riskier ones (some of the latter we seem to need). To put it simply, we are probably in safe hands, this time around, and the big changes will probably have to wait.


“But I like Bernie Sanders, and I think he’s smart!”

“He’s been working for decades to do what he claims to want, so shouldn’t we give him more credit?”

I don’t doubt that Sanders is sincere, or that he’s been working toward his goals for a very long time. He is, indeed, very committed. My concerns about his intellect come from a variety of things about him, most of them small and hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t also noticed it. Here are a few that seem relatively easy to communicate.

1) He stays “on message” a lot more than the other candidates. When asked about gun control, he talked about Wall Street. When asked about digital security and Constitutional concerns, he talked about Wall street, and then, eventually, about terrorists. When asked about racial inequality, he talked about Wall Street. Yes, the financial sector (which is larger than just Wall Street in New York City!) needs to be sat on for the way they have screwed up our economy and some other stuff. Yes, they’re crazy rich, while their employees are just getting poorer. They’re on my “sh*t-list”. They are not, however, the cause of every evil in the world, and changing how we interact with them isn’t going to solve most of our problems. That’s lazy thinking. He’s been on the job for long enough to know better…but he apparently doesn’t.

2) His vocabulary is limited.

3) He’s reactionary in the same way as people I know who have a fanatically-held set of beliefs, but who lack the wherewithal to justify those beliefs saliently to others. He gets upset, raises his voice, interrupts incessantly, gesticulates to get attention, etc. This is another sign of a weak mind.

4) His facial expressions are very limited. This one is a bit harder to explain, but I’ll try. For illustration, watch Trump speak and count how many distinct expressions he has. That’s an approximate number that can be used to extrapolate his range of emotions. People who have only, in the extreme example, “happy” and “sad” make you think of what group of people?  According to psychologists, what is the average IQ of people with that kind of disorder? (Down Syndrome sufferers are one example.  They have an average I.Q. of 80, whereas “normal” is ~100.) A person without nuanced feelings is probably incapable of understanding partial victories, mitigated defeats, trade-offs, moral gray area, etc.; if they did understand these things, they would have a decidedly more developed range of emotions, which would result in more unique facial expressions. Trump regularly displays fake sadness, sullenness, child-like delight, and anger–and not much else. Now, watch the same length of video and count Sanders’ unique expressions. There aren’t many more. Now, take a look at either of the Clintons (who have approximate IQs of 138 and 140, respectively). Do they look sideways in amusement? Do they smirk, wink, look ponderous, etc? You bet they do. They have also been shown to understand things like partial victories, mitigated defeats, trade-offs, moral gray area, etc. I know this might not make a lot of sense unless you’ve already noticed it, but here’s hoping…

5) He doesn’t seem to know when he has made his point, and people have stopped listening intently.

6) When he was asked whether he was raising taxes on the middle class to pay for universal health care, he prevaricated for over 2 minutes, apparently without realizing that everyone with half a brain cell would see that he was doing so. If you boil it down enough, his answer was, “Yes, I’m raising taxes on the middle class, but the savings from medical costs will be bigger.” For many, including me, this is probably true. However, anyone with a little life experience knows that some people get sick and/or go to the doctor more than others, so for the latter group, the math doesn’t add up. (I go to the doctor more than most people.)  Having worked on this problem for several decades, he should know better than to make such a brash assumption, but either he doesn’t know better, or is lying. It’s been previously agreed (by most in the conversation, so far) that he’s genuine; therefore, he’s stupid.

7) As obtuse as Congress is, if he were even a little bit good at explaining his ideas in a way that made other people who knew about the subject matter agree with him, he would have gotten the Democratic Party leadership on-board with his plan, after all this time.  Overwhelmingly, his colleagues seem to think of him as being unrealistic.  Often, when he seems to have “stumped” his opponent with a response, the expression on the opponent’s face isn’t one of concession or sullen disappointment about being bested in an argument, but of bafflement that he would even say such a thing.  How do you deliver a snappy retort to a statement that’s factually incorrect on a dozen different levels?  If you think back to a time when someone made such an argument to you, that debate dynamic will become painfully clear.  As previously mentioned, he consistently dodged Clinton’s questions about his previous voting record, and likewise refused to explain in any detail how he intended to mitigate the negative side-effects of his proposed changes.  Many of the bills he authored are only a couple of pages long, and make no effort to state, in practice, how they are to be accomplished, if made law.  Valid questions include: How do you enforce it?  What are the specific rules that businesses, individuals, and government agencies must follow, in day-to-day life?  Are those people actually able to follow those rules without it putting them out of business or turning everyone into a criminal–technically or judicially, depending on enforcement?  A 2-page bill can’t address these concerns, and Sanders repeatedly presents such bills, trying to make them into laws.  They are consistently voted down by his peers.  (Yes, he has managed to pass a handful of laws in the 25 years since he first got elected to Congress, which means that he occasionally writes a law that his colleagues don’t think is asinine.)  To my understanding, his biggest accomplishments as a member of Congress center around adding a little “heart” to bills that others have written–which makes him a decent Congressman, but doesn’t qualify him for the duty of vetoing poorly-written laws.

I could go on, but this should provide a little justification for my assertions about his intellect. Again, I think he has a few really good ideas; but I doubt that he has much understanding of what the side-effects of those ideas will be.  Therefore, I’ll reassert that a vote for Sanders is a vote for sacrificing a lot of things that (mostly) work, in favor of fixing a few things that are badly broken.  This comes down to the priorities of an individual voter; but be warned: some of the things he wants to change will make essential goods like food, fuel, clothing, and building supplies more expensive.  Will his other ideas counteract this by making you richer?  Will you be made richer in a way that doesn’t prevent industrialists from making those goods at a reasonable price?  Maybe, if he’s smart enough.  Do you care to roll the dice?  Vote according to your mind, heart, and conscience.

Why Internet Ads Are A Dying Business Model

I started using the Internet in the early ’90s, back when almost nobody had a computer, and few of them had an Internet connection.  Since then, I’ve never once made a purchase based on unsolicited Internet advertisements, and here’s why.

I started building computers at a very young age, and have since spent a large portion of my life fixing other people’s machines when they break.  The number one problem is malware, which includes (but is not limited to) viruses, spyware, and pranks; with the first two being the most common.  Malware usually exists for one of three purposes, with the first being true of almost all malware: (1) someone is trying to scam/steal money from you; (2) someone wants to annoy you for fun/revenge; and/or (3) someone wants to make a political statement (vis carrying out a Denial of Service attack on someone whose political/economic activities they don’t like).  The number one source of malware is web sites trying to scam money out of you.  The number one way they do so is by advertising to you (often in ways that make you think they’re NOT advertisements), such that you visit their site; and WHAM! whether you know it it not, your computer is now infected.  (Sometimes just visiting a site gives you malware, and sometimes you have to download and run something from that site that they claim is good/harmless, but isn’t.  Beware any file ending in .exe, .bat, .com, .msi, .dmi, as well as anything that can be “installed” or “run”.  Yes, this includes “FREE GAMES!!!!!!!”)

If every person whose computer I fixed because they clicked on an ad paid $100 for it…wait, what am I saying?  They DID pay $100 (or so) in repairs for every ad they clicked on!  That, in a nutshell, is how computer repair shops stay in business: people who don’t know that ALL Internet ads are extremely likely to infect their machines with viruses, spyware, and so on–such that they will soon have their sensitive information stolen, and their computers rendered useless–do something they don’t know they should NEVER do on the Internet, and then bring their computer into the shop to have it repaired.  (Note: sometimes hardware fails, Windows/Linux/Mac OS screws up of its own accord, or someone falls victim to the dreaded PEBKAC error.  Usually, though, it’s because of Internet usage failure.)

This is why, in theory, movements in favor of allowing “respectful” ads and blocking all other ads (example: AdBlock Plus–a great browser add-on that everyone should have, despite its failures) are ultimately not realistic.  Even if an ad doesn’t play obnoxious sounds/videos at you, flash distractingly, open pop-up windows, take up half the page, etc., there’s never going to be any absolute guarantee that the content behind the ad isn’t fraudulent, in some way.  Nobody is capable of policing every advertisement on the web, so those who try to come up with software to detect “annoying” behavior and block only that, rather than truly investigating every web page that advertises anywhere on the Internet.  That’s just not realistic to expect from anyone.

So, what’s that mean for ad-based revenue?  You can probably guess: as more computer users realize that clicking on ads (and things that don’t look like ads, but really are ads) is what’s causing them to shell out money for computer repairs, and take effective measures to avoid doing so, it will become decreasingly profitable for web pages to host web ads, at all.  Sadly, almost every page on the Internet can only exist because of advertisements, so we’re left with quite a quandary: how do we support worthwhile web pages (like this one, I hope…) without becoming easy targets for dishonest people looking to harm us for personal profit?

One solution that’s been proposed is to have every web site screen its web ads.  Unfortunately, ads just don’t work that way, and here’s why: webs are served up by companies who are “aggregators” of advertisements, such as Google (AdSense), Facebook, AOL (not dead, yet!), NYTimes, CBS Interactive,, and many, many others.  Almost nobody has the resources to get enough companies to buy enouch ad space from them to cover all of their expenses, so they instead let these aggregators post web ads to their pages in exchange for a small cut of the profits (and I do mean small).  “Well, make the aggregators censor out fraudulent ads!”  Sounds great!  …But again, the problem is volume.  How does a company of “only” 30,000 full-time employees (most of which don’t sell ads, but do other things, like programming Gmail and GPS maps, designing driver-less cars, and so on) thoroughly investigate 100,000 ads a day to determine which ones lead to pages that will never ship purchased products; will attempt to infect some types of computers with viruses (dependent on OS and software versions); ask for sensitive information that they will sell to their “partners”, three years from now; and so on?  The short answer is that it’s just not possible to turn a profit by selling advertisements if you try to do this.  So, what we’re unavoidably left with is a stinky, seedy, smarmy Internet full of paid advertisements that nobody should ever click on.

So, again, where does that leave us?  I don’t know, and neither do web-centric economists (professional or hobbyist).  Most will acknowlege, if pressed, that ads are a blight on safe computing, and almost anything would be better than the digital cesspool we have, now.  But, like democratic forms of government, it’s the only option we have that seems not to utterly break at the drop of a hat.  So, instead (like any nominally-working form of government), it’s breaking slowly, and nobody is very certain about what we can do to fix it.  In fact, most people who have tried at all to deal with it are utterly befuddled with the problem.

So, what do you think the solution is?  Maybe the right kind of genius is reading this ad-supported web page, at this very moment…  😉

The Universal Tongue

This is an essay I wrote for an English class in college (around 2001).  It pertains to the book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” which is a gripping true story about an American Hmong family and their epileptic daughter, Lia, and their struggles to define what “good care” is, and the cultural clash that ensued with non-Hmong Americans who wanted to help.  Per my then-professor’s requirement, the thesis or “claim” of the essay is highlighted in yellow.  (Please forgive the bad formatting; copy/paste doesn’t work very well from LibreOffice to WordPress, and I may or may not get around to cleaning it up.)


The Universal Tongue

By Dane Mutters

(The claim is highlighted on page three.)

‘“…And what absolutely blew me away was I, well, I was afraid they were going to blame me for what happened, but the mother showed me compassion. She understood—somehow she got the—she, well”—Neil was scrabbling uncomfortably for words, but he was determined to forge ahead—“well, I think part of it was that I was crying. What she did was, she thanked me. She hugged me. And I hugged her.”’

—Excerpt from The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Fadiman 213)

In a heroic breach of cultural barriers, Neil Ernst and Foua Lee, longtime adversaries concerning Lia’s medical treatment, suddenly connected emotionally to such an extent that the Lee family exempted Neil and Peggy from the category of “bad American doctors,” and began to see them for what they always were—(unsuccessful) proponents of Lia’s well-being. Why not before now, or even the first time that Lia was successfully treated for acute status epilepticus? The prolonged agony of dissent among the doctors and family of the patient seems, in retrospect, unnecessary. Although the Lees did not understand the methods of treatment, they should have at least realized that the doctors meant to help Lia, and would thus not lie to them, or knowingly overmedicate her. Likewise, why had it taken the doctors at the Merced Community Medical Clinic so long to start seeing their troubled Hmong patient as more than a severe annoyance, but rather as a sick child?

The ever-present struggle between the doctors and the Hmong family was a manifestation of the power differential between the Hmong and the American doctors. In the minds of the Hmong, to learn the basic principles of American medicine, and to do explicitly anything the doctors told them to do, was a way of yielding to a higher power, and thus partially assimilating into the American status quo—something, the essence of which, the Hmong have resisted for hundreds, even thousands of years, under much more invasive governments and cultures than our own. In this society, however, the Hmong were irreparably immersed. Any animosities that may have existed solely on the basis of having somebody else tell them what to do were heightened due to their inability to escape American law and customs for fear of having to deal with a justice system that they didn’t understand, and thus infused into their relationship with the doctors at MCMC a feeling of having been conquered, and with that, a feeling of deep resentment.

Therefore, how could one expect the Hmong to sympathize with the doctors’ efforts to cure Lia’s illness, even at great expense and personal sacrifice? Under such a pretense of hatred, one would be rather inclined towards a disposition of obstinance. This disposition proved rather difficult to deal with from the doctors’ perspectives, even to the extent of warranting the apprehension of Lia so that she could be placed with a more “compliant” family. From the perspective of the Hmong, who value their children above all else, this appeared to be an act of hostility and a demonstration of power, and thus perpetuated feelings of animosity. With such a powerful cycle in place, how did the Lees eventually come to feel compassion for Neil and Peggy Ernst—the very doctors who had their child taken from them?

When Neil’s nearly statuesque composure dissolved under streams of tears, he demonstrated that he did not possess the heartless objectivism of other American authority figures. By bearing his feelings to Foua Lee, he was able to communicate in the universal human language of love, allowing her to understand that he too felt compassion for Lia in a way similar to that of her own parents. In this manner, when feelings of love are put into plain view, one can cross even the densest cultural barriers and allow each participant to ascend into understanding.

Rooted in every human being from the time of birth is the innate notion of giving and receiving love. Babies love their mothers as their mothers love them. Even Lia Lee, in a near-comatose state, was able to recognize her mother’s touch (Fadiman 211). Love is the means by which we are able to accomplish great things as a civilization; it encompasses the desire to help one’s fellow human beings by being the best one can be; it allows people to reach past first impressions in order to achieve a common goal. Furthermore, love is the platform on which equality stands.

In her essay, “Love as a Practice of Freedom,” Bell Hooks states, “A culture of domination is a culture of anti-love” (Hooks 246). She goes on to focus on the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., saying that he “decided to love.” In that manner, King expressed that in order to live as equals, people must love one another. Otherwise, the sense of animosity which stems from not loving and not being loved will manifest itself in the form of social hierarchies, in which those with wealth and influence do not feel obligated to share their good fortune with those who are less fortunate. Also contained in King’s statement is the premise that love has a way of being reciprocated; otherwise, loving one’s oppressor would serve no purpose.

Indeed, this principle, as demonstrated to be successful during the non-violent movements of both King and Gandhi, is a corner stone of the Christian faith:

“…every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them.” (Mosiah 23: 15)

However, since in Hmong folk lore (and in their religion) most of the great antagonists are evil spirits, bent on eating people and drinking their blood, many Hmong heroes, such as Shee Yee gained their fame through thinking up cunning ways of killing or otherwise defeating their adversaries, thus perpetuating the characteristically Hmong ethic of resisting coersion from powerful people or beings (Johnson 26). That adds to the above stated predisposition for obstinance that serves to separate the Hmong-Americans from other Americans. These premonitions served to practically vaccinate the first-generation Hmong-Americans from full cultural integration. Additionally, because part of cultural integration involves learning the language, the Hmong tended to be rather “difficult” during negotiations with the MCMC medical staff.

Even though the Hmong were fairly strictly against being colonized, they were able to befriend Lia’s American foster-parents, Dee and Tom Korda, on the grounds that they were taking good care of Lia. Why then, did they not initially feel moved to befriend the doctors at MCMC?

Primarily, this was because they didn’t believe that what the doctors were doing was helping Lia. Hmong parents hold fast to the belief that if a child is sickly, it is because they were not given proper care in their previous life. Therefore, in order to remedy the child’s spiritual afflictions (quag dab peg, literally, “the spirit catches you and you fall down,” is believed to be a matter of losing one’s soul), it was necessary to treat the child with special care, even to the extent of partialism over the other children in the family (Fadiman 20). The doctors at MCMC, however saw Lia’s afflictions as purely a physical matter, and thus did everything in their power to keep her physical body from damaging itself further. This included tying her to her bed, sticking foreign objects down her throat and prodding her with needles in order to systematically extract her bodily fluids. The Lees recognized these actions as things which are likely to scare away her soul by making her unhappy. The Lees responded in the only way they knew how—to cease all things which made Lia unhappy (Fadiman 180).

Such is the purest form of love, the desire to make someone happy. Regardless of whether a person refers to it as “treating the patient,” “calling her soul” or simply “good parenting,” it is that desire which expresses a person’s need to love and be loved. Although the Lees did not understand Lia’s course of medical treatment, they eventually came to realize that the doctors had much the same intentions as them. Such realization came quicker in the case of the Kordas, because the Kordas’ method of giving love was much more similar to their own.

A second form of love is service. Of the countless visits to MCMC that the Lees made over the period of Lia’s childhood, not once were they required to pay for treatment or negotiate with insurance companies to that effect. Neil Ernst once calculated Lia’s cost of medical care at a staggering sum of $250,000, not including the salaries of the medical staff (Fadiman 254). Additionally, both Neil and Peggy could recall countless nights when they had to stumble out of bed and rush over to the clinic in order to insert an IV into one of Lia’s impenetrable veins and negotiate a course of treatment with her obstinate parents. Yet for all of this, they expected nothing. Their primary goal in these valiant efforts was not money or thanks, but rather a sense of satisfaction gained from helping a troubled Hmong girl. In serving the Lees at great cost and personal sacrifice, the doctors at MCMC showed that without knowing the Lees, or even being able to talk to them, they were willing to display unconditional love. Yet that love was not immediately returned.

At the time of service, the Lees did not understand the doctors’ pure intentions, but instead assumed that their willingness to “help” stemmed from their desire to continue medical research, using Lia as a test subject. In that context, it’s no wonder that the Lees felt apprehensive about the treatment, even to the extent of discontinuing it on multiple occasions. They could not, under the circumstances, fathom the idea that in such a money- and power-driven society ruled by the white upper class, somebody would want to help a family of poor Hmong refugees who neither knew the language nor wanted to take part in mainstream American culture. Therefore, it was not until Neil put his love into a language they could understand that they recognized the doctors’ goodwill towards Lia.

Throughout Hmong history, they have been persecuted for their differences and individualism to the extent that those which would have them integrate into their own culture have only caused them to seclude themselves further, out of fear and resentment; thus, in no way could the oppressors have won the confidence of the Hmong. In fact, the greater the power differential and the oppressors’ desire to use it, the more obstinate the Hmong have become in their policies towards that group. At MCMC, however, the pressure to integrate was accompanied by good intentions and selfless service, allowing for the chance that the Hmong patients would see the doctors’ perspective and thereby develop at least a small degree of trust and confidence in that group. However the desire to do good was not enough. The doctors had to put it into a form that the Hmong could understand—the almost parental love that Neil and Peggy felt toward Lia. Once these feelings of love were out in the open, each side was free to cross the cultural barrier and embrace one another as mentors and benefactors of Lia Lee.

Could the same have been accomplished without love? Possibly. A good translator who was affluent enough with Hmong culture may have been able to explain the doctors’ wishes to Foua and Nao Kao, but without Neil’s display of pure emotions, this understanding would have been purely objective, even to the extent that the Lees may have continued to suspect that the doctors were testing new methods of medicine on Lia. In light of this alternative, I stay my claim that only when feelings of love are put into plain view, can people step across cultural barriers and gain a complete understanding of each other’s motives and intentions. One can thus only hope that people are able to step outside of their comfort zones and communicate in a language that everybody can understand, thus breaking down the barriers of hatred, prejudice and cultural misunderstanding, and thereby finding common ground between them on the basic platform that is humanity.

Works Cited

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. New York: Noonday, 1997.

Hooks, Bell. Outlaw Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

The Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

Johnson, Charles. Dab Neeg Hmoob. St. Paul: Linguistics Dept., Macalester College, 1985.

Jesus’ Third Way

This is a “copy-and-paste” excerpt from The Powers That Be: Theology For The New Millenium, by Walter Wink.  I have not read the book it’s from, but found this excerpt on the ‘net and knew it was worth re-sharing.  This outlines the method that Jesus, Gandhi, M.L.K. Jr., and others used to seize power from violent oppressors, even though they, themselves were, at first, in a dis-empowered state.

It should be noted that while I consider this “method” to most likely be the best in most situations, it’s not a “cure-all.”  While Jesus certainly admonished nonviolent resistance in his time (due to what was feasible, as mentioned below), it should also be noted that nonviolent resistance isn’t the only method the Messiah has used, nor will use, nor has/will commanded his followers to use.  (See Isaiah 63; Revelation 19.  Also note mostly any part of the Old Testament…)  Still, for most situations, and for most people, this should pretty well suffice.


by Walter Wink

The following text is taken from pages 98-111 of The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium, Walter Wink, 1998.

Many otherwise devout Christians simply dismiss Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence out of hand as impractical idealism. And with good reason. “Turn the other cheek” has come to imply a passive, doormatlike quality that has made the Christian way seem cowardly and complicit in the face of injustice. “Resist not evil” seems to break the back of all opposition to evil and to counsel submission. “Going the second mile” has become a platitude meaning nothing more than “extend yourself” and appears to encourage collaboration with the oppressor. Jesus’ teaching, viewed this way, is impractical, masochistic, and even suicidal—an invitation to bullies and spouse-batterers to wipe up the floor with their supine Christian victims.

Jesus never displayed that kind of passivity. Whatever the source of the misunderstanding, such distortions are clearly neither in Jesus nor his teaching, which, in context, is one of the most revolutionary political statements ever uttered:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Matt. 5:38-41; see also Luke 6:29).

The traditional interpretation of “do not resist an evildoer” has been nonresistance to evil—an odd conclusion, given the fact that on every occasion Jesus himself resisted evil with every fiber of his being. The fifth-century theologian Augustine agreed that the gospel teaches nonresistance, and therefore declared that a Christian must not attempt self-defense. However, he noted, if someone is attacking my neighbor, then the love commandment requires me to defend my neighbor, by force of arms if necessary. With that deft stroke, Augustine opened the door to the just-war theory, the military defense of the Roman Empire, and the use of torture and capital punishment. Following his lead, Christians have ever since been justifying wars fought for nothing more than national interest as “just.”

Curiously enough, some pacifists have also bought the nonresistance interpretation, and therefore have rejected nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience as coercive and in violation of the law of Christ. But the gospel does not teach nonresistance to evil. Jesus counsels resistance, but without violence. The Greek word translated “resist” in Matt. 5:39 is antistenai, meaning literally to stand (stenai) against (anti). What translators have over-looked is that antistenai is most often used in the Greek version of the Old Testament as a technical term for warfare. It describes the way opposing armies would march toward each other until their ranks met. Then they would “take a stand,” that is, fight. Ephesians 6:13 uses precisely this imagery: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand [antistenai] on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm istenai].” The image is not of a punch-drunk boxer somehow managing to stay on his feet, but of soldiers standing their ground, refusing to flee. In short, antistenai means more here than simply to “resist” evil. It means to resist violently, to revolt or rebel, to engage in an armed insurrection.

The Bible translators working in the hire of King James on what came to be known as the King James Version knew that the king did not want people to conclude that they had any recourse against his or any other sovereign’s tyranny. James had explicitly commissioned a new translation of the Bible because of what he regarded as “seditious . . . dangerous, and trayterous” tendencies in the marginal notes printed in the Geneva Bible, which included endorsement of the right to disobey a tyrant. Therefore the public had to be made to believe that there are two alternatives, and only two: flight or fight. And Jesus is made to command us, according to these king’s men, to resist not. Jesus appears to authorize monarchical absolutism. Submission is the will of God. And most modern translators have meekly followed in that path.

Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil, but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. We are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. He is urging us to transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive and yet nonviolent. The correct translation would be the one still preserved in the earliest renditions of this saying found in the New Testament epistles: “Do not repay evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17; 1 Thes. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). The Scholars Version of Matt. 5:39a is superb: “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil.”


The examples that follow confirm this reading. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matt. 5:39b). You are probably imagining a blow with the right fist. But such a blow would fall on the left cheek. To hit the right cheek with a fist would require the left hand. But the left hand could be used only for unclean tasks; at Qumran, a Jewish religious community of Jesus’ day, to gesture with the left hand meant exclusion from the meeting and penance for ten days. To grasp this you must physically try it: how would you hit the other’s right cheek with your right hand? If you have tried it, you will know: the only feasible blow is a backhand.

The backhand was not a blow to injure, but to insult, humiliate, degrade. It was not administered to an equal, but to an inferior. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; Romans,  Jews. The whole point of the blow was to force someone who was out of line back into place. Notice Jesus’ audience: “If anyone strikes you.” These are people used to being thus degraded. He is saying to them, “Re-fuse to accept this kind of treatment anymore. If they backhand you, turn the other cheek.”  (Now you really need to physically enact this to see the problem.) By turning the cheek, the servant makes it impossible for the master to use the backhand again: his nose is in the way. And anyway, it’s like telling a joke twice; if it didn’t work the first time, it simply won’t work. The left cheek now offers a perfect target for a blow with the right fist; but only equals fought with fists, as we know from Jewish sources, and the last thing the master wishes to do is to establish this underling’s equality. This act of defiance renders the master incapable of asserting his dominance in this relationship. He can have the slave beaten, but he can no longer cow him. By turning the cheek, then, the “inferior” is saying: “I’m a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God. I won’t take it anymore.”

Such defiance is no way to avoid trouble. Meek acquiescence is what the master wants. Such “cheeky” behavior may call down a flogging, or worse. But the point has been made. The Powers That Be have lost their power to make people submit. And when large numbers begin behaving thus (and Jesus was addressing a crowd), you have a social revolution on your hands.

In that world of honor and shaming, the “superior” has been rendered impotent to instill shame in a subordinate. He has been stripped of his power to dehumanize the other. As Gandhi taught, “The first principle of nonviolent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.”

How different this is from the usual view that this passage teaches us to turn the other cheek so our batterer can simply clobber us again! How often that interpretation has been fed to battered wives and children. And it was never what Jesus intended in the least. To such victims he advises, “Stand up for yourselves, defy your masters, assert your humanity; but don’t answer the oppressor in kind. Find a new, third way that is neither cowardly submission nor violent reprisal.”


Jesus’ second example of assertive nonviolence is set in a court of law. A creditor has taken a poor man to court over an unpaid loan. Only the poorest of the poor were subjected to such treatment. Deuteronomy 24:10-13 provided that a creditor could take as collateral for a loan a poor person’s long outer robe, but it had to be returned each evening so the poor man would have something in which to sleep.

Jesus is not advising people to add to their disadvantage by renouncing justice altogether, as so many commentators have suggested. He is telling impoverished debtors, who have nothing left but the  clothes on their backs, to use the system against itself.

Indebtedness was a plague in first-century Palestine. Jesus’ parables are full of debtors struggling to salvage their lives. Heavy debt was not, however, a natural calamity that had overtaken the incompetent. It was the direct consequence of Roman imperial policy. Emperors taxed the wealthy heavily to fund their wars. The rich naturally sought non-liquid investments to hide their wealth. Land was best, but it was ancestrally owned and passed down over generations, and no peasant would voluntarily relinquish it. However, exorbitant interest (25 to 250 percent) could be used to drive landowners ever deeper into debt. And debt, coupled with the high taxation required by Herod Antipas to pay Rome tribute, created the economic leverage to pry Galilean peasants loose from their land. By the time of Jesus we see this process already far advanced: large estates owned by absentee landlords, managed by stewards, and worked by tenant farmers, day laborers, and slaves. It is no accident that the first act of the Jewish revolutionaries in 66 c.e. was to burn the temple treasury, where the record of debts was kept. It is to this situation that Jesus speaks. His hearers are the poor (“if any one would sue you”). They share a rankling hatred for a system that subjects them to humiliation by stripping them of their lands, their goods, and finally even their outer garments.

Why, then, does Jesus counsel them to give over their undergarments as well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing and marching out of court stark naked! Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27). By stripping, the debtor has brought shame on the creditor.

Imagine the guffaws this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, covered with shame, the poor debtor’s outer garment in the one hand, his undergarment in the other. The tables have suddenly been turned on the creditor. The debtor had no hope of winning the case; the law was entirely in the creditor’s favor. But the poor man has transcended this attempt to humiliate him. He has risen above shame. At the same time, he has registered a stunning protest against the system that created his debt. He has said in effect, “You want my robe? Here, take everything! Now you’ve got all I have except my body. Is that what you’ll take next?”

Imagine the debtor leaving court naked. His friends and neighbors, aghast, inquire what happened. He explains. They join his growing procession, which now resembles a victory parade. This is guerrilla theater! The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked. The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness and destitution. This unmasking is not simply punitive, since it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.

The Powers That Be literally stand on their dignity. Nothing deflates them more effectively than deft lampooning. By refusing to be awed by their power, the powerless are emboldened to seize the initiative, even where structural change is not immediately possible. This message, far from counseling an unattainable otherworldly perfection, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed. It is being lived out all over the world today by previously powerless people ready to take their history into their own hands. Shortly before the fall of political apartheid in South Africa, police descended on a squatters’ camp they had long wanted to demolish. They gave the few women there five minutes to gather their possessions, and then the bulldozers would level their shacks. The women, apparently sensing the residual puritanical streak in rural Afrikaners, stripped naked before the bulldozers. The police turned and fled. So far as I know, that camp still stands.

Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence provides a hint of how to take on the entire system by unmasking its essential cruelty and burlesquing its pretensions to justice. Those who listen will no longer be treated as sponges to be squeezed dry by the rich. They can accept the laws as they stand, push them to absurdity, and reveal them for what they have become. They can strip naked, walk out before their fellows, and leave the creditors, and the whole economic edifice they represent, stark naked.


Going the second mile, Jesus’ third example, is drawn from the relatively enlightened practice of limiting to a single mile the amount of forced or impressed labor that Roman soldiers could levy on subject peoples. Such compulsory service was a constant feature in Palestine from Persian to late Roman times. Whoever was found on the street could be coerced into service, as was Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21). Armies had to be moved with dispatch. Ranking legionnaires bought slaves or donkeys to carry their packs of sixty to eighty-five pounds (not including weapons). The majority of the rank and file, however, had to depend on impressed civilians. Whole villages sometimes fled to avoid being forced to carry soldiers’ baggage.

What we have overlooked in this passage is the fact that carrying the pack a second mile is an infraction of military code. With few exceptions, minor infractions were left to the disciplinary control of the centurion (commander of one hundred men). He might fine the offending soldier, flog him, put him on a ration of barley instead of wheat, make him camp outside the fortifications, force him to stand all day before the general’s tent holding a clod of dirt in his hands—or, if the offender was a buddy, issue a mild reprimand. But the point is that the soldier does not know what will happen.

It is in this context of Roman military occupation that Jesus speaks. He does not counsel revolt. One does not “befriend” the soldier, draw him aside and drive a knife into his ribs. Jesus was surely aware of the futility of armed insurrection against Roman imperial might; he certainly did nothing to encourage those whose hatred of Rome would soon explode into violence.

But why carry the soldier’s pack a second mile? Does this not go to the opposite extreme by aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative and assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but how one responds to the rules is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that.

Imagine, then, the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and the civilian says, “Oh, no, let me carry it another mile.” Why would he want to do that? What is he up to? Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their packs, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and will not stop’. Is this a provocation? Is he insulting the legionnaire’s strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to violate the rules of impressment? Will this civilian file a complaint? Create trouble? From a situation of servile impressment, the oppressed have once more seized the initiative. They have taken back the power of choice. They have thrown the soldier off balance by depriving him of the predictability of his victim’s response. He has never dealt with such a problem before. Now he must make a decision for which nothing in his previous experience has prepared him. If he has enjoyed feeling superior to the vanquished, he will not enjoy it today. Imagine a Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus’ hearers, who must have been delighted at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors.

Jesus does not encourage Jews to walk a second mile in order to build up merit in heaven, or to be pious, or to kill the soldier with kindness. He is helping an oppressed people find a way to protest and neutralize an onerous practice despised throughout the empire. He is not giving a nonpolitical message of spiritual world transcendence. He is formulating a worldly spirituality in which the people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power learn to recover their humanity.

One could easily use Jesus’ advice vindictively. That is why we must not separate it from the command to love enemies that is integrally connected with it in both Matthew and Luke. But love is not averse to taking the law and using its oppressive momentum to throw the soldier into a region of uncertainty and anxiety that he has never known before.

Such tactics can seldom be repeated. One can imagine that within days after the incidents that Jesus sought to provoke the Powers That Be might pass new laws: penalties for nakedness in court and flogging for carrying a pack more than a mile. One must therefore be creative, improvising new tactics to keep the opponent off balance.

To those whose lifelong pattern has been to cringe before their masters, Jesus offers a way to liberate themselves from servile actions and a servile mentality. And he asserts that they can do this before there is a revolution. There is no need to wait until Rome is defeated, peasants have land, or slaves are freed. They can begin to behave with dignity and recovered humanity now, even under the unchanged conditions of the old order. Jesus’ sense of divine immediacy has social implications. The reign of God is already breaking into the world, and it comes, not as an imposition from on high, but as the leaven slowly causing the dough to rise (Matt. 13:33). Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence is thus integral to his proclamation of the dawning of the reign of God. Here was indeed a way to resist the Powers That Be without being made over into their likeness.

Jesus did not endorse armed revolution. It is not hard to see why. In the conditions of first-century Palestine, violent revolution against the Romans would prove catastrophic. But he did lay the foundations for a social revolution, as biblical scholar Richard A. Horsley has pointed out. And a social revolution becomes political when it reaches a critical threshold of acceptance; this in fact did happen to the Roman empire as the Christian church overcame it from below.11

Nor were peasants and slaves in a position to transform the economic system by frontal assault. But they could begin to act from an already recovered dignity and freedom. They could create within the shell of the old society the foundations of God’s domination-free order. They could begin living as if the Reign of God were already arriving. To an oppressed people, Jesus is saying, Do not continue to acquiesce in your oppression by the Powers; but do not react violently to it either. Rather, find a third way, a way that is neither submission nor assault, flight nor fight, a way that can secure your human dignity and begin to change the power equation, even now, before the revolution. Turn your cheek, thus indicating to the one who backhands you that his attempts to shame you into servility have failed. Strip naked and parade out of court, thus taking the momentum of the law and the whole debt economy and flipping them, jujitsu-like, in a burlesque of legality. Walk a second mile, surprising the occupation troops by placing them in jeopardy with their superiors. In short, take the law and push it to the point of absurdity. These are, of course, not rules to be followed legalistically, but examples to spark an infinite variety of creative responses in new and changing circumstances. They break the cycle of humiliation with humor and even ridicule, exposing the injustice of the system. They recover for the poor a modicum of initiative that can force the oppressor to see them in a new light.

Jesus is not advocating nonviolence merely as a technique for outwitting the enemy, but as a just means of opposing the enemy in a way that holds open the possibility of the enemy’s becoming just also. Both sides must win. We are summoned to pray for our enemies’ transformation, and to respond to ill treatment with a love that is not only godly but also from God.

The logic of Jesus’ examples in Matthew 5:3 9b-41 goes beyond both inaction and overreaction to a new response, fired in the crucible of love, that promises to liberate the oppressed from evil even as it frees the oppressor from sin. Do not react violently to evil, do not counter evil in kind, do not let evil dictate the terms of your opposition, do not let violence lead you to mirror your opponent—this forms the revolutionary principle that Jesus articulates as the basis for nonviolently engaging the Powers.

Jesus, in short, abhors both passivity and violence. He articulates, out of the history of his own people’s struggles, a way by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored, the oppressor resisted without being emulated, and the enemy neutralized without being destroyed. Those who have lived by Jesus’ words – Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, Muriel Lester, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Hildegard and Jean Goss-Mayr, Mairead (Corrigan) Maguire, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and countless others less well known – point us to a new way of confronting evil whose potential for personal and social transformation we are only beginning to grasp today.

The following is excerpted from pages 22-23 of Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa: Jesus’ Third Way, Walter Wink, 1987.

Some readers may object to the idea of discomforting the soldier or embarrassing the creditor. But can people who are engaged in oppressive acts repent unless made uncomfortable with their actions? There is, admittedly, the danger of using nonviolence as a tactic of revenge and humiliation. There is also, at the opposite extreme, an equal danger of sentimentality and softness that confuses the uncompromising love of Jesus with being nice. Loving confrontation can free both the oppressed from docility and the oppressor from sin.

Even if nonviolent action does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor, it does affect those committed to it. As Martin Luther King, Jr. attested, it gives them new self-respect, and calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had. To ‘those who have power, Jesus’ advice to the powerless may seem paltry. But to those whose lifelong pattern has been to cringe, bow, and scrape before their masters, and who have internalized their role as inferiors, this small step is momentous. It is comparable to the attempt by black charwomen in South Africa to join together in what will be for some of them an almost insuperable step: to begin calling their employers by their first names.

These three examples amplify what Jesus means in his thesis statement: “Do not violently resist evil (or, one who is evil).” Instead of the two options ingrained in us by millions of years of unreflective, brute response to biological threats from the environment: flight or fight, Jesus offers a third way. This new way marks a historic mutation in human development: the revolt against the principle of natural selection.15 With Jesus a way emerges by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored:


Seize the moral initiative

Find a creative alternative to violence

Assert your own humanity and dignity

as a person

Meet force with ridicule or humor

Break the cycle of humiliation

Refuse to submit or to accept the

inferior position

Expose the injustice of the system

Take control of the power dynamic

Shame the oppressor into repentance

Stand your ground

Make the Powers make decisions for which

they are not prepared

Recognize your own power

Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate

Force the oppressor to see you in a new light

Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a

show of force is effective

Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking

unjust laws

Die to fear of the old order and its rules







Armed revolt

Violent rebellion

Direct retaliation


(End of excerpt.)

How can we use this method, today, to put an end to the evils of our world?  What about close to home?  Is there an injustice in or near your own life that you’d like to see done away?  How could such a method as this help you to make it so?

I look forward to reading your comments, below.