A culture of (non)violence


Loss of life, injury and grief are the undeniable toll of war, yet violence has become so much a part of our daily lives that we have lost sight of what it does. On day two of the Peace Fellowship, Peace Generation’s founder Teresa Ma spoke to the Fellows about the impact a culture of violence has on our lives. She discussed what draws people to violence, three types of violence ­– direct, structural and cultural – and the ways we rationalise its use. This paved the way for discussion on the relationship between violence and peace.

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Why do people resort to violence?

During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), the fascist dictator Francisco Franco joined forces with the Nazis and the latter bombed Guernica, a town in northern Spain. Untold casualties resulted. In 1937, Picasso, at the invitation of Spain’s Republican government, created an artwork for that year’s Paris International Exposition, where he exhibited this monumental painting. Using only black, white and grey, the painting depicts people and animals in panic, mothers wailing for their dead children, buildings in flames. . . Although the painting is not an overt portrayal of war, it is nonetheless a profound expression of the pain which violence creates. Later, the painting was reproduced as a tapestry. The reproduction hung at the entrance to the United Nations Security Council chamber until 2009, a constant reminder never to forget the wreckage of war.

The form of war has changed greatly from the 20th to the 21st centuries, yet violence has not exited the world stage. Instead, it has become “everyday fare” to such an extent that even children’s films contain complex violent scenes. Why is this? In the words of one Fellow: “Violence is an expression of conflict. We face many instances of conflict in our everyday lives, and violence is a way to vent our emotions.” But as another Fellow pointed out, violence is also a negative example that can give us a greater appreciation for life.

People resort to violence for complex reasons. “Human nature”, “the dictates of circumstances”, “moral intent”, “law and order” or “sacrifice for the greater good” are some of the frequently cited reasons used to rationalise or justify violence, including choosing to fight violence with violence.


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Is nonviolent resistance effective?

There are also different supporting reasons for nonviolence — advocates of “principled nonviolence” say that to attain peace, the methods used must also be peaceful. Gandhi exemplified this through his personal conduct. “Pragmatic nonviolence”, on the other hand, views nonviolence as a means to effect social change. Harvard University professor Erica Chenoweth conducted long-term research on the various types of violent and nonviolent resistance seen since the early 20th century. She found that countries where resistance campaigns were nonviolent were 10 times as likely to transition to democracy compared to countries where resistance turned violent. Despite a sharp drop in the effectiveness of nonviolent campaigns around the world in recent years, the drop in effectiveness of violent campaigns has been more drastic. The reasons for this change are complex. Changes in demands have played a role, but so too have the changes in group cohesion and power dynamics brought about by the internet and social media.

Looking back on  Hong Kong’s five-year civil resistance movement from 2014 to 2019, two quite different groups emerged: the “peaceful-rational-nonviolent [and foul-language free]” protestors and the “valiant” protestors. Opinions differ on whether violence should - whether morally or strategically - be a means of fighting for demands. Chenowith’s research indicates, in addition, that reforms secured by nonviolent methods often last longer. When Nelson Mandela took public office, after having spent decades in prison, he established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. He adopted a national policy of forgiveness rather than taking “an eye for an eye”. This is a good example. If, when a new government assumes office, the people remain mired in hate and fixated on revenge, that government will be short-lived. It will be overthrown, by foe or by friend.

When we are confronted with social injustice and the kind of change needed, understanding the many aspects of violence may help us to expand our thinking on how to proceed or comment on others.




戰爭固然帶來傷亡悲痛,但日常生活當中,暴力的場景是這樣普及,讓人不自覺失去看清暴力的能力。Peace Fellowship第二天,和平世代創辦人馬嘉明從暴力文化及其影響說起,討論人為何會被暴力吸引;又辨別直接式、結構及文化性三種不同暴力的本質,以及暴力如何被合理化,從而帶出暴力與和平的關係。

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而支持非暴力的,也有不同原因 —— 「原則性非暴力」(principled nonviolence)一派主張要達至和平,手法也需要是和平的,印度甘地便以身作出示範;另一方面,「務實性非暴力」(pragmatic nonviolence)則視非暴力為改變社會的手段。哈佛大學教授Erica Chenoweth曾以20世紀初至當代百多年間各類暴力和非暴力抗爭,進行長期研究,結果顯示經歷非暴力抗爭的國家邁向民主的可能性高於抗爭變得暴力的國家的十倍。 即使近年全球的非暴力抗爭運動成效激減,但暴力抗爭的成效的跌幅更劇烈。引致這種轉變的原因複雜,既關乎訴求的轉變,也因為互聯網及社交平台改變了群體的凝聚方式和力量。

回顧香港2014至2019五年間的民間抗爭運動,可以分為和理非[非]和勇武兩派。對於暴力在道德或策略上應否作為爭取訴求的手法,眾說紛紜。Chenoweth 的研究結果又顯示,用非暴力方法建立的改革,往往能夠維持得較長久。南非曼德拉結束數十年的牢獄生涯,在當政後成立了真相和解委員會,並將寬恕奉為國策,而不是以眼還眼,便是一個好例子。倘若新政府上任後,國民仍然記恨在心和致力復仇,當政也無法持久,要不被敵人推翻,要不被自己人推倒。