Asking Ourselves a Fundamental Question

Thank you to everyone who voted in my poll about the future of Incidents of Travel! Most people would like me to continue the blog in one form or another, and I am going to strive to keep Incidents of Travel alive. My MBA program starts tomorrow and I will see if it provides the inspiration for more writing, but in the meantime I am going to continue writing about whatever wanders into my head. I may also redesign the layout of the blog a bit. It’s no longer a travel blog and needs to reflect this new phase in my life. With an eye on changes ahead, please consider this the first post of the new era of Incidents of Travel. Thank you for your readership and support, and please feel free to comment whenever you please. I truly welcome not just praise, but criticism as well. Also, to anyone who contributed to my Kickstarter last year, please no that your contribution continues to keep this blog alive, and will do so for some time still. Thank you.

Take a second to think about the episodes in history where we praise, venerate, and commemorate violence. Jot down a few examples that you agree with, or make a mental list. It took me a while to come up with a short list, so by all means, take your time. Make sure that the examples you have in mind you truly feel were justifiable uses of violence.

A few months ago I posed a question to a number of friends:

“Is it ever justifiable to use violence to try to end oppression?”

I am pretty much the closest thing to being a pacifist you can be without actually being one. Generally, I believe that violence, particularly systemic violence (wars, uprisings, terrorism, etc.) create more suffering than they alleviate. However, I suppose that if a people’s lives are being taken, and other remediative options have been exhausted, violence is acceptable. It would be to save yourself. It is self-defense.

This is far from the only opinion on the matter. I posed the question to a Latina friend of mine and she was nearly offended by my opinion. She felt that hell yea if you or your loved ones are being oppressed you are justified in using violence to overthrow the status quo. She felt that my perspective reflected the domination of White men in the world today. I can see why White men would have a lot at stake at maintaining the status quo, but my despise for violence is based on my strong dislike for human suffering, not my privileged position in the world.  

I’m going through this thought exercise because I don’t think that everyone is processing the attack in Dallas the right way. In case anyone is wondering, I think the shooting in Dallas was terrible. I condemn it 100%. I can’t believe that we are living in a new civil rights era. It was taught to me in history class, so I figured it was history. We were wrong, but I suppose it is better to address these issues rather than continue to sweep them under the carpet, like we have been doing for so many decades. We just can’t always jump to immediately say that violence is a 100% unacceptable reaction to an oppressive situation. To me, that’s the oppressive White male response. Anything to maintain the status quo. It’s like saying, “Sorry, but there is no final option. The status quo can only be changed from within. Our might is right.” That’s not justice.

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
– The Politics of Education, Paulo Freire

We need to weed through the rhetoric and ask ourselves, “When could we conceivably agree with something so heinous?” Don’t think you could ever get behind violence of this sort? Pull your list out, the one I asked you to come up with at the beginning of this article. Unless you are a categorial pacifist (I do admit, I have not read pacifistic philosophy, so I am being a bit amateurish with nomenclature and concepts here), you have agreed with violence in the past. Here’s my short list:

  • Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
  • Haitian Revolution
  • Amistad
  • Pesh Merga defending Kurdistan against ISIS
  • Native uprisings against the Belgians in the Congo

I see two necessary criteria for justifiable violence:

  1. People’s lives are being legitimately threatened
  2. Other remediative options have been exhausted

Basically, I only see violence as justifiable it it is for self-preservation. Self-defense. My friend that I mentioned earlier would have more relaxed standards and a wider view of justifiable violence.

I think it is good to do this thought exercise, because it helps frame the current situation that we find ourselves in. How far away are we from subjugated minorities actually justifiably using violence to end their oppression? What do we need to do in our society right now so that our cities do not turn into literally another Warsaw Ghetto? Put another way, what do we need to do in our society so that we don’t cross your line in the sand, where violence does become justifiable? 

I know that there are people who do not agree with the Black Lives Matter movement. They find its premises illegitimate and consider it an aggravating movement in our society. To those people I directly pose the following question: Do we need to give them more space in the public dialogue simply so that more and more people who feel oppressed do not resort to violence?

I would assume that there are some people out there who actually applaud the lone gunman’s actions. To them I say that there are recourses, even in the extremely repressive regimes. This is where my Marxism comes out in all of its blazing red glory, but I’ve become a huge fan of the philosophy of critical pedagogy put forth by Paulo Freire. Use education not as a tool to give people the information they are supposed to know, but instead pose reflective questions to all students (of all ages), and not only the oppressed will recognize their diminished status in society, but so will the oppressors, opening the door for non-violent change.


I don’t want to use this article to propose policy. Those articles are out there. I’ve even posted about it on my Facebook before. The fact of the matter is, the policy makers are more or less the opressors. We need to break that relationship, then we can make progress, in this issue and many many others.

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