A working definition of paradigm is “an encompassing framework or theory that, although never proven in an absolute way, fits the current reality of events so well that it becomes accepted as reality and is not questioned or challenged to any great degree, until a new paradigm begins to take shape.”
- Ptolemy’s universe (earth is center) vs. Copernicus’ universe (sun is center) vs. Kepler’s universe (sun is one star). or:
- Newtonian physics vs. Relativity theory vs. Quantum physics.
In the social realm, consider the essential abolition of slavery on a global level during the 19th century, the ascendancy of women’s suffrage in Western society at the turn of the century, etc. Now we face that kind of general conceptual framework change in the arena of conflict resolution; from violence and coercion as the basic premise to nonviolence and the assimilation of truth.
- An eye for an eye vs. turn the other cheek.
- Might makes right vs. right makes might.
- Peace through strength vs. “there is no way to peace; peace is the way.”
Nonviolence as a means of exercising social and political power:
The opponent in a nonviolent struggle is likely to have available a variety of coercive and repressive resources. Our government has at its disposal weapons, troops, jails, intelligence-gathering machinery and personnel. In nonviolent struggle, we do not attempt (as in violent conflict) to meet the opponent with the same weapons systems or tactics. Our effort is geared primarily toward limiting or countering the opponent’s expression of power. Our goal is to weaken the power position of the opponent relative to ours. We desire to alienate existing support of the opponent, prevent the accrual of further support, and to undermine the opponent’s ability to continue the policy or practices which we object to.
We are not in the business of directly challenging the government’s military might. It is clear that we could never hope to mount a successful campaign of violence to produce the desired change in our opponent (and don’t forget the “means vs. ends” trap). A violent challenge to a violent system would only serve to bolster and justify the opponent’s perceived need for military posturing. Thus, we do not attack the opponent’s power directly; instead, we seek to gain control of the sources of power. Our actions are aimed at changing our power position relative to that of our opponent. We do this by challenging the basis for power in terms of authority, human resources, public consent, public opinion and credibility.
In this way, if our campaign is properly designed and executed, the opponent is required to deal with issues. A forum is engendered in which debate, dialogue and ideas become the weapons. We are trying to create an atmosphere for the clarification of truth. We know that we have no monopoly on the truth ourselves, but we insist that our portion of the truth be heard and acknowledged. Further, we wish to know the truth in the opponent’s position. Our goal in nonviolent struggle is to arrive at sane, humane, and just policies based on a more complete understanding of the issues by the participants on each side of the struggle and by the interested, concerned, and informed public.