For whatever reason, I've had a number of discussions of non-violence lately, with the usual objections, which can be summarized as: But my violence is justified.
For instance, I just saw a piece that quoted Malcolm X as saying to James Baldwin: _“Never do you find white people encouraging other whites to be nonviolent. Whites idolize fighters. …At the same time that they admire these fighters, they encourage the so called ‘Negro’ in America to get his desires fulfilled with a sit in stroke, or a passive approach, or a love your enemy approach or pray for those who despitefully use you. This is insane.”_
I suppose Malcolm might have been using "never" in an emphatic way, but while what he says is true in a statistical and normative sense, it is not, when stated absolutely, the case. Quakers, Mennonites and Amish all have developed, over the last 400 years, a practical, disciplined method of non-violence. I come from the Mennonite tradition, but I think the Quakers have developed it better. I want to represent for these traditions, I think they are important and valuable.
Ethnically speaking these are white people, and I offer them as a counter to Malcom's assertion. I do not hold that "white people invented non-violence". Jesus wasn't a white person. There is a strong tradition of non-violence among Buddhists, as well, though I'm less familiar with them. I'd expect there to be seeds of non-violent thought in Islam as well, though like Buddhism, I'm less familiar with it. I am sure there are others, as well. These ideas have been around a long time.
Non-violence is not at all the same as passive acceptance of a stronger force. When confronted with violence, the normal human impulse to reciprocity turns to retaliation. This creates a cycle of violence, particularly in a political sphere, where the illusion of shared identity creates a pretext for retaliatory violence acted out on bodies that did not perpetrate the original violence.
That is to say, "They <someone with identity X> did <unspeakable atrocity> to us <someone with my identity>, therefore we will do <even more horrible things> to them <some other people with identity X>."
We normatively expect people to be able to defend themselves, and I do not object to this as a civil procedure. But I recognize that the only way for this cycle of violence to stop is, as it is put here in the link, for someone to suffer violence without inflicting it on others.
(Gandhi observed that if someone was incapable of inflicting violence on others, then it was not possible for them to practice non-violence. I think I agree.)
The world is a less violent place now than it was 400 years ago, when this stuff was just getting started. It's less violent than it was even 52 years ago, when Malcolm debated Baldwin. How much of that reduction can be attributed to people who were willing to suffer violence and yet not inflict it on others?
I do not say these things to judge people. They are acting normatively. It is normal for humans to defend themselves and to act retributively. The path of non-violence takes discipline and training and support. It is ridiculous to expect spontaneous outbursts of non-violent protest. It is a hard road, and an unintuitive one. Yet it is well worth it.