Saturday, December 25, 2010

Reading Gene Sharp on Christmas

As a Tibetan, I am free from the pressure to celebrate Christmas with lights and trees and stockings. But I do observe the holiday every year, by going to the movies with my Jewish friends in Boston. Today, after watching "The King's Speech," I returned home and started reading.

I decided to brush up on some of the writings of Gene Sharp, since I have been able to secure a meeting with him for Monday. For those who're not familiar with his name, let me put it this way: Gene Sharp is the Sun Tzu of nonviolence.

Gene Sharp is the founding scholar of the academic field of nonviolent conflict. In 1973 he published "The Politics of Nonviolent Action," which came to be regarded as the bible of strategic nonviolent action. He has published prolifically in his exceptional career, writing thousands of pages analyzing and deconstructing the methods used by the likes of Gandhi and King as well as less famous nonviolent warriors.

His thought and his books have served as the basis for strategic campaigns in numerous peaceful revolutions from Serbia to Georgia to Ukraine.

Here is an excerpt from his book, "Waging Nonviolent Struggle," a 598-page monster that I would be lucky to have barely skimmed by Monday!

"The question is to what degree people obey without threats, and to what degree they continue to disobey despite punishments. Even the capacity of rulers to detect and punish disobedience depends on the existing pattern of obedience and cooperation. The greater the obedience of the rulers' subjects, the greater the chances of detection and punishment of disobedience and noncooperation. The weaker the obedience and cooperation of the subjects, the less effective the rulers' detection and enforcement will be."

How true! If a million people disobey, the state would have no capacity to punish them all.

Not everything Sharp has written is dense or long. Here is an online version of Sharp's short and most engaging pamphlet, "From Dictatorship To Democracy," which should be mandatory reading for anyone who desires nonviolent change:

And here is a Tibetan language version of the same pamphlet, available in PDF:

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