In Search of the Rational Insurgent

31 Jul

Rational /ˈraʃ(ə)n(ə)l/*

adj.

1. based on or in accordance with reason or logic

2. able to think sensibly or logically

Insurgent /ɪnˈsəːdʒ(ə)nt/*

n.

1. a person fighting against a government or invading force; a rebel or revolutionary.

In this inaugural post, I’d like to introduce the mission of this blog. My primary purpose is to challenge the conventional wisdom that violent insurgency is necessary or effective in confronting oppression, and to highlight nonviolent methods of resistance as viable alternatives to violence. Toward this end, this blog will feature scholarly research, media accounts, and reports from activists about the use of nonviolent direct action, or “civil resistance,” in ongoing conflicts around the world–especially in places where violence seems endemic. But first, let me tell you about the blog’s title.

Rationality is a decision process. A rational individual decides what she wants. Then she chooses strategies that have the best chances of allowing her to achieve her goals. She does this without allowing emotions, moral beliefs, or other entanglements interfere with her reason. She is a utility maximizer.

Insurgency is a state of rebellion. An insurgent is committed to changing the political, economic, or social status quo, and is often willing to fight and die for a cause. Sometimes the fight is justified, sometimes it isn’t. But the stakes are always high.

Today, we see a lot of insurgency without a lot of rationality. People who resort to violence for political goals rarely seem to be utility maximizers. They choose violent methods that have very little likelihood of yielding returns. They tend to continue to use violence long after it has proven to be futile. They attack their allies as often as they attack their enemies. They don’t bother making explanations for their attacks. They seem to use violence for violence’s sake.

A rational insurgent would rarely see violence as necessary, because she would know that nonviolent resistance has a much higher chance of success, even against brutal opponents. The rational insurgent would use nonviolent methods of change not to seize the moral high ground, but because it is the most logical choice in most contexts.

This blog aims to demonstrate why nonviolent resistance is the method of choice for the rational insurgent. I will develop explanations for why this is the case in subsequent posts. However, I have no particular political agenda to promote here, and I make no moral judgments about the use of violence in conflicts beyond utilitarian ones. I am much more interested in methods than outcomes. But I am committed to debunking inaccurate myths about nonviolent and violent resistance. And I would love to convince people who are currently using (or justifying) violent means of struggle to abandon (or denounce) those methods whenever they are unnecessary. I welcome guest posts and will entertain comments.

*Oxford English Dictionary.

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