Sunday, August 23, 2009

The delusion of Bash Back!

The men’s magazine Details has an article about a militant, underground group of gays and transgendered folk who are tired of the community being the targets of violence. Their solution? Fight back with more violence.

Bash Back!’s message is pretty simple: “We’re not trying to change people’s minds, we’re not trying to bend straight people to give us freedom—we’re fighting back,” says Milwaukee member Tristyn Trailer-Trash (from the Details article). “We’re going to stop them from preaching hate, stop them from creating an environment that’s unfriendly to gay, queer, and trans people. We’re not going to be nice about it—they’re not being nice about it!”

It is understandable for us to feel anger, bitterness and resentment toward the larger society because of how it marginalizes us. And it is very tempting to respond to violence with more violence. But when has violence as a method ever accomplished an end to violence?

The Kodhanna Sutta (AN 7.60) gives us seven reasons why anger is unproductive. Even its subtitle, “The Wretchedness of Anger,” fills us in on its ineffectiveness. The fact that members of Bash Back! feel compelled to cover their faces indicates that their method is not an honorable one, and one filled with delusion regarding its alleged merits. It makes them look like a pink version of Hamas. It’s not hyperbole; the Web site for the Chicago faction asks you to “Join the homosexual intifada!” Included in the group’s manifesto are statements like this: “All oppressive behavior is not to be tolerated.” Is that not a form of oppression?

The verses of the Kodhavagga (Dhp XVII) also offer a sublime teaching for us regarding anger:

Conquer anger
with lack of anger;
bad, with good;
stinginess, with a gift;
a liar, with truth.
By telling the truth;
by not growing angry;
by giving, when asked,
no matter how little you have:
by these three things
you enter the presence of devas.

“But we are under attack!” some of you might say. “We have to protect ourselves!”

At the heart of this is fear, a fear of being attacked, so the idea of arming ourselves against attack appears to be a logical step. We believe that it will relieve us of fear because the source of our fear will be vanquished. This is delusion. The Buddha teaches in the Attadanda Sutta (Snp 4.15) that arming ourselves against violence actually continues to feed our fear and preserve it, rather than rid ourselves of fear. The evidence is clear with Bash Back! Their violent tactics are doing nothing to alleviate their own fear of attack because they must hide their identities and meet secretively. This is not the behavior of someone without fear.

Gandhi led a movement that conquered an oppressive hegemony, and he did so by conquering his own fear and refusing to retaliate with violence against the violence he fully expected to meet. He took some knocks along the way, and so did his followers; but in the end, he contributed to the decline of a world empire.

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