Passive Resistance I

Hi there, my name is Danny Boice and I am the CEO of Trustify. This post is the first part of The Third Way: Passive Resistance blog.

Newton’s third law clearly states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. If someone insults you on the Internet, how exactly would you be expected to leverage the emotions associated with your reaction in an adaptive and productive way? During difficult times, we must make a conscious decision to either show resilience by adapting to our present circumstances, or fall backwards into depression. Now, as humans, we define ourselves by our ability to think critically and choose our own actions with full conscious awareness. Some of us are lucky enough to live in a developed world where we are relatively safe from major physical harm from the powerful on a daily basis. In today’s age, often the oppressors are far removed from our present physical world but may appear on Internet forums, images or news articles we come across daily. How do we deal with truth, trust and safety in this day and age of technological advancement? What can we learn from the past that engages our moral acuities today?

The Era of Jesus

The dynamics of oppressive power used to be much more robust in everyday life. In Galilee, during the era of Jesus, the pre-industrial society dictated much more precarious norms for the Jewish people. This was a time when the upper class consisted of the military, governors, priests, and bankers. There were also peasants and artisans, but no middle class in sight. Why? The contemporary Roman laws permitted the upper class to oppress, to stifle the dreams, hopes, ambitions, and entire futures of the lower class.Most Jewish people of this time never dreamed of traveling more than five miles from their homes, except for a rare pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:14-21). Although many Jewish people were able to read the Scriptures, most of them could not write because of their limited Hebrew, and could not read or write in Greek or Latin.

Roman courts were extremely powerful and always sided with the dominant class, as judges were not immune to extensive bribery. If the poor fought back, they could be hanged from crosses if soldiers captured them; this type of fatal punishment was known as a crucifixion. The Jewish people had to honor strict rules and hospitality practices imposed among the peasant class. For example, one’s right hand was kept clean and one must eat with it, while the left hand was used to wipe so it was unclean (Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:14-21). Those who were naturally left-handed were ordered to conform to the rules - or face ostracism.

Here, we will explore several lessons we can learn about the people from this society, primarily through the teachings of Jesus. Using his lessons on nonviolent protest in the face of an oppressive imperialist regime, we can also learn how to adapt them into ways that are practical for us to use today.

Turn the Other Cheek

One of the familiar relics of the time is the phrase, “turn the other cheek”. This was a teaching from Jesus, who explained that if someone should strike you on your right cheek (a superior), it would be characterized as a backhanded slap with the right hand towards one’s right cheek. As such, being slapped this way was the way the ruling five percent of the population (such as a landlord, bank lender, judge) asserted their dominance and superiority because this symbolized inequality. Conversely, one would fight fist-to-fist if you fought with a social equal, not with a backhanded slap.

Therefore, when Jesus would say, “turn the other cheek”, his followers knew exactly what dynamic he was about to discuss. The superior would not hit you with a closed fist, because that signifies an equal relationship with the opponent. Since the superior would not use the left hand (unclean) to hit the left side of your face, you could avoid being hit again by “turning the other cheek”. Jesus’s audience knew that this did not signal an opening to be hit on the left side of the face, but was a way of avoiding being hit again because one would not use the left hand to make contact with another person. This would be seen as vulgar, and the superior would be left humiliated by unwittingly treating the person as an equal. This is seen as a great metaphor for passive resistance.

Now that we understand that one way we can deal with a backhanded slap is to turn the other cheek, we can apply it to an everyday situation as it pertains to truth, trust, and safety on the Internet. One condition that exists in today’s world that did not in Jesus’ time is the ability to record events and store them on a massive scale on the Internet. This unlimited collective knowledge and communicative access to other people may be leveraged to maintain passive nonviolent resistance.

For example, we have seen people in the public sphere use the Internet as a platform for passive nonviolent resistance. From the #MeToo movement to the NFL players kneeling to protest gun violence against Blacks by police officers, people are using the internet as a way to force their perceived oppressors to, at least momentarily, to view them as equals. In the #MeToo movement, many celebrity women came forward with claims of alleged sexual harassment and assault against powerful Hollywood men, like the movie production mogul Harvey Weinstein. Much of the momentum behind the #MeToo movement was gained through the persistent resistance of several actresses who came forward with allegations. A key feature of this dynamic was that all the Hollywood men in question held positions of power and authority over the actresses, which made it difficult to speak about the incidents without losing work opportunities and important relationships.