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Excerpt from Endgame

Audre Lorde (p. 676)

From chapter "Pacifism, Part I"

You can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. I can’t tell you how many people have said this to me. I can, however, tell you with reasonable certainty that none of these people have ever read the essay from which the line comes: “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House,” by Audre Lorde (certainly no pacifist herself). The essay has nothing to do with pacifism, but with the exclusion of marginalized voices from discourse ostensibly having to do with social change. If any of these pacifists had read her essay, they would undoubtedly have been horrified, because she is, reasonably enough, suggesting a multivaried approach to the multivarious problems we face. She says, “As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.” We can say the same for unarmed versus armed resistance, that activists have been taught to view our differences as causes for separation and suspicion, rather than as forces for change. That’s a fatal error. She continues, “[Survival] is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

It has always seemed clear to me that violent and nonviolent approaches to social change are complementary. No one I know who advocates the possibility of armed resistance to the dominant culture’s degradation and exploitation rejects nonviolent resistance. Many of us routinely participate in nonviolent resistance and support those for whom this is their only mode of opposition. Just last night I and two other non-pacifists wasted two hours sitting at a county fair tabling for a local environmental organization…We received many scowls. We did this nonviolent work, although we accomplished precisely nothing. But many dogmatic pacifists refuse to grant the same respect the other way. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of the dogmatic pacifists I’ve encountered have been fundamentalists, perceiving violence as a form of blasphemy (which it is within this culture if it flows up the hierarchy, and these particular fundamentalists have never been too picky about reaping the fiscal fruits of this culture’s routine violence down the hierarchy), and refusing to allow any mention of violence in their presence. It’s ironic, then, that they end up turning Audre Lorde’s comment on its head.

Our survival really does depend on us learning how to “take our differences”—including violent and nonviolent approaches to stopping civilization from killing the planet—“and make them strengths.” Yet these fundamentalists attempt to eradicate this difference, to disallow it, to force all discourse and all action into only one path: theirs. That’s incredibly harmful, and of course serves those in power. The master’s house will never be dismantled using only one tool, whether that tool is discourse, hammers, or high explosives.

I have many other problems with the pacifist use of the idea that force is solely the dominion of those in power. It’s certainly true that the master uses the tool of violence, but that doesn’t mean he owns it. Those in power have effectively convinced us they own land, which is to say they’ve convinced us to give up our inalienable right to access our own landbases. They’ve effectively convinced us they own conflict resolution methods (which they call laws), which is to say they’ve convinced us to give up our inalienable right to resolve our own conflicts (which they call taking the law into your own hands). They’ve convinced us they own water. They’ve convinced us they own the wild (the government could not offer “timber sales” unless we all agreed it owned the trees in the first place). They’re in the process of convincing us they own the air. The state has for millennia been trying to convince us it owns a monopoly on violence, and abusers have been trying to convince us for far longer than that. Pacifists are more than willing to grant them that, and to shout down anyone who disagrees.

Well, I disagree. Violence does not belong exclusively to those at the top of the hierarchy, no matter how much abusers and their allies try to convince us. They have never convinced wild animals, including wild humans, and they will never convince me.