MCFly writer Philip James ponders the ethics of non-violent direct action, and seeks readers’ opinions…
Take the Flour Back is a non-violent direct action event against a crop trial of GM wheat taking place at the Rothamsted Institute in Hertfordshire on May 27th. The action aims to destroy the crops, or conduct a ‘decontamination’ as the campaign puts it. Many Manchester campaigners are in support and planning to attend (see http://www.underthepavement.org/listen-again/ for an interview with two such campaigners).
However, there are concerns that direct action of the kind planned by Take the Flour Back sets a dangerous precedent: if you don’t agree with something, break it. If every time somebody disagrees with something they break it, where does that leave us? Is it acceptable to destroy the power lines to a wind farm because you hold the sincere opinion that it spoils the environment and harms birds? We are entering highly charged times and the environmental movement might just need the rule of law and much as it needs to circumvent it. To quote A Man for All Seasons:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
Then again, if you always took the Thomas More line where would we be?
Do you sometimes have to break the law to change it? Are all forms of
direct action equally valid? Is passive resistance more powerful than an act of destruction?
Any thoughts Dear Readers on direct action of this kind and where it leads for the environmental movement. Go on, post a comment!