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Professor explores ethics of non-violence

| Friday, April 10, 2015

Addressing a standing-room-only audience, Judith Butler, professor of comparative literature at University of California at Berkeley, gave a lecture titled “The Ethics and Politics of Non-Violence” on Thursday night at McKenna Hall Conference Center as part of the annual Yusko Ward-Phillips Lecture series.

Butler said it is not only difficult to define non-violence with certainty, but the principle of non-violence, once established, can also be easily misconstrued.

“A principled view on non-violence can sometimes be interpreted as violence. And when that happens those who make that interpretation consider it to be the right one, and those whose actions are being interpreted as violence consider it to be very wrong,” Butler said.

“Even if non-violence seems like a solitary act, it is mediated socially and depends on the recognition of conventions governing non-violent modes of conduct.”

Butler said these principles of non-violence are often subverted by opposing social structures. In particular, the police response to the 2011 student protests at University of California at Berkeley, during which unarmed students were allegedly beaten, demonstrated a challenge to the established protocol of non-violence.

“What happens increasingly often is a deliberate policy meant to suspend or nullify recognition of the conventions of civil disobedience. … This opens the way to construe non-violence as violence.”

Butler said the traditional conception of self-defense when discussing non-violence is an important one to consider, as it submits that killing for the safety of loved ones is justifiable. This exception to the principle against killing, however, eventually leads to ethical conflict.

“The exception to the rule is important, perhaps more important than the rule itself. If there are exceptions to the prohibition on killing, and if there always such exceptions, this assumes that the prohibition on killing is less than absolute,” Butler said.

Though people usually accept killing in defense of loved ones, they are not as willing to kill in defense of those with whom they have no relations, she said.

“A dubious distinction emerges between those who are close to one in the name of whose protection one may commit violence, and those in the name of whose defense one may not kill,” Butler said.

“You’ve started with a pacifist who makes a couple of distinctions, but now we see that the logic according to which those exceptions are made is on a continuum with a certain war logic.”

“The distinction between populations that are worth violently defending and those that are not implies that some lives are simply more valuable than others.”

To solve this ethical dilemma, Butler said it is important to uphold the equality of all lives, no matter how different.

“I’m suggesting that a thoroughly egalitarian approach to the preservation of life … that subscribes to a notion of rational democracy that is usually left out of the ethical considerations of how best to practice non-violence,” Butler said.

Butler said there is much opposition against this inclusive form of non-violence, and as such, supporters of this policy should expect criticism.

“Such allegations are meant to paralyze the speaker, distort the position against war and violence. … When that happens, the critique of war is actually misconstrued as a battle-cry,” she said.

Despite this conflict, Butler said it is important to seek out like-minded groups willing to uphold this principle of non-violence.

“It’s important to hope, but to embody the hope in action, to link arms and minds to form that overwhelming solidarity,” Butler said.

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  • Arafat

    In the spirit of full-disclosure…


    Page 1.


    Collaborators in the War against the Jews: Judith Butler

    March 9, 2010 by Steven Plaut 0 Comments


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    Professor Judith Butler from Berkeley’s Department of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature is not just your ordinary deconstructionist feminist anti-Semite. A self-proclaimed leading scholar in the pseudo-discipline of “Queer Studies,” she is also one of the leading academic defenders of anti-Semitism, which she insists is not anti-Semitic at all. She has devoted much of her academic career to the struggle to see Israel eliminated. While often posturing as a free speech absolutist, she is also absolutely opposed to Israelis having any academic freedom and is a leader in the attempt to impose a world boycott against Israeli universities. Naturally, she has never come out in favor of an academic boycott of Syria, Libya, Iran, Cuba, or the Hamas. Hamas and Hezbollah may seek the extermination of every Jew on the planet and not just of Israel, but Butler still likes to wave her “Jewish roots” when she serves as an apologist for them.

    Butler is perhaps best remembered as one of the most strident attackers against Lawrence Summers, the ex-President of Harvard. She was horrified when Summers proclaimed: “Profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities. Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent (September 17, 2002).” Butler venomously denounced Summers for telling the truth, arguing that telling the truth threatens academic freedom: “Summers has struck a blow against academic freedom, in effect, if not in intent…”

    • Arafat

      Page 2.


      “…Butler recently showed up in the Middle East, to strut her support for the intifada. As a militant feminist, however, she was on a bizarre mission. In February, 2010, she spent her time in the West Bank shilling for the very same Palestinian Islamic terrorist groups who make a point out of torturing and murdering homosexuals and who insist that the place of women in Muslim society is somewhere out back and out of sight, barefoot and scarved. Like so many apologists for Islamofascism, the only “oppression” of Palestinian women Butler could find was their supposed mistreatment by the Zionist “occupiers.” You know, the same ones who have a woman Chief Justice in their Supreme Court, who have more women doctors than men, and who have elected a woman as Prime Minister. Butler denounced Israel at length for its “mistreatment” of Arab women, and never mind that they are treated at least a thousand times better by Israel than they are inside any Arab regime. Meanwhile, Islamic religious figures in Egypt have been proclaiming that Muslims have the natural right to rape all Jewish women. Butler has yet to issue a response to that…”

      • Arafat

        Page 3.


        “…So much of what Butler writes is so mindless and filled with so many grammatical flaws that one wonders how her text survives a word processing program. Butler’s take on the 9-11 attacks on America was that “the violent acts of 9/11 is (sic) exacerbated by the inability of Americans to recognize the precariousness of non-American (particularly Muslim) lives. They are always already dead, and therefore cannot be killed.” Huh? She insists that the West is guilty of this: “These excluded are brutally subjected to the “violence of derealization.” Huh? She “claims that the War on Terror has provided a climate where the sexual freedoms she and others fought for are now misused to symbolize (sic) the shining, gleaming modernity of the West. The backwardness and inferiority of ‘others’ is counterposed (sic) and underscored against this.” Huh??..”

  • GopherPatriot

    For all your hate on Disqus posts, Arafat, remember:

    “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight!” Isaiah 5:20-21

    May the Lord deal justly between us both and condemn the one between us who sows hate with their lies on these posts on Disqus.

    Amen. I take that oath.

    Can I get an amen from you on that, Arafat?