January 10, 2013

Colby Cosh on the rules of hunger striking

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

A useful guide to those who have a legitimate grievance that can’t be addressed in any other way:

Congratulations! If you are thinking of conducting a hunger strike to advance some very important cause, this guide is for you. Think of it as a sort of Anarchist’s Cookbook for those who intend to stop eating for political purposes. The hunger strike is very nearly the greatest weapon of protest available to the truly powerless. In its potential for non-violently multiplying the revolutionary leverage of a single dedicated person, it is perhaps exceeded only by the act of setting oneself on fire in the public square — a tactic which, it must be admitted, does have a slightly better record of influencing the course of history.

The formal hunger strike is made prestigious by its association with Mohandas K. Gandhi, who (probably uniquely) applied it several times with devastating effect in various contexts. Because hunger strikes have often failed, however, it is worth considering the reasons Gandhi was able to make it work — implicit conditions you should, before you proceed, make sure of your ability to satisfy.

[. . .]

Many of these rules or conditions can be summed up by simply observing that people will not want to believe that you, as a hunger striker, fully intend to die a slow death for your beliefs: the whole point of the exercise is to create a vivid, heartbreaking tableau that is unbearable to contemplate. The corollary is that they will tell themselves anything — that you are crazy; that you are a fanatic; that you are engaged in a ploy for immortality and fame; that you are secretly eating — rather than believe the terrible proposition you are putting forward to them. You had better be in possession of the truth. If not, you should throw down this guide and never return to it.

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