BECK index

Liberation from Seven Deadly -isms

by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Nonviolent Action Handbook. For ordering information, please click here.


All of us grow up in an environment dominated by our physical surroundings, our family, schools, and culture and are filled with physical, psychological, and social conditioning, which shapes the instincts we inherited through our genes from our ancestors. As we mature and learn how to draw upon the spiritual resources within ourselves to exercise our intuition and freedom of will, we find that we have various tendencies and habits, which may conflict with our spiritual perception of what is best in the situation. To free ourselves from this programming we must learn to acknowledge what it is and make conscious choices based on higher values and careful reasoning. This is not always easy, because the physical and emotional habits may resist our search for wisdom. We call this freeing process liberation-spiritual, theological, political, social, economic, psychological, and physical. To transcend our patterns of conditioning we must become conscious of them by acknowledging and understanding them. The pragmatic test of whether we have become liberated is not only the attitudes we develop and the words we speak but ultimately our behavior and actions, which demonstrate that we are not bound by the old conditioning. However, discussing these issues and changing our attitudes is part of the process of eventually changing our behavior.


Because women have had to bear the burden of carrying and nurturing children, for generations in evolution and culturally men have taken advantage of their physical strength to dominate women, resulting in the domestic oppression of women and children and in excessive strife and fighting between males. These masculine warlike tendencies are now threatening our entire planet and must be changed. The oppression, dominance, and exploitation of women by men must be stopped. Since these patterns have a long biological, social, economic, and political history, the conditioning is deeply embedded in the culture as well as in the instincts. Our patriarchal society naturally favors men and masculine qualities. These very imbalances have destroyed what could be a natural harmony of cooperation.

To cure a society diseased by domineering and exploitative attitudes and practices we need more women to take a stronger role in politics and culture along with men who are sensitive to the feminine side. We must stop giving over our power to domineering males, and we must not allow them to push us around anymore. We need individuals and groups that are balanced and healthy wholes; we do not necessarily need women who have become over-masculinized and aggressive nor men who have become too weak and passive. Peace and harmony result from equality and justice. Women must assert their right to participate and let their feelings be known, and men must learn to become sensitive to women and their own feelings and intuitions. We need more cooperation and less competition. We need less "leadership" from the top and more group sharing.
As individuals we can examine our daily lives for the vestiges of sexism and work to develop our wholeness. Similarly in groups we can point out to each other how society has been prejudiced against women and work to change our own group attitudes and practices so that feminism has its proper place. Because the old patterns are so ingrained and strong, we must make extra effort to attempt to balance the equation in favor of the side that has been so long oppressed.

Isn't it time we begin to feed and nurture the world and stop trying to arm and dominate it by aggressive force? Can we break the logical chains of rationality that have led us to the development of thermonuclear weapons and star wars? Can we respect the Earth and the beauty of nature instead of plundering and robbing? Can we use art and music to teach and appreciate human values rather than be dominated by science and technology in a mechanized world? Can we learn to share with each other instead of grabbing greedily to possess? Can we supply the world with an abundance of teachers, doctors, and nurses instead of armies, navies, and air forces? We need more women doctors and more male nurses. Can we listen to each other with our hearts instead of making speeches with our egos? The answer to all these questions is yes. In fact, if we do not change our patterns, our very survival is in danger. When we surrender to love of all and follow our hearts, then we will be on the path of healing and happiness.

More feminist awareness will be discussed in the section on "Overcoming Discrimination."


Although physical differences give people an easy means of discrimination, prejudices usually develop for cultural reasons. Different languages and traditions often make communication and understanding difficult. Thus for example, Chinese and Japanese may discriminate against each other's minority populations. Africans in the United States have suffered the worst treatment, because of how they were oppressed as slaves collectively. Native American "Indians" also were badly treated because of cultural differences. In both these latter cases dominating whites often felt insecure and afraid that these people would break out of their oppressed circumstances and fight back or take away the advantages the white settlers had exploited for themselves. Thus racism became wrapped up in economic and social exploitation of a poor class which was easily identifiable so that they could be "kept in their place."

Unfortunately these patterns are still with us, and white people unconsciously consider "colored" peoples as inferior, making it seem permissible to treat them badly, especially those in "foreign" countries. Although whites are in a majority in the industrialized western nations, globally whites are very much in the minority. Thus subconsciously these mostly white nations are afraid of losing control and dominance, as in South Africa where the whites are a small minority. Since the poor tend to have higher birth rates, there is also the fear that the black, brown, and yellow "hordes" will overrun the whites, even in the United States where these minorities are increasing. Maybe non-white peoples historically have larger populations, because culturally they are not as aggressive and warlike.

Perhaps the worst part of racism is how it dehumanizes the racists' own sensitivities toward other human beings. Ironically those who consider others inferior are the ones who have morally and spiritually degraded themselves by their arrogance. They have closed their hearts and minds to souls who are equal to themselves by treating them as objects instead of as spiritual beings. They are violating the fundamental spiritual principle of loving others as ourselves, and not just individually but en masse. We all have the right to choose our friends by affinities, to hire workers by their skill and experience, etc., but to prejudge an entire group of people arbitrarily by skin color or cultural heritage is to limit oneself and commit wholesale injustice.

Foreign policy is often influenced by these racist prejudices in combination with nationalism and imperialism. United States citizens are upset that about 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam, but how many people are concerned that Americans killed at least one million Vietnamese people? Hundreds of thousands may be dying in Africa and tens of thousands in Latin America, and people pay little attention; but if a dozen Europeans or North Americans are killed, it is treated as more important. The United States was a great "melting pot" for Europeans, but now that those who want to come are Latin Americans or Asians, severe restrictions keep most of them out. Black slaves were welcomed, but how many free Africans are allowed?

I personally delight in meeting people from other races and cultures, because I find it very interesting to know a diversity of people. How boring it is when everyone in the group is so much the same! As we develop our global culture and the new civilization of world unity, the intermingling of cultural and racial backgrounds will increase. Intermarriage will become more common, and in the future I prophesy that there will be on Earth a golden race with a great variety of hues and characteristics, all of which will be appreciated for their own beauty.


Nationalism can be either good or bad. In some cases the spirit of nationalism can help to unite people to stand up for their own rights and independence from a foreign power. However, as an independent country grows in nationalism, it tends to become a problem to its neighbors and in abusing its power can become imperialistic and domineering. In the world the smaller countries often need a nationalistic spirit to consolidate their liberation movements and to stand up against the imperialistic influence of powerful nations.

We in the United States have a special responsibility to restrain our government, because since 1945 the USA has established and promoted the Pax Americana for the benefit of the capitalist class and the luxurious lifestyle of North Americans. Two thousand years ago the Romans sent legions of soldiers throughout the Mediterranean world to enforce the Pax Romana. In recent centuries the dominance of the British navy held considerable sway in a Pax Britannica. However, their competing for colonial domination with France, Germany, Italy, and Japan resulted in two world wars and the emergence of the Soviet Union as the predominant power in Eastern Europe and northern Asia, while the United States extended its military forces into Western Europe, Africa, and the Pacific. The western hemisphere had already been marked off as a U.S. preserve by the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.

The Soviet Union became the largest country in the world and attempted to match the military power of the United States in the arms race competition; but the liberalization led by Mikhail Gorbachev allowed Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, and the other Soviet Republics to gain their independence from Russian domination. Their allies in North Korea, Angola, Cuba, and Nicaragua have had to learn how to stand on their own against the threatening military power of the United States. These nations thus have been forced to become non-aligned, independent nations. The non-aligned movement was begun by India's Mahatma Gandhi and Yugoslavia's Tito to give nations the option to join together in freedom from either one of the two dominating superpowers.
After World War II the United States formed a series of alliances with nations whose governments share a common economic ideology, and in this way and by military threats and occasional intervention it attempted to stop the spread of dreaded "Communism." The Soviet Union bore the responsibility for its smaller empire in Eastern Europe, and it also suppressed people's rights and efforts for reform. However, the spread of Gorbachev's perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) to Eastern Europe enabled those satellite nations and the Soviet republics to break away from Soviet domination. Dogmatic Communism even lost favor in Russia and was abandoned as experimentation with free enterprise expanded.

With the precipitous decline of the Soviet empire and the end of the Cold War, the result is that the United States now has the most powerful navy and air force the world has ever known with military bases throughout most of the world. The governments the U.S. supports are not always the best for the people in those countries, but by the use of military might, which includes military aid as well as sales, conservative and sometimes reactionary and exploitative governments are able to maintain themselves in power by repressing efforts for change in their countries. Now it is time for the United States to give up its domination of other countries and allow true self-determination and freedom without intimidation by the U.S. military and the bribes of U.S. military aid. The people of the world will be freer and small nations can be more independent and self-reliant if they can be liberated from the domination of any superpower and its allies.

Since these alliances are primarily economic and diplomatic, I call this neo-imperialism. The economic aspect can be seen in that the United States, which has about 4.5% of the world population, is using about one-third of the world's resources, and the first world of western Europe, the U.S., and Japan, which are 20% of the population, are using 80% of the resources. Only 3% of the U.S. military budget actually is used for the defense of U.S. borders. Even the portion that threatened the Soviet Union, supposedly as a deterrent, was much less than the remainder, which directly threatens the third world, as the end of the Cold War has made clear.

No nation has the right to try to force its will on other nations nor to exploit them in selfish ways. How often do we hear politicians talking about the "national interest"? Is this not a group egotism or selfishness? Why not think globally and ask ourselves what is in the best interests of everyone? We must get beyond tribalism and become universal in our loyalties. If we do not begin to think in terms of human unity and the good of the whole Earth, the inevitable struggles between nations could destroy us all. Therefore the nations that try to impose themselves on other countries must be restrained-first by their own citizens and also by people of the world who are considering the good of everyone. Respect for international law, treaties, and world organizations are ways that we can transcend this imperial conflict and call to account the government officials who are acting in a criminal manner through their foreign policies. Nonviolent action to stop these imperialistic designs and crimes may be the most effective way to stimulate the revolutionary changes needed here.


The use of military force is the opposite of freedom and respect for self-determination, because it is a violent attempt to force one's will on another. The military is the mindless arm of the state and is sworn to obey its commands. It is like a great machine with many human cogs to operate the technologically sophisticated instruments of killing. In the past warriors used to face other warriors directly and courageously fought face to face. As weapons technology has advanced and killers operate from greater distances, war has become impersonal. Modern wars have also increasingly been waged against civilian populations. Many more civilians were killed in the first world war than ever before, and by the end of the second world war, entire cities were being destroyed from airplanes. Now a nuclear war threatens to kill hundreds of millions, 99% civilians. Even the "low-intensity" wars in the third world attack civilians because of the confusion in fighting insurgent guerrillas. Or, as in the case of the Nicaraguan Contras, economic and civilian targets were hit because of the inability to attack the Sandinista army directly. Thus war has become more devastating, and the military has become more cowardly in hiding behind their sophisticated weapons, while the war-planners and generals sit behind their desks.

Basic training for the military reveals how dehumanizing the military life is, as people are stripped of their individuality and independent thinking skills, natural feelings, and are turned into efficient killing machines programmed to take orders without question. In many nations military service is compulsory. In capitalist societies, such as the United States, the unemployment problem causes the poor and less educated to join the armed forces for the economic security offered. This "poverty draft" insulates the higher classes and educated from the militarism that has been growing steadily in this country.

Militarism is the dominant characteristic of fascism, whether of the right or the left. Power and authority is taken by the leaders of the state, and everyone else is compelled by threats and fear of violence to obey their orders. Independent thinking is discouraged as is the spontaneous expression of feelings. Only in this way can humans be conditioned to kill other humans so easily.
To liberate ourselves from militarism, we must live according to love and respect people as individuals and groups, living freely ourselves according to our own conscience and allowing others the same right. In the way of nonviolence, which attempts to treat everyone with love and understanding, individuals are encouraged to think for themselves and question authority, to learn as much as possible about the issues and share that knowledge with others, both with those who agree and those who do not. Group organization is not usually hierarchical with leaders and authorities above giving orders, but effort is made to treat everyone as on an equal human level. Everyone is encouraged to participate in discussions which result in group decisions. Individuals are free to join or leave groups according to their conscience and interests. By trusting in human freedom to choose and by demonstrating the power of love in action to transform individuals and eventually societies, through nonviolent action we can learn to dissolve the militarism in our society by showing that it is not necessary in order to protect what is good for the whole society. In this way every individual can be empowered, instead of just the leaders at the top.


Perhaps the underlying value system that motivates people to develop a militaristic society is materialism. People are afraid of losing their economic security, want to hold on to the wealth that they have accumulated, or are greedy to obtain greater riches. Socrates said that the love of money is the major cause of wars and that the root motivation for the love of money is the desires of the body. A society's desire for luxuries and extra resources, which must be taken from other social groups, causes that society to become feverish and unhealthy. To feed this disease of consuming more than they can produce, the government is obliged to create an extensive military to protect its goods and expand its economic prerogatives in other territories. Thus when justice is lost, the government becomes chaotic until it eventually degenerates into tyranny or fascism, as is described in Plato's Republic.

To anyone whose values are spiritual or human, materialism turns everything upside down. When out of selfishness things become more important than people, then spiritual values of truth, love, charity, goodness, wisdom, justice, faith, courage, etc. take a second place to the prevalent "bottom-line" mentality. The bottom line, of course, represents the financial profit to the individual or corporation. When the largeness of that number takes priority over every other consideration, then hedonistic materialism reigns supreme. People will lie, cheat, rob, steal, exploit, manipulate, and sacrifice their other values and their friends and other people for this single-minded objective.
The ironies of this are several. Usually the rich tend to become more caught up in this game, and ironically they are the ones who need more things the least; yet often their lives are unhappier even than the poor they are exploiting, because they are always discontent. The societies with the most luxuries seem to be most obsessed with buying more things. Because of this greed the poor within the society and in other societies do not have enough of even basic needs. In the 1980s while some people were becoming richer, those living in poverty increased in numbers, many more of them young. Living below the poverty line means that a person or family must choose between basic necessities, because their funds are not enough to meet all their needs by that society's standards. Of course the poorest people in the United States would be average members or better in the poorer countries.

Another irony is that the fear and insecurity of this value system causes wealthy nations to spend a tremendous amount of their financial, material, technical, and human resources on the military to defend this way of life. Yet what the military are being paid to do, and all the weapons and equipment they use and stockpile, do not really improve the quality of anyone's life. Of course the salaries these people receive do help them, but this would be the same if they were given the money as welfare. What consumer is benefiting from a Trident submarine or an MX missile or a B2 bomber? Thus the money people are given to spend privately is good for them as well as the economy as a whole, but the work and products that the government obtains by its military spending provide no services to anyone except for this "protection." Do we really need it? Wouldn't everyone in the world be better off if none of the nations had to spend all this effort for fear or aggressive greed? The military industrial complex is the biggest welfare fraud ever! If you don't believe it, check out some of the salaries that are being paid to the engineers, scientists, technicians, and corporate executives. Some of these executives receive millions of dollars per year plus millions more in bonuses! Yet many people think that if a single mother or unemployed person has to go through the humiliation of receiving and using food stamps that this is some sort of abuse.

We need to evaluate our value systems individually as well as collectively and ask ourselves if we are devoting our lives to pleasurable activities and the collection of various toys, or are we giving of our talents and energies for the good of humanity? Can we share some of our possessions to help others and allow ourselves the time to work more for peace and justice? How can one or two people take up a large house when there are so many homeless people among us? Do we buy expensive new clothes when we already have more than we need? Do we need to make so much money that we have to pay federal income tax to a government that is preparing to destroy the world? To live at the maximum income without owing taxes, we are living at the poverty line in solidarity with the poor people of the world and are not contributing to their exploitation and the threats and use of violence in our name. This requires sacrifice of phony values and false needs, but by living communally in order to share goods and limit expenses you may be surprised to find life much more interesting and personally fulfilling.


Dogma is the Greek word for opinion or decree. Surely we believe that everyone has the right to their own opinions, and even this idea itself is a belief. What happens when people try to force their belief system on someone else? Of course no one can make someone believe something against their will, because belief involves a use of the will. Yet groups often will attempt to manipulate people's beliefs by rewarding and punishing certain attitudes and behaviors. Strong psychological programming will tend to produce individuals and groups who will stubbornly adhere to the dogmas instilled in them. The number of people who think things out for themselves even on major issues is still rather small in our society.

The United States of America was founded on and is supposed to encourage freedom of belief and expression of those beliefs. Yet religious beliefs can prove as resistant to reason and change as the nationalistic ideologies promoted by governments. The Soviet Union was more controlled in its expression of ideas until it was opened up with glasnost. For example, in the USSR it was illegal to advocate war and other anti-social behavior. In the United States we are permitted to advocate anything except the violent overthrow of the government. I believe in as much freedom of ideas as possible so that people can learn from the free exchange, because I trust that if all ideas are allowed, people will eventually choose the best. We need not be ruled by fear of bad ideas, because we can show their deficiencies and replace them with better concepts.

The problems occur when people act upon their dogmas without intelligently thinking out their consequences. People tend to act based on their belief systems. If this results, either intentionally or unintentionally, in injustice, then the conflict must be resolved. People who are psychologically insecure will tend to cling to their beliefs and not want to question them. Thus the combination of religious fundamentalism and nationalistic patriotism, which are often thoroughly instilled in people through the family, church, schools, and the media can lead to a blindness that supports U.S. policies and hates anything vaguely referred to as Communist. In the United States and much of Latin America this fear of Communism was so extreme and irrational that as a collective neurosis it resulted in very unhealthy attitudes and governmental policies. Anti-Communism tended to be irrational, because of dogma based on false propaganda and immense distortion of what Communism is and what the real intentions of Communist governments are. This red-baiting is used by politicians to manipulate voters, discredit reformers, and justify immoral policies.
Yet we all believe in something, because all our conscious actions come from some motivation and objective we believe is possible to attain. We need to evaluate our own beliefs to see if the values implicit in them are really for the best of everyone. Also if we have faith that our beliefs are good, then we do not need to try to force them on people by military power, but we can allow a free process of discussion in which everyone has the right to participate.

So what do we do when a group or government tries to force its dogmatic beliefs on other people by force of arms or unfair discrimination? Some of the beliefs in the United States that tend to prevent reform are that there is a free marketplace of ideas, a free political system, guarantees of free speech, press, and religion, and open attitudes; but we find that the reality is that money interests dominate that marketplace, that political system, the major media and churches, and that the attitudes of most Americans tend to be closed because of so many other superficial interests. In one sense we need the faith that we can change these processes by free discussion, but on the other hand this blind belief in symbolic efforts may prevent us from taking the nonviolent action necessary to stimulate the changes needed in this planetary emergency. The governments are acting with millions of people and hundreds of billions of dollars to enforce their beliefs throughout the world. If these actions are ethically wrong and harmful to people, we have a moral obligation not only to express our beliefs symbolically, but I believe we also have a conscientious duty, if we feel called to it, to act in loving ways to stop these terrible crimes.

When people do act on opposing belief systems, then there will be conflict. Yet by confrontation of opposing views differences in worldviews can be resolved. If our belief is in love and nonviolence as the basis for our action, then this confrontation will be what Martin Luther King called "creative conflict." In other words when people are active yet nonviolent the process of change will tend to be promoted but at the same time be less destructive, thus creative. We should realize that nonviolent action is based on beliefs and values; but at the same time as it stimulates people to choose more consciously what they are supporting, it does not use violent force against people. Rather nonviolent activists present their bodies and lives in the way of harmful actions, willing to take on suffering if it is inflicted by the opponent without retaliating. Thus not only are beliefs symbolically challenged, but the behaviors that result from them are also physically challenged without forcing the new belief on them. Yet the new beliefs and values are presented to those whose behaviors are being protested in a way that they cannot ignore. When the ignorance in our society is so great that it is threatening the entire human race and mother Earth, then it seems to me we must experiment with such bold moves.


Ego is the Greek word for I. Every personality has an ego and could not exist without one. Egotism, however, is the inflation of this personal self beyond its useful function. Thus sometimes we need to practice "ego-puncture" to deflate our own sense of personal importance when it gets in the way of other people's interests and expressions.

Although part of our liberation is personal empowerment, it needs to be blended with group empowerment and global thinking. The process of being true to our self and manifesting our integrity is subtly different from aggrandizing our personality and certainly is not dominating others. This respect for the true self within us must include the self within others or else we find ourselves in the double standard of egotism, which implies that I am more important, better, or worth more than you. As Brian Willson said of the people in Central America, "We are not worth more; they are not worth less." By respecting equality of persons we are not only empowering others but in a spiritual way are empowering our own true self.

Egotism is especially noticeable in small groups, because the dominant personality tends to restrain the opportunities of others. The group where individuals are able to see beyond their own personal considerations in order to harmonize these with others' interests will be an empowered group that will flow and change and operate as an organic whole rather than be pulled and pushed in different directions haphazardly.

Egos of different sizes and temperaments can be equally problematic. We tend to think of the big ego as always being inflictive, but it can also be supportive and capable of taking on large responsibilities if the group so chooses to allow this. The person with a large ego can strengthen the group but must be very careful not to dominate and take over. The smaller ego also may be supportive and capable of accomplishing much if others are supportive of that person. However, the small ego that is insecure can pull energy from the group by acting helpless and always seeking emotional approval. The group can help this type of person become weaned from dependency by letting the person gain maturity through experience. People in the group also need to keep the strong ego from dominating the process and point out the need for restraint when appropriate.
As our groups become successful, we need to be careful of group egotism in relation to other groups and the public. Again self-esteem is not the same as conceit which comes out of self-deception. If groups are unable to cooperate with other groups working for similar goals, then the coalition building needed to develop a large movement becomes problematic. Similarly if we act toward our adversary as though we are somehow morally superior beings, then our self-righteousness is sure to bring a negative reaction. We can believe in ourselves and our cause, but we must also believe in the true selves of all other individuals, realizing that they too understand some truths. If we listen to them as equals, they are likely to reciprocate; and both of us are likely to learn and gain from the experience. By understanding others' viewpoints we learn how to communicate more effectively with them.

The subtleties of egotism will always be with us, because we are always attempting to harmonize our personal interests and responsibilities with those of other individuals and groups. If we do not look out for our own interests, then who will? As long as we have a body, we must take care of it and keep it functioning. No one is likely to know our hurts and joys if we do not tell anyone. At the same time we need to observe and listen to others so that we can best relate with their situations.
So from the immense world problems we face, as we begin to work on solving them, we find that peace must begin within ourselves. If we are to become effective peacemakers and really change the world, we have to work on ourselves first and while we are in the process of developing group efforts for social change. To ignore our personal development for the sake of the world is to reduce our personal effectiveness in working for change; but to ignore the world to concentrate on our own spiritual growth is to limit that to a selfish and narcissistic process. Thus we must work simultaneously on transforming ourselves and our society; and as we shall see, each process helps the other.

Copyright © 2002 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Nonviolent Action Handbook. For ordering information, please click here.


Liberation from Seven Deadly -isms
Group Process
Creative Actions
Legal Process

BEST FOR ALL: How We Can Save the World

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