Violence and Nonviolence

Damian Marley, NAS: Road to Zion

The song “Road to Zion” by Damian Marley and NAS illustrates arguments from both Judith Butler’s text “The Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence” and of Elsa Dorlin’s text “What a body can do”, and it transcends both texts by providing a glimpse into a feeling of alienation towards the world that can be evoked in an individual when a group they identify with is ‘phantasmised’.

In their song “Road to Zion” Damian Marley and NAS sing and rap about how “We should keep on walking; On the road to Zion”, and how we “need some charity, […] love and prosperity”. These are the phrases that are repeated most throughout the song and can therefore be regarded as an important to the message of the song. “Zion”, here, can be taken to mean as a utopia.[7] Marley thus seems to sing about how we should keep moving in the direction of a nonviolent and equal world if we put the song in the context of Butler’s argument, which holds that nonviolence is not a question of not killing each other, but of how we should preserve life.[8]

However, Marley also sings about how the “Road to Zion” towards charity, love and prosperity should be walked and approached “By any plan and any means and strategy”.[9] Here, his message is different from that of Butler, who is an advocate of nonviolent resistance against inequality and discrimination.[10] Marley’s message here resonates more with Dorlin’s argument, especially since he expresses that he sometimes “can’t help but feel helpless”.[11] Dorlin writes about how people can enter a paradox of self-defence: the more one defends themselves, the more violence they will experience. We can assume that this would evoke a feeling of defencelessness and helplessness in most people. Also, Dorlin argues in favour of a “martial ethics of the self”, which means that violent self-defence is the only way for oppressed people to survive and create sustainable living conditions.[12] This view on resistance seems closer to Marley’s “By any plan and means and strategy” than Butler’s nonviolent approach of resistance, because it does leave room for committing violence.

Marley also addresses how reality with all its inequality sometimes feels like a bad dream when he sings “I’m havin’ daymares in daytime; Wide awake try to relate; This can’t be happenin’ like I’m in a dream while I’m walkin’”.[13] This resonates with the racial phantasms that Butler addresses, which are not only violent in the wat that they bolster the ‘ungrievability’ of black people and generate inequality that has violence against black people as a consequence.[14] These phantasms are also violent in the way that many black people are forced to relate to these phantasms in their daily experience of life. Black people are racially ‘phantasmised’, which means that part of their identity is ‘phantasmised’. Even though racism is an everyday reality for black people, the ‘phantasmisation’ of part of their identity can have an alienating effect on how they experience the world, because the illusions that are put on them do have many violent real-life consequences. The “daymares in daytime” that Marley sings about can be interpreted as referring to such feeling of alienation regarding the world around him.  

So, the song “Road to Zion” moves beyond both Butler’s and Dorlin’s texts in the way that it contains arguments of both of them, and in the way that it provides the listener with a glimpse into, or the recognition of, a feeling of alienation towards the world that can be evoked in an individual when a group they identify with is ‘phantasmised’.

Doortje Kok

[7] Damian Marley and NAS, “Road to Zion”, album: Welcome to Jamrock (2005).
[8] Judith Butler “Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence”, The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind (Verso, 2020), pp. 103-150, p. 104.
[9] Marley and NAS, “Road to Zion”.
[10] Butler, “Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence”, p. 128.
[11] Marley and NAS, “Road to Zion”.
[12] Elsa Dorlin, “What a body can do”, translated by Kieran Aarons, Radical Philosophy 2.05 (Autumn, 2019), pp. 3-9, p. 7-8.
[13] Marley and NAS, “Road to Zion”.
[14] Butler, “Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence”, pp. 131-132.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.