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On Paths of Great Resistance

April 23, 2015


'J’aime bien ce verbe « résister ». Résister, à ce qui nous emprisonne, aux préjugés, aux jugements hâtifs, à l’envie de juger, à tout ce qui est mauvais en nous et ne demande qu’à s’exprimer, à l’envie d’abandonner, au besoin de se faire plaindre, au besoin de parler de soi au détriment de l’autre, aux modes, aux ambitions malsaines, au désarroi ambiant. Résister, et… sourire.'


'I am very fond of that verb "to resist". To resist what imprisons us, to resist prejudices, hasty judgments, the desire to judge, everything that is bad in us and cries out to be expressed, the desire to abandon, the need to make people feel sorry for us, the need to talk about ourselves to the detriment of others, fashions, unhealthy ambitions, prevailing confusion. To resist and . . .to smile.'


- Emma Dancourt 


That man has always been obsessed with resistance is no news; our inkling for it got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden barely a few pages into the Book of Genesis. The first revolution we know of took place in 2740 BC, under the rule of pharaoh Seth-Peribsen of the Second Dynasty of Egypt, and since then resistance movements have sprouted up in all shapes, sizes, languages, contexts… and colors. But we’ll get to that in a minute.


The definition of resistance is the opposition, or slowing down, of one force by another. The term was used to describe social and political behavior as early as the mid fourteenth-century, but was also picked up in the fields of science and engineering in 1825, and electromagnetics in 1860.


Resistance refers to different things in different fields: chemistry, physics, evolutionary biology, sociology. But across them all and in all its applications, resistance is unnatural.


The very composition of our universe tends toward equilibrium, the natural state at which entropy is lowest. A river will always run down a mountain, electricity will flow through a circuit’s shortest route, and a bird’s wings will instinctively adjust their angle of inclination in flight to reduce friction with the wind. This is known as the principle of least resistance.


The term was first coined by French chemist Henri-Louis Le Châtelier in reference to the behavior of molecules in a chemical reaction. Today, the broader theory states that ‘animals, people, even well designed machines will naturally choose the path of least resistance or effort.’


But if the path of least resistance is a ‘deterministic description of human behavior,’ why are humans constantly violating it?


1963, Iran. The White Revolution: The Shah enacts a series of reforms covering education, land ownership, and women’s rights.


1986, the Philippines. The Yellow Revolution: Nonviolent demonstrations end the twenty-one year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and fuel democratization movements across Southeast Asia.


1989, Czechoslovakia. The Velvet Revolution: Student protests end the country’s one-party communist rule and bring about its transition into a parliamentary republic.


2002, Kuwait. The Blue Revolution: Demonstrators gather outside the Kuwaiti parliament to demand women’s suffrage.


2005, Iraq. The Purple Revolution: For the first time since Saddam Hussein’s reign, people head to the ballot boxes to vote.


2007, Burma. The Saffron Revolution: Buddhist monks protest the high cost of food and transportation, and demand democratic reform from the military junta.


2009, Iran. The Green Revolution: Activists use social media to protest electoral fraud and call for a secular government.



All systems are geared toward equilibrium, and all living creatures are geared toward adaptation and survival. The human brain is the most complex system we know of, and ironically, the decisions it makes are often the hardest and most painful. But what if, on the long run, the clearest path to evolutionary adaptation is not the easiest? What if resistance is the epitome of our complexity?


Our refusal of passivity is fueled by principles like altruism. Nobility. Justice. Love. Of an idea, a country, a belief, a people. Without these principles, we are vegetables.


Thoreau once said that ‘the path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.’ I would add that that of greatest resistance… leads to sunsets:


Every day, anywhere, when the sun is at the lowest point of the horizon, its rays pass through the longest trajectory to reach our eyes. When they reach the earth’s atmosphere, they encounter resistance in the form of floating molecules and small particles. The clash breaks the light rays up one by one, by wavelength. First violet and blue, then yellow and orange. By the time the sun disappears into the sea, the sky is a thousand shades of red.


There. I saved the most beautiful example for last.


The colors of a sunset, and our humanity, are defined by paths of great resistance.



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