Note: I started writing this blog entry yesterday. I stopped at the 570 word mark when it got complicated. I usually don’t review or edit these before posting. I’ll do an edit with this entry as I finish it off. I’m not really convinced of what I write in this entry. I’ll make some notes to that point at the end.
The cultural zeitgeist has moved beyond it now, but I am still thinking about the Australian kid who beat up the bully. Less about the event and more about the reactions to it and what that shows about our relationship to violence.
Our relationship to violence is pretty messed up. The pundits covered the spectrum from praising the kid as hero to castigating him as a horrible example to other kids. Like scandal, violence moves eyeballs in media so we are bombarded with both fictional and real images of violence – from cartoons to the street of Libya. Meanwhile it is declaimed as the last resort of the untutored, stupid and crass.
Modern horror movies no longer depict horror as I think of it. But they revel in graphic violence and torture. Perhaps that is horror to a current audience. It is impossible to rationalize what we see glorified with how we are taught to live. That schism creates a dichotomy that can be sensed as horror.
Here is my own take. Violence is not in itself immoral. It is not necessarily the option of last resort. The first point can be argued by offering examples: self-defense, defense of the weak, a just war. A true pacifist (arguing that the violence will only beget more of the same) obviously won’t accept any of those, but I’d contend that the majority of people would be willing to admit violence is at least necessary. Can I make an argument that goes beyond necessity? That is to ask is the violence more than just a necessary evil? (Implying a negative moral connotation.) I think it is possible, but I don’t really have the correct vocabulary (edit: background/learning might be better) to defend that thought though. I’d like to. It would be complicated and I would stop well short of calling violence good though.
The second point of it being a last resort is also untrue I think. It shouldn’t be the first resort. But you shouldn’t to wait until you’ve exhausted every other option before using it. You only need to eliminate the reasonable options first. For example, if someone is punching you in the face it is pointless to try and convince them they are being cruel; to get them empathize with your pain; to point out the logical fallacy of trying to get what they want in this manner. There are only four real options: run, cover up, call for help, and fight back. Other options are not normally reasonable and whether the other three should be attempted before the fourth is highly situational.
But we have people that argue that even as a last resort violence should not be used. Not only just we not instigate violence, but we shouldn’t react to it. Bring the four options down to three – run, curl up and cry for help. But there are so many options where none of those will result anything more than a solid beating. I think it becomes even more apparent when you make the argument for defending someone else.
A problem with our current approach of painting violence as endemically wrong is that we don’t get to teach people about what level violence is reasonable. Now when they finally use violence it is out of proportion. You defend yourself in a fist fight with a gun. We engage in war by destroying utterly and then attempting to rebuild. We hit in hockey from behind or with cheap head shots. By trying to simplify violence itself to right or wrong we lose the ability to distinguish what is far more complex – its appropriate use.
We are also presented with violence used to advance a ideology. Terrorism and insurgency. Violence is associated with terrorism; it is shown as its root. But it isn’t the root it is just a horrific result. There is a correspondence where one causes the other, but the inference cannot be traced in both directions.
A society without violence is a tempting utopia. But it is a utopia that we don’t live in. If we do not automatically pre-judge violence we can work on other concepts. Anger, hatred, murder – these might cause violence or be the result of violence. But are not themselves violence. Anger, hatred and murder – these are items that are intrinsically wrong.
And peace. “Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called sons of God.” Violence can never lead to peace. I’d argue that violence may not automatically beget more violence, but at most it can lead to a detente. It may keep a bully from attacking but it won’t make you friends.
The peacemaker needs to be going after the root. To address the true root – the fear, the hate, the lack of education. Show a positive role model. Greet one another with open hands. Demonstrate love, forgiveness and charity. It isn’t simply not being violent. It has to be more.
To get to the point where we can actually follow Jesus’ instruction, “Put your sword back in its place.”
Afterword: There is an unintentional lie in all the above. While I could probably swing a frying pan to defend a child, I don’t think I could ever carry a gun in defense of my country as a soldier or my community as a police officer. I can make the arguments above in the abstract, but in my specific case it just doesn’t work.
The last person I likely ever struck was my brother and I’m sure that is wasn’t justifiable as it would have been in anger. I once threw a soccer ball at his face. Even using words violently is pretty rare for me.
Adds just a slight flavour of hypocrisy to my position.