The joy of violence

This is a very thoughtful, if jokey, consideration of non-violence from someone who understands violence a lot better than pacifism.

Here, she’s exactly right:

Pacifism as a concept kind of pisses me off.

Still, non-violence intrigues me, not least because of its power to frustrate the violently inclined. The central paradox of terrorism—we will hurt you, but we refuse to fight you—has its mirror image in non-violent resistance, which declares: We refuse to hurt you, but we will fight you. This can be a brilliant tactic in certain situations, especially if television cameras are present.

And this here is the malaise affecting the American Empire, in a nutshell:

But sparring happens fast, and you wear a mouthguard that makes speech difficult and messy, you’re usually out of breath anyway, and it’s much easier, if you get hit too hard, to simply hit your partner back a little bit harder. It’s the quickest way I know of to spin a match out of control and make your sparring partner hate you. But it sends a message, and in the instant, when you have just been hit uncomfortably hard yourself, it feels right. It feels so right it’s scary. This is someone you like, and trust, someone you have invited to hit you, and suddenly, you’re hitting her harder than she wants you to, and feeling good about it.

If you want something to be afraid of, forget about anthrax, snipers, and people with bombs in their underwear. Hit somebody when you’re mad at them, and see how you feel. That’ll keep you up nights.

Using violence, and getting what you want as a result, is a heady and addictive feeling, a whole-body experience. There’s a lot of adrenaline involved; the righteous act of violence burns in the vein. And it’s a very short step from feeling successful about violence to feeling justified. This is when people really get into trouble: When violence feels good, you start to equate violence with goodness. Then it’s easy to move on from defending (yourself, your family, your country), to judging and punishing. It’s a progression that seems very logical and civilized but in fact it turns people—and countries, and religions—into monsters.

But that’s the thing. How do you battle with monsters without becoming what you fight? I think you start by realising that there are no monsters, there’s just us and we can all be monstrous. Then you solve the problem posed by the other’s behaviour and intent not as right and wrong and blame and evil, because these things are justification for our own anger. Perhaps that solution requires violence. I think if it seems to then it’s worth being terribly careful that our thinking has not been captured by the frame of the other. Usually that’s the hardest part of the problem, to step outside the inevitable and find another answer.

If it looks like a nail it’s going to call for a hammer. Then the best you can hope for is the self-sacrifice and crypto-violence of the “non-violent resistance” (and those TV cameras.) But what Gandhi did when, as often, truly inspired, was to act, not fight, not resist, and not suffer or martyr himself or his followers. But act positively in a way which explained a different more true understanding of the situation and disarmed the British or South African understanding of an inevitability and a need and a right to use violence.

It’s not about the violence, in the end. Violence is the outcome of seeing the world in a broken way. That’s why the answer is truth, and it’s why he called his movement Satyagraha.

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3 Responses to The joy of violence

  1. Celestina says:

    It’s a good post, and I particularly like your conclusion that violence is the outcome of seeing things falsely. I do wonder, though, as I often have, whether sometimes violence really is the correct response to a given situation. It’s a difficult question to answer, I think, because the evaluation rests largely on how you prioritize your needs(or those of your cause) and those of whomever or whatever you find yourself in conflict with. Still, what you have provided here is a good perspective from which to think about it.

  2. martin says:

    I find I’m unable, personally, to categorically rule out violence as a response, although I think it’s usually a trap. But I’m glad you liked this :)

  3. George Hulseman says:

    Nice blog. I stumbled here with a google search that took me to your “The psychology of tribes” blog which was simply excellent. I’d like to know your sources for that piece.

    Regarding this latest piece, “The joy of violence,” I have always thought that initiating violence is reprehensible. But if others initiate it first, perhaps a violent response may be the most reasonable response. In other words we can and should be rational in our actions except when we are responding to others who are behaving irrationally.

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