In the spirit of an experiment – shall we try a small test?
Nothing rigorous, nothing legally binding – just a little discourse; a small act of mapping some spaces, some boundaries, some questions and some things that need to be questioned. Let us seek truth.
What does it mean to say – “violence isn’t the answer”?
There’s also this other trope – “violence never solved anything;” I realize it isn’t quite the same thing, but I hear both quite a lot, more lately than ever. Could someone help me figure out what they mean?
The counterargument to the second is obvious. It’s as close as the nearest history text, conveniently re-purposed as a door stop. A close reading of that text will reveal that, in fact, violence has a demonstrable history of solving many things.
I know, it’s earth shattering. I’m considering publishing my research findings, so please don’t go around talking about it.
Back to the history text – oh, look. The majority of philosophers, political figures, religious authorities, and cultural commentators throughout human history have given the use of violence a specific or implicit green light.
In fact, it’s a panacea; they wish they’d thought it up themselves. It solves nearby boundaries which may be inconvenient to trade; it solves far-away resources which may be inconvenient not to own. It solves half-siblings, bastard offspring, ex-spouses, and other trying familial associations. You get the picture. Violence is the stuff of solutions. So that one is taken care of.
Now, the first one – “violence isn’t the answer” – oh, dear. It inhabits trickier semantic ground. If we set up the question just right, Jeopardy-style – “What is a cessation of conflict?” – sure, experts all agree: violence is not the answer.
Spiritually speaking, most people would agree that violence isn’t the answer, at least not for them. Damnation and other potential eternal repercussions look best on other people’s conscience.
But practically – because around here, we are practical adults who inhabit the real world – well. Sometimes the muscle becomes the meat, as it were. Sometimes the frying pan meets the fire. Sometimes the –
Well. You know what they say about things hitting fans, no one comes out clean. But I digress. The point is, people play semantics but what they typically mean is: Violence has one purpose, and that purpose is whatever I find convenient. What does this mean in practical terms? “I am fine with violence when I’m confident the person committing it is on my side.”
Lately, you’ll notice the pleas for non-violence are coming mostly from people who are not at all confident the people committing violence are on their side.
It’s a clever response. It doesn’t name names. It neatly removes the specific question of cause and effect from the picture – “They’re rioting why? Oh it doesn’t matter; violence is never the answer.”
In the hard-boiled wonderland of American party politics, it also distances them from whatever the specifics of “who started it” turn out to entail. Extremist fomenters of any vein are rhetoricalized away. Poof, it’s almost like it was never a problem. Oh, right. It was never taken seriously as a problem…
One more little thing: don’t be a hypocrite. Look at that history textbook. Look at the obituaries of people for whom “violence” was listed as the cause of death.
Maybe you genuinely inhabit a world where you believe violence isn’t an answer, and it doesn’t solve anything. If so, good for you.
You realize, of course, that means completely giving it up – not farming it out.
That means not benefiting from others’ acts of violence. That means not benefiting, specifically or implicitly, from the presence of a military or a police force or any other type of armed presence – no sins of omission or commission. I guess oil and petroleum products are out of your life, huh?
Anyways, I’m sure you’re busy extinguishing all inadvertent instances of profiting from violence from your life. So I won’t take up your time any longer, except for this one tiny observation: instead of trotting out the tried-and-true tropes, you might consider a new, more honest, set of slogans. In the spirit of an experiment – repeat after me:
“Ignoring injustice isn’t the answer. Ignoring injustice doesn’t solve anything.”
Peace out, friends.
Super important ethical footnote: As it turns out, I actually have strong logical and faith-based objections to acts of violence. It comes from being angry all the time. I am arguing against the perverse faux-innocence of vacuous chestnuts like the above, specifically when they are used to further conflict by deliberately devaluing the terms of conflict. If you want my opinion on an effective beginning of a response, here you go.