Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Uselessness of Violence

The more I study war and peace, the more convinced I become of the uselessness of violence. I am increasingly bewildered about why people tend to be so impressed with war and violence. It is a blunt instrument, really, that tends to destroy a lot more than it intends to destroy. Its use often backfires, in that it often provokes a retaliatory response and so creates a cycle that tends to perpetuate itself (the cycle of violence). Those closely affected by the violence tend to fixate on the horror of the violence itself, and seldom listen to or care about the reasons for the violence.

The recent events in Mumbai demonstrate these points. The attacks were horrifying and difficult to understand. Who did this, and why? We do not know. Nor is anyone inclined to be that sympathetic. Sure those who instigated this got a lot of attention, but most of them also got killed. A lot of other people got killed too. For what?

If violence ever has any justification at all (which I myself seriously doubt), it would be for the sake of some grander cause. But what cause was served by this? If no one knows, it is hard to see how any cause was served. If a cause is identified, those most hurt by this are the least likely to become sympathetic to that cause. The changes the instigators may have wished for in the world are not likely to come about because of this. When people are violently attacked, or are hurt by those close to them having been violently attacked, they seldom say, "Oh, I deserved this punishment! I'm sorry and will reform my ways and become Perfect (according to everybody's standards of perfection) from now on!" Instead, they are inclined to regard the attacker as evil, and themselves as good and innocent.

So, what is accomplished by violence? Nothing, really, except perhaps increased fear, anxiety, and hatred, but I wouldn't call these "accomplishments" as such.


  1. I think most people think of violence as a neccessary self protection - however, in the complete absense of violence as-a-whole this would not be neccessary either. I think we learn to be violent just like we learn everything else - and it is so glorfied and common place these days that to not be violent is almost regarded as pathetic. (in London anyway, this is very much the case)

  2. Yes, very interesting. I think you are right: violence itself is learned behavior. In fact, people normally have such strong resistance to being violent that a lot of military training deliberately stresses people in order to push them over that resistance. And studies have shown that soldiers who have a clear opportunity to kill an "enemy" often do not do so if they believe that no one is watching them.

    So, why is there violence, then? When people are highly stressed and think that that's the only possible response, they commit violence. This analysis suggests two ways then to reduce violence: (1) as much as we can, we should eliminate the causes of such extreme stress by working to build true justice; and (2) we also need to do more to train people in alternative, nonviolent responses to highly stressful situations. Thinking that there is no alternative is a tragic failure of imagination, fostered by the prevalence of violence in the news and in our "entertainment" media. I wish that education, the news, and the entertainment industry would take responsibility for doing more to show examples of alternatives.