Putting the Civil back in Civilization: Violence

If we’re going to talk about a civil society we’re going to have to have a proper discussion about violence.

What do I mean by “proper”?

Well, for one thing, no fucking glad-handing.

None of this, “Gee, in a civilized society there would be no violence,” bullshit.

(If that is the marker for civilization, then we as a species have never been civilized. Never.)

We might like to think of ourselves as the only animals that have evolved beyond our violent tendencies, but that is some of the most chokingly fragrant manure ever spread in popular discourse.

It also has no basis in fact.

All you have to do is look at America, and you will see it disproven time and again, and again, and fucking again.

(And lest you think this is something you can blame on them, whoever your “them” happens to be, let’s squash that tribalism cockroach under foot right now. Even a cursory glance at the news will be more than adequate to demonstrate that both sides, of any divide you’d like to name, contain violent bastards. Both. Fucking. Sides. The sooner you get that “us and them” shit out of your head, the sooner you can start being productive in the effort to make things better.)

As animals, humans are just as capable of violence as any other animal.

We cannot begin to work towards minimizing the damage violence causes until we first take this fact into account.

We are violent, and there is no way to make us wholly non-violent.

Get it in your heads, and keep it there.

If that is the place we’re starting from, a place of reality, then we can begin to move forward.

The first thing we need to do is figure out when, under what circumstances, violence is ethically justified.

Yes, violence can be moral and ethical, if contained to certain parameters.

What might those be?

Here’s a suggestion:

Violence is ethically justified when it is used to protect one’s self, or persons nearby, from bodily harm.

(I invite you to consider, for yourself, other cases in which violence may be justified. This is the bare bones, hardest limit, no exception standard I could devise.)

I want you to notice the bit about bodily harm. That’s important.

Violence is never ethical in pursuit or defense of an ideology, so far as I have been able to discern. Nor is it ethical to engage in violence because of verbiage.

Thoughts and emotions happen in the nebulous space in our heads. Because what happens in all of our heads can vary wildly from person to person, and because immaterial notions do not adversely affect another person’s rights or safety, these things can not be used to justify violence on ethical grounds.

As for ideology, well, ideology is a competition of ideas and the presentation of those ideas. When violence enters into the picture it becomes a decision based on coercion, not on which idea has the most merit. 

As such, to justify the ethical use of violence, the use thereof must be universalizable. That is to say, it must be formulated in such a way that, if someone else were to use it thus, even the person you hate the most in the world – especially that prick – that you would be okay with it. A universal principle.

That is why I have restricted my own ethical standard to bodily harm of my person, or of any person near me.

(Not that too, any person. I don’t have to like you or love you, or even care about you to intercede on your behalf if you are the victim of violence in the moment. It doesn’t matter. If I see you in trouble, I/ him/her/ they are ethically justified in stepping in.)

And that brings me to another thing about violence:

Can we, as a culture, stop this nonsense about how, “Violence never solves anything,” please?

I understand the motivation behind the saying, I do. But knock it the fuck off. Violence does in fact solve some things, albeit a set of one.

Violence is sometimes the only thing that will stop violence.

(That is to say that violence can be stopped with prevention, before and only before it becomes physical. Once it becomes physical, the only two things that will stop violence is: a) more violence –or – b) the violent party getting tired and stopping of his/ her own volition. I think we can all see the inherent dangers in waiting for option (b) to happen.)

So, by this thinking violence is not only justifiable, but sometimes required.

(If you don’t think so, try this thought experiment: Say someone is beating the living shit out of you. If you were wholly non-violent, which you aren’t, would you like the police that come to your aid to be non-violent? You want the cops to talk the crazy son of a bitch down, or do you want them to wrestle that flailing fuck off of you and put him/ her in handcuffs? Come on now, be honest.)

Now, as a corollary to the hard ethical standard I set forth above, let me further specify on the use of violence:

One must only use as much violence as is necessary to bring the violent situation to a halt.

That means no overkill. There is no justifiable reason to continue to be violent when an aggressor has been subdued or neutralized. No need to kick on unconscious or otherwise incapacitated offender. Curb stomping is right out. Sorry.

Under those restrictions, violence can be ethically justified. More than that it can be useful and preservative of human life and safety.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please feel free to comment here.

(Let’s leave aside the notion of War for the moment. It is a stickier wicket, and not much applicable to one’s everyday life. Start small and work up.)

(In the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you a little about myself: I grew up a shy, too-smart, chubby kid who never slept. I grew up in some rough neighborhoods, at times, and some rough schools. I also spent around 5 years of my working life as a bouncer. I have been mugged at knife point. I have been jumped. I have been in numerous multi-person chaotic brawls. I have studied various martial arts for the majority of my existence to date. I am also on record as encouraging everyone to learn how to fight. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, kind of thing. I have been the victim of violence, and interceded to end violent situations. I also have a degree in philosophy and have studied ethics and ethical systems. I can thank Kant for the idea of universalism. I have taken theory and my first hand experience, and the experience and thoughts of other experts in the field into account in my considerations of the subject.

All of that to say this: if you wish to debate me on the topic, I welcome it. I truly do. But please, come correct. Do your homework. Make your arguments as tight and defensible as possible. If you’ve done that. I’d love to hear your thoughts. If not, I’d still like to hear your feelings and concerns, but we won’t be engaging in debate. Still, the conversation could be interesting.)

If you’ve made it this far, allow me to sum up the way I think violence can be ethically integrated into a civilized society:

1)  Violence is only ethically justified when it is used to protect one’s self, or persons nearby, from bodily harm.

2) One must only use as much violence as is necessary to bring the violent situation to a halt.

Think about it.

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About tessarnold2

I'm a writer, a student, and someone generally crazy enough to think other people will be interested in his deranged thoughts.
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