I’ve been thinking about the current social situation for a while now. I would avoid calling it political, because I would like to take this discourse out of the realm of politics and look at the social and maybe even psychological factors.
The division of society along the party lines expired a long time ago. Only politicians label themselves ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’. In conversation we prefer terms like ‘conservative’, ‘libertarian’, ‘liberal’, ‘progressive’ etc. Those seem to describe our opinions better, because party affiliation has become a badge of shame for many. But even further on, we say things like: “I’m fiscally conservative, but liberal on social issues” or any other way around. The issues we are facing are complex, the world we live in is very complex and there is no way to simplify it. And yet we are forced into the binary division by the current political system. So I started think about what is the most fundamental issue that lies at the heart of this binary division. And it seems to me that it is the commitment to violence by some and commitment to nonviolence by others.
Commitment to violence transcends party lines, creeds, genders and any other divisions. Militant liberals and militant conservatives are equally aggressive and are equally self-centered. Militant muslims, militant christians, militant hindus, militant whites, militant blacks – he list goes on and on – and with it the list of the victims of their violence, sometimes each other, sometimes just innocent bystanders. And they all are equally prone to using “They started it” defense that seems so popular in the kindergarten.
I often wonder how do the violent ones explain the world and their own behaviour to themselves. Here is how I think the thinking goes in a dialog form:
“We have to have guns because we have to be ready to fight!”
“What happens when you win? What would you do with your opponents, a very large number of your fellow citizens?”
“We’ll make them shut up and take them off welfare/corporate subsidies/whatever else our demands are/force them to do what we want.”
“What happens if you lose?”
“They will make us shut up and do what they want and what they want is horrible and it will all go to hell.”
The violent ones feel that they need to fight because otherwise they will become the victims of violence. The paradox is, of course, that any fighting makes everyone involved a victim of violence by definition. To overcome this there has been set up a scale of preferences in violence. It’s better to die on a battlefield then a captive slave, etc. Because your opponent is just as violent as you are and will do to you what you did to them and worse.
But what if your opponent is non-violent? What if they don’t want to force you into their way of life and values? What if they don’t even care who won or lost and just want to live in peace? It is almost incomprehensible to the most, because of how rare this nonviolent way of thinking is, and how small the number of those nonviolent. Of course, the idea has been around for many thousands of years and been preached by Buddha, Jesus and many others. But with the exception of the small groups of jains and other similar ones it has not been accepted by larger societies and wars raged in the names of those who preached nonviolence. Only in the recent few decades has it started to emerge into the mainstream consciousness, from the foundation of humanistic tradition, fueled but the atrocities of the 20th century wars.
Yet they, the violent ones, are still the great majority in the world, and there is no surprise. Humans are violent by nature because nature is violent. Other animals, especially primates commit pretty horrible acts to the members of their communities fighting for power and influence. Very similar to humans, really, with one big distinction – lions, chimps and baboons do not have access to automatic assault weapons, chemical warfare and nuclear missiles. Their ability to inflict violence is in direct proportion with their physical strength and psychological aptitudes. They take great personal risks to obtain social influence and status in their communities, which is the greatest motivation for violence.
So it it no surprise that the violent ones are especially abundant in the positions of power. It take a special type of character to fight and win – whether with word or with guns. Those who have this inclination tend to rise in the social hierarchies and dominate others with their influence. Those who achieve the highest positions of power as a rule have the highest ‘will for power’, as Nietzsche would put it, the will to dominate others. The rulers do not want the war to rule, they want to war because they are rulers. Laws and morals are the ways to reign in this tendency – and it has not been working very well.
So, does that mean that the violence will continue in perpetuity? Is there any way to change that? I don’t know. Some might say that things are getting less violent, however slowly. That the antiquity and the middle ages were surely much more violent times than modernity. I’m not sure about that. They might seem that way from a distance, because the history books just jump from one war to the next, skipping the times of peace and tranquility because what’s there to talk about? And every change in social order brings great calamities, any revolution drowns in blood.
I try not to make predictions, just point out the things I see. And what I see is a conundrum that I do not know how to solve: The violent ones want to fight and win, the nonviolent ones don’t even want to play that game. But if they don’t – how will the world change to become less violent? And if they do – any fighting will bring about more violence…. After a long search I still don’t have an answer, just one word left in the gold pan: education.