Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Defense of Violence

I recently read Marc MacYoung's book "In the Name of Self Defense: What it Costs, When It's Worth It". While the Kindle edition has some formatting and a few editing issues, it's still worth every penny.

It had a profound effect on my thinking, and it's not done yet - I have to let it percolate a while, re-read it, and let it sit some more.  It challenged some cherished notions and I have to look all that over.

I had the same experience with Rory Miller's book "Meditations on Violence" (in fact, I'm due a re-read of that one, to keep it fresh in my mind).

One thing Mr. MacYoung points out about violence is that our modern society does a very, very poor job in educating our members about what violence is, and how it is used, for both good and bad purposes.

At least in the US, the message modern society sends is pretty clear.  Except in some very limited circumstances (like sports, police officers, and military in specific cases):


We've gone so far as to say that violence is always bad, even in legitimate self defense. A kid who defends himself against the violence of a bully with violence is subject to the same punishment as the aggressor in most of our schools, and it's gone so far as to have any object that conceivably resembles a weapon (but isn't) is grounds for suspension or even expulsion.

Image found here, with story.  Another version of news story here
I won't go into the depth of what is and is not self defense here - that's what Mr. MacYoung goes into in depth in the book and I'm not yet competent to discuss the subject the way it needs to be discussed. Let's just assume it is legit self defense we're talking about here.

This message - that violence is always bad for regular people - has serious negative consequences for our society.

First, it basically trains good people to become full-time victims of the sociopaths in our society who don't care about its rules and will use verbal and physical violence to get what they want and hurt other people.

I don't think we want a society where the bullies run free, do we?

Pretty sure we do not.
I don't want a society where the verbal and physical bullies are in charge, and I think most of you reading this would agree. I also know there are some of us who relish in victimhood - they believe this gives them a special moral trump card to play somehow - but that is not the vast majority of us and honestly, I do not understand that mindset and probably never will.

Second, it ignores the fact that we humans, as a species, use social violence to enforce societal rules in order to live together.  This goes from a pointed look from Mom when a kid steps out of line (because of what lies behind the look), yelling at people to get them to behave a certain way, all the way up to sending in a SWAT team to arrest an armed murder suspect holed up in a building.  All of this is "violence", and usually appropriate uses of violence.

Because these uses of violence help keep us in line with the written (and unwritten) rules of a society.  Failure to comply with these societal rules - without the warnings of violence - may result in injury or death.

Don't believe me?  What do you think happens when a guy refuses to pay his taxes and refuses to come along without resistance when the police come to take him to jail? 

Nope.  Guess again.
By teaching that ALL violence is bad for most of us in most situations, and knowing that we as a species use it all the time, we omit teaching the appropriate use of violence.  We do not teach how to scale violence to the appropriate situation.  We do not teach how to recognize the types of violence being offered to us all the time, and how to cope with it, and  how to know if it is likely to carry serious consequences, or not.

It becomes a game of guessing what is dangerous, and what is not - and that's how you get people shooting folks running away from conflict in the back in "self defense".

Third, thinking this way, we ignore the very real positive - or just - use of violence, to protect others against unjust violence.  This is tricky, and the rules vary widely, but this is used in our society from protecting someone smaller from getting beat up by someone bigger or stronger all the way up to waging a war to end a genocide or to overthrow an oppressive government.

Most of us would agree that this is an appropriate use of violence, even if we disagree on the details of when it is appropriately used.  Violence has absolutely solved many problems in human history.

Here's one.

So, I believe, instead of pretending that violence is bad, I would prefer to live in a world that acknowledges the positive benefits of violence and conflict as well as the negatives.

If you are a martial artist, this is what you are doing and what you are teaching others.  The idea that violence can be a force for good or positive things.  The knowledge of how to recognize violence and respond appropriately (every violent situation does not call for lethal response, y'know...) is our stock and trade.

Violence, like any other tool, can be used for both bad and good purposes.  To claim that all violence is bad is to claim that humanity, as violent as we are, is bad.  I don't believe that, and I hope you agree with me.

UPDATE JULY 2016: I ran across this blog post over at the Huffington Post, which attempts to make the argument that even self defense is bad if you read the US Constitution the way the blogger does. A Revision on the Bill of Rights, Part III.  Needless to say, I disagree with his base conclusion and his interpretation of the US Constitution.

What do you think?  I'd love to know!