The Moral Source of Violence

In People are violent because their morality demands it, Tage Rai notes how common explanations for the sources of violence lack explanatory power, before arguing that violence is, very often, moral:

Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.

His examples show that violence isn’t just people losing control or trying to accrue some sort of advantage:

A mother in the American South beats her child because he disobeyed her authority, to protect him from himself, and to ensure that he becomes a responsible adult. Drill sergeants, gang leaders and guerrilla fighters brutally ‘beat in’ new recruits to create lifelong bonds with their compatriots and unflinching obedience to their superiors, both of which are fundamental to success in battle… A brother in northern rural India kills his sister because her sexual infidelity has contaminated and shamed their family; her death is the only way to restore the family’s honour and prove to their community that they can be trusted… A suicide bomber in the Middle East kills himself and others in the name of an authority he respects and out of loyalty to his compatriots who will also die. A US fighter pilot bombs an ISIS target, killing several terrorists along with nearby civilians because his commander calculated it was an acceptable loss in order to achieve a greater good, the death of their enemies.

How, specifically, are these actions moral?

The general pattern we found was that the violence was intended to regulate social relationships… Across all cases, perpetrators are using violence to create, conduct, sustain, enhance, transform, honour, protect, redress, repair, end, and mourn valued relationships.

These insights really tie into some of my previous posts on redemptive violence

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