The Source of Violence

There’s been a lot of violence in the world lately, but most of it hasn’t been in Paris or Colorado Springs or San Bernadino. No group is better at inflicting violence than militaries, since that’s what they’re there for. The best possible outcome of a standing army is the threat of violence, but what good is that threat without exercising it on occasion?

The Dalai Lama has pretty insightful thoughts on the reality of war:

Of course, war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous – an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.

Strong words that I completely agree with. This bit on the military threat to democracy is also cutting:

There are people with destructive intentions in every society, and the temptation to gain command over an organisation capable of fulfilling their desires can become overwhelming. But no matter how malevolent or evil are the many murderous dictators who can currently oppress their nations and cause international problems, it is obvious that they cannot harm others or destroy countless human lives if they don’t have a military organisation accepted and condoned by society. As long as there are powerful armies there will always be danger of dictatorship. If we really believe dictatorship to be a despicable and destructive form of government, then we must recognize that the existence of a powerful military establishment is one of its main causes.

Faith in Humanity

It’s easy to get discouraged about the world. There are a ready supply of assholes who think that they’re doing God’s work by killing people, be they recently in Paris, or today in Colorado Springs.1 So today I went looking for some good quotes, preferably about nonviolence since only those who repudiate all violence can help to stop it.2

Instead, I found a pretty great quote from Mahatama Gandhi on Wikiquote that helps put things into perspective:

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.

And then, as one does while reading a series of quotes from Gandhi, you read everything, and then you come across someone’s quote about Gandhi, and then you read this from Marian Wright Edelman, and hope that you’re up to the challenge:

A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back — but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.


  1. There are so many non-Western examples that I don’t even know where to begin. This is the problem. 
  2. Everyone who commits violence believes that they, alone, are applying it morally, because their cause is righteous. See The Moral Source of Violence

Us and Them

The Paris attacks were brutal and unforgivable. The drone attacks throughout broad swathes of the Middle East are also brutal and unforgiveable. This list could go on and on, and unfortunately it is doing just that. Everyone is a reactionary—“they” always started it, “we” are only defending our interests against “them.”

Every moment of violence is an opportunity to break this cycle; a chance to get off of the eternal treadmill of retribution and hatred. Remove the retribution and the flames of hatred will exhaust their fuel.

We must expand the circle of “us” to include everyone. This planet is too small to continue with our primitive “us” vs “them” tribal mentalities. I think that the teachings of Jesus are useful in extending the circle of “we,” but I think that everyone has resources available to them to choose love over hate, trust over fear.

A Prayer for Paris

There has been a series of coordinated attacks in Paris, with current estimates of 140 dead. The horrific cycle of violence continues, with the innocent always paying the price.[^1]

For now, my prayer is that we would stop seeing killing others anything other than a guarantee of still more bloodshed to come. I pray that the perpetrators will be brought to justice and that there are no more attacks forthcoming. I pray that France will not follow the foolishness of the USA in the wake of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

Oh Lord, let the killing stop.

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

Apocalyptic Shopping With Pepper Spray

It’s quite amazing that I haven’t made the obvious connection between Black Friday and my sporadic Signs of the Apocalypse before, but this year brings us signs of our impending doom:

Black Friday turned into a black mark against American shoppers as riotous crowds brawled over video games, waffle irons and towels, drawing international condemnation and even raising questions about the state of humanity.

One of the most outrageous incidents of the day was in the Los Angeles area, where up to 20 people were injured after a woman at a Walmart used pepper spray to get an edge on other shoppers in a rush for Xbox game consoles.

Words fail.