A while back, I was particularly noticing a pattern in our culture: that we are consistently taught to believe that violence solves problems rather than creates them.
Almost all of our fiction (books, movies) teaches us this. After all, almost all of our popular fiction deals with violence, whether it is a non-physical conflict between people or outright war.
Usually, there is the bad guy, who poses a threat. The good guy fights him (I say him because damn, have you seen how sexist most films are?) and eventually neutralises him. Then, the bad guy’s loss is celebrated. Any pain which the bad guy has to go through is seen as justice, and a good thing. Furthermore, there are no negative consequences to the good guy’s victory; the bad guy is totally and utterly ground into the dust, never to pose a threat ever again.
And even when we’re not dealing with the so-called “bad guys”, oftentimes a movie will play out a fantasy of someone being annoying, or difficult, and then a character who we identify with cutting them down to size with humiliating words or some sort of “amusing” light violence.
I say “fantasy” because that’s what we imagine happening: we always play out in our heads the perfect smackdown, the perfect belittling remark that would bring someone down and play us up. And we imagine, in our heads, that it ends there, that the other person’s self esteem would be so ground into the dust that they just can’t respond. In turn, this is how it happens in movies.
In real life, it rarely, if ever, works this way.
If we decide someone is our enemy and attack them, whether verbally or physically, usually all we get is a backlash. It doesn’t matter if they started it first; the more we attack, the more backlash we create. It is in practice almost impossible to so completely grind someone into the dust that they no longer pose a threat. Even if you kill them, it’s likely that their allies will take up the fight on their behalf.
And suppose you really are strong enough to grind an entire group of allies into the dust. Maybe you will. What then? Well, to be that powerful you have to be big. And big entities attract powerful enemies. So really, no matter how far you go in attempting to crush your enemies, you will always have more of them to deal with.
See? This is where the cycle ends up. To the extent that you choose to use violence against others as a tool, you will attract violence against you. Either you will be marginally more successful at giving than receiving, or you will be less successful. Either way, you will receive much more violence than you ever would have done if you had remained peaceful.
Think of the USA, supposedly the biggest power on Earth. Its recent wars have only increased the violence directed against it.
Think of George Bush’s 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech. It was to be another 8 years after that before the USA pulled troops out of Iraq, and violence in the area continues.
This “Mission Accomplished” thing just highlights how we have this fantasy that violence has an end, a successful end. We take one iconic strike to mark the end of a conflict, and then assume that nothing afterwards has anything to do with it. However, the violence continues.
I would say that echoes of the violence of the World Wars are still found nowadays. Living in Germany, I see how many Germans still hold shame (self directed violence) about what happened in WWII. This self directed violence easily transforms into a backlash of other violence, such as the Neonazis which this country has to deal with.
World War II was in itself a backlash against the violence of World War I. And I would say that these wars were backlashes against even older violences, echoing back to the very beginning of history.
It’s all one violence. It never ends. At least, it never ends so long as we respond to violence with violence. The cycle only ends when we choose to be nonviolent, even in the face of the violence of others.
In a previous article I explained my belief that law enforcement creates at least part of the crime that it is trying to end.
If someone attacks you, you can use the law to restrain or punish them. And because the law is such a powerful force, it’s quite possible this way for you to totally overpower someone.
But the very concept of punishment rests on the idea that there are some people who are just “wrong” and who deserve bad treatment. This would tend to teach indicted criminals that a) they are wrong, bad, and bad for society [a belief they might act out], and b) hurting others is justified.
Punishment isn’t kind or humane. It’s violence. And when someone receives punishment, they are getting filled up with violence. That violence will find its way out again. And the cycle continues.
After all, it’s well known that the reoffending rate amongst ex-prisoners is staggeringly high.
I want to tackle these issues on a more personal level now.
As a person with a powerful aura, I find that both conflict and harmony escalates very fast for me. If I use violence against someone, the intensity of my own energy will invite an intense reaction. This helped form my ideas on violence, as the pattern thus became very clear for me. I have to avoid engaging in violence, even if it’s just a snide remark or whatever. The alternative is a fast-escalating spiral into hell.
I don’t know if violence is ever a good solution. I wonder what I would do as the leader of a country which was invaded. Would I order my country to war, or attempt to find a peaceful solution, even when none were feasible? I have thought about nonviolent resistance, Gandhi style, but I’m not so idealistic as to believe that this would work in every situation.
What I do know, though, is that in my life, violence has never been a solution, or at least, it hasn’t been in the last few years where I was aware of energy in this way.
But then my secret is that I avoid situations that would force me to use violence. I surround myself with supportive people and avoid negative people like the plague. I filter my environments very well. I just don’t go to places where I’d be forced to interact with assholes.
I know doing this is not always possible. Well, let me put it like this: it is not always possible in the short term. But I believe that in the long term, so long as you have the power to transform your life (and most people do), you can achieve this sort of positive environment.
So that’s the long term. But what about situations that seem to call for violence in the short term?
Even with these, I wonder. I wonder if, even in the most negative environments, you can protect yourself better by using nonviolence. After all, violence rarely becomes physical out of the blue. There is usually an escalation period, and I think it may be possible to prevent escalation by not feeding into it with your own violence (“fuck off!” “leave me alone!” etc).
The best description for this nonviolence would be Eckhart Tolle‘s concept of Presence. If you remain very alert, very silent, you can feel or perceive the best course of action, and perhaps more importantly, you can prevent your energy from going into the violence feedback loop.
Well, that is a little theoretical. What I know for sure is:
1. For me, violence, no matter how small, has almost always led to escalation, and not a resolution of the problems I was trying to solve.
2. In the last few years, by combining nonviolence and an extensive filtering of people and environments, I’ve not found myself ever in the situation where I really needed to use violence to defend myself.
In order to further temper the theoreticality of this post, I’d like to add a short (4 minute) video which shows some pretty incredibly effective personal non-violence in practice. It’s one of my two all time favourite Youtube videos, and I really recommend the small time investment you’ll have to make to watch it: