Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thoughts on Violence Pt. 2: The Cycle of Violence

It somewhat surprises me how few people have asked me why I chose to commit to non-violent activism. Part of the problem could be tied to my misuse of the word pacifism to describe what I am. It's my experience that there are so many preconceived notions about pacifism that many people don't feel any explanation is necessary. During the first semester when I told people I was a pacifist, they'd usually respond in good humor, "I'm sorry". I have found that the other common response is to say, "Wait, so you mean to tell me that if... [hypothetical dire situation]... You would not... [hypothetical violent response]" This latter response is frustrating for two reasons; either the hypothetical response provided was not truly violent or it would fit the description of a strawman's argument. In fact, I think the only person who actually asked me what my reasoning for choosing non-violence is my roommate and it only came out because pacifism was already the topic of conversation.

It should be no surprise to anyone by now when I say that I used to be an ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christian. I used to think everything was so black and white, cut and dry, and as clear as day was separated from night. At that time, I was a situationalist, which is really just a big word for the belief that the measure of action required is based on the situation at hand. You can read more about situational ethics here. Basically, it states that the ends justify the means. It sounds harsh when I put it that way, but understand that for someone who embraces situational ethics the desired end should always be love according to Fletcher's original theory. There are some pretty convincing scenarios provided in the link if you're having trouble conceptualizing how anyone could find this mentality at all practical. It was all so conveniently obvious to me. I'll never forget one day in fifth grade that my teacher asked us to consider the ethical dilemma of illegal immigrants crossing over the southern border to the US. After half-listening, half-mocking the answers of my classmates, I raised my hand and suggested, "Why don't we just put a wall along the border with a machine gun nest or a sniper to stop anyone who tries to cross over?"

To me, the illegal immigrants were not people, they were an obstacle preventing the desired end for me. As I saw it, they were a disruption to the harmonious society America was. They took up space, resources, and circumvented the immigration system while begging for citizenship and all the rights granted with it. I was dumbfounded when my classmates responded with shock and horror at my suggestion. It took a few moments for my teacher to settle the class down, but then he called upon someone to explain why my solution was not a good one. Keep in mind that my classmates and I were ten or eleven at the time, my classmate said, "They're just trying to have a better life here." They're just trying to have a better life here. Better than what? Don't all people in every country live as we do? You'd think that such a mind-blowing experience like that would have taught me a thing or two about global awareness, but somehow I managed to chalk the experience up to a bunch of children without the moral resolve to do what was necessary to protect God's great nation.

Are you getting a sense of how perversely intertwined my politically misguided views and my religious teaching had been? It's like Manifest Destiny was threatening to have a revival right there starting with me. By high school I was a real confused mess. I was a staunch pro-lifer, gay-hating, war celebrating, budding intellectual. I couldn't see all the inconsistencies, how the tapestry of my ideas was coming apart at every seam. I wanted to save every last unborn child while mercilessly slaughtering every Iraqi and Afghan until there were none to fire back at us. To me, the abortion issue was easily dismissed as the woman being too lazy to deal with the consequences of her actions whereas the death of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans posed no moral problem for me because it would save American lives. Add to that the narrative that Former-President Bush gave the people about God telling him to go to war, it seems to me like the war in the Middle East became the crusades all over again. I feel physically ill just thinking about all this.

Folks, that's just the intellectual and philosophical fallacies I have since come to realize about violence I used to support. The religious and political were so carefully tied together in a web of fail-safe lies: if one of the political lies failed to satisfy a question, fall back to religious lie. There's a lot more anecdotal things I could add about my personal life and how I was bullied and thus became a bully of sorts. I wanted to show, on an intellectual level, the epitome of what was wrong with all this.

Violence is a vicious cycle that does not stop until someone stops responding with violence, but even then the consequences of violence can be so far reaching that one can stop but it will be too late. Just because it may be too late to stop the repercussions of previous violent actions does not negate the necessity to stop the violence.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

1 comment:

  1. Especially liked how you explained this:
    "The religious and political were so carefully tied together in a web of fail-safe lies: if one of the political lies failed to satisfy a question, fall back to religious lie."