Thursday, June 12, 2008


Is a violent act ever justified? What if the violence committed prevents greater crimes from occurring? What if the violence perpetrated brings about change, a paradigm shift? Is violence justified then?

It would be easy to say yes. But what is violence, really, in all its ugly manifestations? Is it a physical act of abuse toward a fellow human? An animal? Does it emanate from our voice tones, our usage of unpalatable metaphors in our speech? It would be easy to point to the natural world’s abundant violent occurrences, tendencies, and outbursts, and proclaim therein our stark role model of behavior, a template for our actions, since we are also part of the natural world. But violence is ultimately a destructive act, a shattering of hope, a killing of possibility that feeds negatively upon itself until death--not necessarily something we wish to build a karmic foundation upon.

Human beings will rationalize anything, including violence. In the pursuit of hedonistic selfish goals, for example, we have “enviros” drive Hummers (violence toward Earth) and Buddhists eating meat (violence toward animals). Similarly so with violent acts committed in the ultimate good of humanity—bloody insurgencies, gruesome territorial wars, firebombing Earth-unfriendly property—the idea seemingly being that, hey, if the violence is committed in the spirit of something you strongly believe in, or can conveniently rationalize away, then it is somehow less karmically wrong and more morally all right.

One of the great things about being modern humans is that we can make choices that defy our evolutionary heritage. We are not chimpanzees engaging in crude territorial disputes and violent armed conflict for alpha-bragging rights; nor are we vicious warmongering army ants—we are human beings who can choose to act with compassion, mercy, kindness and love, in every act and in every moment. Why, then, is it so much more appealing to act out their opposites in our relationships with each other, the earth, and her many diverse beings?

My vegan/ahimsa ethics simply do not allow supporting violence in any way, shape or form. The principle of least harm must be the guiding light, otherwise, “an eye for an eye makes the world go blind.” And, besides, why put violent energy in the world? It can only come back to bite you in the ass. It is best to live by example, or “be the change that you wish to see,” to quote Gandhi again.

Yet there are those who say that violence is cleansing and liberating, as Franz Fanon famously asserted. . .in which case we should have no trouble believing Josef Stalin’s notorious line, "One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are a statistic.”

Can there ever be revolution without violence? Perhaps. But it is certain that violence without revolution is senseless.


At 9:58 PM , Blogger ManEatingBadger said...

I recently read a cultural history of vegetarianism entitled "The Bloodless Revolution", the memory of which your question about the possibility of a nonviolent revolution brought back to me.

Thomas Jefferson said the tree of liberty, from time to time, required the blood of revolution to grow, so the Enlightenment thinkers evidently had no issue with violence for a cause.

and as long as we're arguing in philosophical tailspins, what if violence is forced upon one? Does one allow aggression to rule the day, or does one react? Very few ways to resist violence on the scale of wars with "Kum-by-Yah"...


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