Egoism and violenceOn another forum, I was goaded into responding to the juvenile taunting of someone who got upset when I asked him to explain his position on something. The whole exchange occured on Sunday afternoon. Later that day, I caught the public radio show Humankind. It's a fantastic and moving show that is airs on Sirius Satellite Radio and I think some NPR affiliates. It's so engaging that it's the only broadcast show, radio or TV, that I will re-arrange my schedule so as to not miss.
The most recent show was on Teaching Nonviolence. After listening to the show, I realized I wasn't goaded into verbal violence by this bully. I allowed myself to be goaded into verbal violence by him. I let my ego get in the way of sound judgement. I rarely do this but it happened on Sunday.
And in a way, this is how nearly all violence (verbal, physical or militaristic) starts. It happens when someone or someones let their ego get in the way of good judgement. And it's always a person or people. Countries don't have egos. Their citizens or rulers do.
In my case, my ego led to the 'need' to have the last word. The person who goaded me can do his own self-analysis if he's so inclined. The egos of America's rulers led to the Iraq aggression and debacle; they had their minds made up beforehand and weren't going to let any pesky facts get in the way. Saddam Hussein's ego led him to obstruct UN weapons' inspectors which gave our rulers the fake excuse they needed to invade.
But this isn't surprising or unique to Bush or Saddam. Egos are almost invariably at the origin of war, just as with almost every other act of violence.
Eritrea and Ethiopia fought one of the stupidest, most absurd wars in history. Two of the poorest countries in the world wasted enormous sums of money on a war that cost 70,000 lives. The war was over a remote triangle of land with few people and no natural resources. Why was this war fought? Because the egos of Ethiopia's strongman and Eritrea's dictator overrode common sense and good judgement. That the two men were former allies added to the ego factor.
Egoism is at the origin of almost all forms of violence. Succombing to egoism releases the shackles of civilization and has you succomb to primal urges. Violence is a form of self-indulgence, a failure of imagination, a collapse of self-restraint.
I don't believe in absolute non-violence all the time. I do believe in self-defense and defending others who are victims of violence (I mean this in a personal sense; international affairs are a bit more nuanced). If I see someone being raped, yes I would use a baseball bat to stop it if I had to. But I'd shout first.
A generalized belief in non-violence means that resolving an issue without violence should always been your goal. Violence should always been an absolute last resort. In our society, we resort to violence way too easily. The predominant mentality is, "Give me exactly what I want right away or I'll use violence." They think this allows them to say that violence is not their first choice.
People say that generally believing in non-violence is naive. It was said that Martin Luther King Jr, Mandela and Gandhi were naive. It was also said that Gen. Sherman was realistic. Three of those people built bridges; one burned them. All four of those people had a profound impact on the history of their country; three for the better, one for the worse. The 'naive' people helped bring freedom and liberty to their followers but while remaining magnanimous to the other side. The 'realistic' person slashed and burned his way to violent victory but helped sow a deep bitterness that lasted over a century. Some victory.
Militarists often cite World War II as an example of a good war, of a war that ultimately had positive benefits for humanity. For the sake of argument, let's assume this is true. There have been dozens and dozens of wars around the world in the last 60 years. The fact that the militarists have to go back through countless wars and six decades just to fine a single 'good' war is telling. If only 1 or 2 percent of the conflicts are 'good' ones, then that's a pretty strong rebuke to the whole theory that war solves problems. I bet non-violence has more than a 2 percent success rate.
The question needs to be turned on its head.
Look at all the damage and destruction and trauma that violence has caused over the millenia. And remember, I'm not just talking about militaristic violence, but physical and verbal violence as well. Societies and families torn apart. Progress stopped in its tracks. Millions of lives lost. Many times more lives ruined.
For anyone to believe that violence is a long-term solution to any problem given its miserable failure of a history, that's about the most naive thing anyone can possibly believe in.
Just ask yourself this. When was the last time you heard anyone ever say 'peace is hell'?