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WHEN IS VIOLENCE OKAY, AND WHEN IS IT NOT? 23 June 2017 PDF  | Print |  E-mail


23 June 2017

Dear Friends and Patriots,

            With all that’s going on in the world there’s a logical question we should all ask ourselves.  The title of this piece is that question:   when is violence okay, and when is it not?  Seems simple enough doesn’t it.  It’s not, though.  If it was we might see a lot less violence in the world.  Even so, it’s always a subject worth taking a run at.  Maybe if more people took the time to understand the ethics of violence they’d think a bit before acting.  Then again, we’re talking about humans, aren’t we?

            The subject of violence takes one down many roads.  Domestic violence is within families and those close to them.  Is there anything about such violence that’s defensible?  It happens, but in most cultures it’s a very hard sell to justify any domestic violence as ethical.  It’s almost always fueled by emotion and adrenelin, and often there are drugs or alcohol as contributing factors.  No one wants it and no one likes it, but it’s all too common.  It’s not hard to understand the ethical dilemmas that are at play.  All humans have their failings and weaknesses, and sometimes a confluence of events and emotions result in such violence.  It’s not being judgmental to state with no reservations that domestic violence of any form is ethically wrong.  It just is.

            When I was a kid my father taught me that fighting was something not to be taken lightly.  We were discussing schoolyard fights at the time.  He told me that it’s always wrong to provoke a fight, but if someone else wants to be “that kid” it often turns out to be a mistake not to accommodate them.  His advice was simple.  “Just hit him in the nose a couple of times and he’ll quit bothering you.” 

Back in those pre-PC days fights on the schoolyard weren’t unusual, and were almost the equivalent of a social event.  Kids would hear of a fight brewing and often show up to see the action.  It wasn’t unusual to have 40 or 50 kids as spectators for an after-school fight.  We didn’t have a specific word for all that.  No one worried about bullying.  It was just something that was done.  Some kids picked on others unless those others objected and fought back.  You didn’t run home to cry to your parents.  If you did they’d most likely tell you to suck it up and fight back.  But, that was elementary school in the ‘50s, back when Matt Dillon was the new marshal of Dodge City and crying was for sissies.  Things aren’t that way these days.  But, the truth of my father’s dictum and advice is still firmly fixed in my psyche – never pick a fight, but don’t back down from one either.  

            Today we see fights all around us, but oddly enough to me they’re totally discouraged on schoolyards.  Kids aren’t allowed to fight today.  It’s not PC.  If someone picks on a kid today, they can’t pop the aggressor in the nose for it.  Doing so might get them arrested for assault.  No, today’s kids are supposed to run to the school office and file the equivalent of a Hurt Feelings report and label the other kid a bully.  Maybe I’m just old fashioned (maybe?) but I think all this teaches kids that their problems are for others to fix.  It’s no wonder we live in an entitlement society.  Kids are supposed to be snowflakes.  It’s not considered good parenting to teach your kids how to take up for themselves and fight their battles.  Good parenting today involves all manner of considerations for the feelings of every human in the universe.  Good parenting today is giving your kids cell phones with your number on speed dial.  Good parenting today is instructing your kids to run immediately to the school office and demand they intercede in every petty grievance.  School counselors have become union stewards, arbitrating tiffs between student bargaining unit members.  When arbitration doesn’t work, the cops come and all too often someone goes away in the back of a police cruiser.  All these new tactics do is teach some kids how to be litigious snivelers and criminalizes others.  What kind of citizens do you suppose all this creates?

            There is a time and place for violence.  I’m not an advocate for encouraging children to fight.  I do advocate they learn how and when to defend themselves.  The real issues of violence aren’t with kids anyway.  It’s still rare for kids to resort to weapons when they do battle.  Even if kids fight they usually don’t hurt each other in a permanent way.   No, the kids aren’t the ones who need to learn the philosophic basis for fighting; that’s an adult thing. 

            If you’re a believer in God, also known as The Almighty, you understand the concept of Natural Rights.  One Natural Right is that of self-defense.  That right was first codified into law during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor, and has since been incorporated into most legal systems, including English Common Law and the US Code of Law.  As individuals, each of us has a right to defend both our person and our property.  In this connotation, property includes real and tangible goods and members of our families.  The basic premise is, it’s permissible to use violence if necessary to defend yourself, your family members, and your property.  The degree of violence that’s considered appropriate varies with the severity of the threat, up to and including measures that could result in the death of a person who violates your rights.

            Almost all libertarians hew to the Non-Aggression principle.  The Non-Aggression Principle (or NAP) holds that any form of aggression against another person or their property is unethical.  The NAP is often debated among libertarians, some of whom believe it is an absolute maxim.  Those who do believe in the NAP as an absolute consider any and all acts of violence to be unethical, sometimes even self-defense.  Most libertarians are not so extreme.  Most believe aggression in defense of self or property to be entirely ethical and good common sense.

            It’s apparent the use of violence in defense of self and property is not only legal and ethical, it’s socially accepted.  As long as an individual doesn’t escalate a defense response to an “unnecessary” level, there’s generally no legal or social stigma attached to it.  The problems tend to start whenever a response nears that boundary where “acceptable” begins to come into question.  There’s no fine line there; no clear demarcation.  Furthermore, each situation stands alone.  Today, almost all incidents that involve violent self-defense result in law suits, and most often the truths of those incidents surface.

            The same principles of self-defense apply at social echelons above the family, though they manifest in different ways.  Towns and cities have the same Natural Right of self-defense as the individual.  In most of the world’s history that right was exercised on a fairly frequent basis.  History is replete with accounts of cities under siege by armies of warlords, or kings, or rebellious factions that wanted to either neutralize them as military threats or to plunder them for their material wealth.  Whether or not the aggressors had any ethical right to lay siege to a city, the city under siege always had the right to defend itself.   Those cases seem to be fairly clear-cut and understandable to even our modern thinking.  We see none of that kind of aggression in the modern “civilized” world of today.  It may happen occasionally in the “third world” but today we don’t have city-states or fortress cities, so most sieges of cities are encompassed within the context of a greater conflict.

            War is the ultimate state of violence.  Wars are fought for all kinds of reasons, and most of them aren’t truly valid or ethical.  Wars are often fought because the parties in conflict can’t reach a mutually satisfying accommodation through any other means.  In other words – all efforts at diplomacy have failed, and one side is aggrieved sufficiently to resort to armed conflict.  Sometimes wars are nothing more than exercises in power and domination. Wars are fought over access to raw materials, or water, or solely to acquire more land. 

Regardless of the cause the main participants in wars, the combatants, are customarily granted ethical exemptions.  It’s not the fault of the soldier or sailor that they find themselves at war, nor is it the fault of the general or admiral.  The military organizations that do the hard and bloody work of war are mere tools of their governments and are bound to follow the dictates of their overlords.  Military people don’t like war, and they rarely seek to prolong one.  But because they are, by and large, professionals at the arts of war, it’s what they signed on to do as long as there’s a political will to continue.  While it may seem that warriors should share the ethical failings engendered by the prosecution of war, as long as those warriors conduct themselves within the bounds of otherwise ethical personal and professional behavior the principle ethical dilemma actually falls on the heads of their respective political structures.  Combatants now have written rules to guide them, via the Geneva Convention and what is referred to as the Law of War.  It’s fair to say that wars are started and often ended by politicians, but they rarely suffer at all from the physical effects. 

The number of books written about some aspect of war are probably in the millions.  It’s well-plowed ground.  The ethical questions posed by war are encompassed in courses of advanced military education in many nations.  Almost all senior officers in our military study the ethics of war.  They have to.  Those courses explain their personal absolution.

There are a couple of other forms of violence that should have no absolution.  One is terrorism.  There’s no legitimate ethical position that favors terrorism.  Most victims of such violence are innocents who are targeted simply because they have the bad fortune of being present at the precise place and precise time of a terrorist strike.  That’s the nature of terrorism and the entire point.  There’s no real way to predict a terrorist strike, and no sure way to defend against one.  They’re intended to disrupt normal activity and instill fear in the populace.  In the purely tactical sense terroristic activity is powerful.  The invested cost is usually very low (even considering suicide attacks) by the yield can be very high.  Even so, most civilized humans can find no legitimate ethical justification for terrorism, and it doesn’t matter whether the terrorism is domestic or extra-national.  All attempts at justification are no more than shallow, bankrupt excuses for wanton murder.

Another form of violence that should have no absolution is the politically motivated riot.  We’ve seen several of those in recent times, and many in times past.  They’re usually fomented by pretext.  Professional agitators show up at demonstrations of often legitimate grievances and stir up the crowd with inflammatory rhetoric.  The rhetoric gets reported and the crowd will often swell with the addition of people whose motivations are quite different from the original demonstrators.  What started out as a peaceful demonstration of a legitimate concern ends up with riot police, tear gas, arrests, fights, burning, looting, and sometimes worse.  Political violence is usually done for the benefit of the ever-present cameras and the panting press.  They are dramas, pre-planned and carefully coordinated for maximum effect.  They are akin to terrorism in the intent to shape the mindset of the observing populace.  As such, what may have started as a legitimate demonstration of real emotion and focus turns into chaos, seemingly for the sake of chaos.  But, because such events have a strongly political undercurrent, the chaos is with purpose.  Again, they are done to create and shape mindsets.  They’re completely manipulative and disingenuous. As soon as the peaceful demonstration transitions and the first act of violence is committed, all claims of ethical legitimacy dissolve.

There are a few occasions when violence is not only necessary, but completely ethical.  Most occasions of violence aren’t, though.  When we, as average American citizens, are confronted with violence, we need to understand the ethical implications of what we witness and act accordingly.  Good people should take swift actions to end unethical violence, whether through political activism or through direct intercession.  Left unchecked unethical violence has the potential to end cultures and even civilizations.

All problems should be accompanied by solutions.  Because there are so many kinds of violence to deal with there are a plethora of solutions.  But, many of those can be narrowed down to basic philosophic approaches.  Jesus Christ taught his followers to turn the other cheek when confronted.   The Buddha taught his own followers to answer violence with expressions of peace and serenity.  Mohandas Gandhi preached the power of passive resistance to violence.  Martin Luther King learned and practiced the teachings of all three of those wise men.  Violence does not live long in a climate of peace.  But, peace requires strength.  For an individual faced with a violent confrontation such peace may not be a ready option.  To a soldier under fire in enemy territory there’s little opportunity to engage in peaceful overtures.  But, often on the streets of our cities there are missed opportunities.  The “high road” response to street violence is complete non-violence.  It takes enormous discipline to stand fast in the face of screaming, spitting, and other physical intimidation. But, non-responsiveness is the only sure way to defeat the chaos.  When the cameras are turned on to build the case of those who take to the streets, they will necessarily capture the images of those who stand in passive resistance.   Those who resort to violent means lose all pretense of legitimacy when they impose their violence on the obviously non-violent.  If any of you are intent on attending a demonstration as part of a patriotic response, my recommendation to you is to ensure to appear completely innocuous and non-responsive to the attempts of those who would foment chaos to draw you in and make you a victim.  The path to victory is obvious, but hard.  Find the high road and seize it.  Don’t let the purveyors of violence bring you off that road.  Stand fast and show all the right way for a society to progress is the way of peace.

            Today I was confronted by someone who I know to be a fellow libertarian and patriot.  He told me when he goes out this weekend he’d be carrying his sidearm.  After some back and forth dialog he finally agreed he needed to just stay home.  He admitted to having long-standing anger issues and realized the truth that he doesn’t have the self-discipline to maintain a place on that high road of peace.  That’s the kind of self-evaluation everyone has to make.  If you can’t succeed in challenging chaos with calm, you need to stay home and watch on TV.  And, you need to hope there’s a whole lot more folks who can meet that challenge.  In the end, it’s about two things – numbers and good optics.  We need both.

In Liberty,