Some years ago I came across an essay by Jack Donovan called “Violence is Golden”.
Recently, Scott Faith revisited Jack’s essay.
Violence should not be a first resort, but sometimes it is the only resort. I think deep down everyone knows this, but there are those that want to deny it. Or at least, they cannot see themselves performing violence, consider it icky, and thus others shouldn’t partake in it either. But somehow they know that violence is sometimes necessary – without it, laws have no ground, no meaning., and society has no structure. And I think everyone has a line, it’s just a question of finding it. I hear many women that go on about how they could never hurt someone else, but are very willing to get “momma bear” protective if someone tries to hurt their children. There you go, there’s your line. Let’s look at forcible rape (forcible, as opposed to statutory); this is not a time for negotiation, this is a time for violent response because it’s demonstrated that rape victims who fight back fare far better than those who do not. Is there anyone not willing to draw a line here?
Have you ever trained a dog? When training a dog, you have to think like a dog. Dogs don’t understand human, they understand dog. For example, petting a dog is an act of reinforcement. If the dog is doing something and you pet it, the dog says “hey, whatever I’m doing is good, keep doing it”. But to a human, petting can be a comforting behavior. So for example, if your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, many people will pet their dog in an attempt to soothe and comfort the dog. This is bad; that’s human-think, not dog-think. What happens is the petting reinforces to the dog that being afraid of thunderstorms is what to do, and that’s not the behavior we want. To successfully work with a dog, you have to think and speak and act dog. You have to speak their language.
And so it goes with 2-legged predators as well. There are some people out there that only understand the language of violence. They will not listen to your begging, but they will listen to a gun muzzle pointed at them. Which speaks their language? Which will they understand? You cannot apply your standards, your morals, your behaviors and modes of thinking to all people because all people do not and will not think and behave like you – if they did, they wouldn’t be violating you right now, would they? Sometimes you have to speak their language, whether you like it or not. As Faith writes:
Violence should not be, and usually isn’t, the method of first resort in man’s dealings with his fellow man. But you’ve got to talk to people on a level that they understand; sometimes the only language they understand is that of violence. This is especially true when it comes to halting violence after it has already begun. After all, when people cry out for someone to “Do something!” about places like Syria and Iraq they don’t mean send in the State Department or the United Nations; in situations where “reason” fails, you don’t send memos you send the Marines.
What really touched me about Faith’s article was his addressing of the “Coexist” bumper sticker. Every time I see one (usually on a Prius), all I can think to myself is “Great! But I’m not the one you need to be proselytizing to; tell that to the people who are trying to kill me.” Or how wonderful it is to preach that from the safety of our country, behind the laws (force, violence) and law enforcement (police, military — you know, people with guns willing to perform violence by proxy for you). Faith writes:
Coexistence is a wonderful thing, as long as everyone is an equally-committed partner in the process. But if one player in the coexistence game decides to not go along with the program, then you could “coexist” yourself right out of existence. It’s the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma; at every level of human interaction, everyone is better off with cooperation. But the incentives to cheat are such that the fear of defection of others creates incentives to be the first to leave the collective. When it comes to pacifism, anyone declining to at least maintain the capability of violence will be at a distinct disadvantage, and the first to resort to violence will likely be the one left standing at the end of any conflict between them. This is why programs like “Global Zero” will never work; it overlooks a fundamental aspect of human nature. After all, in a society of the blind the one-eyed man in king; and in a society that has beaten all swords into plowshares, everything belongs to the man who kept his sword whole… unless another man with a sword stops him first. Si vis pacem, para violentus.
So we need not like violence, but we need to acknowledge the role it plays in securing our lives, liberty, property, and way of life. More than that; we need to embrace it, and stand eternally vigilant to carry it out either individually or collectively if (when) the need arises. There will always be someone who cheats, who defects, who simply doesn’t get with the “ideal world” program. If we don’t prepare for that, we are at the mercy of those who do. And on that note, I think that the best way to end this article is the same way it began, with a quote from Violence is Golden: “It’s time to quit worrying and learn to love the battle axe. History teaches us that if we don’t, someone else will.”
He (and Donovan) are right: we need not like violence, but we need to acknowledge the role it plays. Too often people want to just look at violence as a bad thing and believe that doing away with all violence is the solution and thus the goal to which we must strive. But not everyone will share your lofty goals, and there will be those that see your lofty goals as your weakness and use it against you. And then what will you do? As Donovan wrote:
However, the willful submission of many inevitably creates a vulnerability waiting to be exploited by any one person who shrugs off social and ethical norms. If every man lays down his arms and refuses to pick them up, the first man to pick them up can do whatever he wants. Peace can only be maintained without violence so long as everyone sticks to the bargain, and to maintain peace every single person in every successive generation — even after war is long forgotten — must continue to agree to remain peaceful. Forever and ever. No delinquent or upstart may ever ask, “Or Else What?,” because in a truly non-violent society, the best available answer is “Or else we won’t think you’re a very nice person and we’re not going to share with you.” Our troublemaker is free to reply, “I don’t care. I’ll take what I want.”
Violence is the final answer to the question, “Or else what?”
We cannot have a civilized society without violence. Violence is neither good nor bad; like all things, it’s how people use it that determine it’s merit. Striving to rid the world of violence is laudable, but naive, because how else can you enforce your mandate (as ironic as that would be)? Instead, acknowledge the role violence plays in creating a civilized society, and work to enable good people with the means by which to help maintain that vein of civilization.