A Pacifist's Views on Violence Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

A Pacifist's Views on Violence

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Violence is a term describing the physical, psychological or structural abuse of power. The purpose of violence is to destroy, abuse or violate.

Violence plays a crucial role in mostly all of the history of humanity. All civilised cultures romanticise violence in several ways. Today, little brings humanity as much agony, terror and pleasure as violence.

As already indicated, the phenomenon of violence can be parted into three. Let's run through the short tour.

Physical Violence

This form of violence is the one most often focused on when using the term 'violence'. To hit someone hard is an example of physical violence. So is stabbing someone with a knife, or holding someone, thus hindering this person's escape. Physical violence can also be executed in more remote ways, for instance through the use of weapons, such as machine guns or bombs.

Psychological Violence

Verbal abuse, such as speaking to someone with the intention of taking the person's self-confidence away, or shouting at someone, or for that matter not speaking to someone at all, is an example of psychological violence. The long-term effects of psychological violence are often as severe as the short-term effects of physical violence. Other examples of psychological violence could be staring intensely at someone, with the intention of making that someone feel uncomfortable.

An interesting intersection between physical and psychological violence is threats. If you threaten someone to physically abuse them, you are guilty of psychological abuse, until you execute your threats. Threats and abusive language are big problems in communication forums across the Internet. Some people tend to avoid discussion forums and the like, in fear of encountering psychologically violent persons.

Structural Violence

When an entity or organisation, such as a country, executes power in a way that makes people starve, or become more vulnerable to ecological disasters, that entity is guilty of structural violence. Other examples of structural violence could be:

  • Encouraging public banning of homosexuality, thus exposing homosexuals to psychological and physical violence1.

  • Ignore threats to the environment, thus exposing people to diseases.

  • Exploiting other countries economically, thus exposing the people of those countries to famine and poor health.

Wars - Violence of the Masses

One phenomenon that as good as always turns into a massive orgy of violence, is war. A war also raises lots of interesting ethical questions. If a soldier shoots an enemy soldier, who is the violent one? The soldier, his commander, the commander beyond him, or the governing entity of the shooting soldier's home country? Or, for that matter, the voters that elected the governing entity of that country, given that it is a democracy?

After the Balkan war, international courts have clearly said that acting on orders from above is not okay when it comes to violence against civilians, such as taking part in mass rapes or a genocide. However, nobody has attempted to convict the pilot that dropped the Hiroshima bomb.

Another example of mass violence was seen in Great Britain recently, when a newspaper published the names of several paedophiles, all guilty of child molesting. This resulted in several cases of lynching, and some suicides among the paedophiles whose names were published.

Are You a Violent Person?

If you are driving, and crash into another car, injuring yourself, your passengers or people in the other car, that act would usually not be regarded as violent, unless you deliberately crashed.

However, if you drive too fast, or otherwise show carelessness, and hit and kill someone you are committing a violent crime, according to legal terms in most countries. This is often referred to as 'death by dangerous driving'. (This particular crime is known as 'involuntary manslaughter' in the USA.)

For psychological violence, the borders are even more vague. If you speak to someone with the intention of being nice, and that someone is offended, or feels abused, you are not necessarily violent. However, when human beings from different cultures communicate, this is a common problem. Something that seems nice when being said between two Americans knowing each other well could sound very abusive when said to an unknown Mongolian.

The same phenomenon can be seen in workplaces, where many (mostly, but not always, male) workers seem to be unaware of the borderlines between playful flirting and sexual harassment.

Violence in Culture

A variety of films, books and computer games embrace violence as an important part of the plot. Very often, violence is the problem solver, or an easy way out. The Terminator films - featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg of unbelievable strength - are typical examples of films where physical violence is a central theme. As in most other films embraced by the public, the hero is a 'good' guy, and kills or hurts 'bad' guys.

The men behind Monty Python Flying Circus often used violence as a source of laughter, such as the famous scene in The Holy Grail, where a knight has his arms and legs chopped off, and is still in the mood for fighting. In the film version of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, a violent act is portrayed as something gracious, when the main character kicks a person while the works of Beethoven are played in the background.

The 'Violence in Fiction' debate

It is widely discussed whether use of violence in fictional work encourages not-so-fictional characters in the real world to solve their problems by killing or otherwise abusing people that in their world of perception are 'bad guys'.

Some say that our fiction is a display of what is already going on in the heads of most of us. So that when we run to the cinemas to see our favourite film star shoot someone, we do that because we think that shooting someone is sometimes a good idea.

Others claim that some people, especially young people, lose their ability to tell right from wrong when they are exposed to people they admire committing violent crimes. So also when the same people in computer games actually control the hero, exerting the violence themselves.

Our Violent Society

It can sometimes seem silly to debate whether you have to be 15 or 18 to see The Holy Grail on cinemas, while there is much real violence going on. Psychological violence exerted by single persons or society makes people think badly of themselves every moment of their lives, and lots of people take their own lives because of psychological violence. Each year, millions of people in the third world die because of structural violence exerted by the 'Western' countries, mainly Europe and the USA.

None of the Above is True

It is hard to write about violence as a topic without being culturally biased. Some would say that several of the phenomenons above justify violence, other would disagree strongly, and towards the end of the debate demonstrate that in violent ways.

Most of the conclusions above apply only to certain groups of people in the universe. Please press the button below to take part in the debate, and balance the cultural and personal bias in this entry.

1This, of course, applies mostly to people inhabiting 'Western' countries, where homosexuality is accepted on a larger scale than in the rest of the world. If a person originating from Iran, for example, was forced to live in a society encouraging homosexuality, he or she might find that extremely offensive.

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