Simple: It demands the least of us in terms of both compassion and creativity. Rather than sacrifice our time, resources, rights or comfort in an effort to resolve a conflict, violence allows us to foist the total cost of a conflict onto our enemies. Think of it as the fast food of conflict resolution. The path of least resistance. A cacophony of sugar, salt and fat that gives us a momentary shot of euphoria and sanctimony but whose long-term effects are subtle, cumulative and self-destructive.
Of course, even though our enemies bear the brunt of our violence, the residual costs of violence remain, not the least of which is the brutality it elicits in those who deploy it. But such costs are easily mitigated or deferred through technology, which allows us to remain several steps removed from the consequences of our actions, and myth-making, which helps us convince ourselves and others that although the violence of our enemies is brutal, barbaric and unprovoked, ours is surgical, minimal, and, above all, necessary for the greater good.
One might argue that violence also demands a certain level of creativity. After all, an MQ-1 Predator Drone is a far cry from a spear or a club. It is a highly sophisticated piece of technology that required several years, hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of people to develop. However, the mental framework in which the drone is deployed hasn’t changed since the first murder–a desire to strike a blow from which there can be no reprisal. As Walter Wink says, “Violent revolution fails because it is not revolutionary enough. It changes the rulers but not the rules.”
You could also argue that violence is often motivated by compassion, that we are reluctant to resort to such means, but sometimes the victimization of a particular individual or people group demands it. Seeing as violence is being brought against them, we are led to believe the only way to counter it is with overwhelming force. Once again though, this merely reflects the creativity-killing aspect of violence. To quote Wink again, “Since our hate is usually a direct response to an evil done to us, our hate almost invariably causes us to respond in the terms laid down by the enemy.”
This tendency is illustrated by Obama’s rhetoric following the beheading of Steven Sotloff: “Whatever these murderers think they will achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed. We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.”
In other words, you used violence against us, and now we’re going to use violence against you. Once again, we are caught in a self-perpetuating cycle. One group of victims might be saved from persecution through our violence, but only at the cost of another–and often far larger–group of victims being created.
Think of 9/11 for example. Three thousand lives were taken on that day. The response to this horrifying act was 10 years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere that created hundreds of thousands of new victims. Not to mention a perpetual state of insecurity and fear on the part of those who instigated the wars, who rightfully fear a reprisal that could take place anywhere at any time.
To paraphrase a quote by G. K. Chesterton about Christianity, it’s not that non-violent solutions have been tried and found wanting; they have been found difficult and not tried. In light of where violence has gotten us so far, as we stand on the verge of yet another war in the Middle East, perhaps it’s time we finally gave non-violent solutions a go.
After all, as terrifying as it is to imagine being the man in the orange robe about to face certain death, I don’t imagine any of us want to be the man in black either. But if we continue to cling to violence as our primary problem-solving mechanism, that is exactly who we will become.
P.S. For those who would like to read more about practical non-violent responses to violence, I highly recommend the following resources:
- Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink
- What Would You Do? by John Howard Yoder
- The Unconquerable World by Jonathan Schell
- Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World by Rene Girard (this is more of a philosophical background to my position)