Why violence is the perfect solution to every problem

Why violence is the perfect solution to every problem September 16, 2014

imagesSimple: 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.

david_haines_bannerv2To 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)

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  • Excellent points, Kevin. We need to keep re-thinking our knee- jerk reactions to terrorism and come up with some creative, non-violent alternatives to oppose extremists. Historical study on proven, non-violent movements is a good start.

  • Excellent post, Kevin. I’ve rarely seen the argument set out so clearly and pragmatically.

  • CroneEver

    Great post. Quite simply, violence is (sometimes) successful only in the short run. In the long run, all it does is breed more enemies, more hatred, more violence. Slavery was abolished in the British colonial world by non-violent means; suffrage for women was (primarily) a non-violent movement; Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and many, many, many more all achieved incredible political and humanitarian changes through non-violent means: and yet we still knee jerk jump to violence every time. And so do I, at least mentally, even though I know, that more has been done through non-violence than through violence.

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks, Eve. Great list of examples. I’ve been meaning to pull a long list of similar examples from Walter Wink’s “Engaging the Powers” but haven’t been able to yet b/c the binding on my copy has disintegrated and I need to repaginate it first!

  • Robyn Fry

    Well argued – thank you. I agree that the ways of nonviolence have not be tried enough. I have been encouraged in nonviolence by the film “Pray the Devil back to hell” about civil war in Liberia and by Andre Trocme’s book “Jesus and the nonviolent revolution”

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks! Walter Wink’s “Engaging the Powers” is also a powerful testimony to the logic and power of non-violence.

  • Dean

    Great response to the trite criticism of pacifism as being “impractical”. After thousands of years of perpetual violence in the middle east you’d think that folks would finally be willing to find some other way forward that doesn’t involve killing people en mass.

  • Tim McCoy

    Christians seemed to practice non-violence until the 3rd century. After bearing crosses for 300+ years Constantine offered them swords and the power that went with it. Augustine then gave us “Just War Theory” and the call of Jesus to “love your enemies” still seems lost. The Islamic State is banking on another Crusade. What would a response of love look like? Kevin, Walter Wink in the book you mentioned reminded me that Jesus came to redeem the “Powers” as well. Thank you for your thoughts and thanks everyone. I have four adult children whom I have this dialogue with regularly. This dialogue matters. Peace.

  • Renee

    Wonderfully presented! I’m going to make a point to see your films/shorts.
    – I just started reading Marshall Rosenberg’s “Non-violent Communication” and am shocked at how years of subtle react/response thinking is so ingrained (and I consider myself a pacifist – go figure), but clearly, non-violence has got to be tried FIRST, THOROUGHLY and PERSISTENTLY!