Some thoughts on violence

I’ve received some feedback on Gin’s War (my third NaNoWriMo novel). It was useful feedback and I need to digest it before tackling how to address the issues and concerns it raised. However, one particular comment got me thinking.

A comment about violence. Understand, this was a comment about violence in my written work of fiction but couched with the relationship to the violence in the real world. The disconnect seems to be the (perceived) unrealism of the level of violence in the narrative. For the record, I keep my violence a lot more sanitized than what one experiences by watching the news. 

I’ve written about violence before. If you want better writing than mine about violence, see the articles by Sam Harris (HERE and HERE).

On the one hand, I agree with what the reviewer says. Namely, we live in one of the safest times in human history, at least when it comes to violence. You wouldn’t know it listening to gun control enthusiasts or gun control opponents or politicians leveraging fear as a power play or even the evening news. You especially wouldn’t know it listening to the 24/7 cable news channels.

However, I think people draw the wrong conclusion from this statistic about violence in today’s civilized society. Namely, they conclude we are less violent as a species; less violent as individuals.

As many might guess, I don’t share that view and that reflects in my writing and while it is fiction and made to be more interesting (and fast-paced) than real life, I don’t think it drifts into the incredible. Side note: it’s argued it makes the heroine seem “less heroic” and no better than the bad guys. That touches on what I call the Batman Problem. Batman is forever fighting the same bad guys who keep hurting/killing people because of his unwillingness to kill. The problem at hand is not to appear heroic; it’s to stop bad guys. My solution would be more draconian than Batman’s. 

I do agree that society (or, societies) have become more structured, more controlled. Countries are cooperating more and as such all-out wars are less frequent . . . at least between world powers.

That lends validity to the argument about less violence because the opportunities for wanton violence are fewer, especially when it comes to large groups (very few instances of bands of marauders descending into our manicured neighborhoods to wreak destruction upon us and ours).

So, yes, statistically, collectively, we face fewer opportunities for violence and thus experience less violence.

Unless you are in the unlucky few who live in high-crime areas or who chance upon individuals without the typical behavioral restraints most people exhibit.

The US is often portrayed as a violent country, but even a casual perusal of the data shows violence to the level that is reported (for which we are much maligned) is highly concentrated.

And that, I think, is a problem . . . well, not a problem in the sense that violence should be more widespread. It’s a problem in the sense that the majority of people have zero experience with violence that cannot be reasoned with.

I’m not sure where people get the idea violence can be countered with a reasoned argument and can be defused by discussing things in a civilized manner. It’s more likely you’ll make someone even madder and force the transition from what started as generalized violence into focused and targeted violence; violence not as a means to gain something or out of impulse, but as a mean to punish and make the target suffer.

I hate to generalize, but this idealized and antiseptic view of violence is most prevalent in liberal-minded individuals who, grossly generalizing, tend to have utopian-like views of what societies “ought” to be doing and are isolated from some of life’s harsh realities. And yet, even they — when mildly challenged — are likely to see violence as a viable option.

I don’t want to make this political but it’s somewhat unavoidable. If you read the news, you are more likely (at least these days) to see people resorting to physical violence while espousing high-minded ideals . . . violence in support of those ideals.

Mind you, I have high-minded ideals . . . I just don’t believe that we should resort to violence in the promotion of said ideals.

Now, sure as liquid effluent flows downhill, someone will challenge me by saying that conservative-minded individuals are more violent. They’ll even point at various examples . . . while ignoring what’s happening on campuses and in the same breath justify groups like Antifa as bravely resisting tyrannical forces.

Look, as a rule, my personal belief — born of observation and experience — is that people who don’t get what they want — or feel they’re entitled to — are prone to anger and can easily drift into violence.

While this isn’t normally based on politics, I do see this more on the Left than the Right (at least for now). Obviously, it’s not everyone but, at the same time, I’m surprised when I hear (or read) people who normally decry and profess disdain for our baser instincts profess violence as a viable option to getting their way.

They see it as crucial, justified, and the last resort to keep civilization from sinking into chaos . . . exactly the same arguments that can be heard on the Right when their most radical elements try to justify their violence.

The point I’m trying to make is that violence is not buried so much below the surface that only the “despicable” will resort to it.

No; it’s just under the surface and we’re seeing it bubble up more and more and in unexpected places. And always with “justification”. That’s one thing all humans seem to excel at: justifying the use of force.

After nearly thirty years of declining violence, 2016 and 2017 saw a slight uptick. I hope it’s just a fluke, but I think I have a pretty good handle on human nature and I don’t put it past even the most educated, erudite, and ethical individuals letting loose their own violent tendencies while decrying those of others.

So, when I hear someone ask “how can anyone do that?” — usually speaking about people they don’t identify with and in reference to some act of violence by the “opposition” — my answer is short:

They are humans; it’s what humans do.

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