Lazy River to Hell: Thoughts on Recent Violence

Mao Zedong is quoted as saying that power flows from the barrel of a gun. Powerful things have happened in the news recently.

On Saturday, January 8, 2011 a gunman shot Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, killing six and wounding fourteen, including the Congresswoman. She was shot for reasons presently unknown, but the shooter left disturbing videos online that also indicated that he might be insane.

On January 4, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province in Pakistan, was shot by a member of his own security detail for his opposition to a Pakistani law that mandates death for people who commit blasphemy against Islam. There has been overwhelming public support for the shooter.

Before both of these shootings, conservative American political figures called for the removal of Democrats who voted for Obamacare, and Taliban-types called for Mr. Taseer’s head. So far, it appears that both shooters operated independently. The American shooter may very well be crazy; I figure that the Pakistani shooter is sane, given that he was on the governor’s security detail and had to be on the police force long enough to have that sort of responsibility.

There are a few points that I will assume:

  1. Violence is a bad thing. Even when it is necessary, it is bad.
  2. Violence is a measure of last resort.
  3. The introduction of violence destroys constructive dialogue.
  4. Violence only destroys and never creates, which is why it is bad.
  5. Violence has spiritual ramifications beyond whatever physical damage is inflicted.
  6. Violence escalates the nature of a conflict and may spawn new conflict when it occurs.

Some people are more inclined toward violence because they lack inhibitions that “most people” or “normal people” have, or they have had certain formative experiences that incline them toward violent responses. Sometimes people get violent rhetoric turning over and over in their minds, and violent actions result. There are times when violence is more likely, and there are times when violence is less likely, but it is a recurring phenomenon.

According to one writer, we need to be careful about our political rhetoric so that unstable people do not resort to violence. According to another, allowing for violent rhetoric allows people to drain their bile and not resort to violent methods. The real problem with political speech may be the eternal campaigning and the exponential windup that happens when the campaign season is never over–but I digress.

What can we say, but that violence is largely inappropriate and that we need to be careful? Violence is a phenomenon and not a group of people to be addressed, so concrete assertions are hard to maintain. However, we can address specific instances. I did not mention the names of the gunmen because I thought that they did not need additional mention. I am sure that the Congresswoman is and the governor was cooler than their respective attackers; I honor Giffords and Taseer and not the actions of their attackers. Therefore, when I conclude, I will not apostrophize the attackers but address readers. Many factors contribute to instances of violence that characterize whole peoples and nations, so I will address those people and nations.

In Plato’s dialogue Critias, Socrates says that he wishes that the great mass of people putting him to death were capable of great evil, that the cause of his death was merely a great evil: if they were committing a great evil, then they would have capabilities for great good! In other words, complacency is a murder weapon like no other–your hands are clean but your bottom is soiled! What are we complacent about? I don’t know, but find something irrelevant and start on that. Maybe then you will know what to do when you find yourself to be enormously careless about something.

We have to commit to doing good even in small areas of life (watch your mouth!) not because by doing good we avoid evil but because by doing good we increase good. We need more good, good as a noun. We need more of it, and the only way we will get it is if we make it. God gives us good, but he also gives us responsibility! It is possible that I am just a keyboard crusader for good–today I learned about the virtues of slacktivism–but I would rather fill the air with exhortations for people to be good than with half-brained conspiracy theories or exhortations to kill in the name of God.

There is obviously more to say in many conversations about everything, but alas, this is a blog post and not a book.

Good day to you.

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