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April 2004
Is Violence Ever Justified?

By Tom McGuire


Is a violent act ever justified? What if the violence committed prevents greater crimes from occurring? (Quite subjective.) What if the violence perpetrated brings about change, a paradigm shift? (Quite unlikely.) But if so, is violence justified then?

It would be easy to say yes. But what is violence, really, in all its ugly manifestations? Is it limited to a physical act of abuse toward a fellow human or animal? Does it emanate from voice tones, our usage of unpalatable metaphors in speech? It would be easy to point to the natural world’s abundant violent tendencies and outbursts, and proclaim therein a role model of behavior—a template for our actions, since we are also part of the natural world. But violence is ultimately a ruinous act, a shattering of hope, a killing of possibility that feeds negatively upon itself until death or destruction—not necessarily something we wish to build a karmic foundation upon.

Human beings will rationalize anything, including violence. In the pursuit of hedonistic selfishness, for example, we have “enviros” driving SUVs (violence toward Earth) and Buddhists eating meat (violence toward animals). Similarly so with violent acts committed for the ultimate “good” of humanity—bloody insurgencies, gruesome territorial wars, firebombing Earth-unfriendly property—the idea seemingly being that, hey, if the violence is committed in the spirit of something you strongly believe in or can conveniently rationalize away, then it is somehow less wrong and morally more acceptable.

One of the great things about being modern humans is that we can make choices that defy our evolutionary heritage. We are not chimpanzees engaged in crude territorial disputes and violent armed conflict for alpha-bragging rights; nor are we vicious warmongering army ants—we are human beings who can choose to act with compassion, mercy, kindness and love, in every act and in every moment. Forget “situational ethics” and “contextual politics”—think with your heart!

My vegan lifestyle and ahimsa ethics simply do not allow supporting or advocating violent acts in any way, shape or form, for any purpose. The principle of least harm must be the guiding light, otherwise, “an eye for an eye makes the world go blind.” And, besides, why put violent energy in the world? It can only come back to bite you in the ass. (“Live by the sword, die by the sword” in other words.)

Yet there are those who say that violence is cleansing and liberating, as Franz Fanon famously asserted…in which case we should have no trouble believing Josef Stalin’s notorious line, “One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are a statistic.”

Can there ever be revolution, change, and upheaval without violence? Perhaps; and we cannot know until a sincere attempt is made. But it is certain that violence without revolution is senseless.

 



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