Problem Solving: Violence and Non-violence

There are two types of people in the world, those who seek non-violent solutions to a given issue and those who believe that applying violence is the best alternative to enforce their preferrences.  The difference between a couple that compromises and builds consensus versus a batterer and his/her victim is clear enough to most of us.  Likewise, a parent who explains and negotiates situations with a child stands in sharp contrast to one who threatens the child with beatings for questions or disobedience.

We in the non-violent camp understand the advantages of our position.  Negotiated solutions receive “buy-in” from all parties.  Violence breeds resentment, discord and, inevitably, more and increased violence.  Consensus respects the humanity and individuality of each human being.  Coercion creates two classes of humans, the rulers and the ruled–both degraded and incapable of the full expression of their humanity.  When examining the long-term viability of human societies, a voluntary society that works towards consent-based solutions is far more likely to reach stable and sustainable institutions.  This stability and sustainability is the bedrock for peace in human relations.  Peace provides the context for rapid improvement in the quality of life of each individual human being.  In contrast, systems based on the oppression of one class of humans over another cannot be stable.  Injustices breed resentment and a desire for vengeance.  Constantly changing power dynamics ensure that the oppressed will eventually have the physical force required to seize the engines of violence.  In this uncertain environment, long-term investment in well-being is undertaken more rarely and the store of human progress is depleted in short-term consumption.

The paradigm that many of us subscribe to maps the non-violent and the coercive to the two leading political parties.  Republicans, like a violent parent, do not wish to negotiate solutions to differences of preference.  In their opinion, broadly speaking1, “drugs are bad” and they use para-military units and the largest prison system in the history of the world to enforce this preference on their neighbors.  Likewise, they are of the opinion that, “homosexuality is bad,” and use violence to institutionally prevent a voluntary agreement from being declared between gay partners.  Internationally, the republican preference for violent solutions is legendary–this is also the arena in which the negative effects of unilateral solutions are least controversial.

According to this same paradigm, the democrats in our country prefer negotiated, consensus based solutions to problems.  The briefest leap into the position of an objective observer, however, reveals the illusory nature of this position.  We will leave aside, for this post anyway, the huge swaths of policies that the two parties share: the wars on drugs and terrorism, the handing of trillions of dollars to ueber-wealthy corporate allies, the carte blanche granted to the military and police, the imprisoning of hundreds of thousands of non-violent “offenders,” and so forth.  Let’s focus on the first issue that I can think of about which right-wing solutions are less likely to get violent than than left: gun control.

We all have an opinion about who should be armed and how well.  The “moderate” position of allowing registered weapons for hunting purposes stands toward the center of a very long spectrum.  On the one end are those who would prefer that no-one own or carry anything more weapon-like than a pocket-knife.  On the other extreme are the proponents of personal, unregistered nuclear devices–which, admittedly, might come in handy in negotiations with police.  The non-violent approach is, as always, to accord the same respect for others that you wish for yourself.  Concerns for the safety of children in an armed household can be raised and responded to in a reasonable manner.  The non-violent social disapproval that keeps most of us out of our pajamas when we visit downtown can be directed at those who make poor choices (in your opinion) about keeping and bearing arms.  Damage done due to gun negligence could be treated in the same manner as damage done due to negligence in a car.  In any case, everyone should be free to keep whatever weapons they want out of their house as well.  The quantity of solutions and services that freely cooperating individuals can generate to ease their and others’ anxiety is limitless.

In the case of gun control, progressives find themselves adopting the typically conservative stance.  This issue cannot be solved, they claim, by the organic societies of family, friends, neighbors and community.  It requires that the preference of one group be imposed on the rest by, extra-ironically in this case, very heavily armed state officials.
This is not meant to express a position on gun control, or any other issue for that matter.  I am less interested in presenting and defending my opinion about a particular topic and more interested in examining how we as a society make these decisions.  Or, to remove the collectivist lense, how we as individuals don’t make these decisions, but rather do as we’re told by individuals who claim the legitimacy to imprison or kill us.

I have opinions, sometimes strong opinions about how to dress, what to eat, what music to listen to, appropriate sexual partnerships (no invertibrates!), transportation, religion, standards of cleanliness, and what constitutes a good education.  Humanity will take a leap forward once we commit, individually, to expressing our opinions in a context of respectful negotiation.   It will make an incomprehensibly huger leap forward when we find the courage and the camaraderie to denounce as reprehensible the aggressive use of violence against non-violent people in order to enforce personal preferences and opinions.

[1] I will be speaking broadly about democrats, republicans, progressives and conservatives throughout this post. Apologies ahead of time to well armed democrats and pacifist republicans.

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