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Justified Violence?


PaulS
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I was prompted to post this question after a post by Russ (Quaker Way) outlining how he 'practices' being a christian which included his dedication towards non-violence. Whilst I like and support that ideal, I wonder how practical it is and if in fact violence is sometimes a 'neccessary evil'. Russ, I would welcome your input as well as anybody else.

 

What I mean to say is that, like Russ, I would dearly love our governments to do everything literally possibly before engaging in a war or military action, but is it always so neat as that. When other people's lives are threatened, let's say the Tutsis and the Hutus where nearly 1 million Tutsis were slaughtered in a genocidal civil war. The UN and the world acted painfully slow, but would violent military action be justified if it meant stopping the greater slaughter?

 

When I served as a police officer, violence was often the only way I could arrest some people. Whilst I would have loved it if every criminal simply peacefully handed themselves over to our custody, alas, they didn't always feel the same way.

 

So I wonder how this sort of violence ties in with perhaps our ideals of a peaceful world. Should we simply let be even if it means that the violent people may in fact kill us and many others, or is violence justified in stopping them?

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Wow. To me that is a rather tough question. I think it is at a different point for each person because it is a subjective issue. At one extreme some would prefer to be killed than kill another and at the other extreme some would prefer to kill or do violence to others without any rational provocation. Each has their own justification in their mind for such action. However, i think the middle of the road such as George has suggested is the most conducive approach to being practical and living in a more peaceful world.

 

Joseph

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WWKD (What would Kant do)? I suggest the following based on his Categorical Imperative:

 

Should everyone abstain from violent aggression? Yes. Therefore, I should.

 

Should everyone defend a child who is being assaulted even if it requires use of force? Yes. Therefore, I should.

 

George

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I'm not a fan of violence. It only begets more violence. I can also see the need for minimal force to bring justice at times. What alarms me is the number of homeless and mentally ill who die while being taken into custody and in police custody.

 

Off Topic example: You don't hear about this in other developed nations. In some of the Scandanavian countries prisoners are treated well and given therapy and taught an occupation. It seems they have a low rate of recidivism. Granted they also have a much smaller prison population, which, I believe, should be the goal of every nation. So is violence against prisoners justified? I don't think so.

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I'm not a fan of violence. It only begets more violence. I can also see the need for minimal force to bring justice at times. What alarms me is the number of homeless and mentally ill who die while being taken into custody and in police custody.

 

Off Topic example: You don't hear about this in other developed nations. In some of the Scandanavian countries prisoners are treated well and given therapy and taught an occupation. It seems they have a low rate of recidivism. Granted they also have a much smaller prison population, which, I believe, should be the goal of every nation. So is violence against prisoners justified? I don't think so.

 

I don't think your example is off topic. There is physical violence and psychological violence and both can be devastating. I'm not a fan of violence in either domain.

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I'm not a fan of violence. It only begets more violence. I can also see the need for minimal force to bring justice at times. What alarms me is the number of homeless and mentally ill who die while being taken into custody and in police custody.

 

Off Topic example: You don't hear about this in other developed nations. In some of the Scandanavian countries prisoners are treated well and given therapy and taught an occupation. It seems they have a low rate of recidivism. Granted they also have a much smaller prison population, which, I believe, should be the goal of every nation. So is violence against prisoners justified? I don't think so.

 

In Australia our prison population is massively over-represented by indigenous (Aboriginal) people. Clearly it is a socio economic issue. So whilst there is rehabilitation programs inside, once the prisoner returns to the same environment on the outside, the same problem still exists. It's not as clear cut as providing them with a job/skills, there is a cultural issue that regards all money and property as something to be shared equally - so some that are seeking to get ahead are often dragged down by family members that aren't prepared to do their share.

 

What sort of violence against prisoners do you have in mind Deb? Gratuitous violence such as torture (physical or mental) has no place - but how should the prison authorities deal with violent prisoners who want to fight, who arm themselves in their cells and present a danger to cell-mates and/or prison guards? I don't know if you've ever seen a program called America's Hardest Prisons, but there are some very, very angry and dangerous people in the system.

 

These are some of the issues concerning violence that I would like to consider. Like most, I am no fan of violence, but is there justified violence vs unneccessary violence? How does a non-violence stance actually work in the 'real' world?

 

I appreciate all the repsonses so far.

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As Paul points out, there are some prisoners or convicts that are a danger to staff and other prisoners. The standard procedure for dealing with them is to isolate them.

 

I spent five years as a Parole Officer and twenty years supervising other Parole Officers. My philosophy always was to give the most help to the individual who would accept or want it and to avoid doing anything that would be harmful or denigrating to any member of a caseload. Not every person that I supervised (and sometimes my superiors) agreed with this philosophy, but in the long run it pays off. I could probably write a book on this subject, but I will not bore you with paragraphs of opinion. The United States has the highest percentage of individuals incarcerated of any first world country. The politicians want to be "tough on crime" and do not want to waste any tax money on education or recovery programs.

 

After retiring I spent fifteen years as a volunteer teacher in the local rescue mission's Learning Center, helping ex-cons and recovering addicts prepare for Community College and GEDs - the same philosophy applied there. Those individuals who want to be helped should be given all the help that is available and we just have to put up with the remainder.

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So I wonder how this sort of violence ties in with perhaps our ideals of a peaceful world. Should we simply let be even if it means that the violent people may in fact kill us and many others, or is violence justified in stopping them?

 

Paul, I was a pacifist until some thugs attacked my daughter while trick-or-treating (Halloween) in our neighborhood. I was escorting her, but she was a couple of houses ahead of me, and these three young men pushed her down and tried to take her bag of candy. Something came over me and I fought them all off. At the time, I didn't know they were only interested in the candy. They pushed her to the ground and were struggling with her. I thought they were attempting to rape her, which is why I reacted so violently.

 

I tell you, I did not know I was capable of such a thing. I took on three young men (they were in their mid-twenties, I would guess) and walked away with only a bruised eye.

 

After that incident, I began to re-evaluate my position on violence. I now think there are times when immediate action - even violent action - is justified.

 

I think that war should be the absolute last choice, and ONLY in a defensive manner. The aggressive use of preemptive force initiated by the Bush Administration in Iraq, in my opinion, is NOT an example of a justified violent action.

 

NORM

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"What sort of violence against prisoners do you have in mind Deb? Gratuitous violence such as torture (physical or mental) has no place - but how should the prison authorities deal with violent prisoners who want to fight, who arm themselves in their cells and present a danger to cell-mates and/or prison guards? I don't know if you've ever seen a program called America's Hardest Prisons, but there are some very, very angry and dangerous people in the system."

 

I do agree that racism is pervasive in the numbers arrested and that some courts tend to be racially biased.

 

Yes I understand the need of the authorities to maintain order. Perhaps some of those in a jail cell should be in a mental health facility instead. Considering the wonder drugs out on the market for all kinds of personality disorders, perhaps it would be worth exploring. But if the prisoners are treated like dogs they will tend to act like them.

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I recently started reading Leo Tolstoy's book, "The Kingdom of God is Within You," in which he argues that true Christians should practice total non-violent resistance and he argues for a form of Christian anarchism. While I highly respect Tolstoy and I find his views to be more respectable than the warmongering fundamentalists, I think there are some theological and moral problems with Tolstoy's arguments. The main crux of Tolstoy's argument rests on his interpretation of the word "evil" when Jesus says in the gospels not to resist evil with evil. Tolstoy takes this to mean that Jesus was a total pacifist and that Christians should be pacifists as well and he points to an account in the gospels where Jesus chides Peter for physically attacking a Roman soldier but elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus tells the apostles to sell their staffs and take up swords to protect themselves from persecution and Jesus acts in less than pacifist ways when he uses a whip to drive out the money changers in the Temple, so as with most theological issues, it seems like you could come away with both moral beliefs depending on your interpretation of Jesus' teachings. Tolstoy's main objection against the argument of self-defense from danger is that what we consider to be a dangerous threat is subjective and can be abused to justify needless violence.

 

Tolstoy points to instances where the church justified the Salem witch trials by claiming that witchcraft was a dangerous threat that they needed to defend against and I think there is some merit to Tolstoy's concerns about the abuse of what is considered a threat, such as the controversial stand your ground laws and the Trevon Martin case that's been in the news recently. But I think Tolstoy was taking his condemnation of self-defense to an unrealistic extreme and I think there are some clear issues where self-defense is justified that Tolstoy ignored. Like what if you're a battered wife being abused by your husband and the only way out of your abusive situation is to fight back to escape? These situations might be rare but they are real and I think it would be unrealistic and dangerous even to tell someone being abused that it's wrong for them to fight back to escape from a dangerous situation out of some political/religious ideology.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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The only solution so far for violent inmates, used by prison authorities, is isolation, called "Solitary Confinement". Individuals with mental health problems are in a separate institution. Some of those individuals respond positively to medication.

 

Almost every inmate eventually goes back out into the community. Some of them can be a real problem for their parole officer, while a certain number will do their best to do what is right - those are the ones that should be given as much help as we can give. Education and recovery programs should be available to every inmate, but sadly, they are few and far between.

Edited by halinsalem
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In an ideal world, total non-violence would be doable. We'd be able to reason with everyone, and words would be enough.

 

However, this is the world we live in, and it's imperfect. The threats that lurk are real, and sometimes words are not enough. Personally, while I am not a violent person, I would rather physically defend myself than try to talk my way out of being raped - I seriously doubt that would work.

 

I don't think violence should be the first line of defense unless absolutely necessary, but I also don't think it can be discounted. As Norm mentioned above, self-preseveration or preservation of loved ones can (and should?) override the romantic ideal of non-violence.

 

$0.02

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