Does violence rule our species? The barrage of international conflicts now in the headlines seems to suggest that violence may be the one language we have in common.
Though we all speak it fluently, very few of us learned it in school. We didn’t have to study its “vocabulary” and “grammar rules” – no, it was much easier than that. Humans pick violence up by immersion and so we are all native speakers. From Syria to Korea to Pakistan to Iraq to the U.S., the language of violence is so natural to us that we couldn’t recite one of its “grammar rules."
Sadly, ignorance of language rules does not diminish fluency. The odd thing is that if we stopped to learn the rules governing our fluency in violence, it would actually make us less fluent. Why? Because the rules of violence reveal an unpleasant reality: We don’t use violence; violence uses us.
Rule #1: Violence escalates
When we employ violence, it is impossible to return the same or a lesser amount of violence than what we believe we received. We always return more violence. Our adversary then does the same.
Real world application: Should we arm rebels fighting for freedom? When deciding how to answer this in a particular situation such as Syria, it’s vital that we remember Rule #1: Arming rebels  will create the conditions for an escalation of the conflict.
Rule #2: Only good people use violence
Anyone who employs violence does so in the name of some good or noble cause. We justify violence as necessary to defend ourselves against an evil other, and the one we identify as the evil other is doing the same thing.
Real world application: Whose side are we on? When deciding who the good guys are in a particular situation, such as Israel/Palestine, it’s vital that we remember Rule #2: Both sides believe completely in their own goodness, especially when they are using violence.
Rule #3: Violence destroys goodness
This is the paradoxical corollary to Rule #2. While everyone employing violence believes in their own goodness, goodness itself is destroyed by the violence. Violence is a means to an end that becomes the end in itself.
Real world application: Should the U.S. invade a country militarily? When deciding whether to deploy our massive military might in a particular situation such as North Korea, it’s vital that we remember that the death and destruction caused by violence drowns out our rhetoric. What will it matter to the dead, displaced, and grieving to learn that the damage was inflicted by a good and noble nation? Indeed, would they be able to hear us speaking at all?
Violence is a language that escalates from whispers to shouts, that believes its own propaganda, and destroys the noblest of goals. Every time we employ violence to achieve our ends, violence refuses to be an obedient instrument. It takes over, runs the show, and speaks through us, making mindless slaves of us all.
Once we realize that these are the rules of the language that currently rules the world, perhaps we’ll decide it’s time to go to school and learn a new vocabulary.
Image: Military plane, Andrey Yurlov / Shutterstock.com