People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. – attributed to George Orwell, Winston Churchill etc, and likely to have some basis in Orwell’s comment about Rudyard Kipling: “He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.” (1942) and “PACIFIST: Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.- Notes on Nationalism, Orwell, 1945 (and worth the read)
The words “Violence is never the answer” have been spewed left and right, by the left and right. The problem is that it’s a simplistic claim and one that all evidence shows is not true. Violence might be not the best answer, but sometimes it’s the only answer. One needs a hoe to cut out the weeds that have been allowed to grow through neglect, laziness or willful ignorance. Often that comes in the form of a war, where some part of humanity has decided that they have some “right” to force their beliefs on others or some “right” to take what they want. Diplomacy did not work, but physical action did, though at a horrible cost. The prime example of this is World War II, with two entities, the Nazis and the imperial Japanese, trying to force themselves on others. Would gradualism have worked in these cases, where one hopes that slow change will come about and work? That is a question that is hard to answer, a simpler one is would you want your descendants living in a world like that for some unknown period until someone stood up and demanded change *and* succeeded? I know which I would want and am grateful for the effort and sacrifice of those before me.
The quote above has come to us in its current form after some mangling by time and humans, but it still states a worthy observation. Orwell spoke of secret truths that people, even if they are adamant that they are wrong, must accept in some form; the pacifist in some way acknowledges that they can only remain a pacifist if someone else stands up for them. If no one does, they are likely either dead by the hands of the aggressor, or are enslaved by him, and in both cases ideals die or at best, are dormant for a very long time. If no one stands up to forces that would declare that there are only one “chosen” people, women less than human, that there is only one acceptable type of family, then this will never change and we will be dead or enslaved by those who would take advantage of our complacence.
So, is my position that people should use violence to get their way? No, by *no* means do I support that. But we do have a responsibility to confront and resist that which would destroy a compassionate, fair, empathetic and accepting society long before things get to the point of violence. It’s not enough to hold the line because you’ll eventually have your back to a wall. Active resistance, a push back by forging ahead, is what is needed. And if that active resistance requires confrontation and ridicule, then there should be no hesitation no matter the claims of “hurt feelings” or hypocritical claims of “freedom” that many would claim when their dearly held beliefs are contested. And if that active resistance comes to physical action, because we weren’t paying attention, or that the opposing side is depending on might equals right, then we should not step away. Resistance does not require violence and indeed violence is a sign that someone failed: sit at a lunch counter, rescue refugees, stand up and say “No, you won’t get your way”. It does require doing something, not just shaking one’s head and “tsking” long and loudly.
Turning the other cheek, though advocated by Christianity (and ignored by most Christians), fails in the real world for the reasons stated above. We aren’t waiting to get “ours” in some magical paradise after we die. We have to do the hard, dirty work now, in this life, to resist those who would try to take the world for themselves alone.
Does taking such actions make me “less civilized” as Orwell would put it? At this point in time, I would argue that I am no “barbarian”, but a guard at the gates of civilization. At this moment, one of the biggest threats to modern civilization is religion and tribalism (aka nationalism), often so entangled to be the same thing. Religion and its ugly bedfellow, tribalism, are those things which are barbaric, clinging to primitive nonsense and superstition, dealing in greed, fear and hatred. Perhaps at one point, those things helped the human race to cooperate and survive, but they no longer do that. And like a snake shedding its skin in order to grow, humanity needs to shed such things. But it takes some effort and discomfort to do so. It takes action. One can’t just sit back and hope that everyone else will agree because it “makes sense” (liberals have an aggravating tendency to do this). It doesn’t work that way. Not yet. We have to educate and we have to say ”This is unacceptable”.
Even Gene Roddenberry, an idealist when it came to humanity, didn’t have Kirk and crew sitting idly by. More than a few impassioned speeches were given, punches thrown and wars fought for a better day.
“”I believe in humanity. We are an incredible species. We’re still just a child creature, we’re still being nasty to each other. And all children go through those phases. We’re growing up, we’re moving into adolescence now. When we grow up – man, we’re going to be something!” – Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek
Now, I’ll change the quote from the beginning of this essay to update it to this time and place: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because people are willing to take a stand.”