Monday, February 5, 2007

violence is not a virtue

Friend Jaime asked via email a question of her friends: "how do you get to be a man unless you learn how to fight?" This question was originally posed by a professor of hers who believes there would be fewer problems with road rage if people considered it normal to pull over by the side of the road and duke it out.

I was reminded to write a response to the question because we watched a documentary about an Iraqi family grieving the loss of their brother/son in the war. My response to the question is based mostly in my personal experience. The idea of hitting someone is very different from the reality of it. Bloodthirsty rage, as I have experienced it, feels self-satisfied in its own righteousness and potency--it feels like a glorious and even noble thing--the impulse to destroy "evil." I can think of two instances wherein I actually did intentionally physically hurt someone.

There was one time when I was about 12, and trying to get my, then probably 5 year old sister to do her share of cleaning the room. After hours of using every persuasive technique I could imagine, I was beyond frustrated. She preferred to sit on the floor doing *nothing* rather than put away her clothes. I finally got so fed up, I was just about weeping, grabbed her and shook her by the shoulders--just once--but hard. I find it difficult to describe the black, acidic, abyss that immediately began to eat away the inside of my soul. I felt awful. And my sister didn't even make a noise. She silently curled up in a ball and cried. I was so terrified by the horror of what I'd done, I got up without a word and left the room.

The other time I committed a violent act was when I slapped Brandon across the face for something. He deserved it, and I didn't hit him very hard, but it did *not* feel glorious and noble the way my original *desire* to hit him had made it out to be.

I think this is just the way of violence. It *sounds* like a good idea, but the reality of it is just plain awful.

As for how you become a man without resorting to violence: what ought really to be considered "manly" virtues are things like courage and unswerving devotion to justice. These virtues are much better expemplified in the lives of iconic people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi--as opposed to, say the detestable Brad Pitt character in Fight Club. (Incidentally, I probably just hate that character because Brad Pitt often annoys the heck out of me.)


Miranda said...

Horray for Virgie having a blog! I can get my daily (or weekly or whatever) dosage of Virgie goodness at long last!
My response to Jaime's query was similary: we might need to redefine what it means to be a man.

Jaime Hough said...

Dear Virgie,

I can't believe you mentioned me in your blog! I feel like such a celebrity! Despite your doubts about the virtues and worth of blogging I am sure that, when done by good people, it is a very good thing. Beyond that, I feel that many imminent and impressive people will read your blog and if they do they will read about me and know that we are friends and that once I asked a thought provoking question. Ha! And you thought blogging was an expression of narcissism. I am pleased to find, yet again, my narcissism goes beyond all common bounds and can even turn your blog into a tool for self-glorification! Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!

On another note, I am so happy you got a blog. It is wonderfull to read about the goings on in your life. I miss you very much and this makes you feel closer.


BenjyWay said...

Hey, Fight Club was not about violence; the man was a visionary!

Meanwhile, you must realize that men like Ghandi would have been entirely ineffectual if not for their followers who are quite willing to be violent to achieve the goals laid out by a benevolent leader.

Your example of what happened with Nico proves that violence can be necessary. When you are faced with someone who refuses to do what is right, despite your efforts at reasoning, your only options are to attempt to force them to or do it yourself.

To be a "real man," I think it is necessary to know not so much *how* to fight, but to know *when*, and have the courage to do so. Obviously, petty things like road rage do not warrant violence. However "the impulse to destroy evil" is justified if there is, in fact, evil, don't you think? Anyone who unswervingly serves justice would have to be willing to fight to maintain it if it were absolutely necessary.

Virgie P. said...

Hey, Ben! Excellent commentary. I don't think it's at all appropriate to try to turn the example of my shaking Nico around and say it was somehow "necessary" because it didn't help at all. She did *not* start cleaning up the room. She just continued to sit, inert, on the floor, and I was filled with dread that I'd scarred her life.

But there certainly are better examples of times when it would seem appropriate for men to fight for a just cause. The most obvious example is WWII, since it's unusual to find someone who won't admit that was a just war.

But I would still contend that fighting, in itself, is not necessary to make a person manly. And I don't know whether it's the actual act of "fighting" as opposed to the virtues of courage, loyalty, steadfastness, etc. which spur it on, which make a man manly when he is fighting for a just cause.

BenjyWay said...

Yes, that's basically what I meant by saying a just man would have to be willing to fight. It's because he's unswervingly devoted to justice that he's "a real man," not because he's willing to fight.

Though I suppose I implied it more than articulated.