Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What Must Be Done

It sometimes seems like the evening news these days should come with a WATCH AT YOUR OWN RISK warning. No matter what else is going on, the main story will almost always be something horrible, and it will usually be about people doing something horrible to other people. While this isn’t exactly surprising - finding bigger and better ways to be horrible to each other has been a human specialty forever - it can be disheartening.

I generally work under the principle that most people want the world to be a better place, but the evidence is not always very compelling for this theory. Part of that is due to different people having different definitions of “better,” but part of it is also due to the simple fact that some people don’t want things to get better. Very often, the people who don’t want things to get better hold this position because, for them, things are just fine as is. They are the ones with the wealth and the power, and changing things up might mean losing the wealth and the power, so no change. Having the wealth and power also means that it’s easier for them to stick to the No Change idea, and so we get what we have. We get a world where most people really do want things to be better, but most people don’t have the ability to get most of the attention.

C’est la vie.

Please notice that I did not say that most people don’t have the ability to make the world better. They do have that ability. It just is not always apparent that they have that ability. Most of the change toward the better happens incrementally, and often under the radar, so to speak. Things get better, but you can’t always see them getting better while it is happening. It is only when you look back from a greater distance that you can truly see the change, but the change is there. If you were to take a handful of random periods from history and plot points on a graph representing changes that most people would agree are “better,” the trend line would be going up almost guaranteed, and almost regardless of what periods you were comparing. The world is getting better. It’s just doing so under the strenuous objections of some, and those objections get rather loud sometimes.

The usual answer to those objections is to object in kind. If someone disagrees with you, you disagree right back, and the two of you can hash it out, hopefully in somewhat friendly terms, but at least in verbal terms, and no one gets hurt more than maybe a bruised ego. Believe it or not, no one has ever suffered permanent injury from a bruised ego. Those things are remarkably easy to heal if you just stop picking at it.

There are times, however, when a verbal objection is simply not a solution. If someone is coming at you with the intention of doing physical harm, asking them to stop, even demanding that they stop, rarely achieves the desired result. You may choose to “take the high road” and refrain from violence anyway - that is your choice, and I have no interest in telling anyone how to run their own life - but I want to take a moment to explain that answering violence with violence is not necessarily taking the low road.

The basic premise is simple: if everyone who wants the world to be better always refrains from all violence, while those with no such desire show no such restraint, there will soon be none left who want the world to be better. That is a rather counterproductive way to go about making things better. It is an unfortunate reality that there are times when only force can stop force. We don’t have to like that reality, and we can certainly work toward changing that reality, but we do have to work within that reality as long as it remains in place.

To take the premise one step further, acknowledging that it must be done also acknowledges that it is acceptable to do it. What must be done cannot be the wrong thing to do, and I don’t believe that anything of this sort can be right for one person but wrong for another. If force is required, it would not be proper for me to hide behind someone else, expecting them to do it so that my own hands remain clean. That would be like eating a burger while looking down on the man who makes the meat available. It is proper for me to do what I see must be done.

Obviously, it is very easy for force to get out of hand and for violence to do more harm than good. Like fire, it is a powerful tool, never entirely tamed and certainly not to be trusted. If we truly want the world to be a better place then we must always be mindful of this fact. We must never be casual about violence, and we must never lose sight of how dangerous it is. We must take every care to insure that it is the proper action in this case, and do all that we can to insure that it does not go beyond the proper action for the case. It may be necessary to use force to stop a murderer, but but blowing up his entire apartment building to stop him is not generally the proper course of action. Even beyond making certain that violence is the necessary action in the first place, these things must be kept in proportion.

I cannot possibly do this topic complete justice in this brief space. Entire books can be written on the subject, and many good ones are available for the asking. I want only to demonstrate the basic premise, and cover the basic considerations. If we are to build a better world, we cannot shirk from what must be done, but we must do it responsibly and honestly. It’s a fine line, and one that deserves careful consideration. In this day and age, it’s also one that comes up far too often. That seems to go in cycles, and right now we appear to be in a violent cycle. As with most things, though, the line trends ever upward. We can only do what must be done, and that to the best of our ability. In the end, if we have been true to those ideas, that will be enough.

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