Showing posts with label Violence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Violence. Show all posts

18 March 2017

On Killing and Consequences

Thomas Pluck
Thomas Pluck
Thomas Pluck is the author of Bad Boy Boogie, a Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller coming from Down & Out Books in 2017, and Blade of Dishonor, an action adventure which Mystery People called “the Raiders of the Lost Ark of pulp paperbacks.” He has slung hash, worked on the docks, and even swept the Guggenheim Museum (but not as part of a clever heist). He hails from Nutley, New Jersey, also home to criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, but has so far evaded capture.

NOTE: I met Thomas at Bouchercon 2015, and have been a fan of his novels and stories ever since. Please join me in welcoming him to SleuthSayers!
— John Floyd


by Thomas Pluck

Normal people don't like violence, but they sure enjoy reading about it. And those of us who write violent stories are often called hypocrites when we decry violence in the real world. If you glorify violence, you may be inspiring it. But then again, you can inspire violence with a story that includes little. Just ask Salinger.

I have experienced violence, witnessed violence, and trained in violence. And I write stories that often depict violence. Yet I do not support violence, except in defense. You can call me a hypocrite if you like, that's your prerogative. But the difference is that I know the consequences of violence, and if anything, I write about those consequences more than the violence itself.

On Twitter, director Jeremy Saulnier recently got into a tiff (which seems to be what Twitter is best for, lately) when he supported a woman's charity run that was against gun violence. He writes violent films, such as Blue Ruin and Green Room. The troll said that audiences just see violence and react with "awesome! His head blew up!" To paraphrase, Saulnier replied "have you seen my movies?"

Truffaut famously said that there were no antiwar films because "to show something is to ennoble it" and later amended it, saying he never saw an antiwar film, because in the end they are all pro-war. Violence is exciting, and no matter how brutal you make it, someone will be titillated. In fact, you may only jade the audience. We're a long way from when Derek Raymond made readers flinch with the opening to I Was Dora Suarez. We've seen war films and crime films with limbs dangling by a thread. Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, Don Winslow's The Cartel, both dare the reader to continue, as the bloodshed mounts. I don't recall anyone swearing off crime fiction or westerns after reading them. Because they show the consequences.

It's a kind of shell shock. The adrenaline scours your veins and leaves you feeling empty. Everyone loves a good revenge tale, but there's a reason Sicilians say "when you set out for revenge, dig two graves." The other one is for yourself. Because revenge is a fantasy of justice. The only justice that would truly satisfy us requires a time machine. We can't be the person we were before we were victimized, and the dead can't be brought back. And as Gandhi said "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind." Revenge, if unchecked, would eventually kill us all. The Vikings had the blood price, to end such disputes. If only it were so easy.

Violence is not pretty and it always has a price. My great-uncle Butch (to whom I dedicated Blade of Dishonor) never spoke about his time in World War 2, except once. With tears in his eyes, he wept for the enemies he had killed. "They were just kids forced off to war, just like us." He was years past ninety when he came to that conclusion, and I am grateful he taught it to me. Because we stop glorifying violence by making our villains human. They can be evil humans, but they must be humans. Rare is the person who wakes up and says, "what evil can I do today?" Even the people we would classify as evil, the utterly selfish, who seem to take glee in trampling others on their route to success, have to say that their victims were weak, and deserved it. They couldn't face it otherwise. Psychopaths without empathy, cannot feel other's pain, but they feel their own acutely. They are not superhuman. The psychopath we perhaps know the most about, Carl Panzram, refused to believe that anyone thought differently than he did. That we were all out for ourselves, that we were just good at hiding it. There was no proving Panzram wrong; it's not as if he would have broken down in the face of true altruism. His mind simply would not permit such a belief to exist.

In Bad Boy Boogie, I studied "killology," as Lt. Dan Grossman calls it, which is the study of killing and how it affects professional soldiers and police. I also researched victims of abuse and bullying. Having experienced it myself, I wanted to know how those who avenged themselves felt. And it was no cure. As one character says, "It doesn't get better. It gets bitter." And Jay Desmarteaux, who begins as an acolyte of vengeance, who sincerely believes "some people just need killing," undergoes a journey of discovery that not only exposes the evil that people will commit to protect their deepest inner selves, but how killing affects the psyche, no matter how just a killing we tell ourselves it is.

One reader called Jay "Parker on steroids." For a fan of Don Westlake's work, that's as great a compliment as I may ever receive, Jay will crack a joke, and worse, he will regret the killing he's done, two things the outlaw demigod Parker would never do. But even Parker is more than a shell, though we don't see much evidence until the later books with Claire. He isn't a true sociopath. Once Claire comes into the picture he extends his circle of empathy to include her, and views attacks on her as if they are attacks on himself. This is a brilliant, subdued portrayal of how a killer deals psychologically with the world, and Westlake does it with incredibly entertaining stories that still have a large following.

And while Parker leaves a trail of bodies through the series, often for revenge or "to set things straight," the deaths put him and Claire at risk. The birds come home to roost. And it doesn't take away from the entertainment, or turn it into a "message story." The violent world of Parker always cuts both ways, just as in the real world.

23 April 2015

The Better Angels of Our Nature?

by Eve Fisher

The Better Angels of Our Nature.jpgIn 2011 Steven Pinker wrote a book called "The Better Angels of Our Nature" which might put us crime-writers out of business.  Why?  Because the subtitle is "Why Violence Has Declined."  It's a huge book - over 700 pages - and chock-full of statistics and historical evidence for a dramatic decline in little things like murder and assault. And if you haven't read it, it's worth a read.  That, or check out my book report:

Basically, Pinker's argument is that violence has not only been in decline over the last five hundred years, but that the present is probably the most peaceful time in the history of the human species. The decline is enormous and widespread, including declines in war, homicide, genocide, torture, criminal injustice, as well as the treatment of animals, children, women, homosexuals, and racial and ethnic minorities.  He stresses that "The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue."  In other words, enjoy it while it lasts, and work hard to keep it going.

Pinker admits that humans, like any animal, are always capable of violence, especially if there's a fight for survival.  But he says there have been some historical forces that have changed the dynamic to make us less violent:

Louis XIV of France.jpg
From "L'etat, c'est moi"
To Parliamentary rule
The Leviathan - It used to be, up until the 1600's, that justice was a local affair.  When "l'etat, c'est moi" was the rule, the only thing l'etat, i.e., the king, did for his people was make war, take their money, and occasionally "touch" them for scrofula.  There were no police, and only the wealthy had bodyguards or a hearing from the king.  For the rest of the population, well - the circuit court came once a year, and the rest of the time you were on your own.  The trouble was that, if the state provides no services, the state gets no loyalty, and the bodyguards were really private armies.  So, with the rise of the modern nation-state with parliamentary monarchies and rising democracies - and with the rise, let it be faced, of gunpowder and guns - states decided that only the state should have "a monopoly on the legitimate use of force".  In order to do this, though, the state had to actually provide justice on a regular basis, so that people would give up their need for private revenge, protection, justice, etc. and trust that the state would take care of that for them.

Marco Porcio Caton Major.jpg
Cato the Elder
Commerce - Increased trade led to (1) seeing at least some foreigners as human and (2) made people more important as customers than as slaves. Let's never forget the immortal words of Cato the Elder, 234-149 BCE, who said that it was better and cheaper to work slaves to death and buy more than to treat them decently.  These were words to live by for many a slave-holder and, later, many a serf-holder as well.  (There's more to the joke in Gogol's masterpiece Dead Souls than first meets the eye.)  And slavery, followed by serfdom, was the norm for many thousands of years.  But, finally, as slavery came to a slow end, and people had money, war as total conquest became inefficient.  (Actually, when Hitler said that he was only interested in other peoples as they became slaves for the German culture, besides being a megalomaniac, he was strongly out of touch with economic fact.)  In other words, rather than conquering a country militarily (which costs money) the idea was to conquer a country with trade goods (which made money).  At long last, people - as consumers, factory hands, and tax payers - were worth more alive than dead.

Fragonard - "A Young Girl Reading"
Feminization - Basically, random and/or extreme violence has always been mostly the preserve of men. Women have generally been the civilizing force in societies, because they want more than to hide in the basement while the houses burn.  Women want education and clean clothes, culture and good food, and safety for their children. All of these things flourish better during peace than war.  As societies show greater respect for "the interests and values of women" things get better, more peaceful, more prosperous, as a whole.  Ironically, we're currently trying to masculinize women both in business and entertainment, where the ideal woman is now presented as a slim, beautiful, brilliant, athletic ninja warrior.  Even though no one can achieve this (outside of the movies), this "ideal" may not a good thing.

Cosmopolitanism - Basically, it's easy to hate what you don't know, the foreign, the alien.  But, as literacy and mobility increased, and mass media rose to entertain and educate that literate mobile population, people's sympathy and empathy expanded to embrace different ideas.  There was a recent study that showed that the more fiction a person read, the more empathetic they were.  Because fiction (in any form) lures you into stepping into someone else's shoes - and the next thing you know, you no longer want to hurt, maim, torture, or kill people who are different from you.  It really works.

The Escalator of Reason - Calling on people to apply knowledge and reason to government, politics, economics, etc., can, "force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others', and to reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won."  In other words, if you can get people to stop reacting emotionally and instead think rationally about how to handle conflicts, they usually step back from violence and start trying to negotiate their way.

SIX HISTORICAL TRENDS

The Pacification Process - Pinker describes this as the transition from "the anarchy" of hunter/gatherer/herder societies, which are largely honor societies, to the first agricultural civilizations, which are more apt to be based on law.  The trouble with honor societies is that they are "touchy" - easily led to duels and honor killings, which can travel down the generations in cycles of revenge.  (My rebuttal:  law-based societies can fight wars till the cows come home, too.)

The Civilizing Process of the Leviathan - see above.

The Humanitarian Revolution - During the 17th and 18th centuries, i.e., the Age of Reason and the European Enlightenment, came the "first organized movements to abolish slavery, dueling, judicial torture, superstitious killing, sadistic punishment, an cruelty to animals, together with the first stirrings of systematic pacifism."

The Long Peace - After WW2, the Western World (by and large), stopped waging war on each other. (My rebuttal:   At least directly.  Let's not forget proxy wars...)

The New Peace - Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, there has been a decline of organized conflicts everywhere.  (My rebuttal:  More terrorism, less outright war.)

The Rights Revolution - Post WW2 increase of human rights for all.

FIVE INNER DEMONS

"Murder in the House" -
Jakub Schikaneder
All of that's great news, but Pinker is no fool about the dark side of human nature.  He says that humans have five inner demons.  These come from a lot of psychological and sociological studies that basically say that violence comes in certain specific forms with certain specific triggers.  BTW, I totally believe this; just as I think we should be studying successful marriages rather than divorce (which is always depressingly the same), I think we should be studying peaceful societies and peaceful periods rather than violent societies and wars.  Anyway, here's the list:




Predatory or Practical Violence - Because it's there and you want it.  Greed, gluttony, lust.

Dominance - the "urge for authority, prestige, glory and power"; at any level, even the most minor.
Revenge - self-explanatory.
Sadism - thankfully, far rarer than our societal obsession with serial killers would lead one to expect.
Ideology - "a shared belief system, usually involving a vision of utopia, that justifies unlimited violence in pursuit of unlimited good."  Or, as Peter Finley Dunne put it back in the early 1900s, "A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case."  Like behead people.


FOUR BETTER ANGELS

But lest we be too discouraged, there are "four better angels" that "can orient us away from violence and towards cooperation and altruism":

Empathy -  Read more fiction.
Self-Control -  There have been scientific studies of nursery school children - offered 1 marshmallow now or 2  if they could wait 15 minutes - that those who were able to wait showed later in life significantly "better life outcomes" of all kinds.
The Moral Sense - Pinker admits these can cut both ways, either to govern a culture extremely well OR lead to increased violence when a set of moral norms are designed to keep people unified through fear.
Reason - Pinker is very big on reason.  I am, too, but then, I'm Greek.

Sanzio 01.jpg

Anyway, while we SleuthSayers are never likely to be put out of business, it's still nice to know that education, cooperation, and societal change have made - and hopefully, will continue to make the world a more peaceful place.




18 December 2014

Absolute Powerlessness

by Eve Fisher

Back in August of 1970, when I was 16 years old, I got caught up in a riot in Los Angeles. Wrong place, wrong time. At the time, I had no idea what had sparked it. All I knew was that I was on foot, alone, in a part of the city I didn't know, and couldn't get out of except on foot. (No buses were running, and I didn't have taxi fare even if I'd spotted one.) Meanwhile, there was a lot of action, everywhere I looked, and none of it looked good. There were cops with sticks, cops with guns, cops with tear gas, people throwing bricks, everyone screaming, running, tripping… And then, as night fell, the scavengers came out, and things got very bad.

East LA riots

I was lucky: I found shelter. One of those strange blessings that I could never use in a story (truth is always stranger than fiction), a man came out of a building and said, "You need to get off the street. Now." And gave me his apartment for the night. For free. He even went somewhere else. I spent the night, barely sleeping - I didn't really trust my good luck with him or the mob in the streets - but in the morning, it was safe to get out and go back to my base.

File:RubenSalazar.jpg
Ruben Salazar (1928-1970)
A few days later I was told that it was all about the death of Ruben Salazar, a Mexican-American journalist, back from reporting in Vietnam, and who had turned his attention and articles to the unjust treatment of Chicanos by the LAPD. Naturally, he was hugely unpopular with the LAPD. Anyway, he'd been covering a Chicano march/rally against the Vietnam War and slipped off to have a quiet beer in a local bar. What I was told at the time was that the police had firebombed the bar, killing him, and then claimed they thought he was a drug dealer they were looking for.

What really happened? Well, for whatever reason the LAPD decided to break up the rally, despite the fact that everyone agrees it was peaceful. The police claimed they'd gotten reports that a local liquor store was being robbed; reason enough to declare the rally (20,000+ people) to be an illegal assembly and call out the riot squads. Tear gas, guns, the whole nine yards; the marchers retaliated; 150 were arrested, and 4 killed - including Salazar, who was having a quiet beer in a local bar when a deputy sheriff lobbed a 10-inch, wall-piercing tear gas missile (designed for barricade situations according to Wikipedia) into the bar, hitting Salazar in the head and killing him instantly. The LAPD claimed that they thought the robber had gone into the bar; then they claimed that there were drug dealers there. The deputy sheriff was never indicted or even reprimanded. That part of Los Angeles burned for a while, but that was nothing new. Nobody cared.
"It is a cliche that 'Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Like all cliches, it has a considerable element of truth. Nonetheless, one of the major purposes of any AVP workshop is to empower the participants, and to teach them to share power in community for the benefit of all. This is essential because the negative side of the old cliche is as true as the positive: 'Powerlessness corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.' All people need, for survival, a measure of power over their own lives and over their own environment... If people are deprived of the legitimate use of their necessary power they will use what power they have destructively and with violence." — Alternatives to Violence Project Basic Manual - p. C-2, my emphasis added.

riotsI've been thinking about the underlined passages above for a long time. I've been thinking about it because of everyone raised in homes are virtual prisons of alcohol, addiction, or abuse, as tightly controlled as a tomb. I've been thinking about it because of all the slaves in history, from the days of Gilgamesh to current-day human trafficking. I've been thinking about it because of all the subject peoples of military empires in history, from the Sumerians under Sargon the Great to the current day economic and political empires. I've been thinking about it because of all those who believe, deep down in their hearts, that some people just should not be allowed to have any power, any rights, any pleasures. And work very, very hard to make sure they don't get any. And then are horrified and appalled when the worms finally turn.

Look, fear, intimidation, bullying, all work very well at getting obedience. So does suborning the judicial process, whether within the family or in the town or on up the food chain. You can strip away every shred of power from someone and virtually (if not literally) own them. But rebellion will out. And when there is absolute powerlessness - where there is literally nothing you can do against whatever or whoever is controlling you - rebellion can come in some very strange forms. Rage. Cutting. Depression. Rage. Anorexia. Hostility. Aggression. Rage. Rioting. Burning. Rage. Things will happen.

Martin Luther
Of course, none of them are the right things. Whenever there has been an attempt at redress of grievances by the underlings, the people in power have always considered it outrageous, unjust, ridiculous, insane, criminal, animal, and generally unacceptable. Violent protest is ipso facto proof that the protesters are wrong, aren't capable of reason, and should not be listened to, only punished. I read the comments on-line calling the Ferguson protesters dogs who should be shot, and it didn't surprise me at all: In 1525, during the Reformation, when the German peasants revolted against their lords, Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet telling the nobles to kill them: "It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you." Yes, Luther was a social conservative. No, nothing much changes in history. During the American Revolution, the "Sons of Liberty" were seen by the British as "truly nothing but a drunken, canting, lying, praying, hypocritical rabble without order or cleanliness" who needed to be shot on sight.

Mr. Gandhi
Nonviolent protest doesn't earn any more respect. Listen to Winston Churchill on Gandhi: "It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir [which Churchill pronounced faker] of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor." Martin Luther King, Jr. received constant insults, arrests, death threats, and was eventually assassinated, as were Medgar Evers and others. It's no better on the family level. The person who leaves is always a selfish traitor who should have stuck it out to the end; the one who tries to live a separate, different life is stuck-up and needs to be brought down a notch. And, if it's an abusive marriage we're talking about, there's a good chance that the spouse who leaves will be harassed, assaulted, stalked and even killed.

So basically, from the point of view of power, neither violent nor nonviolent protest are acceptable: instead of protesting, trust the existing system to dole out rights, etc., as the system deems appropriate. And, of course, if there is no protest, then nothing is wrong, and nothing needs to change. "But you never complained..." "You never said a word about this when you were a child!" "She never said no!" "I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!" "S/He never told me to stop…”

And that is what makes people crazy.

Meanwhile, there is the alternative of "shar[ing] power in community for the benefit of all." That's hard for many people, who see life as a zero-sum game, and are terrified of having to share their toys, their power, their breathing space. But we had all better be prepared to do this, because no one - I repeat, NO ONE gets to hang on to all the cookies forever. Every empire has collapsed and/or been conquered. Every tyrant - whether they ruled empires, countries, kingdoms or families - has died. And there are no U-hauls behind hearses. When the last rattle comes, we are all absolutely powerless.

drawing by Allan Fisher©

09 October 2014

Anatomy of Revolution, Part 1

by Eve Fisher

As well as a writer and omnivorous reader, I'm an historian by trade, and I love patterns in history. Searching down and matching up cross-cultural, cross-chronological patterns is my specialty.  And there are a lot more patterns than people are aware of, because (1)  we always like to think that we (our generation, country, tribe, religion, etc.) are unique and (2) we often get the pattern wrong.  And we generally get it wrong because we're trying to get the pattern to match a predetermined belief system.

For example:  There's an illusion that revolutions are started by the poor and downtrodden masses, who have finally had enough and Rise Up! against the oppressor, and all hell breaks loose.  Sorry. That's not how it works.   As Leon Trotsky once said, "The mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection:  if it were, the masses would always be in revolt."

Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People

Nor do revolutions erupt when societies are at their lowest, economically/socially/morally.  Actually, when things are at their worst, no one has time for revolution.  Survival takes up everyone's time and energy. Instead, revolutions occur just as things are, finally, getting better.  And they are launched not by the masses, but by a thin wedge - actually many thin wedges - of which the most common are intellectuals (sometimes, but not always, of the upper classes, socially and/or economically), grumbling property owners, radicals, and extremists who - SPOILER ALERT - would not be satisfied if God came down from heaven and gave them everything they claim to be their heart's desire.

Crane Brinton (1898-1968)
Back in 1938, Crane Brinton, a history professor at Harvard University, wrote a book called "Anatomy of Revolution".  He revised it in 1965, and I only wish he had lived long enough to incorporate the Chinese Cultural Revolution in it as well.  Basically, he compared the English Civil war of 1642-1651, the American Revolution of 1765-1783, the French Revolution of 1789-1799, and the Russian Revolution of 1917-1922, and found significant patterns that ran through all of these.  He compared revolution to a fever, and he wasn't far wrong.  I'm not going to use all of his jargon, and I am going to simplify some things and add others, but here's the general run-down, in case something strikes you as familiar, or potential, or possible.  Personally, I find predicting revolutions far more practical, although much less hilarious, than predicting apocalypses.

The Pre-conditions of Most Major Revolutions:

In every revolution  (Britain, Colonial America, France, Mexico, Russia, and China), the economy was actually improving before the revolution.  BUT as things got better, people felt more discontented than they did when they were starving to death and could only focus on food.  Now they had food, and they started wanting more.  They were hopeful for the future, but they felt they were forced to accept less RIGHT NOW than what they hoped for.  And (sorry if this comes as a shock) they always blamed it on the government in power.

Brinton said that, in each case, the Old Regime was:
  • Economically weak - the government had deficits and/or debts and had to enforce taxes, which everyone hated.  
  • Louis XVI of France
    • NOTE:  In most countries, taxes were paid almost entirely by the poor, even though, throughout pre-revolutionary history the 5% wealthy/middle class owning 95% of the wealth was the norm. One of the purposes, and major achievements, of revolutions was to change those statistics significantly.  For one thing, today we EXPECT there to be a substantial middle class, and are worried when there isn't.  Thank the American and French Revolutions for that one, folks.  
  • Politically weak - the government was ineffective and could not enforce policy.  
    • NOTE:  this was especially true in governments that were based on hereditary royalty, which almost always eventually run out of steam, not to mention genetic material. 
  • Intellectually deserted - the intelligentsia (scholars, thinkers, some artists) gave up on the way their society operated and joined the reformers, speaking out against the government, often (especially in France and Russia) sawing off the branch they were sitting on.  
  • Riddled with class antagonism - there was a growing bitterness between the social/economic classes, with the classes closest to one another being the most hostile to each other.  (Basically, the poor don't have the time to hate the rich, they're just trying to survive; and the rich can easily ignore the poor, because they hardly ever see them.)
The Revolution Begins

Zapata in Cuernevaca
So all this is stewing away, and then a symbolic action rallies the people against the old regime.  The Boston Tea Party; the taking of the Bastille; the Petrograd strikes in February, 1917; Viva Zapata!; the Guangzhou Uprising in China of 1927; the mass rallies of the Cultural Revolution.  These are followed by planned "spontaneous" revolts (usually carefully orchestrated by the intellectual elite), and the government can't repress the rebellion without a level of violence that they fear will lead to total revolution. But total revolution happens anyway.  And the government... succumbs.

Change to Moderates

Charles I on trial for his life in 1649
In France, the Legislative Assembly ruled until 1792; in China, in 1911, the Qing Dynasty fell and Sun-Yat Sen became first President of the Republic; Charles I of England was held prisoner by Parliament, which ruled the country; Francisco Madero, a wealthy reformer, became President of Mexico; in Russia, Alexander Kerensky took over the Provisional Government.  In all of these and more the moderates quickly took over the mechanism of government.  Everyone celebrates!  "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!" (Wordsworth)  Everything is changing!  New constitutions!  New institutions!  Sometimes a new war!

BUT there's always somebody who isn't happy, whether you want to call them radicals or extremists or what ever other name is popular. Two VERY important facts:
  • The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes because
  • the moderates want to/must maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it. (Or at least the radicals want to destroy the moderates' government.) 
The honeymoon period is brief, sometimes as brief as a heartbeat.  In Mexico, President Madero was assassinated by his generalissimo successor Huerta, who claimed that the former President had gotten caught in an accidental crossfire; In 1911 China, Sun Yat-Sen was ousted by the old warlord Yuan Shi-kai in a matter of days.  (Sun Yat-Sen, no fool, resigned rather than stick around to be killed.)  In 1917 Russia, Lenin and the Bolsheviks got rid of Kerensky's government within months. In France, Robespierre took over the Committee of Public Safety...

And in all cases, any members of the former royal house still in the country get imprisoned and/or executed.

And now the Extremists, self-righteous, self-assured, irreproachable, illimitable and insatiable, are coming...

More next time.

01 July 2014

Violence

by David Dean

Eve Fishers' recent blog titled, "Peace, the Elusive" was so thought-provoking that it has prompted me to pen something along the same lines.  In her excellent article she addressed the painful issues of both violence and it's impact, and the rage that she, herself, carries and how she deals with it.  And she deals with it in a very constructive way--she works with convicts on this very issue within prison walls.  A bold and a brave choice, in my opinion.

I can certainly relate to her anger when confronted with violence in all it's many manifestations, criminal, political, and domestic.  Violence is a baffling, terrifying, and life-changing (or ending) event for most people.  It's effects ripple outwards from its central act to touch and poison many, many lives.  It's a gift that keeps on giving.  Sometimes for generations. 

As a child, I grew up in an environment that allowed for a good deal of it.  As Eve pointed out, boys of my era were encouraged to stand up for themselves, and that often meant fighting.  And we did.  I literally cannot recall how many fist fights I was in as a kid.  The majority were fairly harmless and were mostly wrestling matches with a few punches thrown in.  Others were more serious.  This was generally because the stakes were higher--personal honor (being called a liar, or a coward, could not go unanswered), or slandered family members (things could get ugly with this one, and sometimes led to fathers duking it out in the street--no kidding).  In some instances, when friends or brothers had been beaten up in an unfair fight (two on one, older and bigger kids, ambush, rocks, etc.) a similar response was crafted and executed.  I planned, plotted, participated, and sometimes excelled in these endeavors… and I hated it.  The only time I ever felt remotely right during all this was when standing up to a bully; an older kid who was picking on me, or my friends.  Even then, I dreaded physical violence.  Yet, there seemed no end to it.

There were fights at home, fights at school, fights on the way to school; fights on the way back.  There were fights at parties, fights with friends, fights with enemies, and fights with strangers.  I was jumped walking down the street– more than once.  Being in the wrong place, with the wrong person, looking wrong, looking at someone wrong, or being friends with someone wrong, could all lead to blows.  Whether I won, or lost, I was miserable… and angry.  Fathers beat mothers and kids, siblings fought, neighborhood kids fought, and sometimes they fought kids from other neighborhoods.  Sometime there was murder.

Then, as I grew up, I realized that to a greater, or lesser, degree, that this was happening all over the world.  I remained angry. As a young man, an older friend, who would later be my son's godfather, said words to the effect of, "You can't make everything better, because you can't control everything.  It's not all about you, and doesn't depend on you.  You can only control yourself.  And that takes work, and discipline.  Just worry about making your little part of the world better, and the world will be better for it… but not perfect.  Never perfect."  He was wise, which is one of the reasons he godfathered my only son. 

Years later, long after I had been a soldier and then a police officer for many years, I found myself in the confessional telling my priest how I sometime longed to do violence against my fellow man; just as when I had been a boy.  Without going into the theological details, he offered me this: Forgive those you most don't want to forgive, and forgive yourself.  Not just because it is what we are taught as Catholics, but because it is the only thing that can set you free and give you any peace.  So long as you rage against the violence in others, you stir the violence within yourself.  Forgive, and violence starves to death.  

I suspect most of us on this site can, on one level or another, relate to my experiences. One of the hardest things in life to reconcile is that many people are not like us. And I'm not talking about color, religion, race, or creed, but behavior. They choose to do what is wrong, or certainly what we consider wrong. In some instances it is a result of what they have been exposed to, in others what they believe to be correct and right. In all cases it infuriates us that they cannot see what we see; believe what we believe, especially when it comes to violence. But they don't, and probably never will. It doesn't mean that we should cease trying to make a difference, on the contrary, it is important to always try, I think. Yet we can only control so much, hence the anger. Free will has bedeviled us since man first stood upright, yet without it, and all its demons, everything becomes meaningless.

Finally, in a comment by Janice Law on Eve's blog, she challenged us as writers to do something meaningful when dealing with the subject .  That is a worthwhile challenge, and who knows, by doing so we may make some small, but important, difference in the world.  It matters.

16 January 2014

Peace, the Elusive

by Eve Fisher

I swear to God, I wrote most of this before I heard the story of the Florida theater shooter who is claiming that he had a right to stand his ground and shoot to death a man who threatened him by...  throwing popcorn at him.  So...

As you regular readers know, I do Alternatives to Violence Project workshops that at the state penitentiary.  Most people think I do them in order to help the prisoners - which I do - but what most people can't grasp is that I've learned an awful lot about violence and non-violence from these workshops:  violence and non-violence in my world, my state, my town, my self.  And as I say to the guys, each and every workshop, I need all the help I can get.


There's a lot of talk about peace - in the Middle East, in Africa, on our streets, and during the recent holidays the whole "peace on earth, good will to men" thing was, as usual, trotted out regularly and OH, how I wish there was more hope of its coming.  Every time I hear about another shooting, massacre, war, double-homicide, mass shooting, etc., all I can say is "How long, O Lord?  How long?"  To which the Lord might very well reply, "How long, O people?  How long will you keep beating your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears?"  Because we could stop.  We could try to stop.

Why don't we?

That's why I do AVP.  Because I'm wrestling with why we do not stop.  Why I don't stop.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't own any guns, and it's been years since I punched anyone.  But I can rage, inwardly, with the best of them, with the worst of them, and that troubles me deeply.  Why can't I stop?

Now back when I was a child, in the late 50's, early 60's, there were significant differences in how boys and girls were raised, especially about emotions, especially about anger.  We little girls were rigidly trained to NOT express anger.  We didn't have the right to yell and scream, throw temper tantrums or hit people - it wasn't nice, or feminine, or ladylike, and if we did, we'd get punished for it, usually by being yelled and screamed at and being hit.  Whereas the guys - well, they were brought up to "prove they were a man", by standing up for themselves, which often meant everything from verbal sparring to fighting to assault to killing.

Now you get a bunch of guys sitting in prison, they usually know they messed up somewhere, because they're there.  If nothing else, they got caught.  But if their crime was violence - say, beating someone to death or shooting someone who pissed them off - it takes a very long time for a lot of them to realize that killing that person was actually wrong.  That they didn't have the right to do that.  After all, they were just expressing their anger and/or standing up for themselves and/or defending themselves and/or their loved ones and/or the guy had it coming.  It takes a long, long, long time for some of them to grasp the concept that just because you are experiencing anger does not mean you have the right to take it out - verbally or physically - on someone else.  And your anger definitely does NOT mean you have the right to, say, kill the person who pisses you off.  (Yes, that includes people who text inappropriately and/or throw popcorn at you.)

That's why I enjoy doing AVP workshops:  because at least we discuss these issues and other issues of fear, jealousy, violence, pride, manhood, control, and what to do about it.  And I mean a real discussion.  Political and religious platitudes, slogans, etc., break down very quickly.  Instead we walk the guys through it:
For example.  I am angry.  At that person over there.  I have the RIGHT to make him/her aware of my anger, and change what they're doing to piss me off.  What do you mean, I don't?  What do you mean, I don't have the right to tell them to obey me, and if not to yell at them, cuss them out, hit them or kill them?  Why not?  What are the options?  What can I do?  I can't just sit here, feeling all this anger and fear and crap, I've got to DO something about it, right?  I'm a man, a man's supposed to DO something.  What do you mean, walk away?  Suck it up?  Think about it?  Work through what I can actually change and what I can't?  I'm a man.  Men don't do that.  Yeah, I'm sick of getting jumped, shoved, pushed, decked, punched...  I'm even scared of it.  But what the hell else am I supposed to DO?

Walk away.  Turn away.  Move on.  Suck it up.  Do something different.  Lead with your mind, instead of your emotions, at least until you have more emotions on tap than fear and anger.

The very idea that there is such a thing as a non-violent alternative is alien to almost everyone in the pen (unless they've been to our workshops), and it is, apparently, alien to a whole lot of people who have not yet reached incarceration.  We revere Gandhi and Mandela and King - but you know, our society reveres them the way you would admire saints in a niche.  Nobody studies them.  Nobody takes a look and analyzes how they managed to choose an alternative to violence.  We don't teach our children how to practice non-violence.  We don't teach our children self-control, or meditation, or how to recognize the emotions and thoughts that are running through their minds and how to deal with them.  

AVP has lots of exercises, from role-playing to community building to meditation.  In one exercise, we're divided up into pairs, A and B, and for two whole minutes, A tells B the things they like about themselves.  B has to listen, no comments.  Then they switch and repeat the exercise, with A listening to B.  99.9% of the time, what they say they like about themselves is what they do.  "I like to hunt, to fish, to play sports, to draw, to play music, to read, to watch TV, to hang out with friends, to work on cars, to..."  It's all about doing.  Almost never do you hear anyone say, "I like that I'm a loyal person, that I'm brave, loving, kind, hopeful, a dreamer, a hard worker..."  And never yet have I heard something like, "I like that I am a human being.  A child of God.  A man.  A woman.  Alive."

I think this holds true for all of us, not just people in prison.  We do not believe in being, we believe in doing. And yet, that's the most important part, isn't it?  Why is it so hard to talk about who we are?  And how can we change ourselves if we don't know who we are?  If we are running away from the reality of ourselves all the time?  How can we have peace if we do not understand the roots and ribbons and cables of violence that run through not just the world but ourselves?  Our own minds and hearts?

I do AVP workshops because I am working on all of this, and it suits my personality better than meditation or Freudian therapy.  Sometimes I see amazing breakthroughs.  (I'm still waiting for one of those for myself...)  Sometimes I don't.  But at least there the conversation is real.