Von Clausivitz, in his seminal work “On War” articulated a basic precept of combat, “War is the continuation of diplomacy through other means”. While Von Clausivitz has been criticized for the cavalier attitude towards conflict, I think that his insight into conflict was brilliant. Specifically… it shows an understanding that conflict, and by extension violence, exists on an extreme end of a continuum of human interactions. To deny its existence would be to deny one of the basic aspects of our humanity.
We are creatures of peace… when peace is appropriate.
We are practitioners of violence, when violence is righteous.
Many feel uncomfortable with that statement. They prefer to inoculate themselves in a convenient religious doctrine that demands peace as a spiritual contract. Yet, they expect the government to provide services of violence in order to provide them safety. Like the anti-hunter that bemoans the sportsman taking a deer, yet is completely comfortable going to the grocery store to buy their ground beef.
Violence is part of the human condition. It has been since we emerged from the ooze and will continue to be as long as there are creatures that require protein for survival. Denying that reality will not mitigate its effects.
Throughout this last week, there have been calls for the banning of semi-automatic firearms, again.
There have been calls for the study of mental illness… again.
There has been angry rhetoric against the NRA as well as gun owners, as somehow the mere presence of a weapon is the instigator of violence. Perhaps in a limited sense that is true. After all, if the world did not exist… there would have been a need for a flood. If it were not for the need of human interaction, the feelings of isolation or loneliness would not exist. The proximate cause for violence and suffering does not come from the weapon… it comes from the actions of the individual, spurned on by their own misguided motivations.
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I mentioned mental illness earlier as one of the demons often blamed for incidents of mass violence.
This is an understandable reaction and one that is often looked to by both sides of the “gun debate”. For a rational individual that has accepted the basic paradigm of society, it makes little sense that anyone would allow their frustrations to rise to the level of violent conduct. We take comfort in the fact that the monster that inflicts violence on innocents are somehow “broken” or victims themselves of abuse or chemical manipulations. For when the accused is defined by all as the “other” it elevates our own moral standing. It also creates a clearly defined wall of acceptable behavior and that which is uncivilized. When we see the perpetrator of violence as a broken creature, we reaffirm our own place in the universe… we might have our own issues… but we’re not that guy!
We also distinguish between acts of violence that are done against the tribe, and acts of violence that done in protection of the tribe. The monster that shoots a factory full of workers is lacking any sense of moral redemption. The warrior that stands as a paladin defending society against a mob full of violent agitators is someone to be looked up to. This is, as it should be, for not all acts of violence are equal.
Yet, what if mental illness is as much of a continuum as violence itself? We always say a shooter is “sick” and of course that must be true. What type of rational individual would kill and maim innocent people? Yet, how is a “sick” person able to function in society up until the point that they engage in their egregious conduct? The Virginia Shooter, the Las Vegas Shooter, the San Bernardino Shooters, the New York Home Depot Truck Driver, the team that attacked the Paris Night Club, the stabber that murdered children at a school in China… they all share one thing in common. A desire.
Their desire might have been motivated by politics, religion, or demons… but they all had a desire. That desire was so encompassing that they were able to transcend the social norms that hold that life is precious and to be protected not taken. More to the point, the legal restrictions on acquisition and possession of weapons, would by extension specifically not apply to these individuals. For if someone is empowered to such a degree that they would take the lives of others, why would a lesser offense prevent their actions?
If I am completely motivated to engage in murder and mayhem, why would a restraining order act as a barrier to carrying out my carnage? Why would limiting access to firearms prevent me from killing? Quite the contrary… limiting access to firearms may in fact enable my killing spree to go on longer then it would have were my victims in possession of arms themselves.
To believe that evil is something that can be regulated is the ultimate height of folly. Evil is often seen as evil specifically because it cannot be regulated. Those that would examine the laws of the tribe and specifically reject them scare us. They scare us, because they have exempted themselves from the social norms of the tribe. Without those norms, without those regulations on human conduct, their actions are unpredictable.
They are also not going to go away.
Their motivations might change from generation to generation, but they will have those same insatiable desires none the less. We must focus less on them, and instead focus more on us. War is the continuation of diplomacy by other means. We may try and provide them social service, we may try diplomacy to modify their behavior… but when they choose to raise the hand of violence towards us, we must be decisive in our response.