Violence or Inaction: The False Dichotomy
There is one false dichotomy that always seems to pop up in discussions involving war and authority, that being the false choice between violence or inaction. I have discussed the idea of false dichotomies in the past, but for those who are unfamiliar with the term, it is a way of describing a situation where two choices are offered when many more are actually possible, but are left out of the debate entirely.
In an article this past October, I described a false dichotomy as “a situation where there seems to be a narrow field of two options to choose from, when there is actually a larger set of possibilities beyond those guidelines. In other words, you are asked to choose between black and white, leaving you to think that the only colors in existence are black, white and maybe gray, when in reality there is a whole palette of different shades and tints that were left completely out of the discussion.”
Sadly, for the better part of history our species has resorted to violence as a rule when dealing with dispute resolution, crime and even things as seemingly innocent as raising children or funding community projects. The system that has been built around us has taught us to punish children, fail students, tax consumers, throw so-called “law breakers” in cages and invade any country who might pose a threat, someday, maybe.
This being the case it makes a lot of sense that the “violence or inaction” false dichotomy would develop in the minds of so many people. Our outdated and mundane social structures have established traditions of violent interactions, which leads many people to believe that this is the only way of doing things. If someone is under the impression that violence is the only way out of any particular situation, then they will naturally think that nonviolent solutions are ineffective.
In the social macrocosm this false dichotomy is presented to the public at the dawn of every major war. The people are exposed to some real or imagined threat and are told that the only options available are to fight or to run. This is especially misleading because geopolitical events are extremely complex and there are usually multiple side stories and many hidden causal factors that the public is completely unaware of. In many cases countries who are about to be attacked by a threatening foe do everything in their power to resolve the conflict diplomatically.
During this period of sabre rattling there are always countless opportunities to resolve the conflict peacefully, but this route is never taken because the more dominant party is usually set on controlling the area’s population and plundering their natural resources. This would mean a complete disruption of everyday life for the people living in the area targeted for invasion. So, naturally, no one in their right mind would agree to hand over their resources, land and bodies to a foreign nation. Therefore, the conflict cannot be resolved peacefully because the aggressor always lays down ultimatums that they have no right to demand in their first place.
Herein lies the problem that is at the heart of all violent altercations; one side of the conflict assumes that they have the right to initiate the use of force on another human being — a right which no one has. Even someone who is justifiably defending themselves cannot follow their attacker back home, kill his whole family and then call it “justice”. Self-defense gives someone the right to use force against their attacker in the heat of the moment, but it does not give someone the right to seek vengeance and retaliate.
The civilized way to follow up an act of self-defense is to look into the causal factors of your attack; the conditions that made it possible and the motivations of your attacker. Armed with all of that information anyone can peacefully minimize the chances of an attack like that ever taking place again. On the other hand, retaliation will only instigate more retaliation and you will have a vicious cycle of violence on your hands.
In the social microcosm this false dichotomy is presented in the parent/child relationship, where many parents are under the impression that forcing their child to do things is the only way to teach them how to get along in the world. Once again, this idea that force is the only way to solve problems is so engrained in people’s minds from growing up in cultures of domination that they see no other way of interacting with people, even their own children. Typically, when these parents are presented with the idea that spanking, punishment and guilt tripping may actually be damaging and counterproductive they immediately assume that they are being told to ignore their child because this false dichotomy is such a fundamental part of their worldview.
So if punishment and inaction are both unhealthy ways of dealing with things, then what is the third option? Just as in the case of the attack scenario that we discussed earlier, the peaceful way out is to gather all of the proper information that is needed to fully understand the causal factors behind your conflict. In the case of children there is always a hidden motivation behind the behavior that a child may exhibit. Sometimes children have a difficult time understanding and communicating their own needs, which leads them to unconsciously act in a way that will garner some sort of attention from their peers or elders, depending upon what their unmet need may be.
When this situation arises, punishing the child will likely cause resentment, psychological trauma, depression and it is possible that this kind of negative reinforcement from adults can actually backfire and cause the child to be even more defiant. This is because children are autonomous human beings who instinctively gravitate towards independence and self-ownership. So when it is obvious that they are trying to be controlled they will lash out and resist it with every bone in their body.
However, if children are spoken to and treated as if they were adult individuals, on common ground with other adults, then they will act like responsible human beings, even from a very young age. If you are a parent or teacher and a child that you are responsible for is acting in some way that bothers you, it is much more productive to engage the child diplomatically and discover which feelings inside them are causing them to act in that particular way, than it is to punish that child and further cripple their emotional development. This philosophy of interacting peacefully with children has been covered by many intelligent researchers, some of which I have featured on the “solutions” section of my website, if you are interested in doing some further research.
It is highly possible that this idea of fighting fire with fire comes from the false notion that humans are naturally violent. As I have discussed many times in the past, this idea is a self-fulfilling prophecy which allows people to excuse their own immoral actions, as well as the immoral actions of others. There have even been countless scientific studies which have established a consensus that violence and aggression is not inherent in our nature. It is up to our generation to stop the cycle of violence that has plagued our species for so many years, and to achieve this goal it is necessary for us to understand that peaceful conflict resolution is not only possible but imperative.
J.G. Vibes is an author, and artist — with an established record label. In addition to featuring a wide variety of activist information, his company Good Vibes Promotions hosts electronic dance music events. You can keep up with him and his forthcoming book Alchemy of the Modern Renaissance, at his website. AOTMR will be released in March 2012, thanks to Leilah Publications.