The Specter of Violence

The subconscious specter of potential for violence is a natural, arguably justifiable part of human interactions on every level. We are animals with vicious, amoral instincts underlying moral, interpersonal, empathetic brains. The ghost of the threat of violence lends creedence to the value of trust: I trust that you could hurt me, but you won’t. This is why Jordan Peterson says, “A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control.” And so we should not be eager for violence. We should hate violence, because we know we are killers, even if we must kill, but we must not be eager for it. We should all be eager to develop such serious wisdom and extraordinary self-control as to avert real violence, thereby making any possible necessary violence undoubtedly defensible in those terrible moments when we are absolutely forced to use it.

Mortal Boundaries: The Limits of Our Compassion


I once had a math teacher in high school whose classroom was a refuge to kids like me. I was a kid preferred to spend my afternoons in the company of thoughtful peers and elders who shared a love of the intellect. We were talking about our frustrations with the preachings of mainstream religions.

“I can’t love and forgive everyone,” I said.

“That’s why Jesus is God and you’re not,” she laughed.

I thought that was brilliant at the time, as the affirmation of my human limits to “lovingkindness” were affirmed.

One of the things that bothers me the most about religions, including Neo-Paganism, is the exhortation to “perfect love and perfect trust,” which I think is bullshit, because nobody can do that and nor should they try. I do not believe in universal love, the acceptance of all and everyone, or the knee-jerk command to “love” one’s enemy or even one’s neighbor. Your neighbor may be a nightmare who wants to hurt you. Anyone who thinks they can or should ever live in “perfect love” or “perfect trust” is lying to themselves and others.

Love is a personal and individual experience of deep fondness for another person or place or group of people. Even falling-in-love romantically is a deeply personal phenomena that cannot be commanded as an ethic. I agree with E. M. Forster when he said,


“The idea that nations should love one another, or that business concerns or marketing boards should love one another, or that a man in Portugal should love a man in Peru of whom he has never heard –it is absurd, unreal, dangerous. The fact is we can only love what we know personally. And we cannot know much.”

I also definitely don’t ascribe to nonviolence on principle. I am a basically nonviolent person because I live in a civilized society where good policeman and the law stand willing to do lawful and moderated violence on my behalf. All of us would be far more violent if we lived in other societies, especially in other time periods, where the murder rate sometimes reached 20 in 1,000 people. Even if we weren’t ourselves killers, we’d know this for sure: violence can be very good and necessary, because violence or the threat of violence underlies the legitimacy of self-defense.

If someone comes to kill you and you do not use violence to stop them, then you are still allowing violence to take place. Only, now, you’re the victim and the offending perpetrator has been allowed to do their evil work. You’re not stopping violence from existing, and you’re not even lessening its presence in the world, by allowing violence to happen to you, a violence which could be greatly decreased or stopped if you fought back. Injecting exhortations to love an enemy into this kind of reality is an insult to nature, including moral human nature.

The pressure to be perfect in stupid love and unfounded trust is a counterpart to this untested proclamation of support for “nonviolence” in all the wrong places.




Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

They Put On New Skin

I have quiet mind. I ask for quiet mind then worry what to do when I get it. I have nothing to say when I get it. The world is the one who has something to say. All this while I am sitting at the cafe. Overhearing a woman at the checkout stand say she cannot sleep without the TV on, I am thankful this is not one of my problems. In front of me is the newspaper telling about the three police recently dead in Baton Rouge. Red Stick, blood stuck in the muck. And the two black men before them. But something else quiet beneath them. I remember being eleven years old on 9/11 and I was only upset the adults were pressuring us kids to get frantic, take it personally. But every damn night on the evening news before and after this day there are stories of bloodshed and death. But this one is exceptional, every new bloody death is unheard of. This is not cynical. It would bring us all together and make us feel angry and proud, make us feel what we’re missing. Everyday thousands and millions of people die and I learned at an early age to not to pay mind to the news, instead to drop under into the pulse of the world, the sandstone raw ground of the soft belly below. Down here there’s more sense. We can mourn our dead as they call out to be loved, making sense of the senseless because it is in this place, not in the nightly news, but in the underworld where we finally approach the hugeness that is death, and yet its nothingness, its normalcy. To live in love of the world is not to be “worldly”, not to think that the world is the shadow facade that is shown in the papers. The world comes to us all, embraces the dead to say live again, here in my bosom find life anew. You are remembered and never forgotten. Here there is love. To be in relationship with the world is to turn away from the anger that passes for news, because it isn’t the real news of the world. The real news is that the dead have already found heaven because they began to find it in life and now they live again in a new way. They put on new skin, come out between the legs or cut belly of a different mother again. The news of the world is the truth that we can only live on a personal scale, turn back into animals when the curtain falls. We do not access the world by becoming engorged on society’s drama. The society is not the world. Draw closer to the soul of the world this way: stare into a single seed of a tree. Written history is a pile of dead bodies. Watch the worms crawling away from it, carrying words of love from the dead, transporting their atoms to wombs. You want to remember the dead? You want to love them and tell them they still matter. So do I. You’ll have better luck finding them in the face of the river, in the endless mirror. Turn out the heart to be wrung in the rain and the sun. Behold the beautiful young men. Listen to the gallant young women. Draw close to them. They’re carrying life. You’ll be back here again.