Fri, 23 January 2015
Is violence ever justified? It’s a hard question.
I just saw the movie “American Sniper”. Some people are saying it’s military propaganda, while others say it’s the story of a true American hero.
When I’m confronted with hard questions like these I look to people with more expertise than me. I go straight to the top. I’m fortunate enough to be friends with Dr. David Buss and he sent me the fifth edition of his book “Evolutionary Psychology”, which I have read many times.
There are good arguments for both sides. Clearly Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were very effective in their campaigns for non-violence.
But what about WWII, where Hitler was met with violence and the war was almost lost due to inaction? It took a long time for the Allies to join the war; the U.S. didn’t even get there until Pearl Harbor and it almost cost them the victory.
When we’re confronted with hard questions like these we tend to oversimplify. Remember what Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This question is not something to be oversimplified, though most people will.
When you break your leg you don’t go to an amateur. You go to someone who has spent 20, 30, 40 years of their life setting broken bones.
In Chapter 5 Dr. David Buss talks about cooperative alliances - he calls it “the problem of group living.” In your life you will come across people who are free-riders; you give, and they take without giving in return. You will also meet defectors - these are people who betray you. This problem of group living is something that we’re all confronted with. So why do we participate at all? Buss says, “The beauty of reciprocal altruism is that both parties benefit.”
In an ideal, Utopian world there would be no military because people advance through cooperation. We grow emotionally, socially, and intellectually by working together.
The problem of war and violence is certainly one of people not getting along, and part of that is because of defection and free-riding. You see this among nations - at some level we must get along on both a national and global scale.
Buss says, “Experiments show that higher levels of cooperation occur when a system is in place to punish free-riders - inflicting costs on those who fail to contribute their fair share.”
When someone makes a mistake, should you yell at them? A wise person would say, “It depends!”
It depends on the type of person - some are motivated by aggression and some are not.
It’s the same with violence - it depends on the situation.
For Martin Luther King Jr., who was leading a small minority against a nation, rising up with arms would be counterproductive. When Mahatma Gandhi was fighting imperialism in India, violence wouldn’t have helped him. He used non-violence and it worked. But like I said, if you tried that during WWII it might get you killed.
The most effective strategy for most environments is something called ‘tit for tat’ theory, which was developed by two scientists; Robert Axelman and W.D. Hamilton. Buss says, “Axelrod identified three features of this strategy that represented the keys to its success: (1) Never be the first to defect-always start out by cooperating, and continue to cooperate as long as the other [person] does also; (2) retaliate only after the other has defected-defect immediately after the first instance of nonreciprocation; and (3) be forgiving-if a previously defecting [person] starts to cooperate, then reciprocate the cooperation and get on a mutually beneficial cycle. To summarize: ‘First, do unto others as you wish them to do unto you, but then do unto them as they have just done to you.’"
Aristotle said, "Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."
Going to war is easy. Being a pacifist is easy. But to do the right thing at the right time? That’s difficult. To know when to be aggressive and when to be passive is difficult.
You must become wise. You can’t live your life with simplistic, black and white thinking.
As either an individual or a group, when is war justifiable? When is it the right time to be pacifistic or aggressive? Leave me a comment below and let me know your opinion.