Tag Archives: violence

A Short Note On Pacifism

Pacifism

Recently, on Real Time with Bill Maher, rapper Michael Render, ironically known as ‘Killer Mike’, said the following with regards to an advertising campaign for a charity representing wounded warriors:

“Why don’t we stop sending poor and working class boys to war? And then we don’t have to have those commercials, we don’t have to have a charity, we don’t have to get angry that the VA (Veterans Association) hospital won’t see them for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when they come back so we have higher suicide rates. If we do the right thing by avoiding war, we don’t have to have that…”

This soap box rant received rapturous applause despite the fact that it has at best only a tenuous grip on reality and is somewhat immoral if taken literally.

While I was still thinking about what to make of this, I found myself in a political debate with a total stranger in the café at my local gym. He was steeped in regressive left rhetoric, tracing every problem on the planet back to Dick Cheney and Tony Blair, before topping off my growing frustration with him by proclaiming, “you can’t stop violence with violence.” Though I’m fairly confident I’d debunked this within about 20 seconds, he nonetheless remained perfectly satisfied with his position.

So what could my fellow gym goer and Killer Mike possibly mean? Surely we all want to avoid war, so what’s the problem with their beliefs and commitments to non-violence? Here are some thoughts:

Pacifism hinges upon two propositions:

  1. There are no truly evil people and ultimately anyone can be reasoned with.
  2. It is better to die without putting up a fight in order to set an example of non-violence.

The first of these misunderstandings really has its roots in western privilege. To put it simply, the majority of us have never encountered a truly dangerous person in a situation where we’re vulnerable to being victimised by them. This is of course a good thing and alludes to the fact that in the west we have built relatively safe and civilised societies. However, this also provides a false sense of security in that it disarms many people from even being able to imagine how badly a collision with a psychopath in the wrong circumstances might go. But a brief study of the cases of Richard Ramirez (The Nightstalker) or Dennis Rader (BTK), or an afternoon spent sourcing the uncensored versions of Jihadi John’s videos, ought to provide you with all the information one could require to realise that if you were ever cornered by people like this then the time for talking in the hope of a good outcome has long passed.

Unfortunately, this is where the rot really sets in. There are people who believe that even when words have obviously ran their course, the only thing left to do is to submit yourself to whatever harms are in store for you without resistance. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this means one person armed only with a knife could murder everyone in an entire city, given enough time and the requisite motivation. It also inspires apparently moral people, such as Mahatma Gandhi, to say things like this:

“Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from the cliffs.”

I’m proud to say that this is not the world I wish to live in. I believe that tyranny and evil should be confronted wherever they arise. If ever there were an example of a utopian vision setting us off course and causing real and avoidable harm, pacifism is surely it. The unhappy truth is that there are some very bad people in the world who can only be neutralised by recourse to violence (either actual or convincingly implied) and so even moral people will occasionally be required to apply it if our goals are to survive, to live in free and democratic societies, and to minimise suffering.


Why Boxing Should Be Banned

Boxing

As a teenager I loved watching boxing.  In particular, I was a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, as so many people are, and I had most of his fights on VHS.  Indeed, my first draft of this essay included an extended adulation of his feats in order to affirm my credentials.  While doing so, even I was surprised at how little research was required – all the key dates, opponents and statistics were readily accessible from memory.  Similarly, to this day I would still rank Rocky II as one of my top ten favourite films.

But boxing must be banned.  Simply nothing else will do.  It’s impossible to square such a barbaric concept with the stated goals of civilised societies, where violence is illegal in all its forms, other than as a last resort for self-defence.  A boxing match is merely a form of organised, legalised violence, where victory is achieved by punching an opponent in the head, preferably hard enough to knock him or her unconscious, if only for one’s own safety in that your opponent will then be unable to inflict any future damage to your own brain.

Almost every major medical association in the developed world has spoken out against boxing.  In 2008, The American Medical Association noted in its ‘Report on Science and Public Health’ that boxing is a health hazard and whilst it disappointingly concluded that a legislative approach is unfeasible, it made the following comments and recommendations:

“The AMA supports publicising the deleterious effects of boxing on the health of participants and encourages the elimination of boxing from amateur scholastic, intercollegiate and governmental athletic programs as detrimental to the health of participants.”

The British Medical Association has been demanding a total ban on boxing since 1985.  In 1998 its then boxing spokesman, Dr Bill O’Neill, had this to say:

“We are very concerned about the chronic brain damage that boxers are susceptible to from repeated injuries in the ring. It is the only sport where the intention is to inflict serious injury on your opponent, and we feel that we must have a total ban on boxing. As long as the head is a valid target in boxing, these injuries are going to occur.  None of the safety measures that have been introduced over the last 10 to 20 years have had any significant impact on the brain injury and eye damage that occurs in boxing.”

The Australian Medical Association has been calling for a ban on boxing since 1997.  In 2007 they released this statement:

“The AMA opposes all forms of boxing.  All forms of boxing are a public demonstration of interpersonal violence which is unique among sporting activities. Victory is obtained by inflicting on the opponent such a measure of physical injury that the opponent is unable to continue, or which at least can be seen to be significantly greater than is received in return.”

It should also be noted that the World Medical Association has been calling for a total ban on boxing since as early as 1983.

Interestingly, boxing has already been banned in some parts of the developed world.  It is forbidden in Iceland and Norway – and Sweden only recently lifted a total ban to allow fights of just four, three minute rounds in both amateur and professional boxing.

Currently ‘The Journal of Combative Sports’ shows that approximately 10 people a year die due to boxing.  This number has been fairly consistent since 1945 but it is generally accepted to be a case of significant under-reporting, especially in amateur boxing and from certain parts of the developing world.  As more data becomes available online, the number of known deaths is expected to grow.

Of course boxing advocates continually point out that people die or suffer serious injury in other sports, and in some cases, such as American Football, very much more so.  Aside from acknowledging that two wrongs do not make a right, many more people play American Football than participate in boxing and studies have been done to show that statistically, the chance of dying whilst boxing is actually higher.  But this fails to capture the important moral considerations relating to intentions and outcomes.  Outcome is not everything – intentions matter in a just society.  As has been repeated numerous times already in this article, in boxing the actual intention is to hurt your opponent, ideally to such an extent that he or she is incapacitated, unable to stand, unconscious etc.

Some insist that the State would be over-reaching itself by imposing a ban on boxing.  But is ‘Nanny State’ really a fitting accusation toward a government that doesn’t allow people to punch each other in the face?  Surely one of the most important obligations of any government is to discourage such behaviour among its citizens.

So how problematic might it be to ban boxing?  I have to say that I don’t find the threat of underground boxing, with all its associated gore, a particularly convincing argument.  Of course to begin with, as a matter of principle, we ought not to give in to that which is undesirable just because it might be difficult to prevent.  But I wonder whether illegal boxing really would become as widespread as some believe, or be as difficult to police as, say, illegal drugs.  The latter are desired by a significant portion of the world’s population and are easy to conceal.  There is clear motive and opportunity.  Boxing is nowhere near as popular, requires a large venue and the gathering of lots of people.  Also, the appeal of fighting for the competitors would cease (if anyone is tempted to insist it is the noble art, I suggest they are not looking hard enough for ways to be noble).  I think it is highly questionable as to whether so many would be keen to step into the ring if life changing sums of money weren’t available, especially given the increased health hazards of unregulated fights, to say nothing of the risk of going to prison for a very long time for GBH or murder.

None of this should be taken as a recommendation not to learn the art of boxing via non-combative training.  The world can be a dangerous place and it is a very good idea to learn how to defend oneself.  It is also of course a fantastic way to keep fit.  But punching someone should never be considered sport, in line with its spirit of goodwill and respect.