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Dec 27 2012

Problem-solving 101

I have a question for you all. I was reading this article about our terribly violent cultural surroundings, which includes both the Bible and American movies.

Whether history or mythology or some fusion of the two, the Bible stories, when tallied, include an estimated 25 million violent deaths. And yet, like any people, the internal narrative of God’s Chosen Ones is one of yearning for peace and prosperity, the dream of an idyllic past in which the lion lay down with the lamb; an idyllic future in which men will beat their swords into plowshares and the lamb and lion will lie down together again.

The Bible is a collection of stories about nasty genocidal people, with a message of peace that they pay lip service to while slaughtering their foes. American movies are all about brave heroes killing people to protect the good and kind.

So, the question: have you ever in your entire life settled a personal problem with violence? Have you resolved any conflicts by taking out your opposition, just destroying them to remove the obstacle to your life or happiness?

If you did use violence to fix a personal problem, did it work?

Just curious. I can think of only one time that I tried it; I hauled off and punched a grade-school bully in the face. It didn’t change anything, but it did make it worse, because a teacher (one who was a bullying jerk himself) decided to discipline me with a little corporal punishment — an hour of deep knee bends that left me barely able to walk afterwards.

Ever since, though, I’ve experienced nothing where I was tempted to resort to violent action, and nothing where I could believe that violence would help. There’s no situation that can’t be made worse by adding a gun, no opponent who will respond to a normal civic conflict by being cowed by the guy with a baseball bat.

Second question: so why is our media so saturated with bloody-minded simple solutions to problems? Arnold Schwarzenegger blowing up buildings with two-fisted cannons, Liam Neeson smashing heads and knifing evil-doers, superheroes solving every difficulty by applying force…it’s ludicrous that anyone imagines that these are effective answers to anything.

124 comments

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  1. 1
    remyporter

    There were a few times, as a child. I don’t recall that it solved anything, but I was a child. There was hardly anything worth solving.

    As for media, it’s simple: stories are driven by conflict. Violence is an easy to understand conflict, that translates well to visual representations. It has clear objectives, comprehensible stakes, and it’s instantly clear when the conflict has been resolved.

  2. 2
    Thorne

    I don’t know if it qualifies as violence, but there was potential violence. I was a freshman in high school, and being picked on by a group of sophomores. One afternoon, after school and off of school property, one of them started pushing me so I pushed back. We quickly faced off, ready to trade punches, but just as quickly stopped when a policeman crossed the street towards us. No repercussions from the police, since no punches were thrown, but that group of sophomores stopped picking on me after that.

    As for your second question, the answer is actually quite simple. The media show what people are willing to pay to see. And, as so eloquently evidenced by those “loving” Christians who admit that they will stand in heaven and spit on the heads of those burning in hell, people want to see bad men suffer horrific fates. It doesn’t matter whether it solves any problems or not, only that the bad guys get punished in THIS life, as well as in the next.

  3. 3
    billygutter01

    Similar story to PZ’s, here:

    After a long campaign of intimidation and harassment, I too once punched a bully in the face. Really hard. I felt glorious and vindicated. For about two minutes. Until a huge brawl ensued between my friends and the bully’s.

    The police were dispatched after the fighting had spread along the Main St. of town, disrupting traffic.

    In the end, an innocent bystander wound up with a broken nose, tensions between the two “factions” continued to escalate, and I was interviewed by the police (though, in the end, no formal charges were filed).

    Nothing good came of it except that I never threw a punch in anger again.

    Issac Asimov – “Violence is the first refuge of the incompetent.”

  4. 4
    madtom1999

    I was badly bullied at school and one day found the courage to fight back and seemingly won the day.
    A few days later on waking up in agony in a quiet street I realised nothing had changed but the severity of the bullying.

  5. 5
    madknitter

    I’ve only solved a problem with violence once. When I was about 15, after years of enduring “teasing” from my older brother for many years (he liked to hold me down and cover my mouth and nose until I would pass out, and this was passed off as “teasing”), I kicked him in the balls. Hard. Really hard. He was crumpled on the floor. When my parents admonished me, I just said, “I was only teasing.” And that was the end of any “teasing” from my brother, because if I did it once, I could damn well do it again.

    Interestingly, as adults, my brother and I have been estranged for almost 10 years, since my mother died.
    I don’t miss him.

  6. 6
    Dick the Damned

    My story also involved bullying. I was a victim of an older, much bigger boy. I couldn’t run from him, because i wore leg braces. Eventually, we had a fight, in the neighbourhood, which i lost. However, i put up a good fight, which was witnessed by other kids. So i got a reputation for fighting, even though i was the smallest boy of my age cohort. The bully disappeared about this time, possibly to a special school, because i didn’t see him again for years. (And he didn’t want a second fight with me.)

    I’ve always had a strong sense of justice, so, using my new-found status, & hearing of bullying going on in the school, i issued a challenge: anyone who bullied would have me to deal with. Looking back, the results were almost comical, but it worked.

  7. 7
    snowsim

    Superhero & action movies are the male equivalent of romance novels. A few sly comments here, a few sexy actions there, and voila!, a happy ending. They are pure escapism. Nobody believes the real world is that easy (or they shouldn’t!), but the fictional version is compelling precisely because it is so simple. It includes no complicated problems that can’t be solved within 90-120 minutes (or 300-400 pages). Any difficulties are purely to ratchet up the excitement level, and will be sorted out completely, except, of course, those purposely remaining for sequel purposes. The messy, complicated, tangled problems of real life are far too frustrating to attempt to figure out sometimes within a lifetime, forget about a few hours or days or even weeks. But because we all escape so often into that fictional world, we continue to hope that we will stumble upon the easy answers in just that way. And our facile media will continue to pretend that the answers are coming up…right after these messages.

  8. 8
    Justin Stokes

    I guess I am a rare case in that I have had a few instances of problems being solved by some level of violence. The one that sticks out most in my mind occurred when I was in my early teens. A much larger kid had been picking on me non-stop for weeks and like PZ’s example I finally hauled off and punched him in the face. Unlike PZ’s example he went down like a stone and nobody saw it happen. After a few seconds I helped him up and he never picked on me again.

  9. 9
    Marcus Ranum

    I suppose we could argue that it’s the simplest narrative. Thing happens, guy smash, movie ends.
    Anyone here seen “Sleuth”? It’s a revenge-movie, but it’s a bit more complicated than “Magnum force”…

    In 1986 I intervened in a domestic dispute (a man was severely beating his wife/girlfriend, I never knew which) using the threat of violence, and I’ve always wondered if it “worked.” She got away. He came back the next day and threatened me with a gun. I begged him not to shoot me and told him I’d move out that afternoon and I did. Is “success” in dealing with violence as simple as “everybody survived?” I think that’s as good as it gets, sometimes, which really sucks.

    Where violent problem-solving goes horribly off the rails is when you get pre-emptively violent. Then, things get a lot more complicated, really fast.

    It’s an interesting question. I wish you’d also asked whether revenge had any value. It doesn’t even go well with cold cucumbers, contrary to tradition. Yet, many humans are deeply concerned with it and fantasize about it a lot. How much of that is social learning and how much of it is evolved behavior?

  10. 10
    johannespaulsen

    Yes. Twice.

    The first time was in high school. I was being bullied repeatedly by the same guy, and I got fed up. I fought back.

    Never had a problem with that person again after that.

    The second time occurred a few years later. It involved a fight with someone I thought was a friend over a woman that was totally not worth it. Nothing was really solved — although if my objective was to impose a price for a betrayal, I suppose the mission was “accomplished”.

    So, to be fair, we’re talking a 50% success rate.

    The lessons I took from this is that while there are few truly good reasons to begin a fight, there are a lot of people who are willing to do so anyway, and one ought to be ready to handle violence when it comes to you. People who try to wish away — or legislate away — this fact are simply fooling themselves.

  11. 11
    daemon23

    I’ve thought a bit about this from a gaming stance, and I suspect the answer is much the same: distance. We can construct oversimplified scenarios involving violence far more easily than social or emotional conflict simply because they don’t ring as false, they aren’t truly relatable to the majority of people. The flaws aren’t as obvious, so for the most part we ignore them.

  12. 12
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    I have never been in a fight in my life. I hope I never resort to violence to resolve a situation, but I don’t know how I will react in tje future.

  13. 13
    Stephanie Zvan

    Yes, it’s been effective for me in a situation similar to those above. Cornered by a pack of bullies, the leader of whom had been bullying me for a year or more, I responded in kind. They left me alone after they realized I wasn’t an easy mark.

    Why violence should be considered a solution for complicated problems or anything beyond self-defense is beyond me, however.

  14. 14
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Yes, violence has solved problems for me. Childhood/early adulthood bullying issues mostly. It isn’t enough to hit someone though, you have to publicly humiliate them and promise more of the same for anyone else who wants a piece. And you pretty much have to do it immediately, or else the bully decides that they have the right to bully you and will double down if you dare to stand up. You nip shit in the bud up front, and sometimes it stops being a problem before it starts.

    I got into a fight the first week in any new school I was in because I was always short for my age. I managed to get into a fight at the pep rally for the first week of high school, in the gym in front of the whole school. That one was odd… I was really popular with the whole school for about 2 weeks, before fading back into freshman obscurity. A few wannabe bullies tried to make me their victim after that, but after grabbing them and slamming them into things at the first hint of violence shut that down pretty quick. Same thing when I got to college, and when I joined the Marines. Of course by then I could bench press 150% of my body weight, so a little less of a problem.

  15. 15
    Nick Gotts

    I had quite a few childhood fights, mostly with my sibs. The last time I hit anyone (and the last time anyone hit me) was 45 years ago, at age 13, when I had a running fight with my best friend during a physics lesson, carried on whenever the teacher wasn’t watching. I can’t remember what it was about, and we remained friends. I’ve since intervened a few times to protest against a man hitting a woman or child (never, I should say, in a situation that put me at significant risk), and once to stop a fight starting – in that case, one side thought I was siding with the other, but no-one got hit.

  16. 16
    Nepenthe

    I got into fights a lot when I was very young (4-7) because I was angry at the universe. It got me sent to a bunch of shrinks and in trouble, but it never made me any less angry at the universe. Success rate: 0%.

  17. 17
    Arkady

    This may not qualify as ‘violence’, but once when an unpleasant fellow PhD student, who’d been pestering me all evening (demanding loudly to know why I wasn’t drinking alcohol that evening, repeatedly trying to put his arm around my shoulders no matter how many times I made it clear I didn’t want him to) grabbed my wrist hard in an attempt to drag me over to dance with him, I used a self-defence trick, stepped backwards to pull him off balance and sent him sprawling on the floor.

    Solved the problem in that moment in that he let go of my wrist, but he kept up the creepiness with me and the other women in the group that evening, including ‘jokingly’ trying to prevent me leaving by physically blocking me into a corner. (particularly unpleasant for me as I’m 4’10″, and despite my weight-training to keep fit I’m unlikely to be able to push past many guys significantly larger than me)

    Since another recent incident, where he had to be physically restrained from following another student, he went back into work to try to find and punch one of his PhD supervisors. So ‘violence’, on his part, has finally gotten him banned from social events. Not kicked out of uni tho, he’s self-funding so I doubt the university would kick him out for anything short of murder…

  18. 18
    John Small Berries

    Yet another bullying story. A guy tormented me for two years in high school, and for two years I implemented my parents’ advice to “just ignore him and he’ll go away”. One day, during the break between classes, he actually came across the hall to continue harassing me. At one point, he leaned in close to me, and I instinctively threw up my arm to ward him off. The back of my hand hit his nose, which began bleeding profusely. (I think I was probably more surprised than he was; I hadn’t intended to strike him.)

    He ran back across the hall to his classroom, and (according to a friend of mine who was in that room) told the teacher he’d walked into a door and asked to go to the nurse. I spent the remainder of the day expecting to be hauled off to the principal’s office, suspended, expelled, ambushed by him and his friends when I left school, or any of a number of repercussions, but despite a room full of witnesses (all students; the teacher was out of the room), nothing happened.

    And for the rest of the time he was in school (he was a year ahead of me), he left me alone; he never said another word to me, and gave me a wide berth in the hallways.

    So, yes. Violence (albeit unintended) did solve that problem.

    Do I believe it can solve every problem? Certainly not. Many times, it can make things worse. But saying “violence never solves anything” is naïve, and just as wrong as believing it can solve all problems. Pithy, absolutist aphorisms are often inadequate to describe reality.

  19. 19
    Emptyell

    As far as the violent fantasies go, I think it’s like car chase movies. We spend so much time behaving ourselves, driving carefully, suppressing our frustrations (and occasional rage) that it is fun to vicariously enjoy the fantasy of letting our violent and reckless urges loose.

    As far as actual situations being improved by violent action? Not so much. From what I’ve seen the “winner” of a fight is the one who loses less.

    One experience with a bully stands out for me. We were in an empty corridor and he was trying to start a fight. I looked him in the eye and said simply “I don’t want to fight you.” At which point he suddenly decided we were best friends. I’m not sure what was at work there. Perhaps it was just treating him as an equal human being. Something I expect he was not accustomed to.

  20. 20
    Anthony K

    Yes, violence has solved problems for me. Childhood/early adulthood bullying issues mostly. It isn’t enough to hit someone though, you have to publicly humiliate them and promise more of the same for anyone else who wants a piece. And you pretty much have to do it immediately, or else the bully decides that they have the right to bully you and will double down if you dare to stand up. You nip shit in the bud up front, and sometimes it stops being a problem before it starts.

    I know you mean well, Joe, but I’m leery of this sort of advice. Yes, that’ll work in some cases. In others, it won’t.

  21. 21
    carlie

    I spanked my kids a few times when they were little. Mostly when they were about to do something severely dangerous (like reaching up on the stove for a pan), and because I was so panicked about what they were doing. There was once or twice it happened when I was mad at them for something or other. I guess it worked in the way it works for all kids, that it stunned them into compliance, and it worked in that I was so horrified at having done it that I managed to stop myself from ever doing it again fairly quickly. As I recall the instances were all in a fairly tight time frame when I had two toddlers at once and was overwhelmed in general.

  22. 22
    roland

    At a personal level, no, but it seems to me that among nations/tribes violence and especially mass murder does work (eg. Europeans vs Native Americans)

  23. 23
    salimnair

    Very similar to many others here, there was one incident of me engaging in violence happened when I was 12. I got into a fist fight with a friend. Dont remember how it all started, but the end was that he complained to his parents, they came to my house, created a big issue. In the end, I received several strokes with the vein of coconut leaf (ohh, it is very effective!) from my father. I remember feeling like an ass for several days after that.

    I very often think about how will I handle a situation when me or a loved one is threatened with violence. Due to a complete lack of any kind of fighting technique or use of any kind of weapon, the only solution I can think of is walking/running away from the situation. Now, I don’t know what percentage of success people have had physically fighting back when threatened/subjected to violence. But I think it is very likely that preemptive violence is much less likely to solve problems than creating it.

    Vengeance is another issue that seems to be very pointless to me. During discussions about pacifism, one question I have been asked many times is that, what if someone brutally attack (well, being a man, most of the examples revolve around protecting a woman – wife/girlfriend/mom etc. – a loved one. More often than not, I was treated with disbelief and not so veiled insinuation about the lack of my “manhood” when I say the only recourse I can think of is legal one.

  24. 24
    erichoug

    I don’t think violence really solves anything but I do think the threat of violence is a fairly good deterrent. I know that my own personal bullying incidents ended shortly after I adopted a policy of making sure that every time they touched me it hurt them. Shortly afterwards they found other victims.

    I was actually a pacifist for years. When I worked as a bike messenger, other couriers would occasionally ask me “So if I punched you in the face right now you wouldn’t do anything?” to which I always replied “I don’t know. Why don’t you try it and find out?” no-one ever did.

    As far as Media. I would say that pretending that we don’t enjoy violence, whether it is witnessing it or performing,it is a lot like pretending we don’t enjoy sex. I think the real need is to channel it into acceptable arenas where all parties understand the rules.

  25. 25
    frankensteinmonster

    violence solves nothing, yeah, that’s why we need no army nor police ;)

  26. 26
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    …it’s ludicrous that anyone imagines that these are effective answers to anything.

    The first lesson I learned in the first theater class I took is there is no drama without conflict. Violence is conflict in its simplest form– it allows writers to be lazy and keeps audiences dumb*.

    I’ve only used violence once: years ago, in a crowded bar a dude grabbed my breast, so I nailed him in the face. My husband (then boyfriend) and his friend pulled me away and hustled me out of the bar immediately after, so I don’t think we can qualify punching a sexual harassing asshole as solving anything.

    Luckily, I was not bullied as a child and my heart goes out to everyone here that was.

    *I say this as a fan of both violent movies and videogames.

  27. 27
    erichoug

    Roland @#22. I suggest you read Charles C. Mann’s excellent book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus for some good insight into the settlement of North America. It was apparently a bit more complicated than Cowboys (or pilgrims) shooting indians.

  28. 28
    Chuck

    Twice bullied, twice fought back, never bullied again.

  29. 29
    redwood

    I’ve broken up some fights and in all cases both parties seemed glad to have an excuse to stop. I’ve also restrained people from fighting. I’ve never seen a situation where the best solution to the problem was to settle it by violence and I’ve never hit anyone or been in a physical fight.

    I like reading books with violence (detective stories, thrillers), watching movies with it, playing video games full of it. They’re all fantasy and I can distinguish between them and real life. I wonder, however, at people whose lives are based on religious fantasy and whether or not that affects how they view the actual world.

  30. 30
    Argle Bargle

    While I wasn’t bullied in school my younger brother was. When he was a freshman and I was a junior some kid who was bigger than either of us was bullying my brother. I told him to leave my brother alone. The bully grabbed a fistful of my shirt and started making threats at me. I grabbed a fistful of his testicles and told him he had two choices, leave me and my brother alone or become an instant soprano. He took choice 1.

    Sometimes violence does work. Not often but it can be effective.

  31. 31
    Don F

    I once dealt with a bully by using passive violence. The bully would beat me up regularly when I passed a park near his house on my way home. But then during one of the sessions he was coming down on top of me to beat me some more, and I lifted my knee, resulting in him breaking his nose against it. He never waited for me after that. I don’t know if it qualified as violence on my part, but I felt awful that I caused the damage . . . and I felt pretty good about not being beaten up anymore.

  32. 32
    fecklessflamingo

    I’ve used violence on a couple of occasions to solve problems and it’s worked relatively well. Like others, it involved standing up to a bully, and in that case, the real goal is not to hurt someone, but rather to demonstrate that you are not an easy target.

    In that particular kind of problem, it really comes down to two things: the scope of your response and the reason for the bullying.

    First, the response must be measured. A response that is too violent will invoke the desire for revenge. When I had to confront a bully, I’d do just enough damage to let them know I wasn’t going to take things lying down and then distance myself as much as possible from the person for as long as possible. You want them to know that you’ve chosen to maintain the peace as long as they’re willing to do so, but if they violate that peace, then retaliation will follow. In other words, a violent act can make the threat of future violence more credible.

    An example of this is when I actually let one of these bullies have the last punch. It let him feel like he didn’t run away from a fight. I walked away from him after that. He’d already been trounced (I’d bodily thrown him across the hallway), and the fact that I walked away instead of him meant he knew I’d granted him a reprieve, but he didn’t feel so humiliated that he would have to continue the bullying out of some misguided sense of pride.

    Second, it depends on why they’re bullying you. If they’re bullying you because they are looking for a target and you seem like an easy one, then violence likely can solve your problem. If they stop considering you an easy target, they’ll move on to someone else. However, if they have some deeper reason to do it – if they truly hate you, for example – then violence could just as easily lead to an escalation on the other side. It depends on how determined the harasser is.

    It really comes down to knowing some basic psychology, I think, and trying to understand what a violent outburst is likely to accomplish and how the assailed will react to it. It also involves not getting carried away. If you’ve resorted to violence simply because you like hurting people, it’s almost certainly not going to end well for anyone.

    Someone else pointed out the Aasimov quote, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” I also completely agree with that. So are hammers. That doesn’t make hammers a useless tool. It just means that when you really feel like you want to use a hammer, you should always ask yourself first if it’s the right tool for the job.

  33. 33
    antialiasis

    Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, but when I retaliated physically at bullies in school or threatened to, they thought it was hilarious. Definitely not productive.

    I think you’ve got the thing about action movies a bit backwards. Action movie heroes solve their problems with violence because the situations the plot creates are generally engineered in such a way that violence is necessary, at least supposedly: the villains are bloodthirsty creatures or just so ruthlessly evil that we are supposed to see there is no hope of negotiating. An action movie that fails to establish the necessity of violence has failed in its mission; even the really brainless ones usually take care to establish the villains as unfeeling monsters so the audience will feel it is just and necessary to kill them. Such situations barely ever come up in real life, of course – but an action hero resorting to violence when it’s clearly unnecessary would generally be played as them going too far. It’s not so much that action heroes are failing at problem-solving as that they live in a universe with completely different problems than ours. Not saying there aren’t exceptions, but those exceptions are failing a crucial storytelling principle.

  34. 34
    Eris Caffee

    I have two incidents to relate, in both of which the mere threat of violence was enough to defuse already actually violent situations.

    ——————

    I and my wife were living with her family in a semi-rural area on the outskirts of Houston. One night, one of my brother-laws friends (call him Dave since I can’t remember his real name) came over very drunk and passed out on the porch. We decided to let him sleep it off for a while, but about an hour later Dave’s roommate Greg came over too and was angry. He started a fight and they were brawling in the driveway. My mother-in-law called the police, but I had a bad feeling about things since I knew Greg had been in and out of prison. So I quietly fetched my wife’s revolver, loaded it and kept it down out of sight. After a few minutes the fight seemed to die down and Dave started to walk back up on the porch, but Greg lost control at that point. He picked up a steel pipe from a broken chain link fence, raised it up and was about to hit Daves head. That’s when I raised up the gun and told Greg to leave. He was at least smart enough to understand the danger, so he dropped the pipe and fled.

    No shots were fired, so I suppose I didn’t technically use violence, but the threat of violence was there and while I can’t say for sure that I would actually have shot him, I certainly was not intending to bluff. So did my threat of violence make the situation better? I think it did. I think I may even have saved someones life. I certainly did prevent someone from receiving a nasty head injury and trip to the hospital.

    I have no analysis of this incident or opinion to draw from it. It is the one and only time in my life that I have ever used a gun and I am very grateful that I did not have to fire it.

    ——————

    One time when leaving the Texas Renaissance Festival, one of my friends was very drunk and being really obnoxious to people. Not in a mean way, he was a playful drunk and thought he was being funny, but his behavior really just was getting on everyones nerves. In the parking lot, though, he said something to a stranger, who then then put my friend in a headlock and started to beat him. Everyone else in my group froze in fear, even though there were seven of us. I did not freeze, though, because quite frankly I’ve never met a bully who really was willing to stand up to anyone who showed no fear.

    So I grabbed my commemorative mug – a big heavy copper mug – brandished it as the only weapon I could and ordered the stranger to let my friend go. Now he was about 6 feet tall and muscular, whereas I’m 5′ 10″ woman who weighed about 270 pounds at the time, so while he could likely have taken me in a fight, I had the advantage of size and might have been able to pin him to the ground, on top of which I could see him looking at the mug wondering if it would really be effective as a weapon or not. He probably was also wondering if the rest of my friends would join in. For a couple of minutes we had a stand off, with me telling him to let go of my friend, and him making empty threats. Eventually, his girlfriend came looking for him and convinced him to leave.

    I think that his girlfriend’s arrival gave him the excuse he needed to give up without losing face (because he could say he would have beat us all up, really, and only let us go because the girlfriend asked). Nonetheless, my own actions helped by making him stop hitting my friend and focus his attention on me. He had picked a soft target at first – a drunk who was having trouble standing. I was a harder target: not a trained fighter, or even anyone in really good physical condition, but rather someone who was not drunk, not afraid, not backing down, and potentially capable of hurting him.

    ——————

    What do I take away from these incidents? Sometimes the threat of violence works. Notice I said the threat. I’m not sure that actual violence can really resolve anything, but my experience is that when confronting an already violent person – especially if they have only just begun – a credible threat of retaliation can cause them to to step back from the brink and de-escalate things.

    Notice an important feature of both incidents I related: I did not actually attack anyone. In the first incident I kept the gun out of sight until the last minute and when I did bring it up I did not fire it, choosing instead to tell Greg to leave. In the second incident I also did not immediately attack but instead gave the stranger a chance to see the mug, to see that I was large enough and sober enough to make a credible threat, and then I kept him talking (and not hitting my friend) until he finally gave up. I would say that I was following the old advice of “speak softly and carry a big stick” except for the fact that I really didn’t speak softly. The basic principle is the same though.

    Some people really just don’t respond to non-violent interventions, but there are many who will see reason if given a choice between non-violence and more violence than they really want.

  35. 35
    BaisBlackfingers

    There seem to be a couple of common themes for when violence has been an effective solution to problems- they almost all involve bullying, and almost never involve violence severe enough that it won’t heal in a couple of weeks. That fits with my experiences as well. The time I would say physical force was most effective for me was when I literally picked up the offending party and carried him away- leaving not a mark on him.

  36. 36
    PZ Myers

    Yeah, that’s interesting, actually: it’s almost all about bullies, and almost all about grade school experiences.

    Maybe I should have qualified the question: have you ever solved a problem with violence as an adult?

  37. 37
    dianne

    have you ever solved a problem with violence as an adult?

    It depends on what you mean by violence. I’ve gotten together with gangs of toughs and stabbed people. Several times a day, even. It solved their cholecystitis, appendecitis, lung cancer, and so on fairly nicely. I don’t routinely do that any more, having moved on to the more womanly art of poisoning people’s problems away.

    But nonconsentual violence? Not so much. I’m really just not very good at it and so even if it solves someone’s problems, that someone is unlikely to be me.

  38. 38
    fountainscholar

    Long time lurker here. I was bullied heavily all the way from primary (kindergarten to most) into high school. Up to junior high (grades 7-9), this had been primarily verbal bullying from a mix of girls and guys. In junior high this transitioned to mostly boys, and physical abuse became more frequent, and being a girl this really scared me. Even having gone to the school administration with complaints of sexual harassment, nothing happened to control the bullying, however I discovered the teachers were sympathetic to my situation and if I reacted violently to the bullies, even directly in front of the the teachers, the teachers would tell my bullies they deserved it. Violence deterred physical abuse from my bullies, and within a short time bullying returned to mostly verbal abuse. While bullies continued to make my daily life difficult, having reacted to them violently set boundaries for the behavior that kept me safer for the rest of my schooling.

    That being said, while I understand that violence is not how we solve problems as adults, there is often a little voice in my head (metaphorically speaking) that reminds me that is how I was able to take control in a case of horrible, chronic abuse. Sometimes I think I feel more powerless in some difficult situations because I cannot react as I did when I was younger, almost as if I have to hold it in. I have never been violent as a adult (or even teenager) and will strive to continue that trend, but I wish I had not had to resort to it during my formative years when it would so obviously affect how I would think as an adult. I wish there had been a better system to protect me in school, so I would not have had to protect myself.

  39. 39
    Anthony K

    I don’t think violence really solves anything but I do think the threat of violence is a fairly good deterrent.

    Yes, but there are others. I’ve thwarted two potential muggings by being overly friendly (like, in-your-face friendly) and changing the dynamic before the would-be muggers could screw up their courage.

    In a fight between myself, a friend, and six young, drunk assholes, I stalled out the fight by taking a punch to the face and telling the kid I was going to let him have that one for free. They’d been watching too many movies, and he seemed disappointed when I shrugged off his best punch as if it were nothing. (If I’d responded in kind, I might have knocked him into the street and into traffic, and I would have energised those of his friends who were content at this point to stand back and beak off.*) Another of the youngsters hopped around in his best Muay Thai pose until my friend booted his inside thigh, and he realised his JCVD posturing wasn’t actually effective.

    *When attacked by multiple opponents—of which I sadly have some experience—tunnel vision is your enemy, as is letting them control the dynamic of the interaction.

  40. 40
    Alan

    Your government seems to think that violence is the answer to its foreign policy issues. The latest solution is to drop a few bombs from drones in Pakistan, following on from the usual method of invasion and destruction. Unfortunately the government can’t really advise its citizens to eschew violence when it does exactly the same thing, and on a massive scale at that.

  41. 41
    ragarth

    Really sort of depends on how you define violence. Forgetting middle and high school, I break check people on the interstate when they ride my bumper. I suppose you could interpret break checking as a form of threat, one that generally works.

    As for ( per :-) ) my personal opinion, I don’t think violent movies and media are a cause of our overly aggressive nation, I don’t even know if its a symptom of it. Many other nations have violent media yet are significantly less aggressive than we are. Granted, cross-nation comparison is iffy, but this seems a sufficiently fundamental human trait that doing so warrants some validity. Rather, I think aggression and tribalism are ingrained into american culture and for us to have any meaningful growth as a people we need to excise these two tumors from our society and reign them in to a more reasonable level.

  42. 42
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    TMI/trigger warning: violence

    I’ve had a fairly violent life, both as a child and as an adult. I’ve also been exceptionally lucky–I lived in a violent household as a child, and so in elementary school, I responded to bullying (both myself and my sibling) with disproportionate violence (eg cracking the ribs of a bully targeting my little brother with a textbook when I was in 4th grade.) Probably because I am female and all of 5’3-4″ in my bare feet, no one in authority ever took complaints about me seriously. I have a strong sense of justice and I used to go into a frenzy if I saw someone abusing someone else. I still get angry as hell, but no more red haze and throwing people.

    As an adult, it has temporarily fixed a few problems, again mostly because of my disproportionate response. I’ve intervened in several domestic disputes, had to talk a fellow out of shooting me, looked down the wrong end of several guns, had to avoid a knife-wielding fellow and was married to an abuser for awhile who was dissuaded from abusing me more by my noting that he had to sleep sometime and offering to pin his head to the wall with my knives, douse his head in lighter fluid and set it on fire as soon as he let down his guard enough to sleep.

    A note on violence: now that I more resemble the middle class, I notice that violence is treated as remarkable and inexplicable. I personally hope to not have to go there, but when you are poor (and especially poor and female), it’s a part of your life which you can’t really avoid all the time. I’m personally going to be paranoid the rest of my life and be secretly armed (NOT with a gun, those are not worth carrying), but I know better than to think that violence will somehow disappear and is not both tied to my class identity/history and to being white in the US.

    Want to talk about violence, should talk about whiteness and gender, too.

  43. 43
    unclefrogy

    other than sibling fights only vary rarely have I been involved in any violent confrontations. a couple minor ones in the Army but nothing since. Did it ever solve anything? Maybe not solve but it did change things. I never have had any desire to “dominate” by force anyone. I will defend myself from any attempts of being abuse or domination in what seems to be the appropriate action at the time and circumstances at the time but found it much better to avoid violence if possible.

    No comment on the content of the bible but as far as the stories we tell each other and enjoy, violent conflicts or the stories have violent sections are common.
    They are old old. The Greek drama that survives has violence as part of the story. I think though that we neglect part of this when we think of the stories we tell ourselves.
    We tend to forget the humorous stories we share either one on one but also in “media”. We also seem to forget the romance stories we share as part of what we like.
    Of the two “neglected” types humor is the most perishable seldom successfully translatable into other languages or surviving in time. We celebrate the hero and love in song and who has never heard of the a songs about love that involve death folk songs like”Matty Groves” or opera “La Traviata”?
    I think it has to do with our knowledge of our own mortality the impermanence and fleeting nature of our experience of living and our desire for survival and with it victory and the realization that we will not succeed in the end.
    It is expressed very well in the last scenes in “The Seven Samurai” the warriors walk out having survived but having nothing to show for it but their survival .

    uncle frogy

  44. 44
    dianne

    Your* government seems to think that violence is the answer to its foreign policy issues.

    Hence, various blowback problems the US has experienced in the recent past. The 9/11 attacks were carried out by people who had been trained by the US to be anti-Soviet terrorists in Afghanistan. Violence can solve an immediate problem, but it creates future problems as it does so.

    *Assuming that by “your” government you meant the US’s government.

  45. 45
    didgen

    Having been raised on violence, many many severe fights with siblings where we were truly trying to hurt each other (many scars for proof), parental abuse and seeing mother beaten and chased with hammers or knives I don’t believe violence is effective in any positive way.
    I have slaughtered countless ants, flies and roaches in my life, laying down poison that killed many generations down the line. Perhaps that was an acceptable use of violence. Somewhat biblical in nature too.

  46. 46
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    salimnair:
    The comments you’ve received about your manhood may illuminate one of the reasons for some of the violence in our society: toxic masculinity.
    The rigid gender roles imposed upon men (provider, defender) may act to reinforce this tough guy notion.

    I am at work, so I can’t expound on this as much as I want, but I’m thinking of how many perceive those of us in the queer community as not being men because they think we don’t do manly things. I have heard of people picking on gay men, thinking they were weak or pushovers. Why would one think that if they didn’t feel gay men were less ‘masculine’ or not ‘real men’?

    I think about the violence in American football and how that is glorified. Why is that? It is men being violent with other men. I have had strange looks from guys when I tell them I don’t watch football. As if I am less of a man. i know there is more to football than violence, but that is a big component.

    I look at our gun culture and how violent it is. Obviously men and women own guns and commit acts of violence using them, but for many men, guns make them feel manlier…more powerful. Why are killing machines associated with a sense of masculinity?

    Then I look at aspects of our military and how not only much violence is committed in the name of ‘God, mother and country’, but how it is legitimized bevause it is done in the name of the United States. As if acts of violence aren’t so bad if the US commits them.

  47. 47
    sadunlap

    @ #1 remyporter

    As for media, it’s simple: stories are driven by conflict. Violence is an easy to understand conflict, that translates well to visual representations. It has clear objectives, comprehensible stakes, and it’s instantly clear when the conflict has been resolved.

    And #26 Audrey

    The first lesson I learned in the first theater class I took is there is no drama without conflict. Violence is conflict in its simplest form– it allows writers to be lazy and keeps audiences dumb*.

    Two thoughts. 1. mass produced drama resorts to the cheapest raw materials. Drama based on violence is easiest to product en masse and therefore allows writers either to be lazy or just to meet the deadlines. It’s also simplest and easiest for the dumber audience members to understand – therefore enables market saturation by reaching the most people. Mass produced drama to reach the largest audience = yet another Arnold movie (gag).

    Thought #2. I can not prove this in any way – pure speculation here. I just noticed the theme running through the responses of violence working almost all related to bullying. Perhaps we are a nation of bullies and their victims? The violent action hero movies realizes as entertainment the “conquering hero” daydream. I would find it believable that people who have spent years suffering humiliation would find these an appealing form of escapism. Of course, this can not explain all people who view violent movies/play violent video games. It may explain some.

  48. 48
    sadunlap

    Blockquote fail, sorry.

    Audrey’s quote ended with “dumb*”

    oops.

  49. 49
    Anthony K

    I think about the violence in American football and how that is glorified. Why is that? It is men being violent with other men. I have had strange looks from guys when I tell them I don’t watch football. As if I am less of a man. i know there is more to football than violence, but that is a big component.

    It’s the same way up here when you tell people you support rules against fighting in professional hockey.

  50. 50
    Rip Steakface

    Isn’t our violent dubbed/subbed American media prevalent over local media in a number of other countries? I’ve never liked it when people say “the media is too violent!” because everyone else consumes our media without ill effect, along with the fact I definitely don’t want my violent media to go away. Some of the best works are horribly violent – from Mass Effect to The Godfather to Watchmen.

  51. 51
    Jules

    One time my ex-boyfriend and I got into an argument over the play we were working on. I threw half a cheeseburger near his head. He threw an order of fries at me. I laughed. I mean, come on. That was totally ludicrous behavior for adults. He was still angry. I slept elsewhere that night. And we solved the disagreement later using words, not projectiles.

    Basically, any time I have even spoken of using violence, it has escalated the situation to the point where I got hurt. Perhaps this is because I am not really a fighter at all and am not very big compared to the people I’m mouthing off to, but I’m pretty sure no one has walked away from any of those circumstances feeling terribly good about the outcome (sociopathic ex-husband being a possible exception).

    I have certainly wanted to take revenge out on someone. But I don’t believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s just because I’m an imperfect, spiteful little asshole sometimes. I have managed thus far to never commit any kind of physically violent revenge (though I admit to having a sharp tongue).

    Media glorify violence for the simple reasons others have said: it’s easy entertainment that sells.

    I did want to address this one thing, but I don’t want to derail, so it’s here at the bottom of my comment:

    There were a few times, as a child. I don’t recall that it solved anything, but I was a child. There was hardly anything worth solving.

    That really, really is not how it feels to children, so please do not take that attitude with them. Their worlds may seem small compared to ours, but their worlds are still the entirety of their own existence. I’m not sure you meant it that way, I’m just clarifying, because it’s an attitude I see pretty often.

  52. 52
    Aratina Cage

    I’ve swung brooms and big sticks to ward off stray dogs, which worked, but I’ve never solved anything violently with humans. I have witnessed, bore, and heard of numerous instances, though, where adults I know tried to use violence to solve their problems and it failed miserably (backfired) in every single instance.

  53. 53
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Anthony K:
    I suspected as much. I don’t know much about Canada, but I imagine people in that country glorify violence too.

  54. 54
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    I’ll be more explicit: whiteness here in the US is predicated on systems of dominance and submission which utilize explicit and implicit violence in order to enforce roles. Our racial identity is predicated on those systems, whether we want them to be or not. Black Skeptics had an awesome post about this and school shootings which also talked about predicating white masculinity.

    I find systems of violence to be feminine, as well, but I’m a deviant, so your mileage may vary.

  55. 55
    Anthony K

    I suspected as much. I don’t know much about Canada, but I imagine people in that country glorify violence too.

    It’s kind of different here. I think we’re more likely to applaud fistfights than gunfights.

    This commercial was quite popular when it aired.

    ( SPOILER: For those who don’t understand what happens at the end, pulling the back of one’s jersey over their head is a hockey fight thing.)

  56. 56
    boskerbonzer

    This topic is interesting because although I have never physically assaulted anyone since I was a kid, I have verbally eviscerated people. I mean, gone right for the jugular and said what I thought would hurt them the worst. I have probably felt more guilt and remorse from that type of exchange than if I had just smacked them upside the head. At least charges can be filed for physical assault, but psychological, emotional verbal abuse can’t really be prosecuted even though it can leave scars as bad as any beating.

    Are we counting verbal abuse as violence here or am I off topic and in my own little world, as usual?

  57. 57
    stevebowen

    I don’t have a tale, but an observation. I think violent solutions are a little like prisoner’s dilemmas in game theory. If it is a one off interaction the violent solution may be the quick and dirty answer, but with people you will meet repeatedly, a cooperative settlement is necessary.

  58. 58
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I want to sort of second mouthyb’s point about race, class, gender, and how they relate to violence. The same people who are boggled by violence in any form are the ones who boggle my mind… what do you mean you’ve only thrown one punch in your whole life? I’ve been chased down and beaten, followed home and beaten, held down and beaten, been in bar fights, had knives pulled on me.

    And not only does that not seem unusual or abnormal, my experience is sort of mild compared to a lot of the people I’ve known in my life. I guess it is shocking to the folks who come from solidly middle-class college educated backgrounds, who spend their evenings sipping wine in their study and reading philosophy and literature while the common folk are drinking cheap draft beer and listening to the jukebox in some smoky bar…

  59. 59
    Jules

    I’m just going to leave this here.

    The 6 Most Aggressively Badass Things Done by Pacifists

    Apologies if this has been linked before. Also warnings that it’s a Cracked link.

  60. 60
    Inaji

    PZ:

    So, the question: have you ever in your entire life settled a personal problem with violence? Have you resolved any conflicts by taking out your opposition, just destroying them to remove the obstacle to your life or happiness?

    No. I seriously contemplated murdering the two prime abusers I had for two years or so, when I was a child. I couldn’t figure out a way to guarantee that I’d get away with it, so I chose not to do it. That’s as far to the dark side as I have ventured.

    I am fully prepared to defend myself if anyone ever tries to rape me again. Thankfully, that situation hasn’t come up again.

  61. 61
    iiandyiiii

    In my 20s, in Honduras, I was approached once late at night (stupidly walking home alone from a bar) by three teenagers. At first they offered me cocaine, then asked for one dollar- and I pretended to be unable to speak Spanish both times. Then they started throwing rocks and beer bottles at me. Looking back, I probably should have just given them my wallet- I don’t think I had anything particularly valuable on me. But because I was a young veteran who thought of myself as a tough guy (and probably also because I was a little inebriated) I refused, and had a sort of running battle with them as I hobbled home on my flip-flops. They stayed far away from me, peppering me with rocks and debris, except for one (he got close and I grabbed him and pummelled him to the ground), until I got to the house of the local family I was staying with, and quickly got behind their front gate.

    The funny and probably disturbing thing about this is that afterwards I felt hugely victorious and even energized- even scarred up on my face and hands, I felt great. Physically and emotionally I felt invincible (as stupid as that sounds).

    I’m pretty sure I didn’t handle the situation as well as I could; but the physical thrill I got from experiencing (and perhaps winning) a personal sort of violence was extremely similar to the high I got when doing well in high school and college athletics (football, wrestling, and boxing). I haven’t experienced any sort of violence since. I’m not sure what the whole experience means exactly, and I’m not even sure what I’ve learned from it, but it was an incredibly visceral experience that I’ve never forgotten the details of.

  62. 62
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    Improbable Joe: Yeah, that one always…..annoys me. For a lot of people, violence is not an abstracted concept or an alien experience. You don’t always get the choice of observing violence at a distance as a problem. Sometimes, violence is the language of the situation, not that I won’t try very hard to talk people out of it.

  63. 63
    Socio-gen, something something...

    *trigger warnings for violence*

    I was abused at home, bullied at school until 10th grade, and saw abuse and violence going on in nearly every home around me. Unlike others though, it didn’t result in my being more willing to use violence. I became terrified of even mild confrontations. Only three times have I used violence and each was the result of my reaching the point where it didn’t matter what happened to me, I was going to cause some pain.

    The first was when a bully on the bus was tormenting my youngest brother, who was 6. I backhanded the kid in the chest, and knocked him over three bus seats while screaming, “Nobody hits my brother!” Today, a 17yo girl attacking a 12yo boy like that would find herself expelled and probably handcuffed, but this was the 80s. It was effective. Word got around very quickly that my siblings were not to be messed with, and it lasted long after I graduated.

    The second time was during a particularly brutal assault by my ex. I punched, kicked, scratched, and tried to take his head off with my bare hands, basically. It worked…for about two weeks; the next time he made sure I wouldn’t have a chance to fight back and I spent five days in the hospital.

    The third was self-defense. A guy I somewhat knew thought I was way more interested in him than I was. He picked me up and carried me out of a bar while almost everyone cheered and laughed despite the pure terror on my face. (There were two women who tried to intervene but the crowd pulled them away.) You know the advice about not going to a second location? I used his own D-cell Maglite to break his wrist and several fingers in order to get out of his truck. Then called police who told me it was all a misunderstanding” and that I should be grateful the guy didn’t want to press charges.

    mouthyb:

    I personally hope to not have to go there, but when you are poor (and especially poor and female), it’s a part of your life which you can’t really avoid all the time. I’m personally going to be paranoid the rest of my life and be secretly armed [...]

    Yes. I am always on alert, and I carry a weapon that no one would ever recognize as one (in fact, I could fly with it). It took me a long time to think I was worth defending and even longer to feel comfortable attempting to defend others (who weren’t my kids/family).

  64. 64
    Inaji

    Socio-gen:

    Yes. I am always on alert, and I carry a weapon that no one would ever recognize as one (in fact, I could fly with it).

    Same here. One result of all the trauma is hypervigilance, I’m never off guard. I also carry a weapon no one would ever recognize as one. All that said, I hardly go around looking for an excuse to use it, in the manner violence is typically glorified in our culture.

  65. 65
    happyrabo

    As an adult, this past June, I surprised a burglar in my house. Well, we were both pretty surprised. I got a little peeved and attacked him with my bare hands, breaking a window with his torso, and chased him down the alley when he got away.

    Did it solve anything? I got a broken window and a bruised arm, and he dropped his backpack containing my change jar and his bong (yes, he brought his bong along on a burglary). There was some evidence probably containing fingerprints that otherwise wouldn’t have been left behind, and I did eventually get my stolen XBox back, so maybe it even helped.

    On the other hand, if the burglar had been armed or had a friend with him, I could be seriously injured or dead now. It was maybe not my finest hour of thinking things through.

  66. 66
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    Socio-gen: Yes, well, we’re the ones who are deviant when we defend ourselves. Because we all know women aren’t violent and should never be in a situation where they have to defend themselves.

    That’s just deviant.

  67. 67
    perplexed

    I grew up in an extremely violent environment in the inner city. I would guess my childhood was very different than folks who have responded based on their answers. Sometimes, most times where I grew up, you can’t talk your way out of a potential explosive situation and an instant extremely violent response can mitigate a longer term issue based on my experience. I am much older now and while still capable of reacting violently it would only be in the rarest of occasions but given the option I would error on the side of a physical response than trying to talk my way out of it.
    I hate this answer and there is nothing superheroesque about it. No one ever wins a fight but being known as someone that can handle themselves in a violent way in my view did significantly reduce the times I needed to prove it. And lastly, I was never a bully. I always minded my own business but I never walked away from a fight. I hate that answer too.

  68. 68
    noxiousnan

    When I started reading comments I figured I had a very non-violent life, and I still do. But reminders here have shown me there’s more than I think:

    • Threat of violence kept me from being bullied by some kids and kept my friend from same in one instance. – problem solved (some bullies never persuaded by the threat though)
    • A persistant acquaintance couldn’t keep his hands off me so I slammed a metal tool I was holding across his knuckles – problem solved
    • Attacked by a stranger on street and I burned him repeatedly in the face with my cigarette while screaming bloody murder until he ran away – problem solved, but reaction not necessarily recommended (total adrenalin rush with no thinking involved).

    So…violence works sometimes on the violent? I would surmise from the responses that violence is more often used successfully as children, and almost exclusively as a defense against violence (I hear you calling, James Tiptree Jr).

  69. 69
    Socio-gen, something something...

    Caine:

    All that said, I hardly go around looking for an excuse to use it, in the manner violence is typically glorified in our culture.

    Same here. It’s my absolute last resort, saved for those times I can’t talk or run my way out of danger.

    mouthyb:

    Because we all know women aren’t violent and should never be in a situation where they have to defend themselves.

    Of course. We must have done something to cause someone to use violence against us because “ladylike” women are never endangered, so it’s our fault that we’re forced to defend ourselves.

  70. 70
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    mouthyb:

    One of the problems with trying to communicate with people who don’t have the background is that they don’t “get” discussing violence in a matter-of-fact way, without the horror and incredulity and moral condemnation that they bring to the conversation. So they will often mistake some avenues of discussion for “glorifying violence”. I know I caught a lot of shit here and elsewhere for being frank about the fact that I openly carried a handgun for self-defense, and not behaving like a “responsible” gun owner. But from my perspective, the “responsible” behavior sounded like something that upper-class white folks in nice communities do with the gun that they never really expect to shoot because there’s not really any crime in their neighborhood and they have a good security system, and then convince other upper-class white folks who have never touched a gun is the only proper way to handle a weapon that you’re never going to handle anyways.

    Sometimes the threat of violence is enough. The houses across the street from mine were flophouses where people would live so they could walk to the drug rehab for court-appointed testing every week. There were break-ins and armed robberies and gunshots nearby on the weekends and the cops called over one sort of violence or another every 2-3 days the whole 14 months I lived there. I’m a short overweight old guy, and I was living in a big house with just me and my wife, we had two cars where a lot of people had no cars, and the first they see of us is a moving crew carrying our professionally packed stuff into the house. We were such a huge target, but we quickly went from “that house with all the stuff in it” to “that house where they guy has a loaded gun on his hip day and night.” There’s no question that the neighborhood knew, and while an absence of crime directed at me isn’t absolute evidence that the gun had anything to do with it, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume so considering the amount of crime in the neighborhood in general and my street in particular.

  71. 71
    waydude

    As a child, a few bullying incidents, nothing much. Being a small kid, sometimes you had to show you couldn’t be pushed around. Once in high school, most of my friends shot up over one summer while I just slowly grew to my current 5’9″. One in particular liked to push me around until I hit him in front of everyone right in the chest. Not just a hit, but a push too, right back into the lockers and he got a locker handle in his back as well. He just said ‘oh’, and I thought, ‘oh boy’, but then nothing. Never bothered me again.
    Years later, when I was a cook, one of the other cooks, who had an alcoholic problem which i didn’t understand, popped me in the face for some perceived slight. It was so surprising, didn’t really hurt, but made me so angry. However, due to years of martial arts training, and not desiring to start a fight next to hot stoves and a giant deep fryer, I walked away until I calmed down. Then I came back and talked it out. one of the most difficult moments of self control I ever went through. I have had similar encounters over the years, angry people with issues I don’t understand, but I ‘won’ all those fights by not fighting. To be clear, none of those incidents were worth fighting over. Most things aren’t.
    One other incident in which violence could have been used perhaps effectively as an adult was on the ‘L’ when I lived in Chicago for a few years(that’s the subway and eLevated rail). In a crowded car one morning going to work, some scumbag was using the crowdedness as an excuse to rub up against a woman with his crotch against her posterior. Just enough to get his thrills, but not so much as to be actively harassing her. It was completely obvious though, the woman couldn’t do much, she was trying to move away, while he would keep ‘oops’ bumping against her. I wasn’t sure what to do at the time, now I would call that shit out and loudly shame the asshole in public, so I just ‘oops’ accidentally slammed into him and forced my self between them when the car made a rocking turn.
    A better solution could have been had, my solution at the time worked for the moment, but what about all the other times when this shithead is riding the rail? In this case would violence have prevented this from happening to someone else, is the possibility of getting attacked an effective deterrent?

  72. 72
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    Improbable Joe: It is complicated, isn’t it? Sometimes when I talk to people about violence (and I rarely do for these reasons), I am responded to with some seriously magical thinking:

    a) You invite violence by possessing instruments of violence.

    Right… and if I were a good person, of course I would never have experienced violence. Man, I was just a horrible person as a toddler, or a mass murderer in another life or something.

    b) Maybe this is just karma/repayment/you being a bad person.

    And the universe is paying attention to me personally because I’m important and it can be personified?

    c) You contribute to an atmosphere of violence.

    This one boils me. The environment is already violent, very violent. Even my currently nice life, in which I get to sleep regularly and typically don’t encounter violence in an explicit form, contains violence. The threats are just better veiled.

    I’m just openly acknowledging that it is rather than relying on being a ‘good enough’ person to make violence not happen to me. I don’t wear my weapons out unless it’s necessary to make a point, such as in the situation you described. I prefer to never mention it, but sometimes it’s worth reminding people with the luxury of not experiencing violence that the violence is there and that being virtuous does not make it disappear.

    d) Violence is something which happens to the poor/PoC.

    You know, presupposing that only poor people or only PoC are the victims of violence (usually because the person assumes those people are just violent and/or deserve violence) is just about the dumbest shit ever. Violence happens. Sometimes it’s absolutely random to the victim (wrong place, wrong time), and there’s no avoiding it (because the perp is not going to be dissuaded by talk). Only paying attention to the poor of PoC when violence occurs is insulting and shitty. There are large parts of the life of poor and PoC that are not focused on violence, and reasoning like this goes a long way to excusing violence toward the poor and PoC.

    e) You just look for violence.

    Sure. I get up every morning and just hope to encounter someone threatening my life, trying to get into my windows or threatening rape. And the universe, of course, pays attention to my intentions.

    Shit just happens sometimes. You can plan, you can try to take as few risks as possible, you can go out of your way to avoid violence, try to be personable and pleasant, and it can still happen.

    Hiding behind privilege and refusing to acknowledge that privilege has something to do with it is super shitty.

  73. 73
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    Socio-gen: Don’t you just LOVE the just world fallacy?

  74. 74
    Anthony K

    It was maybe not my finest hour of thinking things through.

    Free bong tho.

  75. 75
    consciousness razor

    One of the problems with trying to communicate with people who don’t have the background is that they don’t “get” discussing violence in a matter-of-fact way, without the horror and incredulity and moral condemnation that they bring to the conversation.

    Well fuck, Joe, could you tell us what these matters of fact are? It looks to me like the fact is that some people are saying one way of solving certain kinds of problems is with the use of violence. What kinds of problems have violence as a solution? Violence, of course. It’s just fucking amazing that, on this level of analysis, “violence” solves itself, isn’t it?

    But wait — was I supposed to assume violence against good guys like you is bad and violence against those other bad guys is okay? Is that how we should avoid bringing any kind of horror or incredulity or moral condemnation into the conversation? Because otherwise, I don’t know why I’m supposed to treat one act of violence differently than another.

  76. 76
    chigau (違う)

    Why is Bong Tho in prison?

  77. 77
    wondering

    Violence worked very well for me all through grade school. I was picked on for being fat and, as a girl, the boys occasionally tried6 to sexually assault me (as a pack, they’d grab a girl and try to get her pants off). However, I was very big and strong for my age and could generally fight others off. Eventually, they would stop physically going after me – they just resorted to taunting. “Don’t let the fattie catch you, she’ll sit on you and squash you flat”. Or hiss “jelly roll” as I walked past on the school bus. Nonetheless, I hate to think what it would have been like if I had been smaller and weaker or otherwise unable to fight back.

    While in university, I stood 5’6″ and was still fat and strong. I frequently broke up fights outside the 7-11 I worked at. Not because I was bigger than them (obviously) but because I wore steel toed combat boots, stomped about in a very distracting way, had a very loud voice, and could bellow orders in a way that only drill sergeants and the eldest sister of a very large brood can do. Nonetheless, the most important secret to successfully breaking up the fights was getting there before the first punch was thrown, while they were still in the initial pushy-pushy or verbal insult phase of the battle.

  78. 78
    khms

    There’ve been a few (very few) times when violence seems to have helped. There’ve also been a huge amount of situations where violence didn’t help.

    The latter was mostly bullying in school. I’ve been bullied almost all of my time in school. Counter-violence never helped. From that experience, I’m a rather non-violent person; I still remember how proud I was the first (and probably only) time I managed to talk my way out of a bullying situation.

    As an adult, I remember one or two situations where it helped. Violence was already either present or a strong option (IMO) in those situations; and a single, not very strong, hit turned out to be enough to get those situations somewhat under control when nothing else had helped before. (If it hadn’t, I fully expected to be the one hurting the most after it was over. I’ve never been good at fighting, and I was very aware of that at the time.)
    I think one factor that helped in those situations was that, in these situations (just like usually), I had been completely nonviolent, using only talk to resolve the problem, up until the point where I thought I no longer had any chance to avoid violence, just some minimal choice as to what forms it would take. Turns out I had more effect than I expected to have – which at the very least demonstrates that I’m no good judge of these situations.

    Summary: violence is an unreliable and rather bad way to resolve situations; avoid if at all possible. If not possible, at least try at first something that’s more a demonstration of your will to do something than something that will leave damage; some people just need a light shock to get reasonable. If that’s not enough, then ask someone else – that exceeds my level of competence.

  79. 79
    jalyth

    I’ve never hit any person in my life, and that remains true mostly cause I’m 5’10″, broad shouldered, and tough-looking (apparently?). I’m a third generation pacifist, although my mother was abusive til I was 13/14 years old. My family is white and suburban. Because of my ethics and my experience of violence at the hands of my mother, I do not think violence is an answer to anything *except* I will hit your car with my hand, foot, or small metal weight if you brush me back while I’m a pedestrian or bicyclist. Mostly to scare the driver with the noise, but I’ll dent the heck out of a pretty new car if provoked. Also, I have an ability (a weird & specific privilege, to be sure) to charm police officers and the knowledge of what lies to tell them, if a situation ever got out of hand.

  80. 80
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    consciousness razor:

    Thanks for making my point for me… I guess? Like this bit of foolishness from you:

    I don’t know why I’m supposed to treat one act of violence differently than another.

    Really? Because small children understand it, people without advanced degrees or lots of reading about philosophy and ethics get it, but somehow you’re confused? If someone tries to rape another person at knifepoint, and the intended victim gives the rapist a face full of pepper spray, is the intended rape victim more guilty because they committed actual violence before the rapist could carry out what was at that point only the threat of violence? Are all shootings equal, whether it is a hunting accident, during an armed robbery, by the police in response to the armed robbery, and by both sides of a military engagement equally?

    And don’t tell me… you think I’m glorifying violence, right?

  81. 81
    Eris Caffee

    They stayed far away from me, peppering me with rocks and debris, except for one (he got close and I grabbed him and pummelled him to the ground), until I got to the house of the local family I was staying with, and quickly got behind their front gate.

    I’m pretty sure I didn’t handle the situation as well as I could;

    I’m curious to know why you think you should have done things differently. To me it sounds like you did everything right: you did not reward them for their violence towards you by giving them your wallet, you did try to get away and avoided escalating things and only got involved in physical fighting when forced to do so. That sounds like it was exactly the right response in that situation.

  82. 82
    fullyladenswallow

    That would be an interesting challenge: a double-blind study of the outcomes of bully face-punching.

    As most others have related so far on this thread, a few childhood occurrences- some defenses/retaliations worked, others did not. I do distinctly remember going out to play in the front yard one day when I was about six. There was this neighbor kid across the street being confronted by a slightly larger boy. The interesting thing was that the smaller kid’s father was several yards behind his son, yelling at him repeatedly to “go ahead, hit him!” The kid was clearly conflicted over this, trying to weigh as to whether or not the situation called for retribution. I don’t recall now if any blows were exchanged but watching the urging of the kid’s dad left me with an odd feeling. Too bad I couldn’t have hit the “freeze frame” button, walked over to the kid’s dad and asked him exactly what was going through his mind at this point.

  83. 83
    iiandyiiii

    Eris @81-

    Perhaps you’re right- but I might have avoided any sort of violence whatsoever if I had given them my wallet as soon as they asked for money. Instinctively and emotionally I “feel” like I did the right thing, but at the same time I don’t feel like it would be right for me to tell anyone to behave like I did (unless the confrontation is unavoidable). Also, the distinctly pleasurable feeling I had afterwards now makes me feel kind of weird (and perhaps a little off- it doesn’t seem like a good thing that I enjoyed physically defeating what were very likely underprivileged youths).

  84. 84
    consciousness razor

    Really? Because small children understand it, people without advanced degrees or lots of reading about philosophy and ethics get it, but somehow you’re confused?

    I don’t think I’m confused. That was rhetorical, which is obvious when put into the context which you omitted and even cut off the beginning of the sentence. You’re confused, if you want to avoid any talk of morality.

    If you want to make this about anti-intellectualism, we could do that — you and me and these people:

    solidly middle-class college educated backgrounds, who spend their evenings sipping wine in their study and reading philosophy and literature while the common folk are drinking cheap draft beer and listening to the jukebox in some smoky bar

    That’s quite a description. Let’s not forget the Marines, while we’re at it. I happen to like beer, wine, reading and listening to jukeboxes.* But I don’t think any of that’s relevant, and I don’t think it helps your case.

    *Disclaimer: I am not large, nor do I contain multitudes.

    If someone tries to rape another person at knifepoint, and the intended victim gives the rapist a face full of pepper spray, is the intended rape victim more guilty because they committed actual violence before the rapist could carry out what was at that point only the threat of violence?

    More guilty than what/who? The person attempting to rape them? No. There’s nothing wrong, which they would be guilty of doing — why would you imply they’re guilty of something?

    I have no problem with self-defense. I do have a problem acting as if that were a bare fact with no moral component, because somehow everyone except you — or especially pointy-headed rich intellectuals — just doesn’t know these mysterious facts you have at your disposal.

    Are all shootings equal, whether it is a hunting accident, during an armed robbery, by the police in response to the armed robbery, and by both sides of a military engagement equally?

    No. Why jump to all these conclusions? You can read what I actually said and respond to that.

    And don’t tell me… you think I’m glorifying violence, right?

    I think you’re justifying self-defense very badly.

  85. 85
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Perhaps you’re right- but I might have avoided any sort of violence whatsoever if I had given them my wallet as soon as they asked for money.

    No, you would have taught them/reinforced that they can get money by threatening violence, causing more violence down the line.

  86. 86
    Eris Caffee

    iiandyiiii

    Also, the distinctly pleasurable feeling I had afterwards now makes me feel kind of weird (and perhaps a little off- it doesn’t seem like a good thing that I enjoyed physically defeating what were very likely underprivileged youths).

    The way you initially described it, comparing it to athletics, made it sound like it was just the normal adrenlaine rush you get from any strenous physical activity. I’d also say that it is perfectly OK to feel good about escaping from people who are trying to hurt you. I imagine that a caveman escaping from a tiger would have felt the same way! :)

    If you are saying that you enjoyed hurting them, then that’s another thing entirely, but that’s not the impression I get from you.

  87. 87
    zmidponk

    There is only once I can think of in my life where violence helped, but, even then, it wasn’t the whole solution. When I was a kid, my mother suffered the fallout from my father’s drinking problem, in the form of physical and psychological abuse. When I turned 14, my father decided I was old enough to get some of the same treatment (after all, beating wives is OK, but beating young kids is just WRONG(!)). However, this only happened once. The very first time he turned on me and started hitting me, my mother punched him as hard as she could right in the back of his head, picked him up bodily and literally threw him out of the house. She then told him the only way he was getting back in our house was by stepping over her dead body. It was that ultimatum, combined with the surprise of the sudden violent resistance she offered that caused him to conclude it was better to simply leave. That was the last day my father spent in our house.

    As for media depictions of violence solving problems, it seems to me that this is because, in essence, movies, games, etc, are escapism. In real life, solutions are rarely as straightforward as simply applying violence in the right direction – it’s usually much more complicated and messy. As such, it makes sense that the kind of fantasies depicted in movies and games are scenarios where the solutions are so simple and straightforward, where you off the bad guy and his minions, get the girl, then ride off into the sunset.

  88. 88
    Socio-gen, something something...

    Joe @ 70:

    I’ve been kind of wrestling with how to respond to this. Part of me is feeling really defensive right now, so…

    One of the problems with trying to communicate with people who don’t have the background is that they don’t “get” discussing violence in a matter-of-fact way, without the horror and incredulity and moral condemnation that they bring to the conversation.

    I grew up in rural freakin’ Pennsylvania. I have zero experience with what experts would call “street violence,” so, when people who have experienced it start talking about it, I will probably express horror and incredulity, to some degree. My best friend’s step-dad grew up in Weehauken NJ. He talks about walking to his Catholic school as a kindergartener carrying a bicycle chain and a pen knife behind his tie for protection. He grew up with family and Family, if ya know what I mean, so he talks very matter-of-factly about forms of violence that I can’t begin to imagine.

    But what I’m feeling here is a sense that, unless people have experienced what you’ve experienced (or similar environments), their opinions and experiences aren’t as important or as necessary to conversations about reducing violence. That we should sit over here in the corner and let those who’ve experienced “real” violence do the talking. (Again, this is how *I’m* perceiving it.) Especially this:

    But from my perspective, the “responsible” behavior sounded like something that upper-class white folks in nice communities do with the gun that they never really expect to shoot because there’s not really any crime in their neighborhood and they have a good security system, and then convince other upper-class white folks who have never touched a gun is the only proper way to handle a weapon that you’re never going to handle anyways.

    Again, rural Pennsylvania, in a county where a third of the population lives in poverty and another third is struggling to stay over the line. So, we know poor, okay? We don’t have a lot of “upper class nice communities” (though we do have mostly white folks).

    However, no one carried guns except law enforcement or during hunting season. Walking around with a gun on your hip is considered irresponsible behavior by the vast majority of people there who will never think twice about bashing you over the head with a beer bottle if you piss them off on Friday night. No doubt this is in part because open carry is illegal in PA and concealed carry permits are difficult to get.

    Most of the violence I experienced happened behind closed doors. A lot of what I witnessed was school yard brawls that ended with ambulances, bar fights with the occasional drug buy gone sour, or sexual assaults of varying degrees. But murders and gun crimes are so rare that we’ve had to have special prosecutors come in because our DA’s office isn’t equipped to handle them.

    So, does that make my experiences less valid than yours? Does it mean I can’t participate in conversations about violence and reducing/combating it because I’ve never had it as bad?

    Also, in discussing gender. Middle class women are not exempted from violence. Domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault are as much an issue in middle- and upper-class homes as it is in lower-class ones. And I really resent the hell out of the idea that being middle-class is all you need to protect you from violence, because again, that often puts the blame on women for the violence they experience. Are they exempt or less likely to experience certain kinds of violence, yes. But not all violence. Not to mention that it seems to create a heirarchy of “real” violence and “violence but…”

    One last thing, going back to this:

    One of the problems with trying to communicate with people who don’t have the background is that they don’t “get” discussing violence in a matter-of-fact way…

    This smacks of every feminism/rape thread here where we’ve been told we’re too emotional and need to be calmer.

  89. 89
    billhaines

    “Have you resolved any conflicts by taking out your opposition, just destroying them to remove the obstacle to your life or happiness?”

    I don’t know if these qualify as ‘destroying’ but…

    …an older brother who regularly taunted me and threatened violence, I finally smashed in the head with a coffee table while he was being his usual obnoxious drunken self…

    …a high-school bully whose creativity with insults on the fly surpassed my own, I eventually slammed into a stairwell wall and threatened with a pocketknife to the throat…

    …a mean drunk screaming curses at a pizzeria cashier who was only trying to get him what he’d ordered, I kicked in the crotch when he came after me for telling him to shut up…

    and there are other examples but those were the ones that came to mind first.

    “If you did use violence to fix a personal problem, did it work?”

    Yes, in those three instances: my brother never taunted nor threatened me again, that bully actually apologized a few weeks later and became rather less of a douchebag afterward, and that drunk ended up arrested and I never saw him again. Other instances had less successful results, but as Robert Heinlein wrote: “Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.” This doesn’t mean it’s the only way, nor the best, and certainly not the first one of choice — but sometimes it’s the only option that will work. The trick is figuring that out correctly before resorting to it. :(

  90. 90
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Socio-gen, I think you’re reading me exactly backwards.

    When you say this:

    This smacks of every feminism/rape thread here where we’ve been told we’re too emotional and need to be calmer.

    … I want to scream because that’s kind of what I’m saying about threads involving self-defense, that people are telling me (and you, and mouthyb, and others to various extents) that we’re not being rational and we need to be more civilized and not resort to violence. I have never been raped, and so I would never in a million years presume to tell a rape victim how to deal with being raped… and at one point I was stupid enough to insist on dictating self-defense to victims of rape and sexual assault. It took me awhile to see the reason why it was so stupid…

    … and part of it was threads where people would tell me that I was wrong and bad and part of the problem of violence in America for my choice of self-defense. I was told to get better locks, better security systems, move to a better neighborhood. The same sort of asshole victim-blaming that I was doing by telling sexual-assault victims to get guns.

    If you’re safe, and you always have felt safe, where would you get off telling people who feel unsafe which ways of defending themselves are valid? Growing up in rural PA is different from growing up in Harlem, or living in the suburbs of Daytona Beach, or Mayberry, or the worst neighborhood in a crime-ridden city, or now where I am in the suburbs again. I wouldn’t recommend the same level of self-defense in each place, but I also wouldn’t feel like I could decide for anyone else what their personal comfort level is or should be.

    I know class privilege is still a mostly-unexamined sticking point even for the social justice warriors here, and I hate to derail by bringing it up even when it is appropriate.

  91. 91
    iiandyiiii

    Eris @86- the first interpretation is right, I think- I didn’t enjoy hurting them, but I did enjoy “winning”, and quite a bit. It wasn’t just the escape, though- I think I wouldn’t have gotten as much pleasure as I did if I had just outrun them- it was winning the physical confrontation that gave me the high.

  92. 92
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    And BTW, in case anyone is confused and hasn’t heard me say it before:

    Carrying a gun for 14 months was fucking hell, it left me perpetually depressed and angry and resentful because I felt constantly unsafe and the gun was a constant reminder of that fact. I didn’t feel macho or like a badass, I just felt sad and pissed off at the whole situation. Now I’ve moved into a better neighborhood and a better situation, and the gun is locked up and I’ll probably wind up selling it and feel a million times better for doing so.

    All those times that I fought when I was a kid? Even when I would win, I would feel sick about it for days. And when I was ganged up on and really beaten up, I felt terrorized by the experience, I would have nightmares for weeks. I felt… I guess the best way to describe it is I felt like I could have been erased, like someone had the power to make me disappear never to return. I guess as an answer to the second part of the question, about violence in the media… maybe violence is portrayed that way because people who have been victimized see it as wish fulfillment, and even as a way to deal with the trauma of violence in their own lives.

  93. 93
    Gene

    I was bullied by two kids in 5th grade. I punched one of them in the nose and then they both stopped. So, in my particular case, that did work. Luckily.

  94. 94
    Stacy

    If you’re safe, and you always have felt safe, where would you get off telling people who feel unsafe which ways of defending themselves are valid? Growing up in rural PA is different from growing up in Harlem, or living in the suburbs of Daytona Beach, or Mayberry, or the worst neighborhood in a crime-ridden city, or now where I am in the suburbs again. I wouldn’t recommend the same level of self-defense in each place, but I also wouldn’t feel like I could decide for anyone else what their personal comfort level is or should be.

    I know class privilege is still a mostly-unexamined sticking point even for the social justice warriors here, and I hate to derail by bringing it up even when it is appropriate

    QFT

  95. 95
    Socio-gen, something something...

    Joe:
    I see. I was reading it completely wrong. (Sorry about that!)

    I absolutely agree that, when people are talking about precautions they take for their own safety, they’re told they’re paranoid, living in fear, and not being rational — when in fact they’re being coldly rational about potential threats and their potential responses.

  96. 96
    consciousness razor

    If you’re safe, and you always have felt safe, where would you get off telling people who feel unsafe which ways of defending themselves are valid?

    Are you saying that the people in a particular situation are the only ones who can possibly give any input about what would be the right thing to do? Where did you get that idea?

    I mean, I’ve never murdered anyone. So, where do I get off telling people which ways of murdering someone are ethical and which aren’t? How presumptuous! Unless I was the one doing the murdering in that particular situation, nobody else can tell me whether or not I should have done something else.

    Growing up in rural PA is different from growing up in Harlem, or living in the suburbs of Daytona Beach, or Mayberry, or the worst neighborhood in a crime-ridden city, or now where I am in the suburbs again. I wouldn’t recommend the same level of self-defense in each place, but I also wouldn’t feel like I could decide for anyone else what their personal comfort level is or should be.

    Okay, but those differences certainly don’t mean “anything goes,” right?

    And we’re not just talking about a “personal comfort level,” are we? I thought it was about what we could do to prevent actual violence, or when it’s otherwise okay to defend oneself/others with violence (which is not “preventing violence”).

  97. 97
    Stacy

    I am a big fan of Valerie Tarico (I once recommended her for FtB, when the network was new and somebody–either PZ or Ed–asked for recommendations.) But she’s on the wrong track here. There’s no evidence that violent entertainment causes or is even correlated with real life violence.

    Violent entertainment is a harmless way for people to indulge and deal with their own fears and conflicts. A good film or story works stirs us on a primal level–it isn’t a primer on how to respond to real life situations.

  98. 98
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    I don’t think that it is derailing to talk about class (or the constitution of whiteness, or gender, or the experiences of PoC, or the awareness of violence, etc) in a thread about using violence to solve problems. I think violence affects all of the above dimensions of experience. It’s weird to discuss violence without those things.

  99. 99
    Wild old caveman, now less rancid

    I haven’t intentionally* hit anybody since I was 15 – that was the school bully and he didn’t bother me again. I know that this wasn’t the best way to deal with the situation but I didn’t have time to think it through and although it worked for me on this occasion I wouldn’t have done it if I had time to think it through.

    30 years later and I have found that being confident is usually enough deterrent to stop people threatening me, being big and ugly helps too.

    As others have stated above, the media is full of violence because that’s the easy way to add drama to a story.

    * I have accidentally hurt people while sparring and dancing ( don’t try to combine the two)

  100. 100
    matthewhodson

    How did that threat to cut people who cried poe go in the last post?

  101. 101
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    I think, too, that it’s not just class, race or gender. I also think it’s the experience of knowing (not just intellectually acknowledging, but having the experience of being utterly convinced) that you are not important, and that no higher power will step in and save your ass from dying.

    For me, that was sort of a turning point. I grew up in a violent enough house, and then I was homeless and had the experience of knowing that no one, and I mean NO ONE would care if I died or lift a finger to save me. My family had disowned (and legally emancipated) me, and no one would feel obligated to see if I was okay, or to notice when I nearly starved to death, or when that pimp locked me in his place, or if someone killed me because they could. It wouldn’t make the news, no one would mourn, no one would remember, it wouldn’t make a damn difference in the world, or the way it functions.

    That’s a unique sort of loneliness, and I think it marks a very distinct line in how one perceives violence. If you think you’ll matter and it will enable others to help you, you’re probably more reluctant to use violence, because it seems so unnecessary.

  102. 102
    golkarian

    I think this post might explain why it’s such a problem in the US. The revolution, the civil war, the US has many examples of violence working. Whereas in Canada we achieved (for the most part) independence without violence, and what violent rebellions we did have were dismal failures (the rebellion of 1837 for example).

  103. 103
    perplexed

    When confronted in a violent situation you…
    1) faint
    2) cry
    3) succumb
    4) talk
    5) puke
    6) react violently
    7) intellectualize why violence is bad thing and write a dissertation…while you get the shit beat out of you.
    I’m not trying to argue that violence to prevent violence is good but it is a fact of life everywhere. Better to be prepared and never need to react than not be prepared at all. I am not referring to the use of firearms or deadly force. Chances are if someone pulls a gun or knife and you are in the wrong place at the wrong time you get hurt or you get dead unless you are James Bond.

  104. 104
    mnb0

    “I hauled off and punched a grade-school bully in the face”
    Did the same. It helped. In once particular case I have advised to do the same – I mentioned the possible consequence of getting punished as well; fortunately for the boy that did not hapen – and it worked too.
    Still I hated and hate violence, even if I have to use it to stop kids fighting (most teenage girls btw – I live in a strange place).

    “why is our media so saturated …”
    No idea, but I’m a European cynic who thinks such movies utterly boring. I prefer action movies where the hero is about as dirty as the villain, with lots of character building for both.

  105. 105
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I grew up in rural freakin’ Pennsylvania. I have zero experience with what experts would call “street violence,” so, when people who have experienced it start talking about it, I will probably express horror and incredulity, to some degree. My best friend’s step-dad grew up in Weehauken NJ. He talks about walking to his Catholic school as a kindergartener carrying a bicycle chain and a pen knife behind his tie for protection. He grew up with family and Family, if ya know what I mean, so he talks very matter-of-factly about forms of violence that I can’t begin to imagine.

    But what I’m feeling here is a sense that, unless people have experienced what you’ve experienced (or similar environments), their opinions and experiences aren’t as important or as necessary to conversations about reducing violence. That we should sit over here in the corner and let those who’ve experienced “real” violence do the talking. (Again, this is how *I’m* perceiving it.)

    …um, isn’t that basically what we say about every other form of privilege?

  106. 106
    Patrick McGinnes

    Well the reason why we have violent movies and video games is because it is something we repress in civilized society. We don’t exact revenge by going out, killing people, and then shrinking their heads down as something we adorn ourselves with as trophies.

    They give frustrated people an outlet. Spawn tries to use violence and even intellect to defeat questions but some of his violent tactics cause more harm than good. Spice and Wolf is an anime where most of the problems are solved with math, persuasion, and getting out of town quick enough.

    There’s also a low budget movie called Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog that looks down upon the violence where the super hero is a complete douche’ bag. I think the reason why we look to violence is because it is an easy answer where intellect often requires far more effort, thinking, concentration, and people are just too busy to reason things.

    I like games like Portal, I like games like Borderlands 2, I often level characters quite a bit on WoW without having to do any fighting use gathering professions for exp, I think there’s room for both in a healthy society.

    America hasn’t been a healthy society in probably decades.

  107. 107
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Patrick:
    We repress it?
    One look at the violence of American football and how well that is accepted versus a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ tells me violent desires are not repressed in the US.
    For another example, look at gun violence.
    For another, look at bullying.

    The US represses sex, not violence.

  108. 108
    Matrim

    Yes, violence has been effective for me several times. How many depends on your definition of violence. If you interpret violence to be only applicable to living creatures (people, etc.), then probably a dozen or so time in my life I was able to (or forced to) resort to violence and successfully overcame an obstacle because of it. There are other instances where it wasn’t so effective, so it’s by no means perfect. If you interpret violence to include objects, then I can’t begin to tell you how many times its worked.

    Still, the major point is violence against people. I’ve been in a few fights, some that could’ve been avoided and some that couldn’t. I’ve used threats of violence to great effect too. I had developed a bit of a reputation as a scrapper at school (initially I was seen as a target for a few reasons; I was a nerd, I was a male cheerleader, I was an artist; after winning the first few fights I was seen as less a target and more someone to be wary of) and I used that reputation several times to defuse some situations. I once deterred a mugger by brandishing a bayonet at them (as for why I was carrying the bayonet at the time, it’s a long story).

    Violence is useful, extremely so in some instances. However, I will say this, I haven’t used violence for any reason other than sport (wrestling, boxing, screwing around with friends, stuff like that) in almost ten years. There have been a few times that I thought it might come to it, but it hasn’t. I don’t think that the idea of violence as a tool for achieving goals is the problem, it’s the glorification of violence. And I’m not entirely sure what to do about that. I’m not prepared to tell people they should never use violence, but I think violence should be avoided unless necessary. When I look back at the violence I’ve perpetrated I find that some of it was needed and some of it was excessive. I think perhaps that we should focus on teaching when violence should and shouldn’t be used and what level of violence is necessary. If you see someone getting beaten mercilessly in the street, violence might be warranted. If you see someone that you think looks shifty, it’s not. I don’t know how well I’m articulating my point, but I have to cut it off, I’m typing this on my phone and ever since the site when to the new layout it’s been hell on my RAM, there’s about a five second delay between typing and the characters appearing and I really don’t want it to crash and lose all this.

  109. 109
    xyllawasanarchetype

    I used violence to counter bullying like so many others here. It worked because I was a tiny girl who didn’t speak to anyone, but I could turn into a shrieking banshee and grab whatever was handy when pushed far enough. But beating up boys eventually became too much fun, and I started instigating trouble. Eventually the girlfriend of one of the boys I punched got me alone in the bathroom and convinced me to knock that shit off.

    As an adult I’ve avoided physical trouble fairly well. I must have a hell of a good glare-I’ve discouraged fights several times just by staring the other person down. The most violent thing that ever happened was being robbed at gunpoint, and there wasn’t much that I could do.

  110. 110
    darwinharmless

    Sad to say, violence has worked for me. The culture I grew up in was very tolerant of bullies. I was taught by my father that I had to stand up to a bully, even if I was going to get beaten. I never picked a fight. But I learned early that if somebody was threatening me I might as well fight them, because that was the only way to get it to stop. In grade school a kid sucker punched me in the solar plexis. That knocked the wind out of me, and really hurt, but it was a big mistake on his part. That afternoon we were being taught precision marching and he ended up in the line in front of me. The PE teacher turned his back to demonstrate a series of steps. I wore buster brown oxfords with hard soles. I came down on his achilles heel like I was trying to break a stick of firewood. He was suddenly rolling around screming. I stepped back in line and tried to look innocent. Nobody said anything, and that kid became my best friend. He never tried to hurt me again.

    In highschool Social Studies class, I was seated next to the wall, but surrounded by the pool hall jocks, the guys who were good at sports and hung out at the pool hall after school. The teacher left the room. The kid across from me started ragging on me. He said to the kid behind me, “I don’t like him. Hit him for me.” So the kid behind me tapped me on the back of the head, more or less as a joke, fairly lightly. I turned around and smashed him in the face. He jumped up faster than I could believe possible and nailed me in the nose twice before I could get out of my seat. Then I back him up down to the window getting a couple more licks in before he kicked me in the balls. Somebody yelled “teacher’s coming” and we both ran and sat down. That was the last time anybody hit me in highschool.

    Kids are assholes. The only way to stop being bullied is to be ready to die to stop it. Once you get that through your head, then yes. Violence works.

    Bullies are almost always cowards. Show them enough spine to make their actions dangerous to them and they will stop. And if they don’t, at least you get your self respect. So a question for PZ. You say punching that grade school bully didn’t change anything. Did that bully bother you after that? I’m guessing he didn’t.

  111. 111
    Crudely Wrott

    Answer to first question. Yes. I once cold cocked a kid who had beat my younger brother’s face into a pulp. I only hit him once. Knocked him clean out. He was asleep before he hit the floor. Then I ran to the boy’s room and heaved up my breakfast. But. Neither he or any other kid ever fucked with my brother again. Case closed.

    Answer to second question. The reason that we are constantly treated to exploding bodies and cars and helicopters and buildings is because those effects are so easy to do and Hollywood has a surfeit of so called special effects professionals who make up a significant portion of the movie industry work force. Hey, some plastic jugs half full of gasoline, some det cord and a few wires, what can’t you blow up? It is really a question of habit and revenue, not to mention lack of imagination or real creativity. It’s just so easy to do the same thing over and over, especially when the “consumer” constantly coughs up the shekels.

    But it’s also a matter of protecting jobs! Whatever would these experts do if Hollywood started making movies that didn’t feature explosions in every other scene? Why, just think of their children! They’d be starving or worse, they’d have to turn to turning tricks or blowing shit up. Oh, the humanity!

  112. 112
    SQB

    Violence only works for the winner. I was bullied through primary school and into high school. I rarely won, so it didn’t work for me. I’m surprised every time I hear stories (like to ones above) about bullies backing off when hit hard enough. To me, Karate Kid is a fairy tale.
    And on the subject of violence in movies and other media, I find it hard to believe that it doesn’t have some influence. Not that it causes violence directly, but if nothing else, I’d say that it does promote and reinforce a culture of violence.

  113. 113
    dvizard

    Besides the question of whether violence solves problems, action movies have a completely different issue: the “good” faction (e.g. a father trying to save his daughter) fights the “bad” faction (a bunch of bad guys), the good faction wins, OK – but usually a few cities are destroyed in the process and a ton of people die. Nobody ever thinks about them, and they are just “stuff which is blown up along the way.”
    Which begs the question of how “good” the good faction really is.

  114. 114
    azgeo

    When I was in fifth grade my friends and I were enjoying recess how we always did (throwing sand clods at each other). It was all in good fun. Some other kids we didn’t know asked to join in, and we let them. Well, despite explaining to them that it was just a game and the only thing we were allowed to do was throw the sand one of them took exception to me hitting him with a clod. He started shoving me so I tried to walk away up onto the playset. He kept following me and yelling and shoving me. I should point out that in 5th grade I was skrawny and weak while this guy was taller stronger and older than me. Finally I got mad and faced him. The next time he tried to shove me I grabbed his arm and twisted it around as hard as I could. Then I shoved him off the play equipment and he fell about four feet into the sand. He was unhurt but never bothered me again, so yeah I’d say violence solved that problem.

    Of course some problems are solvable by violence. However, most of the problems solvable by violence are problems of violence themselves. Injecting violence into a nonviolent situation is rarely the solution. If you haven’t encountered any of these situations then consider yourself fortunate to have escaped them.

    In regards to violence in culture: Today’s culture is, if anything, less violent than most cultures throughout history. Sure, the films show the blood a bit more, but I doubt that has any real impact on people. Humans are just naturally violent animals. That’s just the way things are for our species.

    As far as I can tell, the fact we’re taking notice of the violence in media isn’t due to an increase in things promoting violence; it’s due to an improvement in our natures.

  115. 115
    AussieMike

    Perhaps if one was about to be the recipient of a rape attempt and they were trained or felt they had an opportunity to use violence to escape I would certainly condone it. It may not work, it may make it worse, but it could be all the difference between getting away and one of the world’s most awful experiences. And shit, you can’t tell that person they shouldn’t have tried.

    Personally, when I was in grade 9, one of the boys decided it would be fun to punch me in the arm several times a day while telling me how much he hated me. Why? I have no idea, he wasn’t in my class and I didn’t associate with him. But he did it and I was really getting the shits with it. I put up with it for months thinking he would get board of it and he would give up but no. So one day I just turned around and punched him in the face. This startled him for sure but now his reputation was on the line so he faced off against me and wanted a full on fight. I thought my heart would burst through my chest I was so nervous. But then I did it again and he fell on his ass and stared crying. All his asshole supporters were asking if he was OK and telling him to get up again and go for it. He didn’t, and never bothered me again. That was the first real time I understood how to take care of myself and own my personal space. I am not a fighter but can easily use words and language to stand my ground and recognise early when ts time to leave or defuse a situation well before it gets out of hand. In this case it did solve my problem.

  116. 116
    steffp

    No. But I don’t live in the US.
    Grew up in Northern Europe, and didn’t experience any corporal violence worth talking about at home or at school. Seems I don’t expect any violence at all. Later I worked in North Africa and Pakistan, rather violent societies, with every man armed and drunk on machismo. But being openly peaceful and non-violent was a strategy that kept me out of any dangerous situations. Being kind of a comedian helps. Machos strangely enough respect the courage it takes to resist open hostilities, if it’s done in a way that allows both sides to save face. A joke on one’s own expense is often helpful.
    I was pretty astonished how many posts here are about the response to open violence. I’m in my sixties, and lived in quite a few failed states, but I have never ever been assaulted, mugged, or injured. Zero incidents. There were instances, though, when threats were ritually exchanged. But that was a question of verbal and a-verbal communication, not the confrontation with unconditional brutality so many posters here seem to have experienced…

  117. 117
    broboxley OT

    In the late 1970′s early 1980′s I worked as a bouncer at a few really rough bars in Anchorage AK. Violence should be only used as a last resort. Unfortunately sometimes it is the only resort. One has to be internally aware of peoples tone, mannerisms and background to do the best you can to cool a situation and talk people down. Sometimes that doesn’t work and you end up in a violent mess. Other times you can see immediately that talking wont solve anything so take what ever means is necessary to get the aggressor incapacitated without getting hurt yourself. It’s not a good way to have to live. Unfortunately I grew up with a lot of violence around and to me and sort of learned to cope. I haven’t had to personally deal with any for a few years but still carefully evaluate everyone I interact with.

  118. 118
    broboxley OT

    Steffp #116

    Machos strangely enough respect the courage it takes to resist open hostilities, if it’s done in a way that allows both sides to save face. A joke on one’s own expense is often helpful.

    QFT

  119. 119
    SQB

    I think we’re missing the point here. All examples we can come up with, are of violence as a response to (the threat of) violence.
    Did anyone ever get that wanted promotion because they resorted to violence? Did being violent ever help anyone win someone’s heart?

  120. 120
    broboxley OT

    SQB #119 not sure why we are missing the point? Who was it made by?
    The only time resorting to violence to get a promotion is usually associated with gangs

  121. 121
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    SQB: Yes, actually. I dated a woman who felt much more comfortable because she knew that I would act immediately to defend her and us.

    And another time, in academia: there was a man in my last department who seemed to think that attempt to blackmail me and/or force me into sex was going to work. It finally stopped after I threatened to do a few choice things to him, because he knew I was capable and would do what I said I would, after trying to talk him out of it and being ignored. I gained, you know, being able to worry less when I went to class (the guy was ex-military). I also used to escort people to class and department events who would not otherwise have been able to go to those events, because they knew my reputation and felt protected with me there.

    And another time: I worked in a restaurant kitchen with an increasing number of ex-cons. One of the men who worked there felt like I had insulted his manhood, picked up a knife and threatened to stab me. I turned my back to him, picked up a bigger knife and told him he could have the first shot. When he saw my back (and seeming unconcern) and the knife I picked up, he backed off. The rest of the ex-cons were much, MUCH nicer after that. I gained working in peace.

    Or the time I foiled someone trying to push their way into my apartment through me and the screen door by going for my pocket. He didn’t know there was nothing in it.

    Or the time I pretended that the baseball bat I slept with was a shotgun when two men tried to break into my apartment through my window. I poked the end through and threatened to blow their brains out (it was dark).

    Or the time I got a job out of that last academic department by threatening to spam governmental agencies with sexual harassment complaints about that department until they fixed the situation in the department. (They refused to fix it and I did, in fact, spam agencies with complaints and generally act like a PITA, by organizing people who had been harassed and escorting them to go complain. The job was, essentially, a bribe. Didn’t work, just better financed my complaining.)

    And there were times where violence or the threat of violence didn’t work, and they were just as brutal as you might think. And there were times when I froze up because I just couldn’t believe I was finding violence where I was. I’ve found the traditional middle class to be violent, in addition to the poor, and my contact with the wealthy has also been colored by violence. I’d genuinely prefer not to live with any violence, and certainly there’s been less violence, but that appears to be a pipe dream.

    Until that point, I will respond with violence or the threat of violence for the purposes of survival and the defense of myself and the people around me, and hope not to have to.

    But, FYI, sometimes it works just fine.

  122. 122
    Kagehi

    Only time I could ever say that I used “violence”, it was more a case of sending some idiot to the ground, using the same move, over and over, as he got angrier and angrier. He never touched me, I would probably never manage it again, and the only thing he might have gotten is some bruises on his ass, and his ego.

    As for media.. The stupid assed thing about this is… seriously, there isn’t a damn country in the world which makes movies anyone else bothers to buy at all, that doesn’t contain some sort of violence. Japan, and to an extent other countries (the live version of the Blood! anime was, I think, Korean) with their Anime, and the like, probably has the second largest amount of, mostly far more fictional, violence, over the US. And, our media has got to be the biggest export of anything, to the rest of the world. If watching violent films, or playing violent games, was causing this shit, then we would, logically, look more like Somalia, or Syria, than we do, and every other country that buys any of the same media would be headed that direction too.

    So.. Uh… anyone asking the NRA guy(s), why isn’t that happening exactly?

  123. 123
    andrewriding

    My father brought home a number of trophies from karate competitions, likes to talk about successes from his younger years, but still only ever told me a few. In high school he got a reputation early on in high school but ended up just being challenged more frequently for it. In his adult years he stopped a man that had just robbed a local grocery store.

    Beyond that he basically only ever applied it with drunk people in bars, and then as much for his own amusement as any actual problem solving.

    My entire life’s experience with violent problem solving was one incident when I was five when I pushed a bully with both hands, and one incident with a cousin that didn’t spit in my hair a second time. The two recurring problems of youth where I didn’t have enough power to even attempt a violent solution were having a few peers gang up to tease me, generally older boys. When my younger step brother would get involved I was thoroughly tempted to try it anyway but always had the self control to at least think about other solutions.

    @25 frankensteinmonster:
    That’s why we don’t pay police if they’re not meeting a taser quota for the week.
    Rather with police we aim for a monopoly on the ability to perform serious violence, so that they don’t have to use it very often, and especially so that people don’t frequently decide that they “can handle the cops.”

    System isn’t perfect but that’s the concept. Likewise we love violence in the right context, like sports, children’s games, etc, but there are some really specific constraints on the level of violence for each of those. Teenagers throwing a dodgeball at each other is generally viewed as fine but a teenager throwing one at a five year old with the same intensity would be atrocious.

    In the same way most people view police/military force actually being put to use for anything but defense as horrible. Got a little bit of leeway in what counts as defense but we hate the idea of using our military against our own citizens. Few obvious exceptions again but a lot of situations where we would be willing to accept violent solutions but hate police/military power exerted.

    That said I don’t see how you could read this and not pick up that we’ve been asked about personal problems and violence.

    @ 36 PZ Myers
    Nope. I’ve had zero uses for it as an adult. Was always on the nerdier end of the spectrum anyway but I don’t live in a violent area so it isn’t even a choice for me. Going back to the childhood situations if I’d taken to bullying I’d be very bad news for the folks that managed to scare their bullies off- I care about mental domination of opponents much more than any of that viscera so if they made me lose face I would have just found ways to escalate things until they had to bow out.

    Instead of putting that burden on society I just went and developed the tendency such that I only try it in competitive videogames. Even with online communication (like here) I’m extremely conciliatory and haven’t gone beyond the threat of simply being mean to someone in ages.

    @ 56 boskerbonzer
    Verbal aggression has some neurological similarities to physical aggression but to me the term violence just doesn’t apply to the kinds of tongue lashings you can give a person. Throw in even the treat of making it physical and I can call that violence but when you’re only talking about mental scars it is a different category.
    *This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t put any effort into reducing other kinds of harm.

    @ trigger warnings for violence: These seem kind of like a given for the comments here. I’m ok with warning people in general but with this particular trigger- what else would they even expect to find here? Am I missing something about trigger warnings?

  124. 124
    gravityisjustatheory

    Second question: so why is our media so saturated with bloody-minded simple solutions to problems?

    Because that has been the way of storytelling since The Epic of Gilgamesh, and most certainly much longer?

    (Although the interesting thing about Gilgamesh, which I got for Christmas, is that all the random, macho violence in it ends up making things worse as often as it solves problems, and unlike in most other ancient epics, isn’t portrayed as a noble thing in and of itself).

    As for use of violence myself, the only time I can think of (that barely counts as “violence”, IMO) was a time at university. My housemates were holding a party, but I was in my room trying to get some work done. One of their (drunk) guests tried to force his way into my room, and wouldn’t respond to reason, so I gave him a good hard shove with the edge of my hand on one of the sensetive spots in the centre of the chest (I can’t remember where exactly, but it was something I’d recently learned in my martial arts class). That got him out of my room, and he didn’t try to come back in.

    Fortunately I’ve never been in a situation where any greater degree of violence was used/threatened/necessary.

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