Notes on Violence
Understanding why it erupts and what is needed for peace
The Root of Violence: Insecurity
I once thought about violence because I wanted to understand it: why are we violent? No matter what type of violence I thought about, they all came down to the same thing: psychological insecurity. You lash out when you are insecure, when your internal equilibrium is unbalanced and you want to even the scales.
For instance, if you call me a pig, I might laugh. That means your insult has not reached me on a psychological level. But if your insult touches a sore spot, I might kill you.
That’s what violence as a means to acquire justice is about. The scales are uneven and you feel it inside you, so you react with violence as a means to set things right, giving rise to sayings like “an eye for an eye” and “tit for tat”. That’s what vengeance is about — removing the insecurity inside you by meting out violent justice.
So long as one side still feels slighted (insecure), violence will continue. That’s why an eye for an eye ends up in endless casualties, until the toll of the violence is too great for both sides to bear. Like the case of the Capulets and Montagues in Romeo and Juliet. Or the never ending wars in the Middle East.
So the way to create peace is to ensure both sides feel secure.
Masculinity and Violence
That bit about violence stemming from insecurity may explain why violence is more common among men than women.
Our famously fragile male ego. To fortify my ego, I will invent a rocket and go to Mars, I will become the greatest painter in the world, I will chase money with all my strength, I will become famous, I will sleep with a hundred women, I will write huge, thick books, I will do everything I can to ensure I am the biggest, baddest, the best, a man who shall never be forgotten.
Since I am so invested in my ego, imagine what an insult does to me. Men are actually more insecure than women, because we have more to prove. One is not considered a “real man” until he has fulfilled some conditions (these conditions vary between social setting).
A bad economy goes hand in hand with a rise in cases of domestic violence. Men who are unable to provide properly for their families are under constant psychological strain, always insecure — small incidents will have them lashing out.
You also see a rise in violent robberies. Because the thieves aren’t just stealing money — they feel belittled by the affluence of the rich and violence provides an avenue for them to even the scales, to humiliate them.
A lot of men walk around with chips on their shoulders (insecurity). When the chip is really large and the man lacks self control or is just not a civilized individual, he is highly likely to erupt into violence when provoked.
The secure, confident man is calm and at ease. He has self control. It is not easy to provoke him. But of course even with him there are lines he won’t allow you to cross.
Why We Need Rule of Law
Rule of law brings order to a world that would otherwise be full of violence daily. Where there is no law, men shall settle their scores by violence.
Where law prevails, protocols are in place to provide justice to the aggrieved.
When elections are stolen, when police use their power to brutalize the citizens, when the courts do not deliver justice, it makes the citizenry feel disenfranchised. Since the very institutions they trusted to deliver justice and order have failed, what option do the citizenry have but to seek justice by violence?
It’s science. But it’s not rocket science. Even a little child can understand this. Why don’t leaders?
The Insecurity of Cowards
If you want to know violence comes from insecurity, consider that “the strong, silent type” is a man who doesn’t throw punches without provocation. A strong man doesn’t fight unnecessarily. Observe lions or cocks and you will realize that the strongest lion or cock is always quiet and calm and confident. The insecure lion or cock is the one that keeps attacking the others — because he is insecure, he wants the others to remember he is the king.
And that’s why cowards are so dangerous. Because a coward will attack even when he hasn’t been provoked. A coward attacks first and quick, because he isn’t sure he can beat you when you are prepared.
Why Guerilla Warfare is Always Dirty
That’s basically how guerilla warfare works. The guerilla army is a militarily inferior army and knows it.
The best strategy for it is to go into hiding and sporadically attack the bigger army with swift suddenness before retreating into hiding and wait for another opportunity to strike.
In this you can see that the smaller, insecure army will be more likely to use dirty warfare tactics than the bigger army (the bigger army can afford to be magnanimous).
The Psychology of Bullies and Their Victims
I said that psychological insecurity inspires violence. I meant the person who feels insecure is liable to lash out with violence (verbal, physical, and so forth). What I did not tell you is that this person is also likely to attract violence.
That doesn’t sound fair maybe, but that’s just the way it is. I want you to observe for yourself. When you are feeling confident and secure, no one will harass you. But when you are feeling shy or afraid or weak or insecure, that is when people will harass you, call you names, attack you, and so forth.
This is a hack I am teaching you. This is how you confront bullies. Bullies are individuals who have insecurity inside them, so they are very good at smelling insecurity in the other person. If the bully smells insecurity on you, he attacks. If the bully smells confidence on you, he recoils — or at least he is cautious.
Remember we also talk about dogs smelling fear on you and attacking. But if you are not afraid, the dog will be cautious.
When dealing with hostile people and you are disadvantaged (outnumbered and you don’t have a weapon), keep what I have said in mind. Showing them that you are afraid will work against you, so don’t. If they see you are afraid, that will give them jolts of power. But if they sense you are not afraid, they are subconsciously going to be cautious.
It’s all about power dynamics. Being afraid automatically makes you the victim. But being calm and confident means the bully will have to work harder to turn you into a victim — if they dare.
Mr. Miyagi vs Cobra Kai
Have you watched the movie Karate kid? Mr. Miyagi presents a non-violent form of karate while the Cobra Kai dojo teaches a violent karate. Mr. Miyagi says, “Karate is only for self defense.” He teaches his student Daniel Larusso to always seek balance. When you lack balance, you feel insecure or troubled. That leads to violence, which we see in Karate Kid Part Three, where Daniel has lost his balance and become violent. It is Mr. Miyagi who helps him regain balance and self confidence.
In contrast, the teachings of Cobra Kai reek of insecurity: “Strike first. Strike hard. No mercy.” These three tenets demonstrate fear more than confidence. You strike first, hard, and mercilessly because you want to finish your opponent quickly, because you have no confidence you can beat him at his best. As a result, many Cobra Kai students are bullies, including the teacher himself. They will kick a man when he is down. I believe this poor foundation explains why Mr. Miyagi’s karate always triumphs over Cobra Kai’s.
Because Mr. Miyagi has based his karate on a place of quiet confidence rather than turbulent violence. But that’s a movie (real life can be complicated).
How to Be a Leader
And that is why a leader (any one in a position of authority) has to be calm and confident and stable. Because if you are insecure, your followers will sense that and they will not respect you. That’s just how these dynamics work.
For instance, a hostile dog is likelier to attack if he can smell fear on you. Basically, animals react to your state of being. And people too.
For instance, a rowdy classroom is an indication of a teacher who can’t control the children. To control the classroom you must first be in control of yourself.
And that’s how armies work. The man in charge has to command the respect of his men. The moment they stop respecting him, he has lost. But for them to respect him, he has to respect himself.
How we (and animals) sense insecurity in each other I don’t know, but we just do, and we react accordingly.
I used to watch those nanny reality TV shows back in the day, whereby a British nanny would come to the aid of a couple whose small children were out of control. It fascinated me how the nanny would whip the whole family into shape in the course of a week.
In every single case, the problem was that the parents had no self confidence when it came to telling their children what to do. And these children as young as two years old could tell and would take advantage of that, pushing the boundaries until their parents were completely incapable of saying no or telling them to do anything.
But when the nanny came to the house, you could see the children knew this was someone they could not disrespect. They obeyed the nanny. And the nanny’s job was to teach the parents how to be firm and authoritative and take control.
The Opposite of Violence is Peace
What is peace? Peace is security. And I mean this psychologically as well as physically. When you say someone is insecure, that means they are in a state of disequilibrium. Peace is equilibrium, when you are calm, secure, confident. Peace of mind, we call it. When you have peace, you do not have envy, fear, hatred, anger, and all those other emotions that ruffle your calm waters.
Now, let’s bring that to the macro level. Real peace between peoples or nations is when they are genuinely at peace with each other. Such peace is rare. In most cases, what we have is a cessation of violence, but inside our hearts the violence is ongoing, waiting for some provocation to erupt.
And that is why America is at war right now. Racism: envy, hatred, fear, anger, injustice … It’s only a matter of time before it erupts into actual violence.
Racism, tribalism, and all the other prejudices are violence we harbour in our hearts against others in the community — sooner or later, that psychic violence begets physical violence. So long as such things exist, peace is an illusion. Is peace between nations possible?
But peace between individuals in a community is definitely possible. The first step to being at peace with others is being at peace with yourself, and that means no longer feeling insecure. So long as you feel insecure, you are going to hurt people, either with words, deeds, or physical violence (they are all violence). Take a look at the ten commandments and pay special attention to the ones that talk about our relationships with others: they are all about cultivating peace with others and with yourself. Take some time to think about this: what does peace of mind mean?