My post below, involving my positive reaction to the announced elaborate battle scenes in The Return Of The King, got me thinking about violence, and why there are problems with how some people evaluate it.
There is a popular meme that “violence is bad”. This manifests itself in everything from protests against violence in the media and other entertainment, to gun control, and even to being “anti-war”. The frustrating thing about this is that there’s an important truth here. Violence often is bad. But it’s bad when it’s used to violate the rights of people. It’s not intrinsically bad. If used for self-defense, for example, it’s very good.
Portrayals of violence in art can be very good, too. It can enhance the emotional drama of the presentation. Penn Jillette (one of my heroes), spoke eloquently about this (and censorship) in a Reason Magazine interview years ago. Please read it. The bottom line, though, is that people don’t behave violently just because they witness violence in films or TV. They behave violently because they have bad ideas about when violence is appropriate. Violence in art actually gives us more opportunities to think about this and develop our ideas. It helps people evolve good theories about violence. Banning it would be worse. It would not only deny people chances to examine and develop their own theories on violence, but such bans send the wrong message. They tell us that violence is just bad, regardless of the context. This is wrong and dangerous.
Let’s consider boxing. Some people think it should be banned because it’s brutal and dangerous. It’s true that it can be dangerous, and that it’s very physically punishing.
But, it’s voluntary!
People choose to challenge themselves with demanding training so that they can pit themselves against others in a pure competition of raw physical skill/strength/endurance. These are some of the best athletes in the world. They are willing to accept the risks. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. You don’t have to enjoy watching it; but if other people want to do it and pay to see it, I think it’s wrong to force them not to. Some may consider the sport brutal, but I think the real brutes are the people who are unwilling or unable to recognize the difference between voluntary and involuntary violence.
Likewise for gun-control, and blanket war-opposition. It’s just not the case that we can stop all bad people from using weapons to hurt others. The best response to this is NOT to disarm the good guys! That will embolden the bad guys and probably lead to more harm than good. We should make it as hard as possible (while acting morally ourselves) for the bad guys to abuse violence.
One way to do that is to spread better ideas about when force against people is ok, and when it isn’t. As these ideas improve, and gain wide acceptance, it will be increasingly difficult for people to gather enough support (or appeasement) to prepare and execute violent assaults on other people’s legitimate rights.
And another way…One that we certainly need now, and might always need, is for good guys to be ready, willing, and able to violently resist bad guys.