A Culture of Fists

Throughout the ages, we have been confronted with human nature being called sinful, something that we must fight against and confess and be absolved of by supernatural beings or, at other points in history, our leaders, our peers and even our children. We all make mistakes without exception. If ever you find a human who has done no wrong, I propose you have not found a human. Learning from our mistakes is one of the most deeply human traits that I could imagine. Plants evolve through their mistakes. Animals develop new reflexes from theirs. Humans, though, we can think about what we have done wrong and create whole new futures for ourselves as a result. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

We have developed a problem, though. This is a tried and true method of human development and the progress of a society is based firmly on its foundations — the mistakes of others are also the building blocks for our thoughts and learning so not everyone has to make the same mistakes. On the shoulders of giants we stand and the like. The problem, then? We’ve forgotten what behaviors are problematic. We accept so many things that are bad in our culture, knowing them to be so, which is a massive problem in itself but we have neglected the more obvious issue — we have forgotten, as western society, how to differentiate what is good behavior from what is bad, damaging, often intensely destructive to us as a whole. Where has that come from? Actually, that part is quite simple. We have learned over many generations that the most important person in the world is us. It’s individualism that’s at the root of all this. And being unique, loving and caring for yourself, is a necessary step and a wonderful development in the modern world. But we have become obsessive about it. Pleasure, desire, lust, indulging in our feelings. It’s become a new creed, the way that honor and respect used to be. Of course, you are well aware that in ancient times when honor and respect were the ideals, the reality of the situation was far from an actual application of those things. It was, however, an appreciation of what we should be doing compared to what we were actually doing.

So what are we doing that is so wrong? I could give you a list but that would be unhelpful. And I am in no position to cast judgment. Some of the bad behavior I have in mind are things I would never do but many of them are things that I have had huge difficulty expunging from my life. There is a saying about glass houses and I do indeed live in one. It is, after all, truly human to make frequent mistakes. What’s inhuman is not to recognize them. Instead of sermons and lists, though, I propose to talk about one error that our modern culture is indulging itself with to an absolutely incredible degree of late, in a way that even historical humans were hesitant to do, at least for long periods of time. Fighting.

I know what you’re going to say, it’s natural to fight. And you’d be absolutely correct. Monkeys and apes do it. Dogs and cats do it. Birds and fish do it. Plants, well, they do it but on a wholly different time scale — evolutionary fighting is certainly a thing but it’s a bit hard to turn into a spectator sport when you’re living on human time. It’s also natural for males to conduct sexual intercourse as nothing more than rape. It’s natural for females to eat their partners after sex. It’s natural to seek out weak animals and kill them when they are separated from their parents. These are all frequently-observed natural phenomena from the animal kingdom that are absolutely, perfectly acceptable in their species. Does that make them in any way correct for socially-educated humans? If, at this point, you have not answered the question with a resounding no, my argument is not for you and you may return to whatever you were doing before.

If, however, you agree that these things are impermissible for the modern human, I would propose further that we have an absolute social duty to our species of pacifism. We must not simply defend ourselves or talk about turning the other cheek. We must go farther and ensure that there is no violence, no aggression, no fighting, not once and not ever.

You have heard the phrase boys will be boys. It has had a huge amount of popularity among pig-headed conservatives trying to justify rape as being out of character the last few years. I would suggest on this topic that rape is something that most males of all species desire to do and that social norms have gradually made it less acceptable among humans but that this has only increased its secret likelihood and desirability — that the only thing that stops the vast majority of males and a not inconsiderable number of females from regularly forcing themselves sexually on other members of their species is the social danger of such an action, which is far from likely to actually come down on their heads and that most people appear to accept it as a part of life. We are, in many ways, an absolutely disgusting species. That aside, though, a topic for another day, this phrase has a somewhat less sexual beginning. It is usually referring to young boys fighting each other, on the street or playground, even in classrooms at school. It is a symbol of acceptance of physical (and sometimes verbal or written) violence, bullying and control, domination and subversion. We are, realistically, saying that it is perfectly acceptable for young people to fight and that this natural impulse to commit violent acts is normal within human culture, also.

As this is trained into the minds of young people, predominantly males but females are often at least somewhat indoctrinated in this acceptability of violence, too, it is repeated and taught to be how conflict is resolved. Have you ever been in a bar when a fight has broken out? I promise you it’s not because the people were drinking. It’s because the people feel that it is acceptable to use violence as a way to solve problems. If this wasn’t an acceptable part of our social discourse, it wouldn’t matter if the person were drunk, high or having an out of body experience. They’d never come up with that as an answer to what was happening in the moment. But we’ve programmed it in and just as surely as pushing the keys on your keyboard make letters appear on the screen, pushing those buttons of anger and conflict within someone who has lost some of their social control and interpersonal inhibitions results in the default from their childhood training rearing its ugly head and then you have smashed glasses and bottles, bodies tossed over tables and split lips, black eyes and broken bones. You have, in other words, a battlefield in miniature.

Which is where the problem truly resides. On the battlefield.

We see war as an acceptable solution to problems. Sure, some people talk about it being the last resort and say that they would only ever go to war to defend their inalienable rights and freedoms or to defend their children from fascism and totalitarianism, some foreign conqueror. They’d only go to war to stop another Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin. And that’s exactly the issue. People believe that there is a point at which it’s acceptable to fight, where it’s right to stand up and hit someone — or, realistically, shoot someone, blow someone up or engage in some other act that will reduce them to a smoking pile of fleshy rubble. Nonsense. It’s nothing more than unmitigated silliness and self-righteous idealistic justification.

I promise you, there is no good side to violent action. None.

It was wrong to fight Hitler. It was wrong to fight the Mongols. And it was wrong to fight the Crusaders. It was wrong to fight anyone, at any point. Always and without exception.

The history of human technological and scientific development has been both punctuated and stimulated by warfare and destroyed by it. The invention of nuclear energy coincided with the development of the atomic bomb but the use and fear of that bomb destroyed decades of peaceful nuclear science and continues to be the stigma that nuclear research of all forms labor under to this day. Centuries of development of firearms led to the creation of chemical industries and organizational systems that were never before possible but the specter of school shootings and rampage killers floods our daily news programs and Twitter feeds. Military aircraft dominated the skies long before passenger craft became the norm but the limitations of our contemporary travel in the skies have long ago been dictated by the needs of the air forces of the world who lead development and they’re not interested in environmental improvement, for example, so we have continued to assume the use of petroleum as the only functional fuel for air travel, a disaster in far too many ways to name. Our technology is the technology of war and works within the limitations of our war-obsessed culture.

Is war always wrong? I can say with categorical certainty that it is. Can you? Do you truly believe in your heart and soul and mind that there is no situation in which fighting is ever justified?

This is where we end up with the real problem. It’s a problem of being peaceful and accepting. That doesn’t mean we invite whatever someone wants to do to us. But it is about society solving problems rather than taking them into our own hands. Let’s start with the basics and return to our playground situation. If you are a six-year-old boy on a playground and another similar individual comes up to you and punches you, you have two choices. You can either punch them back or you can not. If you do it, it will degenerate into a fight. If you don’t, it may end there or it may degenerate into a one-sided beating. And while I believe that it is a human imperative to, in this situation, take the beating and do nothing other than try to walk away, there is a third possibility that people often forget. If the other people on the playground do not accept the premise of the scenario, if they decide that the instigator will not be accepted within their microcosm of human society if they continue to act violently and make that clear, in nearly all cases this will stop. It is only the acceptability of that behavior that allows it to continue. If you can punch someone and still be a part of peaceful human society when it’s over, you have nothing to lose. If you will be absolutely and without exception excluded from society by your peers if you ever commit such an action, you will not take that risk.

Why is playground fighting so important? Because it’s the learning ground in the school of future behavior. We accept in our culture the existence of a military. There is only one purpose of a military, to fight. Some will say that its purpose is to defend or to threaten, to overwhelm or to intimidate. But realistically what we’re talking about is the preparation to fight and its eventual potential execution. We have a culture based on accepting people who are not simply going to fight because it’s their nature, which is bad enough, but because it’s their job.

How can you tell your child that it is categorically unacceptable to hit another child on the playground or tell your friend that hitting someone in a bar is not allowed if they know full well that some of the most frequently respected people in our society are respected and praised exactly because they have trained to fight and executed that task at some point? We must raise our voices and not our fists to speak as one voice that we will no longer accept violence under any circumstance. That as a group, a human group, we will not allow membership in our society to anyone who participates in violent acts of any sort. The playground fighting is unacceptable. The bars and streets and boardrooms of fighting are unacceptable.

And, above all, military service is unacceptable.

We have a right to peace. All humans have a right to peace. If no-one accepts a single excuse for violent action, if we as an entire species exclude those who perpetrate violent acts from membership in humanity, it will take no time at all for violence to be a memory of past ages, as it should long ago have been. We debate whether terrorism is justified. We debate whether wars of defense or conquest are justified. We debate whether to send soldiers to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. We forget that we have the power of the voice of humanity to speak as one against the crimes of hatred and violence with a resounding stop.

While a single person is accepted by the many as having a right to raise their hands and weapons against another, this legacy will continue. If we decide as humans that we have an absolute and unyielding right to live on a planet of peace, it will be the end of conflict and the beginning of a pacifist reality. The power is in your hands if you stand together. Recognize what is wrong with our present.

We glorify and respect violence. Change your mind and wash your hands of this culture of combat. Extend your hand in peace.

(Avi Sato, 2019.11.23)