Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

A coward believes he will ever live

A coward believes he will ever live
if he keep him safe from strife:
but old age leaves him not long in peace
though spears may spare his life.

Hávamál 16

There is a very popular maxim which has been bandied about over the last century or so which states that “violence never solves anything.” The idea is that violence is an inherently bad and immoral thing, and one which should be avoided at all costs. This slogan has been used to demonize and villify the very concept of violence, and is often drilled into the heads of children by parents and schoolteachers. Some of the more extreme proponents of the maxim vehemently oppose any bit of culture which they view as promoting violence, in any way, and their influence has affected everything from children’s cartoon shows to university student regulations, and more.

The claim that “violence never solves anything” is patently stupid.

The American science-fiction author, Robert A. Heinlein, wrote one of the most beautifully succinct and entirely accurate rebuttals to this erroneous maxim that I have ever read. In his incredibly popular novel, Starship Troopers, a history teacher is relating an account of battle when a student chimes in by saying that her mother had always taught her violence never solves anything. The teacher then replied:

Anyone who clings to the historically untrue and thoroughly immoral doctrine that violence never settles anything I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms.

This is the essence of the sixteenth stanza of the Hávamál. The coward believes that avoiding violence makes it so that he can live forever. However, it does not take overly long for old age to begin correcting him of such a false view. Avoiding strife doesn’t give you a peaceful life. On the contrary, the coward worries so greatly about trying to avoid such problems that they do not truly know peace. However, the spear can rescue a man from this fate. Knowledge of violence and its methods can allay a man’s fears and spare him a life of worry and fret. Peace is not the absence of violence. Peace is the absence of aggression.

This is certainly not to say that I believe violence is always justified as a means to solving issues. However, there are many scenarios where most people will agree that violence is the most expedient, efficient, and morally just solution. If I see a rabid dog bearing down on a child, violent interdiction is not only an appropriate response, but it may be the best possible response. Violence is not just an offensive tactic. It is impossible to defend oneself from violence without first understanding violence.

As a martial artist, Hávamál 16 rings extremely true. Some of my closest friends are people that try to break my joints and strangle me into unconsciousness, every single day. We are violent people. We attack each other, systematically attempting to dominate one another by strength of force and knowledge of the methods of violence. However, we are also loving, caring, morally upright people. We do not attack each other for the goal of doing harm. Quite the contrary, we try to break each other down for the purposes of building ourselves stronger. Violence makes us better people.

Do not let anyone tell you that violence never solves anything. Violence can save your life, in many more ways than you might realize.

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11 thoughts on “A coward believes he will ever live

  1. This is precisely why the “turn the other cheek” meme is immoral.

    • “Turn the other cheek” is an abused text. As written in the gospels it is a good teaching.

      • Hi John, sorry, but the instructions to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemy” are not only immoral in their gross irresponsibility, but a recipe for assured subjugation.

        • Let’s look at the context. I’ll post both Luke and Matthew’s versions, since they are a bit different.

          Matt 5:38-39 (NRSV)
          38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ’
          39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;

          Luke 6:27-29 (NRSV)
          27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
          28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
          29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

          This does seem to be broad instruction, and no exception is given in the direct context, here. But it might be argued from other passages that Jesus does support appropriate retaliation for some offenses. After all, this was the dude that made a whip just so he could beat a bunch of evil men out of the Temple.

        • I disagree. “turn the other cheek” is simply to take insult and not return insult in kind.

          One can “love your enemy” even while defending ones self from them, and by doing so one might avoid the necessity.

          These teachings are actually much deeper than that, but in no way are Christians taught to be punching bags for their enemies.

          • Hi John

            Matthew 5:39: But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

            As instructed, this would mean the child being molested (and her family) should do nothing to help herself. It would mean the battered wife should accept the beatings. It would mean we should ignore Sandy Hook massacres. It would mean the oppressed should not rise up. It would mean society should ignore the company dumping toxic waste in the water. It would mean we should do nothing to stop the young boy from torturing stray animals to death. It means a culture should not resist annihilation by an invader. It means genocide should be accepted. It means we should accept right-wing politicians who spew misinformation to sow chaos and hatred in the minds of the uneducated. It would mean we should accept the killing of anyone who isn’t “just like us.”

            The list, of course, goes on. An appeal to such gross personal neglect and social apathy
            is a reckless, immoral instruction that flies against the grain of human dignity, self-preservation, and ultimately, survival. It is negligent and, in and by itself, an evil command.

          • Honestly, read Matthew 5 in parallel with Luke 6. There are some very, very important differences between the phraseology and tone of these two accounts which give us really good clues as to the authors’ intentions.

            If we only had Matthew to go by, I would likely agree that the “Turn the other cheek” command was intended as a blanket Law, in the same vein as Torah. In fact, he sets his account in juxtaposition to Torah, even as commentary on Torah. In the eyes of Matthew, these certainly seem to be legal requirements of the faith.

            Luke is very different, however. Luke does not present the sermon as a series of commands, but rather as general guidelines. Notice, particularly, that the “Golden Rule” (Luke 6:31, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them”) appears in Luke’s account, but not in Matthew’s.

            In Luke’s eyes, this sermon was intended to describe a righteous life, while Matthew was attempting to prescribe righteous actions.

  2. To everything there is a season… A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

  3. Ignostic Atheist on said:

    Peace is not the absence of violence. Peace is the absence of aggression.

    I feel like I should forward this to the Republican party.

  4. Pingback: Violence is the Answer!- Batman, and 2 Other Reasons Christians Pacifism Isn’t Christian | Entertaining Christianity

  5. Excellent.

    “Peace is the absence of aggression.”

    Very succinct. I write often about establishing a relationship with violence so that, when you find yourself staring violence in the eye, you are not shocked into paralysis.

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