Not too long ago, I posted a piece on the nature of violence, gun-safety, and social activism. I had ten things to say, and I said them at some length—nearly 1500 words.
Almost immediately—on a bike ride, in fact—I began a redaction of the piece in my head, reducing the ten points to a kind of Biblical brevity. What I lost in fullness of argument, I'd gain in clarity. That was my plan.
So—redacted, simplified, and clarified, I wrote up these ten things about violence (which I learned from my Tibetan teachers):
- Violence exists along a spectrum, from the scornful glance to the full-blown war (and all of us live on this spectrum, in one way, in one place, or another).
- When violence erupts at the far end of the spectrum as war or mass murder, triage is the only reasonable response—alleviate the immediate suffering as best you can.
- Gun-violence in America is moving closer now to the extreme end of the spectrum, and many activists find themselves practicing triage—political, legislative, activist, but triage all the same because the feeling of urgency is inescapable.
- Triage of this sort, however, responds to the suffering already caused by gun-violence, but cannot, by its very nature, focus solely on deep prevention.
- So, triage workers in the gun-violence-prevention (GVP) movement need help from those who work the other end of the spectrum, where triage isn't necessary and where prevention is the goal.
- So how do the rest of us help? First, it is very important to realize that the anger-management counselor, the street activist, and the leader of a Congressional PAC for gunsense are working shoulder-to-shoulder down the long spectrum of violence.
- Because lessening violence in this country welcomes, even requires, every reasonable approach, we can strengthen our own resolve by visualizing and understanding what others are doing in their own work along this spectrum.
- To visualize continually the efforts undertaken by other GVP activists, as we undertake our own, is to place ourselves within a vast network with a common goal: restoring peace to our country by lessening the violence that currently disfigures it.
- The more clearly and intensely we visualize this network, and our own place within it, the more powerful this network becomes, the more neurologically tuned to change we become because we uncover hidden and surprising alliances, which in turn expands the scope of our own work and deepens the strength of our spirit.
- Steven Pinker gets the last word. But first, take a moment and visualize your work along this spectrum of violence, arm-in-arm, with everyone else you've met or read about, and then ask yourself the following question: "Why should the spread of ideas . . result in reforms that lower violence?" Here is Pinker's answer to this question, from The Better Angels of Our Nature:
There are several pathways. The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition. A connected and educated populace, at least in aggregate and over the long run, is bound to be disabused of poisonous beliefs, such as that members of other races and ethnicities are innately avaricious or perfidious; that economic and military misfortunes are caused by the treachery of ethnic minorities; that women don't mind to be raped; that children must be beaten to be socialized; that people choose to be homosexual as part of a morally degenerate lifestyle; that animals are incapable of feeling pain. The recent debunking of beliefs that invite or tolerate violence call to mind Voltaire's quip that those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
And so we move forward. Inexorably, even at times slowly, but always inspired by the work of our colleagues. And more than inspired. We can become deeply aware of their energy, and of our own sympathetic energies that rise up in response to those around us. And so awareness—for me this is the central teaching—brings to us the truth of our communal power. And that's a teaching, or a truth, that I can always use.