Political Violence Essay

Political violence is like a festering wound, in that, without the aid of
antibiotics the wound has the potential to depress the immune system and
eventually overwhelm the individual, leading to death. In this analogy,
antibiotics could represent forces that are always looking for the rogue virus’s
bent on the destruction of the whole body (society). I often wonder why people
resort to violence, of any kind, to solve a particular problem. Questions can be
asked of the individual(s) involved in carrying out the attacks, but the
questions never seem to be answered in a way that will show why violence is
needed to resolve conflict. Rather, excuses are rendered in the hopes that by
the logic used in explaining why conflict must be resolved, this will justify
the actions. This leads, though, to a sort of circular argument. For example, in
the case of Saddam Hussein (put aside the fact that he is the president of a
nation) is an idiot. Why exactly he felt it was justifiable to invade a country,
who at the time had an OK relationship with the United States, and then think
the US and/or other countries would allow him to forcibly occupy that country.

Whatever his logic, his actions were not justifiable. I believe his logic was as
follows: Something happened to his country (economically, socially, politically
etc.) that he did not like or want to happen. Hussein decided to adopt the
“eye-for-an-eye” approach to conflict resolution. Except he changed
the rules and instead of responding in a like manner consistent with
“eye-for-an-eye”, he went over board with his reaction. He forcibly
invaded a country. I use the Persian Gulf War as a recent example of reasons for
why people resolve conflict not through peaceful means but through violent
actions. Iraq is not the only country in the system to use this type of logic
when tackling an issue that is perceived to have only one avenue of approach to
resolution: war. It seems that every, or nearly every, state in the world will
resort to brute force to make a point. This then begs the question of, why? I
will explore some of the popular assumptions for why people act as they do and
try to come to some sort of agreement which we may all universally agree upon.

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Sederberg explains four of the most popular explanations for violence and
revolution and points out some of the flaws in the arguments. The first
explanation I will talk about is the “Killer Ape Thesis”, which
basically states that humans are biologically programmed toward violence and
that because we are programmed in this way, this is an explanation for the cause
of violence. Sederberg also points out that certain questions need to be
answered before anything else can be argued, such as “what causes
discontent?” In the killer ape thesis discontent is a moot point. If we are
in fact programmed toward violence than discontent should not be an issue. To
say that hereditary genes toward violence are passed from one generation to
another is to say we have no choice in the matter of violence. We would, simply,
all be vicious killers with no way of not being otherwise. Discontent, however,
is something humans can turn on and off, like anger, sadness, or happiness. The
killer ape thesis is great in explaining violence but not in explaining
“the inclination toward violent expression” (Sederberg 102). Clearly,
biological factors do not incline us towards violence, but the “Cherry Pie
Thesis” does in some way explain why we are violent. Sederberg describes
the cherry pie thesis as one where biology or heredity may play no part in
trying to explain why humans are prone to violence. He says that we are violent
because of our culture. That is, we are violent because of, say, where we live
or the era in which we grew up or the economic status we hold. This thesis
though, like the killer ape thesis, is circular in its logic. Society may cause
discontent among citizens but only with respect to history. For example, England
and Ireland have been at war with each other for some time now; each fights the
other because of some injustice. This injustice occurred in the past so it will
occur in the future; again, as in the killer ape thesis, there is circularity of
thought in what causes violence. The cherry pie thesis does, however, explain
the question of “what inclines the discontented to violent
expression?” People are not happy; why, who knows. In the case of the
cherry pie thesis one thing is assured; when people are unhappy, usually they
will try to make it so they will become happy. Ireland is unhappy because
England owns a piece of land the Irish feel belongs to them and in order to
assert their point they will resort to violence to gain back what they have
lost. England will do the same and the cycle will continue until resolution is
met. Societal factors can, in fact, show why violent expression is a necessary
component for expressing a point. It was done in the past, so shall it be done
in the future. This thesis will, then, contrast sharply with the cherry pie
thesis. Where the cherry pie thesis asserts that humans have a proclivity for
violence because of sociological factors, the Insanity Thesis assumes we are
violent because we are insane. A popular definition of insane might be “
the absence of normalcy.” This though leads to the question of “When
are you insane” or ” What is a sane person?” When someone is
termed insane there needs to be a label attached to that insanity. Such as
anti-social disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, acute depression,
retardation, or autism. This is because, if there is no label attached to a
disorder then how can anyone say there is a disorder at all. If there is no
label attached to a disorder then clearly there is no disorder. If I totally
accept the cherry pie thesis, or any of the other theses, then one could say
argue that I am suffering from a psychological disorder. With the exception of
anti-social disorder, and possibly bipolar disorder, all the other disorders I
have listed will not develop into an individual who will commit acts of
political violence. Like the killer ape thesis, the insanity thesis revolves
around biology as the determining factor for why people commit acts of political
violence, which could then be said, are factors contributing to discontent, but
not the cause. The insanity thesis does, however, explain to what extent
inclines the discontent to violent expression. More often then not society will
place people who fail to meet “normal” requirements of functionality
in society into, say, mental health institutions, in order for them to get the
proper care they need to be rehabilitated so that they may then be able to
function properly in society. Another popular theory for why revolutionary
change and political violence occurs is based on the principle that misery will
breed discontent. This, again, like the others previously talked about does not
account for why discontent occurs. There is circularity to this logic also. If
they were diagnosed as anti-social then this would be the best theory offered,
so far. The only problem is, not all revolutionaries are psychopaths. Another
drawback to this theory is that it only talks about revolutions or revolutionary
change, not why misery is a precursor for political violence. The misery thesis
does explain a reason for why violent expression is necessary for political
change. As people become more and more miserable they will eventually revolt and
demand there be a change in the situation. The misery thesis, though, only works
if, in theory, the people are truly miserable. I do not believe that sheer
misery will cause revolutionary change; there needs to be a gradual process
downword and that revolt will not occur once conditions hit rock bottom.

Finally, the last of the theses put forth by Sederberg is the “Conspiracy
Thesis”, which “at least puts ‘politics’ back into political violence
and revolution” (Sederberg 108). This though is where any coherence in
logic stops. The conspiracy thesis fails to explain both questions of what
causes discontent and what inclines the discontented to violent expression. This
thesis does explain a type of politic used in revolutions but stops short of
everything. Conspiracies are used as a tool for a revolt that is already in
progress, not a revolt that wants to be started. After writing this paper I
realized that none of these theses could explain causes for discontent or
inclinations for violent expression. One reason for this is because we are not
yet advanced enough in our thought process and abilities to understand violence.

Violence is phenomenon unique only to humans, as a species, and does not occur
in any other species on the planet. Psychology and pathology (with respect to
the brain), certainly, are the only determining factors for answering these
questions. Once we have truly mastered the mind, then we will understand
political violence and revolutionary change. Then we can, with certainty,
produce a clear and concise explanation and one that everybody will agree upon.

Sederberg, Peter C. FIRES WITHIN: Political Violence and Revolutionary
Change. Harper-Collins College Press. 1994.


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