We all say we want peace, but at the same time we unwittingly engage in behaviors that perpetuate violence. As philosopher Simon Critchley notes, “we are all players on history’s bloody stage.” Human nature is in large part to blame. However, biology is not destiny. The purpose of civilization is to tame our wilder side. Yet, we still have not been able to end the violence.
Critchley offers an important insight into this intractable problem: “We live in a world framed by violence, where justice seems to be endlessly divided between claim and counterclaim, right and left, freedom fighter and terrorist, believer and nonbeliever, and so on. Each side appears to believe unswervingly in the rightness of its position and the wrongness, or indeed ‘evil,’ of the opposition. Such belief legitimates violence and unleashes counterviolence in return. We seem to be trapped in deep historical cycles of violence where justice is usually simply understood as vengeance or revenge.”
This is not a new insight, but it one that is difficult to sell. If we were reflective enough, we would see this trap we’ve set for ourselves. This insight also requires a broad and deep knowledge of history. It is much easier to offer simple solutions that satisfy our egos and our intuitions. The good vs. evil narrative is simple and it lets us off the hook for any wrongdoing. Savvy politicians know this and use it to their benefit.
Is there any hope then? Critchley offers art, and music in particular, as a solution. But I don’t think this is enough. It will take a much broader effort to convince enough people that we are in fact part of the problem. We also need leaders willing to take up the cause and inspire a new generation to see the world and our place in it differently.