Friday, April 12, 2013

Non-Violence: Policy or Principle?

Education

I made a decision years ago to embrace non-violence as a principle, absolute non-violence. I asked myself, "How can I be a teacher and not hold to that principle?" As far as I know, no school tolerates initiated or retaliatory violence among its students. However, that position is held as mere policy. What seems to be clearly missing from these schools is the emphasis on non-violence as a principle. Why do I say that? Well, non-violence is simply not taught. There is a clear difference between policy and principle. What is interesting is that if you were to ask students if they were for or against violence, almost every one would say that they were against violence; however, most of them would follow up with a "but". The "but" is usually that if they or a loved one is subject to violence, then they reserve the right to respond violently. That was the response of students a few weeks ago in my History class. The discussion (after defining violence and determining that there is no distinction between initiated or retaliatory violence)  went something like this:

Teacher: So, are we prepared to make that a universal law (This is based on Kant's so-called "Categorical Imperative")?

Students: What do you mean?

Teacher: Are we willing to allow as a rule for everyone that if an individual or his/her loved one is treated violently that she reserves the right to respond violently?

Students: Yes. That should be the rule for everyone.

Teacher: Great. Let's see how that will work then. So John is beaten up by Sandra. Following from the universal rule we established, Will, John's father reserves the right to respond to Sandra with violence. Is that correct?

Students: Yes.

Teacher: So Will beats up Sandra in retaliation. Now beaten-up Sandra is Harry's wife. How ought Harry to respond?

Students: Well, based on the universal law we established, Harry reserves the right to retaliate violently.

Teacher: Okay. So Harry, seething with anger at Will's attack on Sandra, lay waits Will and attacks him with a baseball bat. Now Will's only cousin, Sharon, with whom his is very close, hears about this and is very upset.....

Students: So based on our universal rule she reserves the right to retaliate violently. Wow! This can go on and on.

Teacher: Do you still want to have as a universal principle that an individual reserves the right to retaliate violently if she or a loved on is the recipient of violence?

Students: We do not think so. That only seems to make matters worse. Violence makes no sense.

Teacher: How shall we then proceed...?