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Honest to God on the Issues #001: Violence November 14, 2012

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Honest to God on the Issues.
Tags: , , , , , , ,


It’s not a pretty sight. So, what does scripture say? Remember that I am writing a story. It includes some violent plot developments so I am specifically looking for what to include and how much to incorporate. Is there a limit?

My Pre-Existing Beliefs

I think scripture is clear on one point: violence is part of life. The ancient Israelites waged war, people died, people murdered, and people were killed all in a variety of ways. Playing the sheep all the time will more than likely get you maimed or killed. That said, violence should be considered a last resort. Generally, the violence is not described in graphic detail. It seems more objective like a news report: Sampson and the foreskins of the Philistines, etc. I remember a female judge killing a foreign general (and thus ending a way) by driving a tent stake through his eyes. Torture is not promoted but it is described: sending children through the fire, etc.

My Questions

  • What is violence? Is there an operative definition?
  • Should violence be met with violence?
  • Are there exceptions to portraying violence in a graphically explicit way?
  • What is torture? Is there an operative definition?


Wikipedia seems to have a good definition albeit a lengthy one:

Violence is defined by the World Health Organization as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation. This definition associates intentionality with the committing of the act itself, irrespective of the outcome it produces. – Wikipedia

I recently read a book on the subject: Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller. It’s available as a self-published ebook only but I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. I understand from external sources that the author is a Buddhist,  but my reading of this particular book is that he is anti-Christian. There is a particular diatribe near the end that’s wrong on many levels and has nothing to do with the topic of the book. Read with caution. Nonetheless, the author is a martial arts master and has been a corrections officer and tactical team leader. The book was an eye-opener for me. Among the many great insights into violence are the following gems:

The fact is that some things, especially dangerous things happening very fast, can ONLY be solved by violence.

Why do people use violence? Because it works.

[Levels of Violence:] Nice-Manipulative-Assertive-Aggressive-Assaultive-Murderous.

People tend to define violence as the level above the level they are willing to use. The strategies for dealing with any given level do not work and often backfire when attempted on a higher level of conflict.

This is reality. The bible was written by real people about real events. It’s reality too. So there should be some common ground between the words of scripture and violence as it relates to our modern society.

Next, the Torture issue. How does torture differ from violence, the more general term. Is there an operative definition? Sadly, the answer is no. There are many definitions but few are satisfactory. I prefer the wording of the following from Amnesty International:

Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain by one person on another, or on a third person, in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter. – Amnesty International, (1973) Torture in the Eighties.USA Edition. Amnesty International Publication.

Torture is systematic and always deliberate, a battle of wills, more mental than physical. ‘Cruel and unusual punishment’ comes to mind. By contrast, violence is messy, sometimes accidental. More physical than mental.

But that doesn’t work for Manipulators. They are mentalists, not fighters.

On second thought, it shouldn’t matter. Torture can’t be compared to the earlier levels. By definition it should only be compared to the Assaultive and Murderous levels. I think there is a control aspect to torture that isn’t part of violence generally. One person is the other’s prisoner. Being held against one’s will plus the systematic pain. So here is my initial operative definition of torture:

Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain by one person on another being held against his or her will in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter or a third party. (Draft 1)

Can the pain be mental or emotional or is it only physical? Given that we can only interact directly with other humans at a physical level and we can only interact indirectly in terms of our mental and emotional states, I think it’s safe to clarify this as physical pain.

And think again. Waterboarding – which I believe is torture – is not based on physical pain. Counterexamples are very useful things, aren’t they? I would describe it as cruel and unusual treatment so let’s visit our definition again:

Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain (usually physical but can be mental or emotional) often using cruel and unusual methods by one person on another being held against his or her will in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter or a third party. (Draft 2)

To be continued…

This is more complicated and time-consuming than I expected so I will continue these thoughts another day. Sometimes sleeping on an issue is the best way to move forward on it. And maybe I can reword that awful definition. It’s getting out of hand.



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