This article, “Can Violence Be Virtuous?” reviews a book about the virtuous and legitimacy of violence, skirts the rights of others to lawful non-aggression. Physically hurting, beating up, or killing another person is against the law, though in fact the perpetrator may be operating off of a moral system that justifies his violence and condemns the victim and finds that his beatings and physical destruction is just desserts.
How do you define morality?
What morality comes down to is making relationships right. Morality is realizing, improving, and enhancing the kinds of relationships that are regarded as ideal in your culture. Sometimes violence is used to do that. If we want to reduce the prevalence of violence anywhere in the world, we have to see where it’s coming from. To understand it is not to condone it. We write in the book about many kinds of violence in which the perpetrators feel morally motivated, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.
The authors are not recommending indiscriminate violence or even discriminating or selective violence. They are just making contextual observations on violence and trying to understand why and in what context it takes place. As the one of the authors stated, “We write in the book about many kinds of violence in which the perpetrators feel morally motivated, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.”
Let’s talk about specific types of morally motivated violence. You demonstrate that more than half of urban homicides are due to beefs, or vendettas between individuals or groups. Can you describe how that fits into your virtuous violence theory?
If somebody transgresses a relationship, then other people very often seek retaliation. The third party may be the police or the courts. But it could be the gang leader or somebody who has moral authority within a system, even if the larger society doesn’t recognize their moral authority. If a gang member buys drugs that turn out to be bad quality, the gang leader — in his responsibility to support and look out for and protect his members — goes to the dealer and says, “Hey, you can’t do this.” The drug dealer is afraid and pulls out a gun, and the gang leader pulls out his gun and shoots the drug dealer. The gang leader is in a system of authority where he has to look out for and enforce the rules on behalf of the people who are dependent on him.
You also write about studies that show some police officers are morally motivated to use violence to punish.One source of police violence is that police sometimes have very little faith in the legal system and the court system, and believe that perpetrators are likely to get off and continue to do violence. They may feel they need to take responsibility for punishing those people because the courts won’t. For example, the police see a person holding up one store and they think he probably held up other stores. But they feel the courts aren’t likely to incarcerate this person, so they say, “Hands up!” and shoot.Most police are conscientious and very careful, but there are some who are not, and those who are not are still following their own moral principles and principles that are supported by many others.