(stick that in your mutual exclusivity and smoke it!)
I like Anti-Flag, and Rise Against, and not being blown up in a series of abstract politically- and ideologically-motivated differences between people, who have power as a result of our broken society, and not the intelligence to use it wisely (also the result of that broken society). Yet I’m okay with small-scale violence: playing Mass Effect is one of the greatest pleasures a human being can experience (just above sex and just below eating two Custard Creams at once to create The Mythical Double Custard Cream of Legend), and that’s based largely around murdering aliens, I’m more than comfortable in moshpits, and I’m not above punching someone in the face if they’re being a dick.
But while it’s easy to draw a distinction between virtual or meaningless violence and full-scale war, it’s less easy to be totally fine with one, and maniacally opposed to the other, as I think I am; if I’m to keep up this stance, I’ve got to draw a line between the two somewhere, which isn’t easy when my opinions on the two things are totally different.
Take large-scale protesting, for instance. I’ve not been to any marches or rallies organised for students this term because the issues being marched on – basically that students are surprised and whiny about the fact that gaining access to, in some cases over two thousand years worth of, learning, academia and scholarly and worldly experience and advice requires more input than the ability to read King Lear as a 16-year-old – bore and anger me, but I’ve seen news reports of them spilling over into large-scale violence. Similarly, the recent violent protests in the wake of the killings of Mike Brown et al. where, ignoring the crappy eye-for-an-eye argument for a second, I question whether I’d be okay with more violent actions than shouting obscenities at police officers, or chucking stones from a safe (for all parties involved) distance.
Because a lot of the violence in these cases is unhelpful in terms of the issues raised, and actively harmful for those involved; apart from the obvious ‘death is bad’ thing that war has that makes it so detestable, my gripe is that it’s a base, rather animalistic way of solving problems that are often unfathomably complex. Take the political quagmire in the Middle East, a decades-long conflict that combines historical and ethnic identities, political separatism, the concept of interventionism, and a bajillion valid, justified and complex opinions, that is largely being solved through the use of a shit-ton of bullets, making it the international equivalent of failing to open a particularly intricately-wrapped Christmas present according to its instructions, shouting ‘frak it!’, and tearing into it with screwdrivers, scissors and anger; the present gets damaged, and its giver is sad that you didn’t take better care of it.
Equally, sometimes people overthink things, and get too caught up in ideas and speculation, without thinking of tangible problems, and in such cases a blow to the face is a rather effective way to recalibrate their earthly-pretentious ideological bullshit balance. I find myself thinking this a lot with people who self-identify as politically right; you might have your lofty reasons for wanting to protect an ethnic identity, or maintain social structures and norms that have, in fairness, kept the species going for a good few thousand years now, but sometimes you want to headbutt Nigel Farage and say ‘here is a real-life gay person, who you are oppressing’.
But where is the line between violence for the sake of groundedness and realism, and going too far the other way and ignoring ideas completely in favour of rule by money or might? Like all questions worth asking, I don’t know the answer; I’ve lived one, so far quite short, life, in one city in one country in one culture in one fragment of that big, scary infinite thing we all pass through called time, so I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to comment on it.
I think being flexible is the best solution. Pick the two opposite ends of the spectrum and have some opinions for the sake of context – paintball is fun, actual mechanised international warfare is much less so – and judge all the bits inbetween on an individual basis; if I’m at a march that turns violen,t get involved if it’s just insults and a few fists being thrown, but maybe back away if cars are being set alight, or whatever marchers-cum-rioters do with their afternoons.