I recently passed by a vehicle, the bumper of which was adorned with a sticker that proclaimed "violence is never the answer." The bolded word was in red, presumably to signify the blood of all those innocent victims who have suffered at the hands of people who refuse to heed the message. This pacifist, whose freedom of speech is guaranteed by threat of force, was driving around Seattle, apparently taking for granted the protections of an armed police and an even more thoroughly armed military. Although I cannot confirm this hunch, I suspect that the market for these bumper-stickers is lacking in places like Beirut, Syria, Egypt, and Afghanistan. Pacifism, it seems, is a luxury; it is a luxury rarely earned by pacifists.
That anyone should even have to make an observation so seemingly banal almost boggles the mind. Yet, there it is. Violence, apparently, is never the answer. That is a bit like saying that 5 is never the answer. Five is not an answer, it is a number. If you ask a question, and the answer is a number, 5 might very well be the incorrect answer, but it is certainly not always the incorrect answer.
Likewise, violence is an existing thing. It is not a catch-all answer to any conceivable question any more than 5 is, but it is not always the incorrect answer, either. For instance, if a man holds a gun to your face, you might consider violently slapping the gun from his hand. If a thief reaches for your purse, you might even consider causing him some pain as a deterrence. If a country decides to aggressively pursue your complete annihilation, you may want to think about violence as a potential solution. In other words, violence may not be a good answer to the question "Can you recommend a wine that will compliment this roasted duck?" But when violence is a part of the question - "how would you like to give me all of your money at the risk of being stabbed with this here knife?" - violence is often a legitimate part of the answer, if not the answer in its entirety.
As if the sticker on the driver's side of the Prius' rear bumper was not enough to make the vehicle's owner look sufficiently foolish, it was complemented by a sticker directly adjacent, which asked the rhetorical question "What Would Jesus Bomb?"
This sentiment is a little more obvious, and I do understand that the full thought simply cannot fit in the space allotted. It would be quite the over-sized sticker that could state:
Christians are hypocritical, and therefore either evil at worst, or untrustworthy at best, because they tend to be politically conservative, a viewpoint that often manifests itself in terms that are pro-military, pro-gun, pro-death penalty, and generally pro-vocative to little old Prius owners like myself. This sticker is intended to expose that hypocrisy by putting a spotlight on their God (or something), who said many things that I don't recall, but who also suggested that his followers 'turn the other cheek,' which I interpret to mean that they ought to be pacifist in all situations under all circumstances.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just coexist?
Why a person wishes to so senselessly broadcast his complete ignorance of the teachings of Christianity is unknown to me - or maybe that isn't it at all. This person is preaching to a choir. That doesn't change his level of ignorance, but it does bring to light a striking reality.
I recently watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which South American natives were depicted using the term "bwana," which is not a South American, but a Swahili word. This mistake is hardly surprising given the lack of familiarity that most Americans (or residents of virtually all non-African countries) are likely to have with these minor details. In the same way, when we speak of Haggis, mushy peas, Persian rugs, Hong-Kong film, or the great Saharan sun, unless we have been there (which most of us have not), some small amount of error can be expected. But when you mistakenly characterize the simple tenets of a religion, many of whose adherents are your friends, family, and neighbors ... well, that cannot exactly be considered an honest mistake. That is a deliberate misconception (or lie) at worst, and willful ignorance at best. Either way, it is incorrect, but unlike Bugs and the Swahilis, we are all walking around in the same general area, communicating, having lunch together - yet none of us are speaking a shared language. Better put, we are using the same language to describe entirely different perceptions of reality.
A worldview barrier, in a sense, is far more difficult than a language barrier. Language is a communication issue. Two people may devise a way to describe an orange to one another despite their lack of common tongue; it is when those people are both looking at an orange and seeing something different that they run into some real difficulty.
Our current President recently gave an inauguration speech in which he illustrated this point aptly. He described a united country, he frequently used the word "we," and he spoke in terms not of division but of singularity. He spoke of a people who all understand the need for common solutions to known problems, and he spoke of action, because disagreement was a non-issue. He gave a speech all about apples, leaving no room for the possibility that nearly half of the citizens of this country believe that we are all staring at oranges. It is hardly surprising that a President should choose to paint the present with an aim toward unification, but most presidents do so by finding a common ground. This President did so by speaking of highly controversial issues as if no controversy existed. If he was attempting to unify, it was only by declaring a winner.
When I worked for the federal government, I learned that there is no problem too small for a task force. But it is not those small problems that worry me. It is the big ones. While a task force on paper-clip acquisition might spend several days worth of hourly pay to realize a nickel's savings on office supplies (as well as another several thousand dollars printing fliers, holding trainings, and spreading the message to every local bureau across the country), it is the grand scale solutions that result in real problems. Any minor slip-up, and certainly every major tragedy, always resulted in a task force on rule changes, followed by extensive training on the implementation of new rules. When a burn-over resulted in the deaths of several firefighters in Colorado, a task force was able to isolate at least 10 contributing factors, many of which could be summed up in the phrase "common sense," all of which were the result of human error, and each of which produced a new federal guideline. Years later, another tragedy gave rise to further investigations and additional rules.
I often find myself compensating for the dereliction of duty on the part of high school civics teachers by explaining - as small soliloquies in the midst of large arguments - some seemingly basic fundamentals about the United States' system of government. The differences, for instance, between a democracy and a republic, the significance of branches of government and checks and balances, the limitations placed on our federal government through the assumption that the federal government has no powers except those granted in the constitution - i.e. the constitution does not limit, but rather empowers, which is very important. Yet, those actually involved in government do seem to suffer from delusions of kingship. They all heard Yul Brynner triumphantly declare "so let it be written, so let it be done!" and upon arrival into office, they immediately set themselves to writing.
Thus ended racism, poverty, hunger, class warfare, crime, disease - all through the ceremonious signings of bills with handfuls of ink-filled souvenirs, each bearing the insignia of the oval office and a president who did something. Interestingly, we still have racism (even if the government did manage to reverse it), and despite the success of the free market and a virtual elimination of poverty and hunger, we tell people that they are impoverished due to relative status, which tends to justify crime and increase class warfare. Disease will soon be accessible to all, thanks to taxpayer-funded, innovation-crippling healthcare, and it seems that the one thing we simply have not eliminated by decree is the need for ever more decrees and declarations.
What this president truly has declared, however inadvertently, is his endorsement of a certain type of blindness - that blindness that allows my Seattle pacifist to walk around entirely oblivious of the positions held by those people he decries. It is becoming increasingly apparent that we are aliens walking among aliens, all looking in the same direction, nobody seeing the same thing. We do not speak a common language, and Barack Obama has just decreed that the national language is liberalism. However ceremoniously he makes that declaration, however elegantly it is written, yet it will not be so.