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Violence can be both good and bad. Your gut is right now killing thousands of bacteria, this is biochemical war, it goes on all the time, and we would not be here without. Even if we would like to, we can’t but call it good. But violence can be cruelty.

Generally, people tend to like to refrain from violence. We like to be good. But refraining from violence leads to cruelty. Unavoidably. But it isn’t so easy to see the why.The core of the problem is the burden of overestimation. By that i mean: Someone in a low power position must overestimate threat. He must act as if he was in danger, just in case. This is a problem to people dealing with him, but it is important to realize that it is also a problem to the person in this situation.

It is a problem on many levels. But it is even a problem in the direct sense, the economic sense, that it has a cost. To over-react is to spend more energy than required. And this is a person strained for resources.

But it is also a problem because of wasted opportunities, because it precludes communication, and thus help-finding, because it risks retaliation, because it makes scouting harder, because it raises stress, because it kills trust, and thus collaboration, because it makes diminishing returns kick in sooner, and so on.

Now the important thing is: The cost of overestimation makes cruelty more worthwhile to endangered people than privileged people. And it is only privileged people who can forfeit violence. And, importantly, that is not about two kinds of people, but about a continuous scale of power: The less power you have, the more useful cruelty is.

So: All forfeiture of violence is an increase in cruelty.

I can’t really say QED yet, though, because i’d have to prove that what is valid in general also applies to the individual. Because, OK, the fact that i can be non-violent means someone else must be, but still if i do no harm it is still a little bit less harm. This is a mistake, a grave one.

The error is thinking violence can be only bad. Failing to differentiate between cruelty (bad) and aggressiveness (good). Violence in itself has nothing to do with morality. Nothing in human experience comes close to the violence of the exploding heart of the sun, but still it’s just there, by itself.

So: Whenever you abstain from violence you are degrading the quality of the overall violence (even if indeed you are diminishing the total amount of violence, and it is doubtful you would be). Because you can abstain from violence, it means you are powerful enough to be aggressive without being cruel. Actually, the more you can abstain from violence, the more you can be aggressive without cruelty. And there are no absolutes in this scale. But the important thing is: The overall amount of violence does not matter, what matters is the difference between aggressiveness and cruelty.

This general dynamic is at work in any scale: In regards to your own attitude and out-take in life, in your personal relationships, in group politics, in institutions, in ideologies.

This is all much more obvious in concrete cases: Every single woman who refuses to learn to defend herself makes it easier for a rapist. It is not the woman’s fault that she was raped, but it would be her merit if she turned an rape attempt into a fair fight. Who cares who is to blame? To change the dynamics of violence you must change how the energy flows into the system.

It is important to first state the case in very broad general terms, so that we see there is no easy moral way out. There is no idealist scape. We must confront our own personal responsibility for violence.

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