Monday, August 20, 2007

The Non-Cycle of Violence

One of the major components of the modern day Left's understanding of conflicts is the notion of the cycle of violence. Group A attacks group B because group B had attacked them. Group B responds to the attack by group A by retaliating against group A which leads group A to carry out another attack against Group B. Thus a never ending cycle of attacks and counterattacks comes into being.
The most obvious example of this is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli army attacks a Palestinian target because the Palestinians carried out a terrorist attack against Israelis. This leads to the Palestinians carrying out further attacks in order to avenge the "martyrs" killed by Israel. This creates a situation in which the conflict can go on forever. Both sides see themselves as being justified in carrying out their attacks as they are simply responding to what the other side has done to them. Not only do they feel justified in continuing the conflict but it becomes a moral imperative to do so. To make peace would be to allow those killed by the other side to die unavenged. One owes it to the dead to keep fighting.
This viewpoint is attractive to those on the Left for two reasons. The first reason is that the notion of a cycle of violence fits into the official statements given by both sides. Israel claims that they are responding to Palestinian terrorism and the Palestinians claim that they are responding to Israel's attacks. So if we take both sides at their word then we would have to conclude that both sides are responding to the violent acts of the other side and hence there is a cycle of violence. By using the cycle of violence model one can create a coherent narrative that takes both sides into account and rises above the biases of both sides. This last point is crucial to understanding the second reason for why the cycle of violence model is attractive, which is that this model fits into the Left's world view and suggests some distinctively leftist solutions. While both sides, in the cycle of violence model, may view themselves as being morally justified, in the end such a war becomes an irrational act of revenge. As such the war becomes morally unjustifiable from both perspectives. What is needed are enlightened individuals on both sides, unburdened by the past, who can see past the petty prejudices of their own side to come together and reject the call for violence and instead embrace peace. In essence the cycle of violence is the product of the sins of conservativism and demonstrates the failure of conservative values. The only path to salvation and the only possible moral decision is to reject the traditional values of conservatism and instead embrace liberalism.
A lot has been written by conservatives attacking the application of the cycle of violence model to the situation in Israel. I see the cycle of violence model as being flawed in its very conception of how it sees conflict. The problem is that, as those on the Left would gladly acknowledge, it is irrational to engage in a conflict simply to avenge those who are already dead. The only reason why a country would go to war and continue to fight it is if they believed that they had something to gain by it. Whether a country actually has something to gain by fighting is a different question. My concern here is in dealing with the perspectives of leaders of countries and various groups. My operational assumption is that the leaders of America, Israel and also that of the Palestinians and Hamas are rational beings who would only fight if they had something to gain by it.
When Israel carries out an attack it does so because it believes that such an act is in its interest. Israel may hope to eliminate an enemy leader, it may hope to weaken the Palestinian ability to fight back or it may hope simply to intimidate. The Palestinians likewise have something to gain by carrying out terrorist attacks. Such actions can bring attention to their cause, it can help rally the Arab world or it can simply intimidate Israel into making concessions.
The trap here is that this notion of acting for ones benefit often gets lost in official statements. In today's world it is not enough to portray oneself as acting in accordance with ones interest one has to portray ones side's actions as a moral cause. Each side therefore portrays themselves as acting in self defense and responding to the attacks of the other. The myth of a cycle of violence is thus created by reading both sides' official statements at face value and taking them to their logical conclusions.
The irony of the situation is that it is modern day liberalism that has created this problem. It is modern day liberalism which has insisted that politics must be a tool for strictly moral ends as opposed to simple self interest. In the end the Left becomes the victim of believing its own propaganda.As much as the Left would like to deny it. War usually is a rational activity carried out by rational individuals in pursuit of rational goals.

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