It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover our impotence. -- Mohandas K. Gandhi (See Was Non-Violence Gandhi’s Ultimate Goal?)In the many years I taught classes in ethics, both inside and out- of the university, I encountered fewer than five or so implacable pacifists. These were people who professed themselves ready to sacrifice their nearest and dearest to death by unjust, intrusive attack, when they themselves could only intervene with violent action. In every case, I would ask them how they would justify letting their loved ones perish for the sake of their own, possibly egoistic, commitments.
They would reply to the effect that they believed in an after-life in which those loved ones would find a better situation. Also, they indicated that they were not ready to pursue that train of investigation: change the topic. (But see Belief, Disbelief, Truth, Falsehood and Faith.)
Adults, parents, teachers and counseling personnel all over this great country of ours have gotten into the habit of preaching to their children or underage charges that "Violence is never the answer." Every kid, when confronted with such easy pacifism, immediately recognizes two things:
1. What they are being told is false; and,
2. Their mentors are either not serious, or out of touch with reality, or liars.
All kids have to do is listen to the radio, watch TV, or pay attention to their elders' behavior to see more than ample proof that violence, on some occasions, is very likely reasonably, the unavoidable answer. Their easy preachment against violence, a dollar-store pacifism, is just one more depressing example of a major rule of everyday adult practice: "Do as I say, not as I do."
Another preachment kids encounter regularly is that if someone hits them and they hit back, they (the original victims) have "lowered themselves to the level" of their bullies. What's this "level" nonsense? Why is physical violence lower, more reprehensible, than the psychological torture inflicted by sharp tongues spreading malevolent gossip? Do psychological torturers imagine themselves morally superior because they refrain from touching their victims? They aren't; and, no kid who can fog a mirror thinks they are.
It's hard to be a parent, or teacher, or counselor. You don't want to encourage random unconstrained physical battle. Not because it's morally inferior -- look at the many sports which are both violent and educative because contact is controlled by rules -- but because it runs risks of outcomes that outweigh any benefits to be gained in the combat. Also, kids are prone to sudden seizures of anger, which, if restrained and reflected on, can be controlled to their benefit. (See Permissible School Violence)
On the other hand, who imagines that any kid with half a brain can't recognize hypocrisy? And what does this hypocrisy teach?
a. People in authority don't really want to get involved in having to exercise -- and make public -- their weak capacity for rational or fair judgment;
b. Talk is cheap. Fast tongue exercises authority as it dodges challenge;
c. Adults (superiors, leaders, gentry) are, at best, inferior teachers or models, who don't want to get involved with kids (inferiors, followers, servants) beyond what is absolutely necessary.
Pacifism, which starts out with the highest, the noblest, hopes of transforming human societies to tolerance and love, when glibly practiced in the contexts of our power-ridden institutions, becomes the means by which courage and forthrightness are fed to tyranny.
For references and to examine these issues further, see Doing Violence to "Violence"