SIXTY murderers told me they didn’t want to kill — and then didn’t. There are several explanations for this, but only one is true. The obvious one is that they fooled me, they pretended to be ‘good’, but weren’t. This is the explanation Prison Ministers prefer, and use it to run our prisons. Another is that they were so frightened of ‘punishment’ that they decided to behave ‘properly’. Conventional wisdom supposes that murderers calculate the balance between mayhem and merit with a nice precision, and then chose mayhem. By contrast Quakerism advises us to “utterly deny” all outward force and coercion — and those murderers taught me why.
On the face of it, violence wins every time. “Might is Right”, as Bismarck put it so succinctly — those with the strongest arms or armaments guarantee thereby that they’ll win. And this infects political discourse today. The bigger and badder our weapons, then we’ll all be more secure. Smells a bit fishy, when you think about it — how can increasing lethality ensure longevity? Medically speaking, this is counterproductive. Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD, doesn’t sound all that sensible either, let alone wise. When you consider we devote huge amounts of our wealth to increasing destruction, doesn’t a small voice ask, shouldn’t we be paying at least as much to construct rather than to destruct? Or is this the limit of our reasoning ability, our homo sapiens capacity? Are we doomed by our genes to perish a violent death at our own insistence?
Try arguing this with the person in the street, or with a radio interviewer, and they promptly equip give your adversary with a faster gun, a longer sword, a better vantage point — and proceed to ask, tangentially, if you really want to see your mother slaughtered or your daughter raped — meanwhile conserving Bismarck’s axiom intact throughout. Of course a bigger gun can kill more people — one is reminded of North Korean artillery which currently ensures that Seoul is now within range — but is it possible that Bismarck was wrong, not only wrong, but ‘utterly’ wrong?
To begin with, the murderers I knew would agree — their fathers would tell them, “if your enemy has a lump of wood, pick up a knife; if they have a knife, pick up a gun”. A shallow Bismarckian logic, the same that ensured inexorably that Bismarck’s protégés would strangulate civilisation in 1914, from which we have yet to recover.
But wait, into this cauldron comes a still small voice, utterly impotent in some ways, but mighty in others. In November 1660 a bunch of Quakers told King Charles II they disagreed. Where were their battalions? How many rifles did they have at their immediate command? In Bismarck’s terms they were born losers. But what did the murderers teach me?
If you spend five years getting to know murderers really well, to your surprise you find they really don’t want to be violent. Underneath, they were all, everyone of them, born non-violent. They won’t tell you this themselves, but if you offer them a trustworthy context long enough, they will easily convince you, as they did me.
So what’s happening? How can the Peace Testimony be powerful and universal, as I claim? What these murderers did was grow up emotionally. And there’s your answer. Parents who don’t coerce their children to prevent them, for example, from toddling across a busy road are derelict. But people who do coerce adults, as Bismarck prescribes, are keeping their recipients infantile. Nations need to govern themselves by forgoing parental type coercion and implement fully informed consent, else they suffocate. Big Brother is lethal. War is kindergarten tantrums writ large. 1660 Quakers knew this — do you?
Sunday, 28 May 2017 www.DrBobJohnson.org
This article appeared in the UK Quaker weekly, The Friend.
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