A Monopoly on Violence

This is the term of art used to describe and justify government’s control of military and police functions.

There is an obviousness, an inevitability to the rationale behind it that leads from, “There are bad-guys.” to “We need to defend ourselves against evil-doers.” to “Stop! Or I’ll shoot!”

And, then we accept the entire package, wholeheartedly or with reservations. But what if we look at the entire question from the outside…?

The inevitability of this path from assumptions to conclusions seems to suffer from a recurrent pattern. We tend to do this sort of thing a lot! There seems to be an acceptance of a trail of causes and effects at work.

Cause & effect is an obvious heuristic that can lead us to quickly adjust our actions in moments of danger. But as with any behavior that fossilizes into a certainty, this passage is a sign that we’ve left coherence behind. Where does cause & effect lead us wrong in the common progression?

Reality is predictable if we take it in small enough parcels and over short enough periods of time. Local effects and obvious forces overwhelm the nondeterministic nature of the over-all universal condition of flux and we can state with practical certainty that, “This will lead to that.”

This happens when we have been through a violent situation and have successfully resorted to violence to resolve it. Undoubtedly, if someone pulls a knife on us and we can pull a gun on them in return we have a good chance of seeing the next dawn. Killing our attacker seems like an added bit of insurance. We’re likely to see our way into next week.

These lessons sear their way into memory. Fear, and the rush of perception and action within such moments makes them indelible. Even when we have only experienced them vicariously through a fiction. All this makes for a memorable experience. This mechanism has driven successful situational survival throughout the development of organisms with nervous systems. We learn from experience.

But as with so much that has come with the explosion of processing power within the human cerebral cortex, this compelling imagery of thought and emotion has led us to overstate the benefits of this strategy. As in so many other examples we lose a sense of proportion. We see and then we reinforce a partial view by projecting an expectation based on memories of past experiences. We do this until we have managed to create a perception that matches our expectation. We imagine we’re at most recreating a previous certainty. All subtlety and complexity has been lost in translation. What we miss is that we cannot recreate what we have most-likely embellished and channeled from our memories of past perceptions to fit our current expectation.

“He had a gun!”

And most likely we believe it, at least in the split second it takes to fire. The alternative is untenable. At least without finding some other rationale for demonizing our victim.

*  *  *

“You can’t make this shit up!”

The constant refrain of the fiction writer at the way reality usurps our prerogative to create a unified narrative. We find people and places with coincidental names that reflect their occupations or describe their character or themes about their lives. Analogies and connections across the scales of human experience reflect each other with uncanny parallels. These things really happen. What would be considered a heavy hand when applied in fiction is the common stock and trade of our world of perception. One might begin to wonder: Where does the pedestrian, quotidian world end and our fictions and their consistent contexts begin?

Now, this is an enormous topic. Let’s just touch on it as it applies directly to this thrust. Let’s consider Ferguson and ISIS/ISIL. These examples reflect each other and this on-the-nose nature of our reality. Accounts of both situations shove lessons in our faces.

Neither of these phenomena arrives at our attention unmediated, unless we happen to be there to experience them for our selves. This mediation funnels through conduits that are consistently meddled-with to promote various agendas. Our views of them are not the equivalent of personal experience. These stories have been pre-mythologized for us by parties intent on polarizing opposing, and therefore linked agendas. There’s not any single conclusion to be drawn from this. It’s just another layer of uncertainty laid over the built-in uncertainties of perception and recollection.

This is the sea in which we swim, or sink…. It is a useful heuristic to pause whenever an inevitability presents itself no matter how convenient it may seem to let it remove our doubts and plant us in a reassuring certainty. As we take in each layer and it sounds its particular alarms a stuttering syncopation of double-takes hits us. It is confusing, but the alternative is to become a pawn, to be used. Drawn in by a story we’re likely to end up a casualty in someone else’s calculation of advantage.

Let’s be clear. None of this is to explain away or discount horrible acts of violence perpetrated with a sense of impunity. We are talking about how we might approach such situations – given time and distance, a luxury those on the ground do not have – so as to discover how we might respond instead of merely react. So that we might use the perspective luck has given us in a particular case instead of giving it away and rushing to re-act. Especially when we are being played so that our reaction will inevitably lead to further violence. Those who are in direct reach of these events, and others, are in a much more clear relation to what impinges on them directly. No one can judge what they might need to do to save themselves….

*  *  *

We could say that while we are wired to fear “Shark Attack!” This pervasive mechanism of servitude and objectification is more dangerous. There are many more casualties of the Monopoly of Violence than there have ever been from sharks. Sweeping this aside as “human nature” is itself a tactic of those who would keep us under their thumbs.

Human behavior/nature is tremendously malleable. The variety of cultural standards over time has been incredible. Precisely, incredible. We prefer not to believe it. So much do we – the us living today over much of the globe, a majority in numbers squeezed into a preposterously short time-frame – want to believe, “It’s our way or the highway!”

Creativity, the capacity to respond to the Quality of Existence with a new form reflecting a Quality of its own, carved into mental and physical being through the actions of caring. Simply-put, creativity results from giving a damn! This is not some fuzzy “nice-to-have.” It is the way the universe works. It’s the way everything got here. It’s why there is so much Quality left for us to destroy, even at this point in our linear path into death-wish and destruction.

Fifty years ago, thirty years ago, these potential understandings were there to be seen. They were not. At least not in any way that has shown its mark on the greater trajectory.


The one thing we have, that did not exist before and that presents as a window that is easily shut for us again in the imaginable near-term future, is the evidence of how bankrupt our expected paths are. How every dodge has shown itself with dramatic exaggeration and indelible certainty – Funny, how one of the few actual certainties available to us, that business-as-usual will kill us, is the only certainty everyone works so hard to ignore! The certainty that; we must drop these roles and gather our strength where we can find it; and build what can be built; is hidden much of the time. However modest and unimposing they may seem, our opportunities to respond creatively to this have rarely been so clear.

In the spirit of trusting that, “We get what we need.” The inextricable linkage between this opportunity and the Enormity of our situation; the scope and breadth of the dangers we face; is part and parcel of the gift we have before us. Every rebellion against the Monopoly of Violence adds to the total of violence. Every new Power quickly takes on the oppressive nature of the one it was intended to supplant. Attempts to control rebellious populations always back-fire. Neither side can win this kind of war.

Interesting times indeed!

There is no inevitability behind the Monopoly on Violence, or the spreading franchises on violence. There are now so many contenders for that throne….

This is how collapse plays out. Violence is unleashed from within narrow monopolies and comes to be expressed, shall we say more democratically? The language of affiliation and consensus is itself bankrupt and unable to satisfactorily address these questions. Violence jumps out of its present, more hidden channels. Hidden at least from those with the most power to unleash it and the greater short-term gain to be had from deploying it against foes with no regard for the obligatory collateral damage that ensues. As things progress – in the factual usage of that term, not its civic-religious usage as inevitable Progress!™ – these monopolies erode and the tacit violence gets more explicit, harder to ignore. It strikes closer to the bone.

And in this way, this moment of ours and its precious window (Dear as it has been with the price paid to date to arrive here.) will pass. The millstone of psychologically determined inevitability will grind ever finer. This coming Dark Age will re-invigorate the mythologies of violence and might even lead to greater horrors as the wheel turns around again.

This is likely, but its inevitability is only there in our willingness to be complicit.

There are alternatives.

Courage lies in the small and fine work of creativity, not in grand dramas of conquest.

Do we dare take up this challenge?


Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

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