May 19, 2008


There are often occasions in life where following our natural inclinations isn't a very good idea. One example is the all-too-human tendency to ignore things we don't like. Violence is a case in point. I think people who want to make the world less violent and less unjust would do well to think and learn as much about it as possible, although preferably not first hand...

I've had many discussions with people over the years about what they consider violence to be and what kind of violence is the worst. The ideas people come up with vary widely, although it seems like many people who have experienced a lot of violence in their lives often consider mental cruelty to be the worst--perhaps because cruel intent is conveyed by physical violence and other kinds of abuse.

I tend to think of violence broadly as any act (or non-action) involving human agency that harms people or keeps them from developing their potential. This would include institutional or structural violence such as poverty as well as physical violence committed by individuals or groups.

(And by the way, way more people die needlessly from preventable things related to the structural violence of poverty and economic disparities that personal violence or even armed conflict. )

To me, the opposite of violence is not so much peace or nonviolence as that state of thriving or well-being that the ancient Greeks referred to as eudaimonia (literally something like "good spirits"), which is often but inadequately translated into English as happiness. As Aristotle argued in his Ethics, happiness or eudaimonia is the goal of human life in the sense that we want other things in order to be happy but desire happiness for its own sake. It's not the same thing as pleasure, although that's a part of a happy life. Rather, it involves not only being able to meet basic human needs but also self-actualization, which for social animals like ourselves inherently involves others.

STRETCHED. As the economy sours for many Americans, people are turning to food stamps to help make ends meet. But as AP reported recently, rising food prices are diminishing their purchasing power.

DEMOCRACY AT RISK. Here's Bill Moyers musing on the future of the Republic.

HALF IN TEN. A new campaign aims at reducing poverty in the US by 50 percent over the next ten years. For more details, click here.

CHANGING LIFESTYLES are likely to come in the wake of higher fuel costs.


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