The Strange Currency of Violence

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins”
Soren Kierkegaard

The United States has never been more powerful than it was on September 12th, 2001. On that day, with the sympathy of the world, we had more true power than all the armies in on Earth combined. Strange to think that as we lay smoldering, bleeding in the ruins of our collective self image as the most powerful nation on Earth, we had in fact grown in power by exponent. This is the strange currency of violence. The wealth of martyrs. And this currency is as tangible as a bar of gold.

Rarely discussed, and little understood, this principle is essential to understanding why the war on terror, and the aspirations of global American hegemony, will fail. It is why all empires fail. It is why terrorism fails.

I have been aware of this idea for years. I’ve been trying to distill it down into a fundamental law. But it is not an easy idea. There are nasty lose ends and apparent exceptions to the rule. But as best as I’ve figured it out, the rule is this:

Whenever you cause harm to another, you empower them.

It doesn’t matter if it’s an individual or a country, bombs or words. The moment you strike, or even strike back, you hand your opponent a gift. The people who attacked us on 911 didn’t weaken the American beast. The unleashed it. And when we responded with bombs in Afghanistan, we didn’t weaken radical Islam, we empowered it, justified it.

Unlike real currency, where every exchange is a tit for tat, the currency of violence creates a new specie on every transaction. It’s as though I hand you a $20 bill, and in exchange you hand me another, different $20 bill that had not previously existed. Except also, unlike real currency, it is not wealth that is created in the exchange, it is more hatred and more violence.

While it may seem that this idea should be resigned to the concerns of some dusty philosophy course somewhere, make no mistake, it’s political implications are as practical as they are profound.

How did Mahatma Gandhi defeat the most powerful Empire in the world without firing a single bullet? The currency of violence.

As I’ve watched the discussion on Guantanamo and torture and Dick Cheney’s speech and Obama’s speech and the advertisement for the arms industry that Memorial Day has become, it hit me that none of our leaders understand the nature of true power.

They speak of America’s strength in the world as something that comes from might. But might used, more often than not, is power spent. Just as the mighty British learned.

We are a militant nation. Our national symbol, the eagle, is a predatory animal. We like to pride ourselves on being able to kick some foreign butt, at least we did until Iraq demonstrated the limits of our prowess.

But Americans desperately need to begin to understand what real strength means and where it comes from. And we have to rise above the reptilian impulse to take the easiest path. The voice for strength through peace should be the Left. But the Left, following the lead of Bill Clinton, has long abandoned enlightenment for political expediency. But such primal expediency at home is anything but expedient abroad.

Obama, at least, pays heed to the idea of strength through peace. But it is an empty gesture as he escalates one war while failing to end another. Empty as bombs kill hundreds of women and children and unmanned drones swoop down on peasant villages.

The idea of strength through peace is not new and did not originate with Gandhi. He just demonstrated a mastery of it that was unprecedented in the modern world.

I’ve been trying to pound into my brain this wisdom as I navigate through my own battles. The currency of violence is fully redeemable in all wars, big and small. It is hard for me to remember that when I lash out at my political foes, when I launch ad hominem attacks and call people names, I am actually giving them something – a gift. The gift of martyrdom.

I think this is why Bill Moyers is far more dangerous and persuasive than say, Keith Olbermann or other attack dogs of the Left. And why he is rarely, if ever, invited into the corporate media sphere.

Attack is not Moyers style. He induces the scoop from his guest and allows the user to feel their own outrage. This is the opposite of an Olbermann special comment where he is so busy expressing outrage that we aren’t much allowed room for our own.

I’ve been in attack mode for so long that I almost feel like I’ve lost my voice, my claws to say this. But I’m tired of empowering my opponents with hate and hostility.

I do hate. I hate what has been done to my country. I hate the greed and brutality of corporatism. And I hate the actions of man.

But hate is just the bank in which the currency of violence is deposited. I am going to try -try- to stop trying to harm my enemies with vitriol and invective. They already have too much power as it is.

P.S., I also have a new blog. Check it out if you want. Visit often if you like it.


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  1. perhaps you can offer some insight on how legitimate defense plays into to this.

    Is violence ever justified? If someone broke into your house and was going to harm your family, you would do anything to stop them. Would Gandhi have done the same?

    Anyway, I needed a break from the rat race. Thanks for reading.

  2. have tried, some quite desparately, to get this message across to us humans.

    How do people get it all so twisted?

    Why is it so difficult for us to get it?

    Its a relatively simple concept, but tricky as hell to pull it off.

    It goes against our lizard grain.

    Love the essay, Tocque, very sorry I have to run out for a couple of hours!! Hoping for some more great discussion. Thanks, great piece.

  3. It’s a big storyline that is hard to get a grasp on all the different forces which figure into it.

    Motivating the populace to feel fearful, and that the answer to that fear is to strike out at perceived foes is critical.

    The concept of “the other” is basic to propaganda techniques employed gain popular suppoprt. Often this has a sublte or not so subtle racial/tribal subtext.

    The Military Industrial Technological Complex which also can be called the national security state coordinates the multi-tiered propaganda effort. The federal government as it is now configured is but a subset in the national security state.

    I believe that if a true peacemaker such as Dennis Kucinich were to some how become president he would likely be assassinated.

    Just a few thoughts.

    • Edger on May 28, 2009 at 16:56

    Better and more effective to harm them with ridicule, no? Pretty hard for anyone to suck anyone else in with lies and greed and corruption if everyone is laughing at him, isn’t it?

  4. in the form of the Nazis justified violanece and was not empowering to them.

    Additionally, the inherent right of states to engage in individual or collective self-defense, in addition the that authorized by the UN Charter, is a necessary evil, but necessary nonetheless.

    As for your adversaries, if they did not spew vitriol at you, they would do it to someone else.  It exposes them for the frauds they are.  Just do not go down to their level and you can hold your head high.  People notice who the haters are.

  5. You know what?  People always talk about the great efficacy of violence using the example of World War II.

    What they miss is that WWII was itself a consequence of previous violence, and the ripples of violence from the second world war are still reverberating and BUILDING in places like Israel and America (with our insane, ruinous armaments industry and empire).

    The notion of “victory” in WWII is merely an illusion, and the violence of that war –itself merely a continuation of previously reverberating  violence– has yet to fully play out.

    Non-violence is the answer, but when I listen to a quote like Kennedy’s “we must put an end to war, or war will put an end to us” today, well, I think we’re over.

    On an individual level, it is possible to take a moral stand so when the Titanic that is this moronic, super-violent corporate “civilization” finally goes down you can drown with dignity and integrity intact.

    • DSinIA on May 29, 2009 at 06:17

    You should definitely give it a read if you haven’t already.  I haven’t read it in years, but from what I remember it takes a slighty different angle on Ghandi than is traditional, as is common with Orwell.

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