On Beating People Up

Guatemalan University students beat a suspected thief. Photo by Wrath of God


The question is does anyone deserve to be beaten. As in physically beaten. I say, unequivocally no. Under no circumstances, no enemy. I think the measure of a person and a nation is how it treats its enemies. Inflicting pain does not make more good in this world and it is never, as an ends, just. However, I think I may be in the minority on this. I spoke to a few friends and they said it was quite obvious that some people deserved to be beaten. For things they’ve done, or things they’ve said, offenses against kith and kin. However, I do not believe that punishment is a valid reason to beat someone, and I know that it is not legal. As a Buddhist I don’t think any violence is just, and I try to feel compassion for my enemies. The law also embodies similar sentiments for individuals, reserving violence for the state. However, I’m not sure this is an argument worth winning. The feeling of just violence is deeply ingrained, in people whose judgment I respect and I don’t know if that will ever change.

What I Mean

Is kicking the shit out of someone who offends you. Someone who calls your girl a slut, or steals from you, or insults you or yours. A lot of people would say that is justified. A lot of my friends would say its justified. At its extreme, this also means bloodying someone who rapes, murders or commits some heinous crime. In that case even more people would say beating up someone is justified. In all cases, however, I would say that is not. For me this is because of one of the few tenets of Buddhism I remember, that of compassion. The Buddha said that all beings deserve compassion. Some words of the only prayer I’ve really said are

May my enemies be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

That passage always touched me the most because it was hard, because it was worthwhile. It took Loving Kindness out of the realm of sensory pleasure or comfort into something much bigger, something principled and something pure. Loving your friends and family is easy, but loving your enemies is difficult. In my experience, this seemingly contrary action has made my life better, and done more than any aggressive action to ‘defeat’ my enemies. Not that I apply this principle as much as I should, but I truly believe that love and compassion are the only way out. I also believe that they are simply more effective. They actually achieve the better world that war and violence struggle so fitfully for.

However, on a more worldly level, I still believe that physically beating someone is illegal and unjustified in almost every circumstance. No one deserves a beating, no matter what they do, and this is pretty widely accepted.

In Law

Assault is a crime. The most common defenses are Consent (S&M), Enforcing Arrest, Punishment, Self-Defense, Prevention of Crime, and Defense of Property. None of these are precisely ‘because he deserved it’. However, Punishment comes the closest. Specifically, Corporal Punishment, literally punishment of the body.

State Violence

The state is, at its core, an institution of violence – its control and just application. The state can wage war and perform police functions and still remain a moral being. However, by accepting the state, an individual relinquishes the right to certain things (insomuch as these ever were rights). An individual cannot kill or apply volitional violence in any legal sense whereas the state can. However, most modern states – while they may kill – relinquish the ‘right’ to physically beating people up. Most.

In terms of punishment in judicial and educational settings, approaches vary throughout the world. The practice has, for instance, been almost completely abandoned in Europe and North America, whilst other societies retain widespread use of judicial corporal punishment, including Malaysia and Singapore. In Singapore, male violent offenders and rapists are typically sentenced to caning in addition to a prison term. The Singaporean practice of caning became much discussed in the U.S. in 1994 when American teenager Michael P. Fay was sentenced to such punishment for an offence of car vandalism.

Corporal punishment is also dictated as an acceptable means of behavioral correction in traditional Islamic Sharia law, and applied in primarily Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

I dunno the situ in SL, but in most nations Corporal Punishment is not acceptable, usually associated with dictatorships and police states. Not that it doesn’t happen, but at least in law it is recognized as bad. Singapore is an outlier, but that may be a peculiarity of Malay Law. In functioning states such as that it may actually be a feasible alternative to taking time from people, but I would not – on principle – trust the state with physical violence. The potential for abuse is simply too high, and the benefits inconclusive. I think physical violence is simply wrong, but regardless, it is simply not worth it.

Personal Violence

For individuals assault is a crime, and rightly so. Like drug trafficking or theft, and yet we glory in it. You cannot beat someone up to mete out punishment. That is vigilantism and it is even more prone to abuse than state violence. What you get with personal violence are warlords, thugs and bullies. You get a society ruled by strength and cruelty, not law. Even if you accept punishment as a real justification for violence (which I don’t) then it is still not the purvey of individuals. We relinquish that right to the state, and for good reason.

Reason: Simply put you cannot trust individuals with the right to physical force. There is no guarantee or even likelihood that they will use it judiciously. For every ‘just’ beating there will be 20 malicious or unprovoked, and that creates a security crapflood.

Control: Violence cascades and begets more violence. It may seem just to beat up some guy for insulting your girl, but his cousin may think it’s just to beat you up for that. Ad Nauseam. Left unchecked it will destroy all security in a country, especially one like this. As I mentioned in a Critical Massholes post,

Sri Lanka is so tightly networked that dropping a spark anywhere will set of an immediate loyalty reaction and you will get your ass beat for no good reason. If you hit a pedestrian in even a normal part of Sri Lanka it’s very likely that that man’s neighbors will drag you out of the car and kill you. That is seriously no joke, it happened to someone close to me and he was only saved cause he knew someone that ran him to safety. Someone hit a University of Colombo student once and his fellow students beat and I think killed the driver. If you get in a fight with one particular Royalist at a match, 30 guys will kick your ass without asking questions. Simple group loyalty. Even if that particular Royalist was wrong, no one fucking cares, or even asks.

Even in a country where the laws barely work, the consequences of taking the law into your own hands is much worse.

And so on. Assault is illegal no matter what that person said or did, barring self-defense. As a Buddhist I believe that all assault is wrong, though I have also arrived at this conclusion logically. There is no justice is breaking someones nose, bruising and bloodying them, and attacking their body. It doesn’t accomplish anything and it brings no greater good to the world. The feeling of pride upon victimizing someone is not a noble sentiment. Physical assault may happen, but it is always wrong.

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12 Comments »

2006-11-17 21:54:36

I agree…NOT to beat someone to pulp is the better/smarter thing to do…but restraining oneself to that extext isnt easy..i mean if someone insulted your mother could you walk away? would you walk away?!?! Some people just dont “get” anything BUT violence…i know its a very babaric substitute for…say…talking things out?…but sometimes, i believe a broken nose knocks more sense into some people than a few harsh words! I guess pride has a lot to do with it too? i totally agree with you that beating people up isnt the best thing to do…but from experiance its proved to work better than words..at times.

 
Seal
2006-11-17 22:18:00

Beating up someone just because he insulted you or called you a nasty name is wrong. People should have enough strength of character to ignore those things. Or at least to respond in words. If someone calls you a sissy, respond by calling him a sissy too, or whatever else that comes to mind, but trying to beat up someone simply because he insulted you, or your mother, or whoever is wrong.
The reason many people in Sri Lanka think it’s okay to beat up someone to settle personal scores is because they know that they can get away with it. In a western country if somebody decides to just beat up someone else, they’ll be charged with assault and put in jail. In Singapore, he’ll get a well deserved flogging too.

Should a thief be beaten up when he is caught by those who catch him? No, if it’s done it should be done by the state as in Singapore, not by private individuals. But in many third world countries, the structure of the formal mechanism of justice is weak. People don’t have much confidence that the state will ensure that justice will be done. The perception is that any accused can bribe his way out of trouble. So it is not surprising that people take the law into their own hands and bash up a thief if they get hold of one.

I read Lee Kwan Yew’s memoir of his time as the PM of Singapore, and his justification for corporal punishment is not revenge but the fact that it deters would be criminals. (And most Singaporeans are Chinese, not Malay.) That is a legitimate reason for the state to carry out corporal punishment.
Some people are more likely to be deterred by that than by jail time. If the state starts treating criminals with kindness and compassion, social order will break down completely. So compassion and kindness cannot be a valid reason for saying that the state should not carry out corporal punishment. Compassion and kindness should be shown to the victims of crime not to the perpetrators.

 
Seal
2006-11-17 22:25:14

This is the relevant quote from Lee Kwan Yew –
(Taken from here )

The Japanese Military Administration governed by spreading fear. It put up no pretence of civilised behaviour. Punishment was so severe that crime was very rare. In the midst of deprivation after the second half of 1944, when the people half-starved, it was amazing how low the crime rate remained. . . . As a result I have never believed those who advocate a soft approach to crime and punishment, claiming that punishment does not reduce crime. That was not my experience in Singapore before the war, during the Japanese occupation or subsequently.

 
J
2006-11-17 23:13:48

Most of the people who comment on this blog deserve to be beaten. Severely.

 
2006-11-18 00:20:46

well said Indi. Respect. Couldnt agree with you more…

 
2006-11-18 22:13:09

kudos, indi. good post. in sri lanka, every day, regular, non-political violence is rampant and regular. boys beat each other up on a daily basis, over the sillest things. they get drunk, and suddenly any reason is good enough. its not limited to the rural, lower-middle class folk, but extends to the rich, the high flyers. your friends, and mine.

i don’t believe in punishment as revenge at all, i don’t think it works and i don’t think it makes anyone but the inflicter feel ‘right’ or ‘good’, and that too, only in the short term, in a very superficial and immature way. if anyone thinks beating someone else up, for any reason, be it pride or revenge or anything is justified, i always feel like that person has skipped a stage in evolution : isn’t that the point of being intelligent and sensitive and having an alarmingly high level of intellect? to be able to resolve feelings of frustration and anger without resorting to methods that are both useless and barbaric?

violence only displays low integrity. it shows that one is unable to control their feelings and thus, must resort to acting on them in an animal-like instinct. this then not only justifies beating someone up, but it also justifies the concept of sexually abusing a woman while walking on the road and shitting on the pavement. all these actions are results of not being able to control oneself, and they are signs of the degeneration of civility.

those that use violence, use it only to frighten, threaten and hurt : they want to show how much of an upper hand they have. it’s childish and futile. in the end, it fixes nothing, and only adds to the reasons why we as a society are becoming increasingly morally bankrupt .

of course, being rid of every day violence is a million years away. its a long and frightfully difficult journey, especially when the majority seems to think that you and i are wrong. we must start by addressing this issue loudly and publicly, in places like these, and condemning people that use violence as a tool of control, superiority and power, even if they are those that are closest to us.

 
David Blacker
2006-11-18 22:34:53

I think we should all be allowed to carry a gun. Actually, make that two. Then, like in the Wild West, if someone pissed you off, you could just kill him. Of course, you’d have to be faster on the draw and a better shot than the pisser-offer, but I’m willing to risk that. Punch ups have no closure; bullets are better.

 
2006-11-19 09:10:00

” Should a thief be beaten up when he is caught by those who catch him? No, if it’s done it should be done by the state as in Singapore, not by private individuals. ”

So its okay for governments to beat people up but not individuals?

“If the state starts treating criminals with kindness and compassion, social order will break down completely. So compassion and kindness cannot be a valid reason for saying that the state should not carry out corporal punishment. ”

This is perhaps one of the stupidest thigs i’ve ever heard. All corporal punishment does is ensure that the cycle of violence continues. For every ‘criminal’ murdered there are plenty more to take their place. It serves no purpose at all, the human race needs to come to terms with the fact that locking people up and hanging them will never solve the problem of ‘crime’. People dont usually just steal and kill for fun, you get the odd exception but most of the time its not a choice. Its easy for that fucking facist PM to talk about the breaking down of social order, what does he know? What social order? As long as life is hard crime will continue no matter how many peoples necks are brokenand meawhile the real criminals are ignored.

I also think that though everyone may talk about how opposed they are to revenge and punishment, if it actually came down to it things might be a little different.

 
Sophist
2006-11-19 10:36:45

Asvajit when you run a country that can stick its finger up at most of the world powers without any threat of a backlash, THEN and only then can you ask what Lee Kwan Yew knows. He knows a shitload. A lot more than you and I and anyone else on this thread put together.

Indi in an absolute conceptual sense you are 100% right. But life is rarely about concepts and absolutes. In a purely Sri Lankan context I think Dimitri got it bang on when he said that some people don’t get anything BUT violence. The ability to reason and react non-violently and intelligently are not capabilities that the majority of people possess. That is a fact and I think we need to work within it.

Law imputes the State with legitimacy. A citizen’s consent to be governed shows his deference to that very state. However, despite all those political theories that say a State is the servant of its people, it doesn’t necessarily ring true. While A may beat the crap out of B for a ‘justifiable’ reason, it does now preclude A being tried for assault and found guilty despite his just cause. Provocation is only a mitigation for murder. So whether we like to admit it that way or not – the State is the biggest bully. It’s legitimacy and representative status means that it has the most ‘friends’ who will beat the crap out of you due to loyalty.

When a system breaks down then those ‘friends’ of the State (read police, army, minister’s son etc.), begin to act injudiciously. Which makes for injustice and lack of faith in the ‘system’, which has so far been entrusted to do the beatings legitimately. When people see illegtimate beatings or illegtimate non-beatings they exercise judiciously their own brand of justice. It’s a micro level exercise of the same right the State has.

Your perception of justice maybe equal or greater than that of a judge who legally imparts punishment. So why should you not be able to dispense it? The only reason I don’t dispense it is because I’m scared shitless of people with guns, bicycle chains and friends in higher places. I don’t not dispense it because I think its wrong to.

Once you get your car back you’ll know what I’m talking about Indi.

 
Seal
2006-11-19 11:52:52

Its easy for that fascist PM to talk about the breaking down of social order, what does he know?

Apparently he knows how to turn a poor third world country into a rich first world country in less than a generation. He did it!
There is no need to agree with anything just because Lee Kwan Yew said so, and I wouldn’t either. (Specially with things like punishing people for possessing chewing gum.) But overall, when all the positives are added together and all the negatives (there aren’t many in Mr Lee’s case) are taken out, Lee Kwan Yew is one of the greatest statesman the world has seen.

All corporal punishment does is ensure that the cycle of violence continues. For every ‘criminal’ murdered there are plenty more to take their place. It serves no purpose at all

I disagree that killing and stealing is done only because murderers and thieves are starving. If that’s what you meant when saying there is a need for it. If you had in mind all the drug addicts who steal to sustain their “need” for things like heroin, then I might agree that it’s driven by need.
But even when done due to some need of the criminal, even of basic necessities, murder and stealing are still wrong and have to be punished.
I wonder whether you read my second comment in which I quotes Lee Kwan Yew. What he said was-

Punishment was so severe that crime was very rare. In the midst of deprivation after the second half of 1944, when the people half-starved, it was amazing how low the crime rate remained. . . . As a result I have never believed those who advocate a soft approach to crime and punishment, claiming that punishment does not reduce crime. That was not my experience in Singapore before the war, during the Japanese occupation or subsequently.

How do you reconcile the low crime rate in the midst of war time poverty that Lee Kwan Yew Saw in Japanese occupied Singapore with your claim that crime will happen “As long as life is hard.”
Some countries that have gone a long way in making life easier for their citizens and still have a very high crime rate. Present day Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

 
2006-11-20 13:48:04

[...] Indi.ca protests the physical violence in light of the Budhdha’s teachings. Rezwan [...]

 
2006-11-26 08:38:12

[...] Indi.ca抗議佛教教義不應鼓勵肢體暴力。 [...]

 
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