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.
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.
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.
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 itâ€™s very likely that that manâ€™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.