2007 - Most Philosophical Student in America:

James Cook, Virginia.





Violence or Compassion: Which has a greater impact on society? 

            Violence has always had the greatest impact on mankind. Human existence is characterized by conflict, and violence is simply the most extreme form of such. Violence terrifies us, it excites us, it forces us to break from the norm. Without violence, or the fear of such, there is no motivation for action. We require struggle in order to develop as a species. It is as the dialectic defined by Hegel. It is the conflict between the thesis and the antithesis that makes society progress to the synthesis. Had the first humans possessed all they needed to be happy, they would have had no need to develop agriculture. If people then had been empathetic, or compassionate, and shared their surplus food with the less fortunate, then there should have been no need for war, which ultimately led society to where it is now. Violence is the strongest motivation for change in a person. As Machiavelli said in The Prince,

"Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with."

            He goes on to explain that people obey a beloved leader because they feel obliged to. However, an obligation requires no bravery to break. Fear requires courage to stand against, especially the fear of violence. Anyone can break faith with someone, but there are few who can overcome the primal terror of violence.

            In modern society, someone held at gunpoint and commanded to surrender their money will in all likelihood acquiesce, but then another person asked by a filthy, ragged homeless person will perhaps give a few dollars and nothing more. The threatened man, though shaken considerably, will probably not suffer too greatly for the loss of a couple hundred dollars. The other man could do the same, but he feels little empathy for a stranger. It is violence that truly makes a mark on society. When a brutal murder is committed, it is shown that night on national television. A surgeon who saves someone's life may be recognized by their colleagues and the person's family, but recognition is not given on the same scale. An example is the D.C. sniper. The actions of two men terrified an entire city and the neighboring counties. Almost everyone was afraid they would be the next victim. So it was also with Jack the Ripper. Serial killers are well-known to us, because is it them that we fear, and it is their kind we want to avoid. We know Osama Bin Laden and Al-Quaeda, and yet their counterparts remain unmarked. A doctor might save a thousand lives in his lifetime, but the world doesn't hear of it. It is expected of him, it's his job. People are supposed to be kind and helpful and to do "good" things, and consequently they make little impact on anyone's life except those they come directly in contact with. It is the violent people we know of, it is they who alter the way we live.

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