Moving Beyond "Us" and "Them"


The current global crisis is a crisis of storytelling.

The following is an excerpt of an essay by Gareth Higgins in The Seventh Story: Us, Them, and the End of Violence. Pre-order the e-book now!


Violence doesn’t create anything.

That’s a radioactive statement. When I say it in certain circles, the negative reaction is swift and unambiguous. It's ironic that conversation about reducing violence often results in a fight. But the outcome of even that fight proves the point: violence doesn’t create anything. Except suffering, of course.

People react to this suggestion with such intense opposition for a number of reasons. We have been taught from the earliest age the opposite: that violence works.

We have been inculcated through our national and community rituals that violent sacrifice is noble, and that our freedoms were not only secured by the deaths of our forebears (and the killing they carried out), but that such death and killing was the only way it could have happened.

And we have been nurtured into a catechism of fearing the world, so that we must always have violence as a recourse, because we never know when they are going to target us.

It’s perfectly reasonable, if such premises were true, to live fearful and ready to kill.

But the premises are false.

The suffering caused by violence, even in the most noble of causes, does not end when the shooting stops. The First World War produced a divided Baltic people, meaning that their grandchildren and great grandchildren would perpetrate or suffer genocide seventy years later. The vengeance-fueled response to Germany after that war laid the foundations for the rise of Nazism. The “resolution” of the Second World War allowed Stalin to kill more people than Hitler. The refusal of political opponents to talk to each other in northern Ireland perpetuated the terms of our conflict for decades, eventually killing nearly 4,000, and physically injuring 43,000 people in a place with a population around the same size as Manhattan. And when the talking started, the killing radically reduced, and has been reducing ever since we started to see our destinies as more mutual than respective.

The sacrifices which gained our freedom — whatever “freedom” may be — may indeed have been sacrifices, and some of them were certainly noble. But the idea that only violence cleanses the nation and makes it free is comprehensively disproven in the historical fact that nonviolent revolutions are both more sustained, and produce more democracy than violent attempts at political change.

The sacrifice of talking to the person who killed your mother, so they can connect with the damage they caused; the sacrifice of forgoing revenge in exchange for the common good, so we can end the cycle of violence; the sacrifice of not getting everything you want so that most of us can get something: these are the sacrifices that work.

The threat of the world today is lied about every time you open your computer or switch on your phone. Terror lives in your pocket on a device that does not differentiate between wisdom, information, propaganda, and deceit. The good news is that you can learn more than ever before, connect quicker, and heal yourself (some of the world’s great healers and healing techniques are mobile apps). The challenge (and the invitation) is that you need to learn how to edit what you're seeing. No one else will do that for you. It is in the interests of the military-industrial-entertainment-gossip-complex that you stay unconscious, and click on as many links as possible.

The current global crisis is a crisis of storytelling.

We have become possessed by the myth of redemptive violence, manifesting through six old stories that keep us apart, cause more suffering by attempting to avoid it, and simply do not work. Telling the story in those ways exaggerates fear, and violence will increase. The redemption of the myth of redemptive violence is not to destroy it by beating the "bad guys" at their own game. No.

The way to redeem the myth of redemptive violence is to de-story it: to refuse to play the game at all. 

To invent a new game. Tell the story in a new way that decreases fear, and violence will reduce.

Read the full essay in The Seventh Story: Us, Them, and the End of Violence - pre-order is open now!

Gareth Higgins