Please answer the following question from the section entitled "John Lewis:  Moral Force for Nonviolence, in the book American Lives. Question: 2.  Lewis said he left SNCC when radicals took...

Please answer the following question from the section entitled "John Lewis:  Moral Force for Nonviolence, in the book American Lives.

Question: 2.  Lewis said he left SNCC when radicals took control because "violence...might deliver some quick solutions, but in the long run it debases you."  What did Lewis mean by this statement?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In order to understand what Lewis is saying in this statement, we need to think about two things.  First, we must think about how violence might be useful for achieving one’s goals.  Second, we must think about how violence could be bad for a person and, by extension, for a group.  We have to think about why someone might want to forego violence even if violence would help them to get what they want in the short run.

Violence can be effective in getting what we want because it can cause people to give in to our demands simply to get the violence to end.   If we engage, for example, in violent protest, the government is likely to start negotiating with us to see if it can mollify us and get us to end the violence.  The government wants to do this because the violence alarms and frightens the general populace.  Therefore, the government might be more likely to respond to us than it would be if we protested peacefully.

Lewis is saying, however, that violence is still not the right answer.  He is not saying that violence will not work.  Instead, he is saying it is the wrong thing because it will hurt the person who engages in it.  If we engage in violence, it (you can argue) makes us worse as people.  It teaches us that we should hurt others and/or their property to get the things we want.  It encourages us to think of ourselves first and of others second (if at all).  This is why Lewis says that violence debases us.  He is saying that it makes us less human and less moral because it encourages us to think and act in selfish ways.  

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