While spirals may be instinctual they are by no means the only way to resolve conflict. In fact, one can easily see how spirals of violence are in no way sustainable. The longer the spiral of violence is allowed to persist, the wider the spiral will become, affecting more and more people, pulling them into the violence. Think of it like a fight in a bar. Two people resort to violence over a conflict and in their actions one pushes the other into a bystander who then pushes back only to be then pulled into the fight. Spirals of violence unchecked lead to the entire bar involved in a large act of violence and chaos.
Fortunately humanity began to realize out of fear for their own lives or concern for their village, spirals of violence may not be good. From Moses to Hammurabi, law givers addressed these spirals of violence and introduced the circle.
Circles are a much better solution to the chaos of a violence spiral. Circles keep the violence contained. We encounter circles phrased in ways such as:
- An eye for an eye
- A tooth for a tooth
- The punishment must fit the crime
Circles encourage humanity to not cut off the hand of a person (a permanent consequence) for stealing bread (a temporal object). Rather, we inflict fines or jail time which are both seen as more fitting and more 'humane'.
Over time circles have become the dominate way in which human society deals with conflict. "You hit me, I will hit you back." "You fly a plane into towers, and we will bomb you." "You kill someone in Texas, you might be on the receiving end of a lethal needle."
This is considered by many as 'justice'. Justice is served when the punishment fits the crime.
Madoff destroyed so many lives that in some people's eyes he deserved the sentence. In other people's eyes he should have suffered something far too troubling for this blog post. Regardless where you stand on that, I would be willing to bet your opinion is based upon how you see the punishment fitting the crime. We live in circles, because, we believe, circles are fair and just.
While moving from spirals of violence to circles of containment is a massive jump for the betterment of humanity, circles fail to advance society into reconciliation. Yes, the punishment fits the crime, but what about the violation of trust which must be restored to a victim of rape?Circles can punish the rapist, but they are limited in restoration and reconciliation. Circles are not focused on the victims, and this is their limitation.
Additionally and more importantly, circles need violence in order to continue to exist. For instance, there is a sticker which reads, "why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?" This is exactly what circles need us to do. Circles of containment use violence to say that violence is wrong. Circles of containment place a great deal of emphasis on the "ends" and not the "means" by which we achieve the desired "end".
Circles are also wonderful at keeping the status quo. Many of us would affirm that the punishment fitting the crime is not only just, but down right correct. We then become so blinded by the circles that we do not even entertain the idea that 'justice' might actually have other definitions and expressions. If you are wondering what those other definitions might be, then you can begin to sense the power circles have in the world.
Within many stories throughout time, blindness is a metaphor used to denote the demonic and evil. If you and I are 'blind' to other definitions and other realities to what justice could look like, then perhaps the source of our blindness (circles of containment) are not all they are cracked up to be. In fact Girard argues these cycles/circles of violence are in fact "Satan".
So, if everything we know about what justice is and how to resolve tension causes us to be blind and has been identified as "Satan", there must be another way to live which resolves tension and does not allow for more violence in order to resolve the original violence.