Violence, Incivility, & Vulgarity Can Be Good Things

Paul Hair

Violence, incivility, and vulgarity can be good things—and everyone knows it. Reality proves it. And so does what we rightfully recognize as the best examples of our culture.

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” You’ve likely heard that quote, or some version of it. It’s a popular one even if its origins are murky at best. The people who like to quote it often do so when they’re somehow expressing their support for troops who fight wars on their behalf.

And it’s true. Servicemen who fight wars are rough. They use so-called locker room talk . . . and much worse language. They’re also a group of people who engage in the types of behavior that create fits of hysteria in modern punditry. If such troops ever ran for public office and their deeds and language became known, the sales of fainting couches would go through the roof.

Yet some—not all—of the roughness of troops is necessary. Earth is a bad place full of bad people, and in order to defeat the violence, incivility, and vulgarity of bad guys, good guys sometimes have to be violent, uncivil, and vulgar in return. We acknowledge this either implicitly or explicitly whenever we fight wars.

So there’s that.

But we also acknowledge this by what we praise as the best examples of culture in Western Civilization. Tales of the hero doing the right thing often involve the protagonist engaging in violence, incivility, and vulgarity. And this shows we recognize there is a time and place for every activity under the sun.

For instance, Beowulf is one of the greatest pieces of Old English literature. The hero and the eponymous tale have consistently been recognized as prime examples of heroism. And yet the hero of the tale is violent, uncivil, and vulgar. (At least he is uncivil and vulgar by modern definitions.)

But his violence, incivility, and vulgarity are necessary. Beowulf exists in a rough world and faces great evil. Niceness and pacifism don’t cut it.

Right now, people are rushing to microphones and social media to see which one of them can self-righteously denounce violence, incivility, and vulgarity (real and imagined) all the while they ignore how they are guilty of (or have tolerated) wholly unwarranted instances of violence, incivility, and vulgarity for decades.

And they denounce these things all the while they pretend they don’t know that such things are sometimes good and necessary to deal with an evil world.