ABELLO: Conditioning the choice of violence

Oscar Abello

Assumptions are tricky. Economists have turned the act of assumption into a highly refined art form, typically represented by various graphs and equations that continue to befuddle hoards of unwary students expecting nothing more than a typical business class. Economics is more than business; it is a delicate intellectual ballet that attempts to capture in its movements the very essence of day-to-day life. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces, but carefully executed economic thinking produces the world’s most powerful ideas.

Perhaps the most powerful idea that economic thinking can produce is that war and violence are entirely unnecessary. Such behaviors aren’t entirely useless, but commerce is ultimately much more effective as a means for both creation and destruction.

Perhaps the scariest idea that economic thinking can produce is that there is no such thing as a person born innately peaceful – but on the side of hope, neither are people born innately violent. Economists assume that all people are born rational, which, in this context, means they are able to make decisions. A person must choose to be peaceful or violent, but a person is born into conditions that don’t always give them as many peaceful choices as we all would hope. Last week’s tragedy at Virginia Tech challenges us to determine what conditions could have left Cho Seung-Hui with no choice but violence.

The danger is that these conditions may exist elsewhere, even on our own campus. Removing these conditions is paramount to preventing further tragedy. But the danger extends far beyond our campus.

The danger extends to the streets of Philadelphia, where, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, the current rate of 22 homicides per 10,000 residents is four times the national average, and it is rising. The danger extends to the entire United States, where the National Right to Life Committee reported that over 1.3 million mothers chose to abort their pregnancies in 2006.

The danger extends to the fringe of the Sahara, where the government of Sudan continues to choose violent instead of peaceful means for conflict resolution in Darfur.

But most horrifically, the danger extends to the Middle East, where decades of economic repression have led many to choose violence over peace and where the United States and its allies fear admitting their complicity in perpetuating the economic conditions that leave so many with so little opportunity.

American author James Baldwin once wrote, “The most dangerous creation of any society is a man with nothing to lose.” Today’s global economy continues to deny even marginal opportunity to a significant proportion of otherwise able-bodied, productive people. The world gives them nothing to lose, leading to the danger to society that we like to call terror. But even if God herself came down and smote every last terrorist, the conditions that led people to choose violence will remain. God did not create those conditions. We did.

Tomorrow is Peace Awareness Day, hosted by Villanovans for Peace and sponsored by the Center for Peace and Justice Education. Their opposition to war is not fueled by some hippie-crazed idealistic vision of a world covered in flowers and pretty colors. Though driven by ideals, their vision is clear. They are not blinded by the bigotry of believing people are born violent.

Given that people choose violence based on the conditions present to them, the proactive approach is not to find these people and murder them ourselves. The proactive approach is to correct these man-made conditions that bring people to choose violence, wherever they might live – the Middle East, Africa, Philadelphia, Villanova or anywhere else in the world.


Oscar Abello is a junior economics major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]