Meditations on Violence is an intense book. It isn’t fiction, it isn’t pleasant, but it’s necessary. In Violence a Writer’s Guide, the author of both, Rory Miller, calls it a confession. He’s not wrong. It reads like a broken man’s cry for help when he knows none is coming or can come, combined with a cold, clinical look at violence and the way it works. For us civilians, it conveys many hard truths that are neither welcome nor comfortable.
However, it starts out innocuously enough. Miller begins by introducing himself. He paints a picture of a man experienced with violence and the horrors of a hard life lived protecting the normal world from another world it does not want to admit exists. Then he moves on and talks about types of violence and how bad guys don’t think like us or even want to be like us. Poverty, he points out, may be what starts some of them down the path, but they don’t have to follow their peers, nor do they have to continue when the means to get out are so blatantly laid out for them.
He even discusses about something I have wondered for years: are martial arts a good enough training for real world violence in and of themselves? Miller’s astute observations with his real world experience on this subject alone made the book more than worth what it cost.
Storytelling (Or, not.)
This is a decidedly non-fiction book. It is a step by step examination of violence. That said, there are three main “characters” he talks about. The first is the “professional”. This is the cop, the soldier, the EMT, or even just a citizen volunteer in a search and rescue division. This person is experienced with violence and its results. Even if this person has never fired a shot or held a weapon in anger, this person knows the horror that results from such things. The second is the “threat”. This is the criminal or terrorist. This person uses violence to achieve an end. The third is the “normal”. This is you and me.
The way these interact are fascinating and terrifying. He lays out how a threat will use the system and its intricacies against itself. He talks about how a threat looking for his next fix will do anything. How that same threat will not reason or even act rationally if he thinks he can get what he wants.
Miller shows how the professional responds to the atrocities he wades through daily. In the book, an essay he wrote during a dark time in his life is included. It tells how the rush from a fight or a dangerous activity doesn’t happen anymore. Friends he thought would stand by him left when they realized he was a violent man, even though they knew his violence protected them. He even talks about how the one thing that balanced his life, learning martial arts, was gone because he had learned all he could and couldn’t find someone to teach him more.
However, this is not the main thrust or point of the book. Rather, it’s the in-depth look at violence, how it works, why it works, who uses it, why they use it, etc. that makes up the majority of the word count.
Because of this, graphic depictions of violence are frequent. Indeed, the first picture we see is a blood soaked bathroom. That horrific imagery is common, even casually displayed, and is expected in a book on this topic.
His language reflects that of a man accustomed to rough work and a rough life.
Sex – other than rape – isn’t mentioned much, if at all, in this book.
His worldview is interesting. In fact, it’s perhaps just best to quote him.
…While white water rafting at the age of seventeen, I was flipped and trapped under a waterfall. Despite wet suit and flotation vest, I was pressed hard against the riverbed. I was down long enough to not just realize that I was going to die—and there was nothing I could do about it—but for the fact to sink in. I didn’t want to die, but in a second or so I realized that didn’t matter, since once I was dead my identity, including my wish to live, would be obliterated. In a matter of a minute or so, it wouldn’t matter to me. I moved on, then, thinking of my poor friends who would miss me, but in ten years I would just be, at most, a painful memory. In twenty or thirty years, no one would remember me. I didn’t matter. In perhaps a hundred years, no one would remember these friends or my family. They, too, would be obliterated. They didn’t matter. In a thousand years or ten thousand, no one would remember my nation. It, too, would share in oblivion and prove to not matter, to never have mattered. The same for my species, and the earth the universe, and God. When the last star winks out, none of it will have mattered—and in ten billion years, I will still be nothing—and equal to God. That was the first stage in my enlightenment: to understand that nothing matters. Hence, everything is equal. Since I was going to die and it didn’t matter, I had the freedom to choose how to die for no other reason than my personal preference would I prefer to die with calm acceptance or to fight against the inevitable purely for the sake of fighting? I admired fighters, so I fought, and dragged myself across the rocks of the riverbed beyond the undertow, and lived… To sum up—nothing matters, but some stuff matters to me…
His attitude is strictly nihilistic. His moral compass, however, is strong and true, but he does not know why he does what he does.
This nihilism permeates the book. It takes a depressing topic and puts on the pressure until the reader can’t take any more. I read this book in about three weeks. I read it twice a week during Sunday and Wednesday church services for about forty minutes. Even after those short sittings, I was still despondent afterwards. It is a heavy subject that Miller handles well. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants an understanding of the world around them. I am happy to give it a solid 9 out of 10 stars.