In defense of moshing
Last Wednesday, I went to a concert of the punk variety. While there, I got to mosh like I have not been able to do for a long time. It was awesome, the three or four other stinky punks with mohawks shoving me around. It got me thinking about why we mosh, and how it's different than other types of dancing.
Some see it as purely an opportunity to push others around or relase anger and violence, but that's not what moshing is truly about. Believe it or not, it's about community and expression. Granted, there are those that go into a pit to hurt others, but they are the exception rather than the rule. There's has always been an asshole that comes along and screws up stuff for other people, and there always will be. We live with that and deal. But for the most part, a mosh pit is a place of community. When someone falls, you help them up. When they lose their glasses or a shoe, you stop dancing for a minute and help them find it. Even in some of the roughest pits I've been in (at a Casualties show, for instance), where I got a few bruises and scrapes, the underlying nature was that of understanding and compassion.
That said, I don't know if one could posit that a mosh pit is a place of peace. It's not. But I wouldn't call it violence either. Rather, active simultaneous expression. Everybody dances at the same time, very close to each other, and a bit of shoving and pushing is what eventually happens. When you shove somebody in a pit it's not to hurt them, as the next instant you'll find yourself arm in arm dancing together. Maybe it is some sort of deep-seated animalistic expression of aggression, but aggression can't be equated with violence in this case. Violence assumes intention of malice, and the shoving, kicking, and pushing in a mosh pit aren't directed at anyone in particular, are a release of a more general sort of aggression and frustration purely for the sake of release.
How does this expression of normally latent aggression culminate in a community? Simple. A mosh pit is a place of expression created by its members, a place where competition and judgement aren't central. If you were to dance by yourself and bump into others who were judging you for your actions, this would be looked down upon. In addition, it's not a competition. You can't really dance "better" or "worse" to punk music. There is no standard template or manual containing different moves that one adheres to or mimics. I've see people do the craziest moves or silliest things, but nobody really cares what you are doing. It's not about seeing yourself in comparison to what other people are doing, but doing what you want for yourself. So, a space is created in which all who participate or enter aren't seen as stupid, macho, etc. but just another member of a group of individuals seeking free, uninhibited expression of the kinesthetic actions they feel called to do by the music.
Why punk music motivates individuals to express themselves in this manner is something I can't answer empirically. I know that when I'm at a concert and there's ska or punk radiating from the stage, and I just feel like doing it and know it's fun. My body moves in the way it does independent of some rational urge to make it do so. It's not so much a rejection of rationality as it is a dissociation between physical expression and intellectual analysis. Moreover, I feel I can mosh as a pacifist because, as I said, the overall aim is not, in fact, violence, but more humbly a physical movement and interaction with others that is mutually understood to be free from malice, competition, and criticism.