the end of violence

The idea that the status of being poor constitutes "violence" is in some ways quite a relief. Some ideas are so patently illogical as to cross the line that separates the sane from the insane, thus alleviating the need for any argument or discussion. It is literally relieving, because once it becomes clear that plain words and concepts have no meaning, much time can be saved.

Looking back on BinkyBoy -- who said that Clayton Cramer "threatened" him simply by owning guns and supporting the Second Amendment -- it now occurs to me that the former might have been indoctrinated in this new way of "thinking," which is really no more than a rendering of once-knowable words into utter meaninglessness. If we cannot agree on what "violent" means, then it becomes impossible to have a rational discussion of war, peace, crime, self defense, economics, or politics. I'm reminded of the late Andrea Dworkin's view that "PORNOGRAPHY IS VIOLENCE" because all sex is violent. Penises, like guns, thus become inherently violent, all free will notwithstanding, because, as tools and as objects they become part and parcel of cultural and structural violence.

I suppose, though, that a larger issue can be seen by posing an additional question: If all disagreeing thoughts and inanimate objects are to be labeled "violence," then what are the implications about violence? Is it being assumed and taken for granted that all violence is bad? Is all physical violence bad? Why? On what basis?

It occurs to me that when the definition of a word like violence is turned on its head like this, the moral connotation disappears entirely. Once anything can be seen as structural or cultural violence, from where derives any legitimate basis to oppose it? How can there be any moral or ethical system to say that this form of cultural or structural violence is "good," while this form of cultural or structural violence is "bad"? The answer is probably that there is no moral or ethical system, except in the minds of the people who seem to have taken it upon themselves to render moral judgments after just destroying the possibility of rendering moral judgments.

"My morality is better than your morality!"

Really? I think that's a culturally and structurally violent thing to say!

But why should one form of violence be any more wrong than another?

Galtung, the architect of structural violence, not only believes that Bush is the equivalent of Osama bin Laden, he also thinks the US was the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany in World War II (and in some ways worse).

And I am sure he believes that disagreement with him is violence, whether he admits it or not. And if he doesn't admit it, well, he's just being violent. To me!

Yes, I think Galtung has threatened me! With violence! (If saying my country is like Nazi Germany isn't cultural violence, then what is?)

The problem with all of this is that it negates any basis whatsoever for determining right, wrong, or truth.

Everything is violence, including opposition to violence, and including freedom. And yet all violence is wrong. Thus, everything is wrong, and everything is right.

To quote Norm Geras, "'If there is no truth, there is no injustice."

So what's to argue?

As I say, not only is it a relief not to have any need to argue anymore, but this "all is violence and all violence is equal" mindset makes it much easier to answer vexing questions, such as this one left in a comment from Triticale:

If poverty is violence, does this mean we'll all be safer if people who can't be bothered showing up for a seminar on how to find work which a now-disillusioned activist set up on their behalf are all locked up?
The answer, of course, would be yes! Except that there's no more basis to argue for safety than there is to argue against it.

Safety is violence!

Why not? I can say that, can't I?

posted by Eric on 08.21.07 at 08:54 AM


Well, now, wait a minute. If poverty is violence, then are the poor perpetrators, as triticale suggests, or are they victims?

I suppose they are at a minimum conspirators since some decisions they have made in their lives contributed to their poverty. The fact that they may have grown up in an in atmosphere conducive to the violence of poverty does not exonerate them any more than the sons of Ma Barker were exonerated for growing up in an atmosphere conducive to the violence of bank robbery.

However, and here's where it gets tricky, the list of co-conspirators includes not just the poor themselves, but everyone who contributed to poverty--everyone who used a credit card (supporting an industry that sometimes leads to the violence of bankruptcy), voted for a victorious politician (supporting a government whose policies subject some to the violence of poverty) or held a job in a company that took money in exchange for services without first investigating to make sure the customer coud properly afford it, or bought a product from a company that failed to do so, thus perpetuating their contribution to the violence of poverty (not unlike buying stolen goods or giving money to a charity run by terrorists, or being a terrorist for that matter).

Basically, we should all be in jail. But since there would be no prison guards or administration (those persons all being in jail along with us), we would have to be in a self-supportng jail--feeding, clothing and entertaining ourselves. I recommend building a wall around the country. That should do the trick.

Unless, of course, you favor the UN and other international institutions, in which case, given your lack of interest in national borders, except as they may be undermined in the name of violence prevention, you probably believe we should build a forcefield around the earth and keep everybody in. That should really resolve the problem.

In my opinion, the violence of poverty can be effectively contained and punished by not allowing anyone to leave earth and its environs. Except perhaps on a work release program.

tim maguire   ·  August 21, 2007 5:59 PM

First off, I would appreciate it if you would correct the spelling error which I noted in my followup comment. The jobs activist I cited (who had called Milwaukee talk radio on this topic recently) is now disillusioned.

Tim has extended my suggestion quite well, but in fact I was (hardly the first time) making an over-the-top reductio et absurdum attack on the notion that poverty is violence. Poverty is a condition which people may be in for various reasons. There have been times and places where that was very much the fault of other people, but today in the US, where even those at the very bottom do not face the grinding depredation once encountered here, it is possible for anyone who understands its causes to pull themselves up over time.

triticale   ·  August 21, 2007 7:53 PM

Honestly, I read ahead and did not see your error. I miss my own a lot too, but I just corrected it.

I don't think anything is over the top where it comes to dissing the "POVERTY IS VIOLENCE" canard.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 21, 2007 8:14 PM

Ever notice that the people who most loudly proclaim themselves against violence are also the same people who are the biggest promulgators of coercion? (As long as it's State coercion, of course: guns in tha hands of private citizens seeking to defend themselves are bad; guns in the hands of agents of the State are apparently good.) Here's a tip to you clueless (or perhaps the better word is "hypocritical") dolts: coercion equals violence (or at least the threat of it). If you really want a world free of violence, then start promoting a world free of coercion.

Bilwick   ·  August 22, 2007 10:09 AM

triticale: I agree with Eric. The starting point is itself over the top. You and I are just exploring some logical conclusions. Plus I had fun writing my comment.

tim maguire   ·  August 22, 2007 11:20 AM

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