Varieties of Violence
SPOTLIGHT, 4 Jul 2022
28 Jun 2022 – Terrorists, serial killers, domestic murderers — their ghoulish deeds fill our news and popular entertainment, interspersed with wars, riots, and brutal repressions. Violence surrounds us.
Where does it come from?
The answer propagated by the mass media is that violence is human nature. It’s just the way people are.
That view ignores anthropological evidence about societies which have lived in relative peace and primate studies which show our biological nature doesn’t force us to violence but just gives us the potential for it. This research indicates that societies and individuals have to be under massive stress before they resort to violence, and much of that stress has roots in the social structure.
Prof. Johan Galtung, the founder of TRANSCEND, denies that human nature condemns us to violence; instead he gives another explanation of its etiology based on three interacting forces: structural, cultural, and direct.
Structural Violence is injustice and exploitation built into a social system that generates wealth for the few and poverty for the many, stunting everyone’s ability to develop their full humanity. By privileging some classes, ethnicities, genders, and nationalities over others, it institutionalizes unequal opportunities for education, resources, and respect. Structural violence forms the very basis of capitalism, patriarchy, and any dominant system.
Cultural Violence is the prevailing attitudes and beliefs that justify and legitimize the structural violence, making it seem natural. Feelings of superiority/inferiority based on class, race, sex, religion, and nationality are inculcated in us as children and shape our assumptions about us and the world. They convince us this is the way things are and must be.
Direct Violence — war, murder, rape, assault, verbal attack — is the kind we physically perceive, but it manifests out of conditions created by the first two invisible forms and can’t be eliminated without eliminating them. Direct violence has its roots in cultural and structural violence; then it feeds back and strengthens them. All three forms interact as a triad. Cultural and structural violence cause direct violence. Direct violence reinforces structural and cultural violence. We are trapped in a vicious cycle that is now threatening to destroy humanity.
Our society with its fixation on the physical focuses on direct violence and ignores the structural and cultural. Our leaders know that making changes on those levels would threaten their whole system. But as radicals we focus on the structural and cultural because we know that change has to begin at the roots.
I think our best chance to break this cycle is through socialism. It will enable us to achieve economic democracy and social equality, which will reduce the structural and cultural violence, which in turn will reduce the direct violence. By approaching it from these underlying levels, socialism can wind down the syndrome of violence. This may not create utopia, but it will create a society vastly better than the one we now suffer under. We really can have peace, but not under capitalism.
William T. Hathaway is a Special Forces combat veteran and an emeritus Fulbright professor of American Studies in Germany. His book Radical Peace: People Refusing War presents the experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists who are working to change U.S. warrior culture. His novel Lila, the Revolutionary is a fable for adults about an eight-year-old girl who sparks a world revolution for social justice.
Tags: Cultural violence, Culture of Violence, Deep Structure, Direct violence, Johan Galtung, Structural violence, TRANSCEND Method, Violence triangle
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Jul 2022.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Varieties of Violence, is included. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
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