Structural Violence vs. Behavioral Violence

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Consumerism, Corporatism, Culture, Environment, Ethics, Idealism, Industrial Collapse

Violence is a fact of life. It’s woven into our nature and therefore inescapable. But there are strange distinctions and ironies in the ways violence manifests. For example, many have observed that governments establish for themselves monopolies on the use of violence (Max Weber coined the phrase) in the forms of police and military. Gun controls and regulations, while controversial for many reasons, ultimately seek to remove from the public its ability to use violence not only in its criminal versions but in periodic attempts at revolution or breaking of government monopolies. A distinction coming into focus, however, may not be who gets to use violence but what sort of violence is allowed and what is punished.

Behavioral violence of almost any sort falls under ruthless persecution. Step out of line even a little and you’ll be stomped. For instance, citizens are being prosecuted for filming of the police in public, which is supposedly illegal under a bizarro interpretation of wiretap law. In another example, Tim DeChristopher is being jailed and fined for disrupting federal oil and gas auctions of leases on land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. DeChristopher’s actions were to bid at those auctions in Salt Lake City without the supporting funds, which he characterized as an act of civil disobedience. And in rich irony, the U.S. condemns crackdowns on protest abroad while punishing domestic dissent and protest. Holding governments accountable, even at the mundane level of local law enforcement doing traffic stops, is unacceptable unless it’s a government our government seeks to destabilize.

Yet structural violence of all manner is protected, especially those manifestations that flow from institutions, either those in the abstract or those with specific embodiments. Abstractions that align with generalized economic interests and national security justify all manner of violence, typically against the natural world (in the case of the economy) and sovereign states (in the case of national security). For direct embodiments (Exxon Mobil Corporation, Goldman Sachs, etc.), nothing stands in the way of identification, extraction, and protection of privatized material and financial resources — not environmentalism, not regulation, not even the lives and livelihoods of people. They’re all shunted aside in favor of institutional imperatives, namely, profit.

From a certain perspective, the conceptual institutions we serve are just ruses for the brick-and-mortar institutions, which themselves are abstractions at some remove from the lives of actual people, and further, that the world’s resources exploited ruthlessly in the service of these abstractions are directed unjustly away from their logical and rightful recipients: the people. (This sidesteps, too, the issue of sharing and preservation of resources for nonhuman life, such as with nature preserves.) Perhaps behavioral violence is a form of resistance against structural violence: class warfare of the people against the plutocracy. No doubt, someone has written books about this, probably many someones.

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