Structural Violence vs. Behavioral Violence (redux)

Posted: August 11, 2020 in Conspiracy, Consumerism, Corporatism, Crime, Economics, Legal Matters
Tags: , , , ,

This 9-year-old blog post continues to attract attention. I suspect the reason behind sustained interest is use of the term structural violence, which sits adjacent to voguish use of the term structural racism. Existence of permanent, institutionalized violence administered procedurally rather than through blunt, behavioral force (arguably still force but obfuscated through layers of bureaucracy) seems pretty plain to most observers. Typical analyses cite patriarchy and white supremacism as principal motivators, and those elements are certainly present throughout American history right up to today. I offer a simpler explanation: greed. Thus, most (though not all) institutionalized violence can be chalked up to class warfare, with the ownership class and its minions openly exacting tribute and stealing everyone’s future. Basically, all resources (material, labor, tax dollars, debt, etc.) can be attached, and those best positioned to bend administrative operations to their will — while pretending to help commoners — stand to gain immensely.

It doesn’t much matter anymore whose resources are involved (pick your oppressed demographic). Any pool is good enough to drain. But because this particular type of violence has become structural, after gathering the demographic data, it’s an easy misdirection to spin the narrative according to divergent group results (e.g., housing, educational opportunity, incarceration rates) where such enduring structures have been erected. While there is certainly some historical truth to that version of the story, the largest inanimate resource pools are not readily divisible that way. For instance, trillions of dollars currently being created out of nothingness to prop up Wall Street (read: the ownership class) redound upon the entire U.S. tax base. It’s not demographically focused (besides the beneficiaries, obviously) but is quite literally looting the treasury. Much the same can be said of subscriber and customer bases of commercial behemoths such as Walmart, Amazon, McDonald’s, and Netflix. Those dollars are widely sourced. One can observe, too, that the ownership class eschews such pedestrian fare. Elites avoiding common American experience is reflected as well in the U.S. armed services, where (depending on whom one believes: see here and here) participation (especially enlisted men and women) skews toward the working class. Consider numerous recent U.S. presidents (and their offspring) who manage to skip out on prospective military service.

What’s surprising, perhaps, is that it’s taken so long for this entrenched state of affairs (structural violence visited on all of us not wealthy enough to be supranational) to be recognized and acted upon by the masses. The Occupy Movement was a recent nonviolent suggestion that we, the 99%, have had quite enough of this shit. Or course, it got brutally shut down and dispersed. A couple days ago, a caravan of looters descended upon the so-called Magnificent Mile in Chicago, the site of numerous flagship stores of luxury brands and general retailers. I don’t approve of such criminal activity any more than the ownership class looting the treasury. But it’s not hard to imagine that, in the minds of some of the Chicago looters at least, their livelihoods and futures have been actively stolen from them. “Look, over there! In that window! Resources for the benefit of rich people. They’ve been stealing from us for generations. Now let’s steal from them.” The big difference is that designer handbags, electronics, and liquor hauled away from breached storefronts is relatively minor compared to structural violence of which we’ve become more acutely aware recently. Put another way, complaining about these looters while ignoring those looters is like complaining about someone pulling your hair while someone else is severing your legs with a chainsaw, leaving you permanently disabled (if not dead). They’re not even remotely in the same world of harm.

  1. leavergirl says:

    Unfortunately, two wrongs don’t make a right.

  2. leavergirl says:

    Well, if it is true that many of those protesters are really middle and upper class youth out wilding, then the situation is quite different. Some of those people can afford those (burned) goods better than you or I.

    Occupy did not know what to ask for. The truth is, nobody knows how to fix what ails us. And “socialism” ain’t it.

    • Brutus says:

      Wilding sounds right to me, but the suggestion that protesters/looters are really middle and upper class needs evidence. And who’s talking about socialism as the solution? One of the two common political axes runs between individualism and communitarianism. Interpretations vary, but it seems like the U.S. government these days is hellbent on running things like a failed state where everyone is on their own, a dog-eat-dog situation where everyone is prey and the rich and powerful are the apex predators. The alternative is to restrain the most egregious imbalances and instead use state resources to enact policies supporting those most in need for the benefit of all in a functioning society. Some characterize that as the nanny state, whereas I’ve described it elsewhere as the European social model. Basic political philosophy.

  3. Greg Knepp says:

    As a veteran of the 60’s Vietnam War protests (some violent) and as an observer of the 68′ MLK riots (I was in downtown Baltimore at the time) I must opine that, beyond all the political and ethical issues of the moment, protesting is… well, fun!

    There are recreational and group-bonding aspects involved that run deeper than the ostensible causes. And like the protesters themselves, the police and guardsmen, generally on hand, are mostly young, and therefore are likely to take a shady delight in the mayhem that often accompanies such gatherings. A mass protest feels kinda’ like a huge disorganized football game…Yes there are injuries, and sadly, there is property damage – often severe. But apparently such goings-on act as a steam valve for troubled societies, and are part and parcel of this arrangement we call ‘civilization’.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve heard elsewhere that protests have the energy of a street party. I’ve never partaken. At the point that things turn violent and criminal (either side of the fence), the madness is also apparently intoxicating. I recall G.B. Shaw observing the high spirits of men going off to war some 80 years ago. Those who come back have different emotions.

  4. leavergirl says:

    Yeah, it makes sense. In a society hell bent on making sure there is no danger in life anywhere (except perhaps in extreme sports, to be regulated to death a while later).

    Brutus, the European nanny state stopped working some time ago. There are at present three economic models in Europe: western Europe, staying afloat via plundering their eastern colonies (and looking to add Byelorus). Greece apparently has not been plundered enough, now they have undersea gas. Then there are the restive eastern colonies who would like to see EU fall into the far reaches of hell, where western Europe exports the shittiest goods, and gets cheap labor while stealing what has not been nailed down via “tunneling.” And of course, there is Russia, skating on the precarious edge of all systems — democracy, oligarchy and tyranny, all in a package, but each balancing the others so none of them get out of hand, with plenty of untapped resources in the back country.

    Well, to be fair, there is Turkey, with an outpost in Europe, which has the only functional army in Europe outside of Russia, and gets by by extortion.

    • leavergirl says:

      I forgot to add that by referring to the old model of “nanny state” I did not mean to indicate that it did not have its pluses. It did, and the neocon/neolib model that came after clearly made things worse.

      When eastern Europe shed communism, it was hoping to get the western prosperous welfare state. Instead, it got neocon plunder.

      Still, though, I think that there was a tendency in the old welfare state to infantilize people, and to put way too much stress on social safety net accompanied, of course, by tremendous growth of bureaucracy.

      • Brutus says:

        Thanks for your comments, which bring up a host of complicated issues. I distinguish between social and economic models, much the same way sociology and economics are separate academic disciplines. No doubt they comment on and interact with each other. The criticisms you raise have more to do with economics, and I admit that the European social model is foundering because it’s frankly no longer affordable. This is also true for most other styles of social and political organization. At root, the disappearance of cheap, plentiful energy as the principal resource and driver of industrial civilization is what dooms us. A notable secondary reason is the simultaneous disappearance of other resources due to over-exploitation accompanied by destruction of the habitats in which those resources are situated. Big, wide set of interconnected issues there.

        My appreciation of the European social model is that it has done the best job in its role of making people’s lives better. In contrast, U.S. leadership became preoccupied with financialization of the U.S. economy (manufacturing and productive capacity being hollowed out via off-shoring), abandoned the citizenry to their fates, and grew increasingly punitive toward anyone domestic or foreign who didn’t contribute economically or otherwise toe the line. Such false leadership has actively made things for the U.S. and indeed the world progressively worse. If diminishing energy and food resources aren’t strong enough signals that we really ought to be managing contraction (including population) rather than perpetuating a growth economy built on Ponzi schemes, I don’t know what could reorient us away from the growth economy.

  5. leavergirl says:

    That is the conventional wisdom, that it’s no longer affordable. But if you really look, various countries waste huge resources via corruption and theft, via the support of various color revolutions (Czechia began to send lots of money to Belarus in 2006 for no rational reason), and socking money away in various NGOs with dubious agendas. And then there is the whole migrants-on-the-dole can of worms. As far as I can see, the printing presses are having quite a day, but it’s not going into the traditional (restrained and relatively honest) welfare state.

    On the other hand, maybe the thievery and other crap was always there, but there was such surplus that the plebes could have a decent cut.

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