Generalised violence

As members of society, we usually dislike violence. Societies generally have laws that restrict or control the legal application of violence, limiting it to a certain segment of the population. Also, because we have a capacity for empathy, we may suffer when we see others suffer, in many kinds of circumstances (but not all).

The assumption that violence is almost always wrong or bad is widespread. But widespread beliefs that usually seem to be beyond questioning can yield interesting ideas when they are dissected and put to the test. Why do we really dislike violence?

If I have to rationalise my intuitive dislike for violence today, on the spot, I would say that violence scares me because of the potentially irreversible effects. If a thug injures me gravely, it might take me a long time to recover my physical abilities, or I might never recover them fully at all. The most irreversible physical injury seems to be death, of course. Violence that is guaranteed to be reversible is somehow a much less scary prospect.

Physical violence is a form of influence that is very rapid, very focussed and that potentially has effects that take a long time to recover from, if recovery is at all possible. If somebody throws a stone at me it is more “injurious” than a light rainfall, even though both situations affect me physically. The stone is more targeted, more intense, more sudden.

What, then, about a more general definition of violence, based on these observations? Suppose that violence is simply sharply focussed influence directed at me from somebody else; not necessarily physical. In this way advertising, music, newspapers can potentially do violence to me. If we also remove the condition that the effect should be sharp and rapid, we can accept slow-acting influence as being violent; the condition is now only that recovery should be relatively slow or impossible. Under this condition, the kind of influence I receive from going to school (education), from watching TV, from advertising, or from random events may indeed be a form of violence, depending, of course, on what my sensitivities to these events are.

Of course we cannot shield ourselves from violence in this broader definition. We must accept it and accept that our identities probably are, partly, the results of such influence.

Physical violence is a form of domination/influence, and it is the most obvious form. It is shockingly easy to notice, a grotesquely rude form of influence. But if all we care about is the effects of violence, the slow or impossible recovery, then we should perhaps also be worried about things that we don’t usually think of as violence. A life free of domination or external influence, however, does not exist.


Comments 5