The Intellectual Life of Violence

Resisting violence means knowing many of your efforts will fail. But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope.

Comments: 31

  1. The most persistent, inescapable and necessary violence in modern society vs. the most persistent, possibly inescapable and unnecessary violence from perspective of development of the best of human being?

    All of human history and now coupled with support of biology, evolution theory, demonstrates a possible least possible harm, maximum human development course in direction of higher intellect, self-discipline, but this course is one of unfortunately necessary violence because no matter the service a great mind performs for all members of society, the construct of the mind is away from the mentation of most members of society and in direction of still higher mentation. A good example is the complexity of a computer or novel which for all service to masses is something they do not really understand and which aims away from them.

    And the mass of people sense this. Virtually all of social, political, religious theory has a concept of progress which says the best among us must serve all and the goal is success of all of us together, no one left out. This theorizing at best is a pleasant dream, and at worst the failure of success of this dream leads to persistent, inescapable and unnecessary violence from perspective of human attempts to develop, evolve toward a higher order of being.

    This is the true tragic sense of life: I sit here writing but I will never grasp the complexity of a computer or Anna Karenina; I can either support genius or be a man of unnecessary violence.

  2. The US believe in violence as the only viable form of power has become so widespread that this column was a great relief to read.

  3. Thanks. Some thin straws of hope--better than none-- to grasp at this moment in history.

  4. This was just what I needed to read today.

  5. Violence will only disappear when it becomes ineffective. As Putin has demonstrated in Ukraine, and Assad in Syria, violence works.

  6. I would encourage everyone to read the book Nonviolent Communication. I'm frustrated how rarely people talk about everyday communcation's role in promoting misunderstandings, bitterness, discord, and violence. All the time I hear people insulting people or ideas they don't like.

  7. The last paragraph of this piece captures, I think, the essence of Martin Luther King's approach to the civil rights struggle. His statement that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" expresses both hope in the future and a realistic grasp of the obstacles that block progress. Dr. King's determination to persist in the face of deadly threats reflected his belief that any defeats the movement suffered would not prevent the eventual victory of justice.

    From our current perspective, his optimism might appear unjustified. The structural racism inherent in our system of mass incarceration, for example, illustrates the political use of violence referred to by Professor Bernstein. The targeting of black communities by the police and the judiciary stems from a fear of the 'other' that dates at least from the post-civil-war jim crow era. We now mask that bias with euphemisms about the "war on crime," but no slogan can change the fact that the authorities focus their efforts on black drug dealers far more than on their white counterparts.

    Dr. King never argued, however, that progress follows a linear path. The fact that police mistreatment of minorities, along with the unprecedented size of our prison population, have become subjects of national debate offers some hope that the arc of the moral universe might continue its convoluted journey toward a more egalitarian society.

  8. Should the federal gov't intervene in the terrible crime situation in Chicago with people and equipment?

  9. Try living in the real world of cheap rentals in the worst parts of town, as I have done for most of my adult life.

    I am not a violent person. I am not brave, nor large, do I possess the impressive demeanour or presence that shouts or says quietly 'Don't mess with me if you value your safety!'

    Yet, I have had to put myself in dangerous situations and use extreme violence on many occasions over the decades to protect the victims of assault whom I have encountered when out running late at night along lonely paths and on a busy thoroughfare on a brightly lit Saturday afternoon.

    As thinking, sentient, ethical individuals, we are responsible for the well-being of others. The effective defence of others, or oneself, often will require violence.

    There is nothing wrong with violence when it is necessary, appropriate, measured and proportionate.

  10. The authors speak of “structural violence” in which actual violence is hidden. “Humiliation and suffering” are other forms of violence, which are right before us but “unseen.”

    The mainstream media has made two areas about Donald Trump specifically off-limits: 1) any relationship to fascism—structural violence and 2) any comments about his hair (humiliation).

    Trump has made humiliation a vital strategy of attacking his opponents—women’s menstrual cycles and physical handicaps to name only a few while advocating direct violence against opponents.

    The physical conditions of his opponents has been fair game for Trump while his own self-inflicted shortcomings (his ridiculous hairdo) and an endomorphic body type which prevents the buttoning of coats are strictly off-limits from the pens of opinion-writers and even commentators like me.

    Isn’t the tolerance of violence by one party and the suppression of it by opponents and invitation to more and excessive violence?

    Can any of the philosopher’s explain this dual standard?

  11. Truly excellent interview. I love the quotations form the modern philosophers but I think it is well worth remembering that violence and non-violence is perhaps the most prominent theme in the Bible. I also genreally view the viewpoint generally evolved from the old testaament to the new. The old testament presented many human and even divine violent resolutions to resolve conflicts for and between people. The new testament offers non-violent solutions to conflict and of course clearly showing the price one may pay when you truly live it. So, it has been long recognized that the non-violent way of life may have great pain and suffering and is the only possible long term way to achieve a harmonious society. I think it is important to remember that even Jesus lost his patience from time to time with the corruption and greed of the rich and powerful. Maybe some of our leaders will remember and realize how hard it is to get a camel through the eye of a needle.

  12. "Power only comes out of the barrel of a Gun!" - Mao.

    Still True.

  13. I saw an interview in the mid-60s with Stokely Carmichael, of SNCC. He was asked by a reporter (they asked him this about once every 5 minutes or so) whether he would renounce the use of violence in the civil rights struggle. He would, he replied, be delighted to have a joint news conference with the Southern Sheriffs Association in which all committed to be non-violent.

  14. "Too frequently we take physical harm and/or killing as the only paradigm of violence. But this can blind us to other forms of violence that involve humiliation and suffering."

    So, "humiliation" is simply another form of violence? All humiliation or just some kinds? If a group of teenagers "humiliates" an old man on the subway, laughing or teasing him, is this violence?

    I think this discussion of "violence" is lazy. There is a big difference between physical violence and all kinds of verbal abuse. Were there not, our laws about free speech would make no sense.

  15. Humiliation is a component of the violent pathology. Rape, in particular, is a potent violent manner in which males seek to humiliate all ages of females and rob them of every corner of their dignity.

  16. Welcome to the world of women. Most of us live in fear of sexual violence,
    Harassment, real social and monetary inequality daily.

  17. The Second Amendment was included in our Bill of Rights for people exactly like you. Get trained with your own form of protection.

  18. What is the relationship of violence, in all its guises, to intimacy? Could it be that violence, physical, emotional, intellectual is really a cry from the perpetrator for intimacy, however misguided and destructive. If so, then it is not so much the elimination of violence but the transformation of violence into a form of communication that is affirmative. By the way, great article, thoughtful and life affirming in its entirety.

  19. Great ideas here, but one aspect of our conflicts (certainly not new) that seems to contribute most to violence is deep religious conviction. If public freedom depends on people coming together, this may be a huge barrier. Based on faith, religion for some replaces commitment to reason. Philosophy, social policy, and community leaders need to address that openly, or I fear the fervent will always resort to some kind of violence to protect their own definition of "acting in a responsible manner". Extremists exist in the major religions and are easily identified as potentially violent. But much of the intellectual violence is condoned on the biased thinking of religious zealots who are convinced they act for the greater good of humanity. This needs to be part of the conversations if Public Freedom is ever to be achieved. I am not antireligious; I just think the power of religious convictions needs to be acknowledged as a major factor when addressing violence.

  20. Thanks for bringing up Hannah Arendt. "Power comes into being only if and when human beings join together for the purpose of deliberative action. This kind of power disappears when for whatever reason they abandon one another."
    Why not call this "morality" rather than "power" . Morality comes into being when human beings join together for the purpose of deliberative action. Power is a more general physical concept. Morality is both regulative and inspiring, and it is irreducibly social in conception and action. Perhaps more importantly morality is part of human identity, present in all human cultures, and the major thing that differentiates us from animals. This is not to deny the abuse of morality that occurs frequently with devastating consequence. Morality is what defines us, not power.

  21. In company with each of the four previous writers commenting here, I found both welcome beauty and a defensible sturdiness in this piece. My first visceral reaction was the one described by Roger Reynolds. My second, immediately following, was along the lines Daniel12 expresses -- that of the many, many people I instantly thought to share this with, most would be unlikely to read it. Though the conclusion is simple -- in the sense of elegant -- the processes by which the argument works toward its conclusion are themselves too remote for the so-called "binary thinkers" who populate most of my undergraduate courses and, I'm afraid, much of the electorate upon whom the better potential of the American experiment rests. I will pass the piece on to a select few, but with the sense of grief that an educational system that has largely dispensed with philosophy as a basis for all learning is reaping the disasterous consequences of its folly.

  22. Britain’s exhaustion after WWII had more to do with Indian independence than Gandhi did, and the collapse of the USSR liberated more Poles than Solidarity could have dreamed was possible.

  23. I was reading ...' Of course, ther can always be regression,...' Breaking news popped up: Sthepen Bannon attacked the media as the "oppositon" and it should "keep its mouth shut"
    I am from 1948, after WW II and I will keep it that way but I fear the future.

  24. In 1948 the news media never played political favorites.
    We miss those days.

  25. Steve Bannon just told the media to “keep its mouth shut”. Are you kidding? Can you even measure what kind, and how much violence that does to America? You, the media, members of the press are our ONLY hope, ONLY HOPE, against lies, subterfuge, illegal acts, unconstitutional positions, hate-mongering, and other offenses - all of which add up to violence - with which Trump has begun and plans to run this administration. For his secrecy and violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution - about which we should ALL feel violated - he should already have been impeached, but who is going to do it? Who is going to stand and say, “The king has no clothes”? Not the Congress, apparently.
    In this vein, for the past several years, instead of calling him President Obama, the press has called him Mr. Obama - violating his legitimacy - yet now writers and newscasters so easily call our new psychopath-in-chief President Trump. How about some balance? How about telling Bannon to keep his mouth shut? How about fomenting impeachment of this blatantly unqualified office holder? Stop this practice of making false equivalencies; he and his staff know not the meaning of intellect and are not qualified to lead.

  26. Actually, all the burning of political offices and attacks on people at political rallies during the recent campaign period was begun by Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton. Usually these people were paid through various foundations connected to George Soros. Even Campaign Chair Mr. Mook was involved in arranging the physical attacks on innocent bystanders.

    The media all have their standards for referring to officials. Generally, they mention the office on the first mention and then switch to ''Mr.'' or ''Ms.'' on following mentions, just to save space.

    Of course, Barack Hussein O presented a special problem to the media because he started his academic life under a the pseudonym ''Barry Soetoro'' simply to avoid having to pay tuition for college - AND to spark interest in his multiple autobiographies completed before her ever had to do any real work.
    Isn't the marketplace of ideas great?

  27. This is a thesis delivered by safe people to other safe people in a safe environment. If you were living in your car in Chicago or Ohio, your perception of violence would be completely different and the question of ethics would be entirely centered around, "When am I allowed to kill or injure in order to save my own life, the lives of my family, or my possessions from theft?" The idea that discussions of violence can meaningful at all away from the immediate "fight or flight" survival instinct is unlikely until the issue of equal dispensation of justice for all U.S. citizens is actually acknowledged: if a person has no money, then they can expect no justice, and if a person has money-- no matter what transgression they may have committed-- they will be given whatever they desire in this culture, and if necessary an entirely new dynamic will be created to protect to the wealthy against the poor.

  28. There is new violence in the land. It is being promulgated by Donald Trump, and is called gas-lighting. By continually lying about all matters small and large, he is successfully persuading masses of people to doubt their own emotional and intellectual judgments. His most important opponent are the reporters who are revealing the truth about his false claims. He and his staff react by calling them "the most dishonest people" alive.

    The news media are rattled. There has never been such a noxious person who has gained the bully pulpit to "work over" the media and the people.

    Our salvation will come by following Hannah Arendt's advice to assemble in the public square, as so many did last weekend in Washington,Boston, New York, Chicago and many other cities--and to speak out. We also must support journalists and the free press, which is the most important truth-finding institution we have.

  29. I found this so relevant when thinking of the reference to the "peaceful transition to power". For so many, the psychological assault of Trump's campaign and current political rhetoric, the fear and pain it has generated, feels anything but peaceful. Thank you, too, for the quote on hope. I needed something to frame my own thoughts.

  30. The pertinent point about structural violence is that its essence is to lie hidden, to be a pervasive backdrop of our lives. We suffer silently without knowing that we are violated. A moment of awareness is all it takes to turn violence into sacrifice and resistance. The only true violence is falsehood and ignorance. But the attainment of truth brooks no violence, either. Knowledge follows the contours of the land, and takes its own course to the sea. Those who know the importance of environmental politics see how difficult it is to achieve justice in a landscape ravaged by violence.

  31. Any poor snowflake that thinks the colonial period didn't move millions of third-world people into fairer, safer, and more developed ways of living must have spent so much time in political indoctrination while in college that they are probably beyond recovery.

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu certainly criticized the Europeans, but also said that the Africans got the better deal from colonial times because the Europeans brought Christianity with them.