The front door with its smudges of fingerprinting dust provides a clue that something bad happened there. My neighbor, Dave’s trial is at the end of its 2nd week. His estranged wife, Bonnie, lived around the corner with their two children. Bonnie was stabbed to death in April 2015 while the children were in the house. The murder was discovered when the children were found wandering outside. Police questioned Dave but it took 6 months before he was arrested; he’s been incarcerated since. Clearly, this crime constitutes violence, not only Bonnie’s death, but for the young children who are collateral victims: left alone, possible witnesses, mother dead and father in jail.
For one of my classes, we had to read Johan Galtung’s essay on “Cultural Violence” from the Journal of Peace Research which opened my eyes to insidious forms of violence. Galtung describes these as “avoidable insults to basic human needs, and more generally to life.” Killing is an extreme example, but the author also includes alienation and repression, with their long chains of cause and effect so “the actor avoids having to face the violence directly” (Galtung, 293).
“Direct violence is an event; structural violence is a process …; cultural violence is …‘permanence.’ … The three forms of violence enter time differently, somewhat like the difference in earthquake theory between the earthquake as an event, the movement of the tectonic plates as a process and the fault line as a more permanent condition” (294).
In the sociological arena, Galtung calls discrimination a form of structural violence while prejudice is the more pervasive cultural violence. Universality may dull our awareness—something is so prevalent, we don’t notice; not unlike how fish, had they consciousness, would have difficulty describing water.
This election provides examples — an electorate whose seeming hopelessness is trying to shake up a government that has left them disenfranchised by endorsing a candidate who is portrayed as exhibiting a pattern of verbal and physical violence against women and certain ethnic groups. Cultural violence can be a component of religions with belief systems that advocate: “our way is the only true path” while denigrating those of different faiths. A religion may claim respect for life in certain areas, but raises no issue with other aspects of killing like in war or with the death penalty. The piecemeal inconsistency doesn’t even register as problematic–that’s just how things are. We are complex creatures and usually manage to justify our choices, convincing ourselves of their moral rightness. The Jain religion emphasizes what many would consider extreme non-violence, covering their mouths so they don’t accidentally swallow and kill an insect and sweeping the ground ahead of where they walk to avoid injuring any life-forms. Most people would think, “That’s ridiculous.”
Pollution constitutes a form of violence against the earth, and one that many would not recognize or categorize as violent. While we depend on earth’s resources for survival and well-being, we define pollution narrowly, such as when a dog poops on our lawn rather than the herbicide treatment to eliminate weeds. A person probably doesn’t consider leaving unnecessary lights on as an act of violence, until you investigate the unintended consequences. While people (the culprits?) figure that it’s okay since they can afford replacement bulbs and have money to pay their electric bill, if they rely on the electric grid, are they responsible for violence at a distance? What powers the generation plant that provides the electricity? Does my electricity consumption require mountain top removal to extract coal with the ensuing pollution for the community where the mine is located?
We are interconnected in ways we can barely conceive. As John Muir reminded: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” We are complicit. There are levels of wrongdoing beyond genocide and murder. No one gets a pass on explicit or implicit violence, even though some actions don’t leave bruises or generate blood. Even Evangelist Billy Graham confided about his wife, Ruth: “They asked her did she ever think about divorce and she said, ‘No, I’ve never thought of divorce in all these 35 years of marriage, but, I did think of murder a few times.'” Luckily, we are not on trial.
© Joan S Grey, 3 Nov 2016
IndexCardCure™: choose intentionally
Johan Galtung, “Cultural Violence” in Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 27, No. 3, (Aug. 1990), pp. 291-305.