Posts Tagged 'violence'

plus ça change

There are some days when I just don’t want to internet anymore. When every other thing I read is evidence of the senseless violence humans act out on other humans. When shootings and bombings seem relentless.

If Jo Cox’s murderer had an assault rifle, West Yorkshire could look like Orlando right now. If he’d had a bomb, perhaps it would look like Istanbul. I don’t need to go on, though you all know I could.

It would be easy, I think, to stop reading twitter and facebook, to turn away from the news feeds, to ignore the ever present evidence that as a species we are unforgiveable to each other. That the hate we enable – by ignoring or reinforcing – is manifest in the violence we not simply tolerate, but encourage.

Our world is one in which violence creates a platform. We – as communities, as countries – not just tolerate but prop up violence as a solution. We excuse it. We justify it. If you want people to listen – kill somebody. If you want people to obey – blow someone up.

This is our world. Where people learn that to be heard, to remake the world as they want it – violence is the ultimate tool.

What will it take? What will it take to end this? I don’t want to wake up every day in a world where people are killed – punished, in the eyes of their attackers – for holding a particular view, for dressing a particular way, for loving a particular person, for their very skin and hair and eyes.

Each of those numbers, each of those names – they are people. They are me, they are you. We – you and I – we die with them.

They had a right to breathe this air and tread this earth until their hearts and bodies gave out. They had a right to live in safety. To laugh and dance and sing and love. They had a right to fucking live in the light.

This is not my world. I do not know who makes this world. I want to hide from this world.
From this pain, from this senseless violence, from this constant, relentless reminder that we are not safe, that at any time someone angry can stop my life, your life, our lives – they can tear apart our communities, they can spit on our civilisation, our freedoms, our ideals, chase thousands from their homes – they can upend the good world.

Because our good world has no defence against this. Our world offers thoughts and prayers with no action. Our world gives condolences. Our good world offers sentiment when it should kneel in the earth and rip out by the roots all of the signposts and standards that show angry people that violence works.

I want to hide from all of this because it hurts. It is painful and frightening. My heart breaks for those who lose family, friends, lovers, homes, communities. I am terrified for those I love and cannot protect.

And I rage. I rage at the injustice of the violence that is cavalier as it steals these beautiful, singular lives as if they do not matter.

But I cannot hide. Because they do matter. Every single one. I do not want the portrait of these pointless, angry murderers burned on my retinas, I do not care who they are or what supposed rationale they claim justifies their outrageousness – I want to know all of these people and mourn them like friends. I want to bury the image of these killers with the remembrance and due attention to those people who were simply living their lives.

I do not know if facing the ugly cruelties of the world will make it change, but I know that ignoring problems makes them worse. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is also useless and damaging.

Knowledge is work. It is pain and it is grief. But it too, is a tool. And one I hope ultimately more powerful than the violence that is the first or last resort of the angry and desperate.

In the Christian tradition, the tree of Knowledge was forbidden to Adam and Eve. Knowledge meant they had to leave safety and plenty and live in the world, in all its harshness. But knowledge does not change the truth. Adam and Eve were naked before they understood shame. Knowledge instead changed them – their thoughts, their choices, their actions.

Knowledge is not a punishment; it is the cost of living in the world. And it is the only means by which we can change.

I have no faith to speak of, but I would not be able to continue in the world if I did not believe that we could, all of us, reach a place of peace. A day and time where violence is not a megaphone, not a passport, not a ticket to the big kids table, not an option. A day where every life is recognised as holy and worthy. Where disagreement or disapproval does not find it’s logical conclusion in blood.

And so. I continue to stare this in the face. I take my knowledge as the bitter pill it sometimes is in the hope that I will learn something, anything, worthwhile – and in the hope that something will be enough.


Nasty, Brutish, Short

It is hard to find the will to blog, as it seems so futile in a world full of violence, injustice, oppression, and natural disasters. Because as a human being capable of empathy, knowing and acknowledging the degrees of danger and suffering and injustice seems so daunting, and so unchangeable. One has to surrender to the truth that millions of people suffer and die from preventable things. There is an obligation to protest, to speak out, to see what is happening and say that it is unfair and do what one can to prevent or ameliorate. And then, one has to surrender to the momentum.

Our task, the humans-in-groups task, is, I think, figuring out how to live. For those of us lucky enough to be living a life of privilege where food and shelter are readily available, where diseases are easily treatable, where there are things in place to protect us from the worst of poverty, hunger, and illness, we have to figure out how to live life in a culture that demands that work and money take priority over mental health, social life, and ecological balance. Those of us with a sense of responsibility to the rest of the human species also try to find ways to alleviate the suffering of those elsewhere, and attempt to figure out how the global culture can change in such a way that the comfort of the few is not dependent on the exploitation of the many. For those who don’t live in that world, survival becomes the daily task, and any stability must be used in turn to think of how the culture of the group can change to allow for greater survival, safety, and comfort.

Someone said to me the other day that they believe human beings are fundamentally decent. That may be true, and yet it seems that those with sociopathic tendencies have significantly more influence on the movement of the world than those who live with a degree of consideration of others. The drug cartels and mafiosi, dictators and arms dealers, human traffikers, pedophiles, and serial murderers, all seem to shape the world more than the nurses and doctors, the (un-corrupt) police and teachers, charitable givers and social workers, and just everyday decent people who ask how you are and wait to hear the answer.

Every day, as a thinking human being, we have to decide how to live in such a world.

Who is Responsible?

After any tragedy, this is what we ask ourselves. We are rational animals (sort of), so even if we don’t approve, we can understand crimes of passion, crimes of necessity, and (however grotesque) ‘collateral damage’.

We want to know why. Hopefully because this will help prevent similar acts in the future.

In light of the recent appalling murders in Arizona, some commentators are suggesting that the violent rhetoric used by various rightwing people creates a climate in which violent acts are implicitly encouraged.

It is easier to see the link between the odious hit-lists of abortion providers created by the ironically ‘pro-life’ crowd, where the rhetoric goes beyond ‘these people are murderers’ to, explicitly, ‘murder these people,’ than the one between people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin’s political rants (whereby those who disagree with them manage to be both fascist and socialist) and some psychotic 22-year-old with a gun.

Our environment guides our behaviour: our society and culture create rules – boundaries within which we are expected to confine our otherwise free choice. Some of these rules are made explicit in the legal code, and our peers socially reinforce others, as do the media and figures of authority.

But what happens when these guides seem to contradict one another? Murder is wrong, but having semi-automatic weapons with thirty shots in a round is a Constitutional right! (Ignore that bit about a well-organized militia). Voting is how we make sure the government looks after our needs, but the person I voted for didn’t win, and instead there’s a socialist/fascist having a socialist/fascist public meeting!

Obviously, this does not lead everyone to buy a gun at Walmart and go on a rampage.

Does speech cause violent action? Speech in and of itself can be violent action. (See: It Gets Better). Violence is about power. What could be more powerful than taking someone’s life, with words or with bullets? If you are convinced that there is only one, rather irreversible way, of being heard, and that this need to be heard supersedes the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of everyone around you…

Even if every conservative (and liberal) pundit starting speaking like reasonable, rational people (as lovely and refreshing as that would be), I don’t think that would prevent people from being violent. People are assholes. Scared, stupid assholes.

We can’t entirely stop people from being stupid, or angry, or scared. We can’t stop people from thinking that they are an exception to the rules (see: Crime and Punishment), or that they are immortal (see: teenagers).

If we could eradicate guns, or, perhaps more realistically, give everyone a futuristic impenetrable personal force field, maybe even the pathologically violent would be forced to express their displeasure with words. Maybe then we could help the stupid get information, the angry get therapy, the scared feel safe. Maybe the sense of immortality and exceptionalism could be used to encourage feelings of responsibility rather than entitlement.

To be clear, I don’t think a national policy of psychotherapists and teddy bears is what murderers deserve. Everyone is responsible for his or her own actions, and looking too much at social causes can lead one to forget the immediate cause – i.e. someone has decided to murder. People should not have to guard their tongues because a select few do not understand metaphor, heightened rhetoric, or irony. However, there should be something in place to protect the many from the select few, and if that in turn makes the select few ever fewer, so much the better.

If everyone, not just media pundits and authority figures, were more respectful, and treated those who disagree with them like rational human beings rather than some kind of Nazi Yeti, would violence in general decrease?

I’d like to think so. Surely it’s worth a try?

Slacker Feminists?

After reading this article by Clive James on the BBC (a transcription of a radio piece, I believe), I wondered if, as he posits, there was indeed a disinclination among Western feminists to acknowledge the average difference in physical strength between men and women. His article speaks of the new female elected MPs in Kuwait, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and criticizes the absence of support for these women from feminist pundits in the news, which he supposes to be the result of this disinclination.

While I dislike considering the physical advantage that, on average, men possess, since there is still something within our culture that makes domestic violence and rape feasible and thinkable where it should be the rare act of a sociopath, I don’t think any feminist is naïve enough to state that the biological difference in muscle mass has anything to do with social conditioning.

When he claims that “Women, on the whole, would naturally like to do something else, whereas an army, for too many men, is a home away from home, and often their only home.” That seems to fall prey to the idea that feminism does critique, being that men are somehow inherently more violent, whereas if there is a preference it is more likely to be the result of a culture that emphasizes the value of power in men, and submission to a strict hierarchy, rather than some innate enjoyment of killing people in large numbers, and that women are naturally squeamish about violence, which is perhaps the idea he means to critique.


And since many western feminists are still convinced that the social stereotyping of the West is the product of fundamental flaws within liberal democracy itself, they have a tendency to believe that undemocratic societies are somehow valuable in the opposition they offer to the free countries which the feminists are so keen to characterise as not free enough.

is surprising – I know of no feminist who suggests that oppressive regimes in various countries around the world are somehow superior to the Western democracies simply because their culture is misogynistic in a different way. In the US, and I’m sure in the UK, activist women were alerting Congress to the oppression of women under the Taliban in Afghanistan for years before 9/11.

Without knowing to whom, exactly, James is speaking, (beyond a mention of ‘pundits’) and having never seen evidence of such casual dismissal of the accomplishments of women fighting for safety, let alone equal rights, in countries where stoning or beating or murder is common punishment for anything that, in Women’s Studies 101 terms, challenges the patriarchy, I conclude that he has created a straw woman of sorts – is there a feminist pundit who, in criticizing the remaining levels of misogyny or patriarchal structures within a Western liberal democracy, suggests that some exotic regime based on a yet-more hierarchical and patriarchal model might be a superior form?

Perhaps someone made a comment about Communism.

One hopes that James knows that feminism is, at the heart, about equal rights and equal treatment. Any physical difference (including strength) between the sexes does not reflect inherent tendencies towards or away from violence or anything else, and should not, therefore, determine the career or lifestyle of any individual, and society should be such that systematic violence towards women is non-existent, and any that does occur be met with swift justice, not silenced by a cultural shame or fear.

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More Tragedy for Afghan Women

As I noted in an earlier post, women in Afghanistan don’t have it easy right now.

In April, there were protests against the horrific laws pertaining to Shiite women – laws designed to garner votes with the conservative religious (male, obviously) population.

In the Sunday Times Magazine this weekend, Christina Lamb has an in-depth piece on the continuing injustice Afghani women face. In interviews with women she met and seven years earlier, the discrimination and violence they face is made painfully clear.

That women can still be forced into abusive and sometimes fatal marriages because of religious or cultural forces, that those women who struggle to continue with education, work, and basic personal freedom, often face consternation, threats, abuse, and death, that the humanitarian workers and organizations can’t seem to do enough to protect, let alone assist in the liberation of, these women, is all profoundly sad, and intensely distressing. Because what can one do?

Reading the story, I felt an urge to rush to Afghanistan and start up a women’s army – training these brilliant, defiant, intelligent ladies like Marines, giving them physical strength to face their adversaries. But really, the trouble is more insidious, more entrenched; ideology cannot be warred against.

How do you educate a nation of men who have been trained, indoctrinated, to regard women as property? As inhuman? As infidels or dangerous upstarts should they balk at marrying or staying at home or generally acting as if they have a mind of their own? Not just that, but to believe that violence against them is not the same calibre as violence against another man, or even an animal; that violence they feel the need to enact is somehow their god-given right?

The Civil Rights Movement needs to begin in earnest in Afghanistan. But it is daunting to look into the past, to see the cost of such movements – fear, injury, death – before change can be felt.

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