On The Nature of Violence

Consuming re-enactments of violence in various forms has long brought considerable pleasure to large number of people, especially but by no means exclusively, males. Quite clearly many residents of middle class suburbs in towns and cities across the prosperous world are relatively shielded from the real-world physical violence that millions experience on a daily basis in much of the world, but with extraordinary levels of intensity in regions where wars of resistance and internecine conflict rage. David Edwards of Medialens quite correctly contrasted the almost daily massacres in Iraq with the occasional school and office shoot-outs in the US and Europe. 36 dead i the Virgina Tech massacre is a tragedy, sure, but hundreds slain day in day out is an affront against humanity. However, many who have moved from some of the world's worst conflict zones to the obsessively consumerist dystopia of the wider American empire feel ironically under greater threat.

Violence means much more than the simple exertion of physical force with the intent to maim or kill others, it means the exertion of physical, sensory, mental or economic force to deny others of their livelihood, whose definition varies according to cultural expectations. To make a simple example, the only difference between machine-gunning a family of African subsistence farmers and evicting the same family from their land while failing to provide them with alternative means of sustenance is immediacy. In the former scenario they die instantly, in the second they starve slowly. So is society as it has evolved recently in the UK become more or less violent?

Nominally, it may have actually become less violent. Parents seem much less willing to resort to physical force to rein in their offspring, mindful of the consequences if their sheer frustration leads them to overstep the mark. As noted elsewhere crime statistics rely heavily on classification and reporting, but based purely on calls to national helplines there has been a huge rise in parents falling victim to physical abuse by their sons and daughters. The mass media, including the liberal establishment's BBC, also seems preoccupied with the spectre of child abuse, especially when attributable to outmoded institutions such as the Church and where the blame can be placed clearly with sad sexually deprived individuals who unleash their fantasies on the innocent. As usual such a narrow focus misses the details of a much bigger picture. Child abuse is an abstract concept. Certainly extreme deprivation leading to severe malnutrition, life-threatening disease and violence leaving permanent physical and psychological scars affect a person's long-term potential.

However, to the surprise of many wishful thinking do-gooders, back in the 70s school kids often preferred a quick dose of corporal punishment to the prospect of several hours detention or humiliation in front of their parents. This doesn't mean corporal punishment is good, but may often in the real world be viewed as the lesser of two evils. Seriously, how many children ever ended up in hospital as a result of excessive corporal punishment? Now compare this with the number hospitalised as a result of school or street fights. If teenagers are drawn into a subculture of pervasive recreational drugs, having to resort to theft or prostitution to feed their habit, who should we blame? The parents, society or some alleged genetic weakness in the kids themselves? Increasingly social workers and health professionals turn to the third explanation, but often blame controlling or traditionally strict parents. To compete in today's superficial social rat race, parents need to act and look as cool as the media role models their kids aspire to. To win your teenage daughter's trust, you may need to undergo cosmetic surgery or simply let her have her way when friends invite her for a night out on the town. In a community where most children respected their parents and were not under media-induced peer pressure to participate actively in a deceptively named fun culture of all night raves, life was easy for sensible parents whose only wish was to steer their children away from danger. But Blair's Britain is not like that. Open your eyes and ears in any shopping centre, remove yourself temporarily from your early 21st century bubble and you'll soon realise you're surrounded by technicolor, high-fidelity bullies unleashing incessant doses of none-too-subtle psychological torture. “Heh, you, you're not as cool as these dudes!”. If you dare to complain about the unbearable rap beat in a clothes store or, as I did once, in a book store, expect to be either ignored or if you insist to receive a mildly reassuring talk from some lowly shop manager about marketing. In any case be in no doubt, that your aversion to a non-stop blur is your problem, not theirs.

Violence may be defined, at least according to the free dictionary bundled with my computer:

  • Behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.
  • Strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force : the violence of her own feelings.
  • The unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force.

Based on the latter two definitions, provocative imagery and noise intimidate as much or even more than physical force. The media like to remind us of the importance of mental health, but fail to examine their own role in adversely destabilising our sense of self. The media frequently practices another intimidatory form of violence, humiliation by association. Over the last week the media has successfully whipped up hysteria against the alleged abductor of a three year old girl on holiday in Portugal with her well-to-do parents. In the recent past we've seen masses of Sun-readers engage in animated protests, sometimes resorting to violence, against real and alleged paedophiles. Thus anyone unknown to the community at large and whose behaviour may at times seem suspect may fall victim to a paedo witch hunt. That's an awful lot of people in our atomised island state, where close-knit communities are largely a distant memory. Only a few months ago the media lynched a lonesome resident of Ipswich falsely accusing him of the murder of five prostitutes and publishing details of his MySpace activities. Should we arrest the remaining millions of alienated adults whose social life has been reduced to virtual tomfoolery. Why not arrest all those idiots on person.com who broadcast masturbation live from their Webcams? All this socially divisive fear-mongering generates intimidatory violence against anyone who fails to meet societal expectations and withdraws into an alienated existence. Violence is anything that harms people mentally or physically. No society is devoid of violence, but where conflict is minimised, so to is violence in all its forms. Otherwise psychological intimidation and alienation can soon manifest themselves physically either through self-harm, drug abuse or direct attacks against the person.

Author: 
Neil Gardner
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