Thursday, July 19, 2007

Unclear on the concept

From an article about a vandalized Hummer:
"The neighborhood in general is very concerned with the environment," said Liem, whose Prius gets about 48 miles a gallon compared with the Hummer's 14 miles a gallon. "It's more liberal leaning. It's ridiculous to be driving a Hummer."
Liem added quickly that she does not condone violence.

[snip]

"They've got everything at their disposal in this city to make a statement in a legal way," Fremaux said of the bat-wielding men who struck out at the Hummer. "I consider this a hate crime."
Hate crime? Ooookay. Once we start referring to vandalized gas-guzzling SUVs as "hate crimes", the term becomes practically meaningless. Of course the vandalism occurred in Yuppieville U$A, so perhaps the mentality is not too surprising. The equation of vandalism and violence is also a bit of a stretch. Here's a little something from an old punk zine (Pressure #4) from back around 1985 that might put things in perspective:
LET'S HAVE A SMASHING TIME

Boycotting products from companies and stores does help, but it conveys little or no message at all. They simply won't go away unless we invite them to. And if they won't go away, we can at least give them a headache for the time being.

Butcher shops, restaraunts [sic], factories, companies, and other establishments tied to the meat industry, apartheid, the arms race, and other neat things of the sort need to be constantly reminded that they're making money from death. We, who are supposedly opposed to such people, should be doing everything in our ability to smash this death machine which controls our lives.

There are many diverse forms of direct action which we may choose in order to get this message across. Of these, graffiti and the destruction of property can be accomplished without too much trouble. Graffiti or the destruction of property cannot be termed violence because violence is directed towards a living creature with intent to harm or kill.
The friend of mine who authored that was an unabashed pacifist, so nonviolent forms of action were essentially the only methods he would consider acceptable. As I've mentioned before, I tend to view violence as behavior that inflicts serious physical and psychological harm on its victims. Often when we think of violence, we think in terms of interpersonal violence - i.e., involving the direct physical involvement of at least one perpetrator and victim. However, I also find it helpful to utilize a definition of violence used by sociologists that views violence not only as interpersonal, but as also having organizational and structural elements. When discussing organizational violence, we refer to the various bureaucratic decisions made by individuals in positions of relative authority, and typically at a distance from the pain and suffering inflicted. As far as structural violence is concerned, here we look at the pain and suffering caused due to systematic deprivation of necessary resources, such as access to legal representation.

Another definition of violence by Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan from his book Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression (1985, p. 135) that may be pertinent:
Violence is any relation, process, or condition by which an individual or group violates the physical, social, and/or psychological integrity of another person or group. From this perspective, violence inhibits human growth, negates inherent potential, limits productive living, and causes death.

The proposed definition rests on several assumptions. First, violence is not simply an isolated physical act or a discrete random event. It is a relation, process, and condition undermining, exploiting, and curtailing the well-being of the victim. Second, these violations are not simply moral and ethical, but also physical, social, and/or psychological. They involve demonstrable assault on or injury of and damage to the victim. Third, violence in any of the three domains - physical, social, or psychological - has significant repercussions in the other two domains. Fourth, violence occurs not only between individuals, but also between groups and societies. Fifth, intention is less critical than consequence in most forms of violence. Any relation, process, or condition imposed by someone that injures the health and well-being of others is by definition violent.
Check that last sentence: "Any relation, process, or condition imposed by someone that injures the health and well-being of others is by definition violent." I'd likely quibble with my old friend regarding the usefulness of the concept of "intent" (I've noted before that I tend to look at consequence rather than intent) but aside from that I view these various efforts to define violence as generally overlapping and reasonably consistent. When we talk about injuring the health and well-being of someone else (up to and including death), then we're talking about violence.

Bashing a Hummer isn't going to cut it as far as the label "violence" is concerned. Yeah, a bit of a downer for the owner, and not exactly my preferred choice of action (I'm guessing that neither the yuppies in that guy's 'hood nor the folks who control the mass media would have sufficient insight to use the incident as a means to question the violence their choices of transportation are perpetrating against a variety of human and nonhuman animals), but a nonviolent action nonetheless.

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