Thursday, May 21, 2009

Part of how structural violence works

Manuél sez:
The historically dominant side seeks to eradicate the perceived weak by two methods: denouncement and/or disappearing.

Perceived because the weakness is like a mirage in the Sonoran desert.

Over the past few years, my experience of being a citizen of the United States with Mexican ancestry has been enlightening, to say the least. Anti-migrant hysteria from conservatives and nativists who've declared war on my cultura and identity alongside demands for mass deportations and family destruction have been a source of radicalization that's ignited the habanero in my bloodstream.

The haters have a smart strategy, though.

By making immigration a "Latino issue", they've succeeded for years in ghettoizing (denouncement) and marginalizing (disappearing) voices like mine and others who can actually speak to how failed immigration policies affect those whom are targeted by enforcement-only campaigns. Institutional and often outright racism has guaranteed that the vast majority of faces of those raided at their work sites or homes, detained and deported, are brown, even though the U.S. has undocumented workers from every part of the world with varying degrees of melanin.
Seemed like a fitting variation on a theme that I've touched on here periodically (including recently). Imperialist racism continues to cast its ugly shadow centuries after it reared its ugly head. One consequence of such racism is fairly straightforward if one merely is willing to look: it is so embedded in the cultural Zeitgeist that many don't even see it (the word insidious often is used to describe the mindset and the structural violence that accompanies it). Again go back to Hannah Arendt, and her concept of banality of evil:
The concept of "banality of evil" of course comes from Hannah Arendt's writings - originally appearing in her classic work, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Bethania Assy notes in an essay on Arendt's term "banality of evil" that the key appears to be a lack of thinking, a noticeable shallowness - not just at an individual level but at a societal level. The sorts of evils that we can attribute to the Nazi Holocaust, to the bombings and sanctions against Iraq, the torture and extraordinary renditions, etc. are ones in which are treated with a sort of shallowness. They are normal, merely part of the background. One doesn't think much about them, but rather just accepts them and moves on to the next reality TV show. A point that shows up in Assy's summary as well as in Arendt's writings, is the potential that in reflectively thinking about what is going on, one might then question one's support for the status quo:
How, then, does the faculty of thinking work in order to avoid evil? First of all, according to Arendt, the moral and ethic standards based on habits and customs have shown that they can just be changed by a new set of rules of behavior dictated by the current society.In Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship, Arendt emphasizes: "It was as though morality, at the very moment of its collapse within an old, highly civilized nation, stood revealed in its original meaning, as a set of mores, of customs and manners, which could be exchanged for another set with no more trouble than it would take to change the table manners of a whole people." (28) Thenceforth, Arendt claims the bridge between morality and the faculty of thinking. In this same article quoted above she asks how is was possible that few persons resisted the moral collapse and had not adhered to the regime, despite any coercion. Arendt herself answers: "The answer to the ...question is relatively simple. The nonparticipants, called irresponsible by the majority, were the only ones who dared judge by themselves, and they were capable of doing so not because they disposed of a better system of values or because the old standards of right and wrong were still firmly planted in their mind and conscience but, ... because their conscience did not function in this, as were, automatic way, ... they asked themselves to what an extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be charged for the better, but because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves." (29) (emphasis added)

Arendt clearly attributes to the faculty of thinking the presupposition for this kind of judging extremely necessary in times of moral collapse, that is to say, "when the chips are down." Arendt argues: "The presupposition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but merely the habit of living together explicitly with oneself, that is, of being engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which since Socrates and Plato we usually call thinking." (30) (emphasis added)

Another clip of Arendt (also from Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship) courtesy of Arthur Silber:
In our context, all that matters is the insight that no man, however strong, can ever accomplish anything, good or bad, without the help of others. What you have here is the notion of an equality which accounts for a "leader" who is never more than primus inter pares, the first among his peers. Those who seem to obey him actually support him and his enterprise; without such "obedience" he would be helpless, whereas in the nursery or under conditions of slavery -- the two spheres in which the notion of obedience made sense and from which it was then transposed into political matters -- it is the child or the slave who becomes helpless if he refuses to "cooperate." Even in a strictly bureaucratic organization, with its fixed hierarchical order, it would make much more sense to look upon the functioning of the "cogs" and wheels in terms of overall support for a common enterprise than in our usual terms of obedience to superiors. If I obey the laws of the land, I actually support its constitution, as becomes glaringly obvious in the case of revolutionaries and rebels who disobey because they have withdrawn this tacit consent.

In these terms, the nonparticipators in public life under a dictatorship are those who have refused their support by shunning those places of "responsibility" where such support, under the name of obedience, is required. And we have only for a moment to imagine what would happen to any of these forms of government if enough people would act "irresponsibly" and refuse support, even without active resistance and rebellion, to see how effective a weapon this could be. It is in fact one of the many variations of nonviolent action and resistance -- for instance the power that is potential in civil disobedience -- which are being discovered in our century. The reason, however, that we can hold these new criminals, who never committed a crime out of their own initiative, nevertheless responsible for what they did is that there is no such thing as obedience in political and moral matters. The only domain where the word could possibly apply to adults who are not slaves is the domain of religion, in which people say that they obey the word or the command of God because the relationship between God and man can rightly be seen in terms similar to the relation between adult and child.

Hence the question addressed to those who participated and obeyed orders should never be, "Why did you obey?" but "Why did you support?" This change of words is no semantic irrelevancy for those who know the strange and powerful influence mere "words" have over the minds of men who, first of all, are speaking animals. Much would be gained if we could eliminate this pernicious word "obedience" from our vocabulary of moral and political thought. If we think these matters through, we might regain some measure of self-confidence and even pride, that is, regain what former times called the dignity or the honor of man: not perhaps of mankind but of the status of being human.
I get some semblance of hope from that last passage in particular, to the extent that it sows some seeds for something new. In the meantime, we do have a rather entrenched power structure and an entrenched cultural Zeitgeist that make invisible many, many injustices.

No comments:

Post a Comment