Glossary

V is for

VIOLENCE
(from L. violentiam, excessive use of force). The simplest, most frequently employed and most effective mode for maintaining power and supremacy, for imposing one’s will over others, for usurping the power, property and even the lives of others. According to Marx, v. is “the midwife of history.” That is, all of human history ― even progress ― is the result of v.: wars, appropriation of territory, conspiracies, murders, revolutions, etc. Marx claimed that all important problems of history have generally been resolved by force. Intelligence, reasoned discussion, or reforms have played a secondary role. In this sense, Marx is right; he is wrong, however, to the extent that he confers absolute priority to the role of v., denying the advantages of evolution without v. Neither is he correct when he justifies v. with some noble end (although he himself on many occasions expressed reservations about v., saying that no good end can excuse the use of evil means for its attainment). Advocates of v. of every persuasion justify it as a means to achieve “good” or “useful” ends and results. This focus is dangerous and mistaken, however, since it leads to the defense of v. and the rejection of non-violent means.
It is customary to categorize
v. as direct, individualized (authority of father over child), or as indirect (permutational), usually “codified” by social institutions and official policies (wars, a dictator’s power, single-party power, religious monopoly). There are also other ways of categorizing v.: as physical or psychological; as open or concealed. In society, other more precise gradations of v. can be observed ― at the level of the family, of the nation, of world politics, as well as in the relation of the human being with nature, with other animal species, etc. All around us we can observe one or more of these elements, manifestations, or states of v., carried out to resolve problems or to achieve desired results at the cost of harming or inflicting suffering on another individual or group. V. is not necessarily oriented toward any specific enemy (though such cases do occur); rather, it is exercised to obtain certain concrete results, and it is therefore regarded as necessary and useful. Often, the one exercising violence believes they are acting in a just manner. This is the origin of the concept of distinguishing between “black” (unjustified) v. and “white” (justified).
V. is multifaceted. In the majority of cases it is viewed as an ethical category, as an evil, or as a “lesser evil.” Today, v. has become pervasive in all aspects of life: it appears continually and on a daily basis in the economy (exploitation of some human beings by others, coercion by the State, material dependency, discrimination against women in the workplace, child labor, unjust taxes, etc.); in politics (domination by a single or small number of parties, the power of certain leaders, totalitarianism, the exclusion of citizens from real participation in decision-making, war, revolution, armed struggle for power, etc.); in ideology (the imposition of official viewpoints, the prohibition of free thought, subordination of the communications media to private interests, the manipulation of public opinion, propaganda of ideas that are inherently violent and discriminatory but convenient to the ruling elite, etc.); in religion (subjection of the interests of the individual to clerical edicts, stringent thought-control, prohibition of divergent beliefs, persecution of heretics); in the family (exploitation of women, dictatorial control over children, etc.); in education (authoritarianism of teachers, corporal punishment, prohibition of diversity in curricula and teaching methods, etc.); in the armed forces (arbitrariness of officers, unthinking obedience of soldiers, punishment, etc.); in culture (censorship, prohibition of innovative currents and movements, prohibitions against publishing certain works, edicts by the bureaucracy, etc.).
If we analyze the sphere of contemporary societal life, we continually come up against the
v. that curtails our liberty; for this reason it is practically impossible to determine what sorts of prohibitions and suppressing of our will are truly rational and useful, and which ones are contrived and anti-human in character. A special task of authentically humanist forces consists of overcoming the aggressive features of contemporary social life: to promote harmony, non-violence, tolerance and solidarity.
When people speak of v., they generally mean physical v., this being the most overt expression of corporal aggression. Other forms of v., such as economic, racial, religious, sexual v., and so on, can at times act while concealing their true character, and lead to the final subjugation of human intention and freedom. When these forms of v. become manifest, they are also exercised through physical coercion. Every form of v. has discrimination as its correlate.
A Dictionary of New Humanism, in Silo; Collected Works Vol 2.