By Harry Targ
Progressive America Rising via Diary of a Heartland Radical
Establishing causal connections between “variables” and violence is a form of mystification. The reality of this world is that of grotesque inequalities in wealth, power, respect for humankind and the environment, a world awash in instrumentalities of death, and a global culture that celebrates it. Recent reports from the World Bank and the World Economic Forum (of all places) document the continuing and growing inequalities in wealth and income on a worldwide basis. Could it be a surprise that seemingly indiscriminate acts of violence occur all across the globe? Only a humane global movement for fundamental change can radically transform the world we live in but movements of protest can make constructive changes along the way (Harry Targ, Facebook, April 23, 2013).
Each violent tragedy in the United States brings an outpouring of wrenching and “expert” analyses of what was behind the acts that led to so much pain and suffering. Most of the soul-searching about tragedies from Arizona, to Colorado, to Connecticut, to Boston is about domestic events (the repeated killings of Iraqis, Afghan peoples, Pakistanis, Yemenis and others generate much less empathy). Explanations usually involve deranged “others,” usually poor “others,” “others” of color, and “others with fundamentalist religious beliefs.” Their crimes are described as perpetrated against victims who are the “normal” people. Make no mistake about it, violence against any individuals, communities, and nations must be opposed, even among those, who in the end are the root cause of it. But we need to be clear about the economic, social, political, cultural and military/police context in which violence occurs. And, in no small measure, violence itself is celebrated in the societies where it is most prevalent.
Peace researchers have written about “direct,” “cultural,” and “structural” violence for years. While each of these is seen as having its own characteristics and causes for the most part analysts regard the three as inextricably interconnected. Direct violence refers to physical assault, shooting, bombing, gassing, and torture. It is about killing people. Cultural violence refers to dominant cultures whose apparatuses, such as the media and laws, portray their own institutions and values as superior to others and rituals that seek to honor the violence engaged in by one’s own country or group while demeaning other countries or groups. What is most vicious about cultural violence is its effort to make the victimized groups hate themselves.
Structural violence occurs when economic, political, cultural and military institutions create relationships in which some human beings gain disproportionately from the labor, the talents, and the pain and suffering of others. Structural violence is institutionalized violence most often organized around class exploitation, racism, and patterns of gendered forms of domination and subordination. The key concepts that shape efforts to understand the causes and effects of structural violence are class, race, and gender.