The Unprincipled Nature of Political Violence
A few thoughts on the attempted murder of Gabrielle Giffords.
Firstly, I want to express massive sympathy to the friends and families of the victims. The lack of empathy towards those who have had loved ones irrevocably ripped from their lives by human violence is a foundational reason that we live on a planet overflowing with needless sorrow.
That said, everyone in the political class is projecting their world view onto this event with almost no sign of even basic circumspection. This event didn’t take place in a vaccuum, and the angry political speech that is, in some circles, being blamed as the cause didn’t spring from nowhere, and the notion that the solution to a problem is to kill it wasn’t invented by Jerrod Loughner.
We are surrounded by a society steeped in violent domination of the weak by the strong. The foundational premise of human political institutions is that one group should use weapons, cages and confiscation to impose it’s will on another group. The foundational premise of our nation is that the non-ruling group can justly kill and replace the ruling group if, for example, taxes get too high, or the court system is deemed unjust.
The entire structure of our ruling institutions comes down to us from a barbaric and superstitious past. In this one unique thread of human endeavor, no hint of modernity has been allowed to permeate for 2,500 years.
The gun is always on the table in politics. Nearly every American supports both the use of state violence against undesirable people *and* the use of anti-state violence against oppressive government
The credibility of the grievances varies (surely the weakest claim of oppression was that of the colonial americans in the 18th century), but there’s no political principle about when anti-state violence is good and when it’s bad–it’s entirely subjective
There’s also no principle governing the appropriate use of state violence. Some people prefer guns be waved at those who farm certain plants or cross invisible lines. Others want to threaten those that have sex with forbidden persons (or in forbidden ways) or drop trash on unowned land.
This lack of principle, the lack of any basis for rational discourse, is precisely what leads to angry screechy shouting, jumping up and down, waving of arms, gnashing of teeth, and when those impressive displays repeatedly fail to convince: the threat of and use of violence.
We live in a domination system, a patriarchy, a rape culture in which the predominant belief is that physical control of one group of humans by another is necessary for our continued existence. As long as this is the case, violence will be used by individuals who feel that it’s a reasonable way to solve a particular problem. Most of the time, the victims will be the poor and politically powerless, but on occasion, the victim of violence will be a member of the ruling class or their enforcers.
The only way to avoid violence against the ruling class is to refuse to legitimize violence as a means of human interaction. Of course, it’s the ruling class that monopolizes the institutional use of violence against the rest of humanity, so to some degree the ball is in their court.
I imagine that we’ll know that we’ve reached the dawning of a new day when every murder around this planet is treated with equal horror. Since this killing is the first of the thousand-or-so politically related murders of the last year that has made the news in anything but a passing manner, I know that dawn is not yet come.
Update: See for yourself has a nice round-up of other quality online publications that are presenting what I believe to be largely the same sentiment in a number of ways. Here’s a nice summary sourced by one of the linked posts:
Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
– Derrick Jesen, Endgame vol. 1
-  The right-wing rhetoric that’s got everybody in a tizzy currently was used by the left in the 1960s. It was used by third world nationalists in the 40s and 50s and by anti-colonialists for 100 years before that. It was considered a sign of hope in post-soviet eastern europe and still is in the nuclear boogieman-of-the-day, Iran. ↩
-  If one concedes the use of revolutionary violence, it certainly seems most appropriate against the regime that holds 1/4 of the worlds prisoners, that is fighting a whole host of wars that are illegal by any international agreement or treaty regarding national conflict back to 1648, that is responsible for 10s of millions of deaths in the third world since the mid 20th century, that claims the right to detain or assassinate anyone on the planet–including its own “citizens” without any process other than a go-ahead from the supreme leader. ↩