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Emancipation from Incongruity: Brie’s Definition of Violence

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Part I, Part II, Part III.

Police Brutality

In the section “What is Violence?” Michael Brie attempts to define what violence is as there are different definitions of what the term violence means.  Conjuring up what I would consider a more simplified and basic argument of what Jean-Paul Sartre considered violence, Brie opens up with:

But what actually is vviolence?  Is it not everywhere, and hence also nowhere?  Is not every pore of human social life charcterised by it?  Do we not find violence lurking behind every labour contract?

But he then settles on a definition by Gertrud Nummer-Winkler which makes up the angle he will be approaching the violence question, which is that the violence Brie is talking about is the the violence in “the very narrow sense of ‘deliberate physical harm to humans by humans’.”

While it may seem quite obvious to many that this would be a standard (and it is) definition of violence it is also key to note that Brie does have a point on focusing on only this type of violence in his essay.  As there is much larger structural violence within this world: violence built in within white supremacy, male supremacy, and capitalism; there is a need to point out that generally all of this boils down to one thing.  Which Brie touches upon here:

However useful a much larger concept of violence may be in other contexts, there appears to be a need for a concept that captures this concrete form of human behaviour [ov violence]…[it] consciously seeks to physically or mentally destroy another person.  Violence consciously or purposefully breaks into the inner existential shelter of another person…the body of a human being.

Brie focuses on this harsh reality of the nature of violence because he thinks that many people have forgotten what violence really means, which is that breaking of “the inner existential shelter of another person” by harming another fellow human being.  Because of this, “Violence is turned into a mere technique, a message, a symbol, a means of politcal action…”

He would argue that many leftists view violence in this way, as “a mere technique.”  And on the whole I would say he has a point.  However, I do believe that the major reason for the denigration of violence into something as a mere “tool” or as even an “effect” has to do more with the dominant culture of our capitalist society.  Violence is turned into a commodity, something that sells movies, sports, and even products.  Violence is mainly denigrated not so much be leftist intellectuals but more by the mass media of popular culture, violence is marketed to such a wide extent (video games, movies, TV shows, news casts [remember the Gulf War video game-esque video briefings], and even in children’s toys) that the meaning of it tends to be lost on many.  Yet this tends to serve the purpose of the capitalists in many various ways, but I’m going too far off topic.

Again, he takes (to a certain degree) issue with Galtung’s view on violence as a structural tool built within the system of capitalism itself as it tends to ignore the realities of violence (all violence used by either the oppressed or oppressor) as that which harms human beings.  However, I would like to point out that if one wants to talk of structural violence one must actively engage in a debate with Sartre’s argument for violence which is based on his views of violence being embedded within the imperfect society we are in right now (a capitalist society) and how it effects relations between what he calls “groups” and “series.”

But, Brie does, to an extent, put a caveat in his argument by ending with this:

[V]iolence of rulers must, certainly, be distinguished from counter violence, i.e. the resort of violence by those who defend themselves against oppression, exploitation and annihilation.

But as we shall see his definition of self-defense is quite limiting in scope and his plea to recognize the victim of violence (such as a Nazi occupation solider being the very real victim of violence from a French resistance fighter), while quite compelling and necessary, does not quite satisfactorily hold up his view of near complete reliance of non-violent action.


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