Friday, November 05, 2010

The Nature of Violence

I am reading Slavoj Zizek's Violence: Six sideways reflection and affected by the idea of three kinds of violence - subjective, objective and symbolic.

Indeed, Subjective violence is what we know as violence, where a violent act is carried out by an identifiable actor, which disturbs the status quo. This ranges from institutional to personal, from individuals fighting to genocide to atomic annihilation, and this is what attracts the maximum attention. Zizek says, we have a frontal view of subjective violence, and we either condone (as in state sanctioned wars) or condemn (as in violent acts of peace breaking) this violence.

The objective violence, as Zizek points out, is the state of peace itself. This is a difficult concept to accept, but not to see. We indeed live in an apparently 'unfair' world. The unequal consumption is one of the most visible aspects of this unfairness; the inequality of opportunity is its most damning proof. But, the system is still kept in its place, by the acts of 'keeping the peace', the sort of state-sanctioned system of violence and intimidation that goes on. The reason this effort to maintain this status quo will still be counted as violence, and not peace-keeping, is because the system is inherently unfair: This is only based on a few arbitrary and self-serving rules imposed upon all by a few. The rules themselves are repressive, and the fact that these are built into the structure, expected to be taken for granted, makes them omnipresent, more repressive than subjective violence, more degenerative than the aftermaths of an imagined dirty bomb outrage.

The symbolic violence - the most sublime of all - is built into our language, symbols and values, in our ideas of success and life, enmeshed in conversations, our expectations, our system of right and of wrong. In one way, this is historically fossilized objective violence, carrying over the lineage of an unfair society past the limits of state power and beyond specific historical periods. This is the violence of 'high' culture, embedded in the history of nations and nationalities, in the way dialects are formed and identified, enshrined in cathedrals and temples and carried forward in sermons and sacred texts. This should be violence, rather than redemption, because this creates a structure of unfairness - even when giving a sense of 'false generosity' - and sustains it.

I started all this because I wanted to write a small study of Gandhi as a teacher. I thought his great achievement was to attempt to teach people to change, even those 'unschooled' people as Howard Gardner will put it. Zizek made me stop and think - and discover a new aspect in Gandhi. We tend to interpret Gandhi's non-violence as against the 'subjective violence': This is where it is examined most keenly, and also rejected most vigorously. But, strangely, now that I see - Gandhi's non-violence was directed against objective and symbolic violence of powers that be as much as it was a rejection of the subjective violence. He was undermining the state's hidden sanction of subjective violence in the mask of peace-keeping, as exemplified in a policeman's baton; he took away the moral justification of stopping the protests in the name of keeping the peace and laid it bare. Suddenly, his strange dress sense, which earned him the epithet 'naked fakir' from Churchill, assumes a new dimension: It was his struggle against symbolic violence, a cultural system of segregation and privilege endowed on the better dressed and the English speakers, which continued unabated in the Independent India.

So, I am enjoying this deeply - my studies of education for violence. All of a sudden, it seems all education is geared towards a certain kind of violence - a curtailment of human spirit and freedom - and the task of a modern day educator is to consider the issues closely and critically: I am finding Gandhi is a great place to start.

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