Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Trouble With Peace

There is this interesting idea making rounds to make the whole world leave in peace for just one day. This is a brilliant idea: Once people know how it is to live in peace, violence will never be the same again. Lots of violence in the world is because some of its participants never knew how it is to defer to another person's point of view, how to have compassion and how to set aside their own ego at times. Also, indeed, they never understand that the greatest show of power is not to do what they could have done rather than doing things to prove that they can do it. This is the point about recent London riots, where a perpetrator was saying that they had done it to show the rich what they could do. So, a day of peace, just a day, would require everyone to stretch and do all those things completely alien to them: This, I would believe, would be so magical that they wouldn't be able to return to violence the next day.

I am usually an utopian enthusiast of such wild ideas, but I see a problem here. Violence, in fact most violence in the world, is what Zizek would call Objective Violence. This is about the violence of the system. We are too worried about the Subjective violence, where someone is doing something to someone else, but this is different: This is sublime, everyday violence that robs people of their dignity and happiness. A prime example of objective violence will be the coalition government's policy to withdraw the benefits, without consideration and consultation, from lots of people. The implicit assumption, circulated in the media, was that most people on benefits are cheating the system, which is not true, but the government needed to demonize them to create the rationale for the withdrawal. Now, there are genuine people requiring benefits and they would possibly lose their homes because of the changes. This is objective violence manifested by the system.

This is the trouble with peace: While we talk about people shunning violence, we only talk about the visible, subjective violence we see. However, many of the incidents of subjective violence is manifested by the objective violence, the raw corruption of power, the subversion of informed opinion through media campaigns, etc. This is not a justification of subjective violence, but peace, shunning the physical, visible violence, will not have the desired magical effect till the time the systemic violence is so widespread. This is a harder challenge for those who are genuinely interested in changing the world.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

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