I’m interested right now in Marshall Rosenberg’s work on “Non-Violent Communication” or NVC. It has roots in Rogerian psychotherapy and Gandhi’s nonviolent work. Rosenberg spends most of his time teaching this stuff worldwide in conflict spots to try and bring people together, working with Hutus and Tutsis, Palestinians and Israelis, Serbs and Bosnians, Irish Catholics and Protestants, gangs and policemen, and so on. He’s got a lot of experience talking peace with people who have literally killed each other’s relatives and countrymen, so it’s not airy theory.

Anyway, he shares Gandhi’s idea that physical violence is only a logical end product, symptom, or reaction to violent communication: interaction between people which manipulates, judges, dominates, belittles, stereotypes, coerces, all that sort of thing. If you can get people relating to each other in a nonviolent manner in their communication, then ending physical violence will be easy; if you can’t, it will be impossible.

I’ve been participating (sometimes in ways I like, sometimes in ways I’m not thrilled with) in some ongoing discussions in various gaming-related blogs about violence. A lot of it was off in realms of hypothesis that precluded much useful from being said, but there were some important things said by people that I might have on the surface been in disagreement with, that I want to acknowledge the truth of.

In the comments here the massively important point was made that violence comes from inside people, and that violence against self and violence against other have the same roots. I have become convinced lately that you can’t judge yourself harshly without judging others harshly, and vice versa. “Judge not, that ye be not judged” is not just a statement about theology, it’s a statement about psychology.

In the same set of comments I said:

That whole “self-hate ==> violence” thing is totally what it is all about. Physical violence is just the symptom or end product of violence between human souls by many other means – injustice, blame, labelling, belittling, all that kind of thing. You can’t stop the one while ignoring the other. The physical violence is often the least damaging kind of violence going on, and compared to some of the emotional violence going on the physical act of violence may in compaision be honest, freeing, and purifying, because it’s at least *explicit*. That doesn’t make it a thing to be desired. But looking just at the physical stuff and not where it comes from is not helpful, I don’t think.

And also looking just at the physical and not the places where it comes from makes things just a little too easy for people like me who are lucky enough to have avoided giving or receiving much physical violence in our lives, not necessarily through any virtue of our own – but who have as much to learn as anyone about the emotional, interpersonal kind.

That’s really important to me. One of the things about the NVC thing is that it challenges me where I’m at. I’m lucky enough not to be in a situation where I’m threatened with, or feel the need to use, physical violence, at all. That would make it really easy for me to advocate “non-violence” in the same way that it is easy for a eunuch to preach chastity. I can see the resentment that someone who by choice or by chance is in a position where physical violence is a part of their lives would have for someone like me who dares to judge them for it from a position of suburban safety. (N.B.: I don’t want to judge people, including people who use violence.)

I’ve engaged in a lot of communicative violence in my life, including in this blog (including a lot of posts that aren’t here anymore because at one point I was so discouraged about where the blog was going that I trashed it). I still do — look at this post from yesterday. Despite my disclaimers about it just being a look inside my head, arguably it belittles people I was disagreeing with. That ain’t nonviolent. It’s part of the problem.

I think a lot of the reaction against people who object to violence tends to come from a dislike for that kind of hypocrisy, and a perception that physical violence is not different on a deep level from many kinds of interaction that few think to condemn.

It’s certainly true that the reason that more privileged folk can avoid being personally involved in physical violence is that other people are doing it for them. I don’t think that means it has to or should be that way, but it’s sure true that “that way” is deeply embedded in the fabric of society, and denying it doesn’t help.

OK, that’s all that’s running through my head for now. Gonna publish and come back to this if I think of more to say later.

2 thoughts on “Violence”

  1. Ed,

    This is a really good post. I guess what I’ve begun to realize as I’ve grown older is that there seems to be a sum total of negativity that I’ve inherited from my origins and my formative experiences. The negativity is, so to speak, value neutral. I can take this negativity and orient it in a number of different directions, and become a rabid christian or atheist or democrat or republican. I can then convince myself that I’ve found a “proper outlet” for this negative energy, and by so doing, I wind up baptizing the darkness inside myself.

    But by doing that I don’t deal with the main issue– which is to actually decrease the sum total of negativity. For that, I need to call on the mystics.

  2. Thanks, Jeff. That’s another way of looking at the issue that adds to my understanding of it.

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