Post No.: 0456
‘Structural violence’ refers to the indirect facets of a system, culture or context that can eventually lead to promoting harm, such as inequality, poverty, racism and socio-economic factors. ‘Instrumental violence’ refers to violence with a purpose of achieving a certain extrinsic objective, such as killing someone in order to silence or steal from them. And ‘expressive violence’ refers to violence that has a more intrinsic objective, such as a serial murderer getting some kind of perverse sexual gratification and/or feeling of power from committing a violent mutilating act itself.
State violence (harms committed by governments or states) includes – social-economic violence, such as using cheaper materials to build blocks of flats meant for poorer residents, which can burn down more easily; geopolitical violence, which could be something like selling arms to other states with questionable human rights records; civic violence, where using black sites to detain suspects without charge is an example; and racial violence, which may include stopping and searching/frisking those from ethnic minority groups more often than those from the ethnic majority.
Group-versus-group violence can be akin to a contagious disease because it ‘infects’ others – sometimes across multiple generations – through retaliation and counter-retaliation. Victims later become perpetrators, thus creating further victims, as everyone seeks their vengeance on somebody – sometimes anybody – as long as they’re from ‘the opposing side’ (e.g. ‘any and all’ Muslims, or ‘any and all’ Jews). Innocent people start to get targeted and embroiled because of the outgroup homogeneity bias – vengeance is taken out on members associated with the same nationality, ethnicity or beliefs as the true transgressors but whom had nothing to do with the original transgression whatsoever. And so the fallacy of vengeance potentially escalates to national or even international scales, and perpetuates across multiple generations whom had nothing to do with the original fuzzy feud at all.
We need to therefore look at both primary interventions, which means prevention at the root before people get trapped into a vicious cycle of rivalry, grudges, vengeance and violence; and secondary interventions, which means interventions after violence has occurred with the aim of preventing it from flowing any further downstream and affecting/infecting ever newer generations of people or sympathetic supporters, who might start to get involved in a violent manner, with the hope of preventing the perpetuation or escalation of violence and counter-violence.
Although this approach is ends focused – to ultimately stop the violence – there’s arguably no point in being morally right in principle if one doesn’t ultimately achieve the results one really wants, which should hopefully be to stop the violence and find other solutions to settle whatever the core grievance is/was. For instance, vengeance or punishment feels right in principle, but vengeance begets vengeance and your children could be involved next. Hate begets hate, such as if you bully a young person then they might grow up with a persistent generalised vendetta against the group that you apparently belong to, which therefore puts your future family at risk.
Violence begets further violence, and a violent act cannot be evened out by an even larger violent act. From something that started out relatively small, a situation could escalate into inter-tribal and inter-generational conflict. It’s irrational to be vengeful across generations because the dead cannot be brought back to life, so one should look to do what’s best for the present and future, which is peace and preventing further unnecessary deaths or harms on one’s side. Therefore if you’re ‘fighting for the dead’s honour’ – let it go! Although justice must be served with the aim of preventing the same transgression being committed again and to show that one is not to be exploited by others, and this might require an immediate and short-term display of force to be effective – violence cannot be a sensible long-term strategy. We must always seek alternative options other than violent revenge.
It’s also not technically vengeance if you ‘take revenge’ on those who are merely associated with the group the person(s) who originally hurt you came from. For instance, if a black male shot your son then hunting down and shooting any random black male on the street, just because he’s black and the original perpetrator was black, would not be a just act of vengeance because you would’ve shot a totally unrelated and innocent person! You might feel that a sense of justice has been served, but from their perspective, you are the original perpetrator. And if a relative of his decides to hunt down any random person associated with the group you are apparently associated with, then that’s how violence irrationally escalates.
So try to find forgiveness within you rather than vengeance, because vengeance is why conflicts can persist from generation to new generation to new generation. A conflict tends to persist for longer than it should because some members from both sides behave dreadfully. And well, if somebody is a jerk for doing something nasty and then one retaliates by doing the exact same thing back at them i.e. one copies what a jerk does – then what will that make oneself(?!)
Understanding social psychology better helps us to predict the effects of committing violence unto others – one outcome is to strongly expect vengeance, which sounds obvious yet people still don’t seem convinced enough to stop using violence to try to ‘solve’ their disputes. It’s never quite an ‘eye for an eye’ either because most people only feel that a punch is ‘evened out’ by a harder counter-punch; and of course the other side feels that harder punch and wants to ‘even that out’ with what they feel will make it even, and so forth. So when hitting back, we may hit harder whilst seeing ourselves as merely returning something tit-for-tat; thus we’ll observe an escalation between the sides.
One hypothesis is that people are hugely rational and are just applying economic discounting i.e. the earlier one punches, the more it’s worth to us, thus a later punch needs to be harder to be worth the same – but that’s highly doubtful because, to be rational, we should forget sunk costs and do only what’s best for now and onwards, which should mean trying to deescalate matters. There’s no inflation or interest rate on punches anyway – it’s not like you could’ve instead saved that punch in a bank and it would’ve grown over a year(!) And retaliation isn’t really about ‘getting even’ anyway – the instinctive reaction to a deliberate physical attack is to beat your opponent up to the point that they can no longer finish you off first; hence from a relatively small spark, an all-out war where it’s either ‘us or them’ left standing at the end can be the consequence. People tend to want the last laugh too.
Even when a punishment is considered legitimate, it can still encourage retaliation. In some cultures, it’d decrease a male’s masculine status to not retaliate, which would be the fault of the males, and the females, in that culture who hold this view of masculinity. People also have a tendency to self-justify or deny their wrongdoings, such as by saying, “I hardly touched them.”
An individual might not see a problem with his/her own individual actions because some problems are the result of lots of small cumulative actions from lots of different individuals. These sorts of situations normally need an independent regulator who has the big picture in mind. They can perhaps change the payoffs of certain behaviours to encourage or discourage them i.e. reward the desired behaviours and/or punish the undesired ones. Alternatively, keeping groups small makes each person feel more responsible and makes them feel like they can each make a real difference – a common excuse is that people think that their own actions/inactions don’t or won’t make a difference.
Fostering that ‘we’ feeling and taking a moment to share our similarities or good things in common will increase cooperation. Simply enabling communication between everyone (especially face-to-face) helps allow cooperation and trust to germinate. Non-cooperation, in turn, reinforces further mistrust and the perception that everyone is only in it for themselves. One could try to appeal to the social responsibility or altruistic norm by applying social pressure in contexts where cooperation obviously serves the public good.
Most people tend to explain their own ill behaviours situationally (“I was only trying to protect myself”), yet explain other party’s ill behaviours dispositionally (“They were greedy and untrustworthy”) – not realising that their counterparts are viewing them with the exact same ‘fundamental attribution error’. (Self-inflating, self-focused, narcissistic individuals are especially unlikely to empathise with other people’s perspectives.) It shouldn’t be surprising that when two sides stubbornly fight, it reveals a lot about how similar those two sides are in certain bad ways – they’re both stubborn for one thing!
In the long-term, what’s critical is education and socialisation so that the next generations don’t see other groups as the enemy, or see violence as the true solution to anything.
In the short-term, one can fortify self-protective measures and be more vigilant, which might include protecting important national infrastructure – this normally has the virtue of being non-provocative; albeit refusing a particular country’s technologies just because it’s theirs might be taken as a personal and provocative move. (There’s indeed a legitimate security risk, but the ‘fear of being’ spied upon isn’t the same as ‘is being/has been’ spied upon; and nobody, from inside or outside, brings zero espionage risk. It’d basically be more diplomatically astute or socially intelligent to just say that you’re developing your own technologies or looking elsewhere – there’s no need to forward accusations and sour relations unless you can present some solid evidence to prove your claims. It’s undemocratic to presume a party ‘guilty until proven innocent’, and it’s either difficult or impossible to prove a negative too.) So moves that are considered defensive on one side can be considered offensive by another side, depending on the reasons we give for those moves and how those reasons are taken.
We can also improve information-sharing between governments, intelligence and law-enforcement services, work to build cooperative alliances with moderate nations that harbour terrorists, and export medical technologies and foreign aid rather than arms – there’s no better goodwill than saving the child of another, and children are the next generation too. It’s hard to hate someone who helps your humanitarian interests, and the best way to vanquish a formidable enemy is to turn them into a friend. Woof!
We could also seek ways to take the ‘third side’, such as looking from a neutral perspective or the perspective that involves all of us together. For example, the ‘third side’ between Israelis and Palestinians could be their connected heritage, the Middle East, and of course the future generations of children.
Making use of a mediator or arbitrator might help, or simply being there and listening and offering support, depending on the context. Get everyone around the conflicting sides together and talk. So if two parents are at loggerheads then get everyone affected involved, such as the children, grandparents, uncles and aunts. Respect the different views. This also clearly reminds everyone what’s at stake, which might be stopping the fighting for the sake of the children or understanding that one’s future depends in part on others too (i.e. a ‘we’ rather than an ‘us and them’ perspective). This thus allows us to ‘keep our eyes on the prize’ – the stability, the peace, the happiness – which is what we must do if a negotiation ever heads off track. ‘Principled negotiation’ was touched upon in Post No.: 0215.
Paranoia and outgroup homogeneity stereotypes are a couple of reasons why arms races occur, why threats are made and counter-made, how grudges are built, and how enemies can form from small seeds of misunderstanding. It requires great courage and intelligence (social and general) to not perceive fear when there is an option for peace and cooperation.
Woof. It can be done so let’s try it!