On violence

Posted: 15 July 2016 in Uncategorized
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Readers are, I presume, as dismayed as I am by the current terms of debate concerning guns and police violence in the United States.

Yes, important points have been made—for example, about guns and profits, the diversity of victims of fatal shootings, and the racial disparities in police shootings. But the more general debate in the United States has largely ignored or overlooked other key issues, such as discourses of inferiority, people’s right to resist violence, and the nature of state-legimitized violence.

Fortunately, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak [ht: ja] has weighed in on these topics:

Brad Evans: Throughout your work, you have written about the conditions faced by the globally disadvantaged, notably in places such as India, China and Africa. How might we use philosophy to better understand the various types of violence that erupt as a result of the plight of the marginalized in the world today?

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: While violence is not beyond naming and diagnosis, it does raise many challenging questions all the same. I am a pacifist. I truly believe in the power of nonviolence. But we cannot categorically deny a people the right to resist violence, even, under certain conditions, with violence. Sometimes situations become so intolerable that moral certainties are no longer meaningful. There is a difference here between condoning such a response and trying to understand why the recourse to violence becomes inevitable.

When human beings are valued as less than human, violence begins to emerge as the only response. When one group designates another as lesser, they are saying the “inferior” group cannot think in a “reasonable” way. It is important to remember that this is an intellectual violation, and in fact that the oppressed group’s right to manual labor is not something they are necessarily denied. In fact, the oppressed group is often pushed to take on much of society’s necessary physical labor. Hence, it is not that people are denied agency; it is rather that an unreasonable or brutish type of agency is imposed on them. And, the power inherent in this physical agency eventually comes to intimidate the oppressors. The oppressed, for their part, have been left with only one possible identity, which is one of violence. That becomes their politics and it appropriates their intellect.

This brings us directly to the issue of “reasonable” versus “unreasonable” violence. When dealing with violence deemed unreasonable, the dominating groups demonize violent responses, saying that “those other people are just like that,” not just that they are worth less, but also that they are essentially evil, essentially criminal or essentially have a religion that is prone to killing.

And yet, on the other side, state-legitimized violence, considered “reasonable” by many, is altogether more frightening. Such violence argues that if a person wears a certain kind of clothing or belongs to a particular background, he or she is legally killable. Such violence is more alarming, because it is continuously justified by those in power.

The rest of the interview is also worth reading, especially the sections on self-appointed anti-poverty entrepreneurs (who never mention “capital’s consistent need to sustain itself at the expense of curtailing the rights of some sectors of the population”) and “affirmative sabotage” (which involves “entering the discourse that you are criticizing fully, so that you can turn it around from inside”).

As well as Spivak’s conclusion

one must continue to work — to quote Marx — for the possibility of a poetry of the future.

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