How, As Citizens, We Come To Know The Concept Of Violence

This essay will consider how, as citizens, we come to know the concept of violence and how violence operates in the realm if international politics. In order to do this I will be looking at the impact of globalisation and its success in operating as a tool from which we have derived our ideas about and understanding of violence. I will analyse how this has spearheaded the influence that the media has had on our outlook and consider whether the media informs our ideas of violence or cultivates them. I will consider the various forms of violence; structural, physical and epistemic and the main effects these can have in the global political arena. This essay will provide an insight into what makes violence possible, taking into consideration the effects of globalisation and with it the increasing interconnectedness that allows people of a particular viewpoint to seek out like minded individuals, often resulting in sociopolitical mobilization and thus use of violence in order to correct perceived errors in a given political system. I will also look at the effect of dehumanisation in world politics and how discourse can not only facilitate but also encourage the use of violence as a political tool. Finally I will consider some of the traditional approaches to knowledge assimilation and consider which are viable in today’s global politic. Focusing on the positivist and post-positive approaches to knowledge development, I will highlight how the positivist viewpoint is largely defunct in modern society and explain why a post-positivist way of thinking will allow us to gain a more objective understanding of the world around us.

Depending on a person’s political allegiances and where they happen to be physically situated, the use of violence can mean very different things. On one hand it could be their states rightful course of action in fulfilling its primary function of protecting it’s citizens and in that instance perhaps not considered a negative but rather a necessity. The other side of this could be the sheer terror experienced by those living in an area under attack following an uprising of a small minority, opposing or challenging the views of their fellow citizens or of a more powerful state. The result can be unjustified violence for those who happen to be unfortunately situated both within the vicinity and, as technologies advance, increasingly further a field. For these people, violence is a way of life forced upon them.

I will now consider the function of violence within politics and how this informs our attitudes towards it. Politics itself can be considered an overarching collection of authoritative of power, its distribution and its effects. (Bourke, 2008) It is understandable then, that so many are in agreement with Carl Von Clausewitz when he describes war as “the continuation of politics by other means” (Amoore, 2013 p.289) For a Westerner this is probably a fairly acceptable definition largely because very few have ever experienced first hand the impact of war and so it is easy for us to consider it part and parcel of political relations, a mere tool in achieving and securing our political objectives. For those who have seen first hand the realities of war, perhaps a more fitting definition would be one depicting the intentional causing of death and pain to other people. (Bourke, 2008) It is generally accepted that there are two primary purposes of violence; to maintain, sustain and reproduce dominant functions of power and secondly, violence which seeks to resist, expose and challenge these relations. (Bourke, 2008) Although these agendas are often pursued through the use of physical violence, there are many different forms it can take. Violence isn't always easily recognisable, although seemingly obvious, we often overlook political violence despite it often causing far reaching implications.(Bourke, 2008) These can be in the form of structural violence and the implementation of rules and negotiations which result in or contribute to poverty, racism and gender inequality. (Amoore, 2013) Often considered a ‘consequence of social conditions’, structural violence can take many forms and can be difficult to distinguish particularly when it is being implemented by those in power who are traditionally expected to do the right thing by the citizens they govern. For this reason, acts of violence such as discriminatory laws often go unchallenged as they are seen as fixed and unchangeable. Structural violence operates through sustaining imbalanced power relations this type of violence is common in the social structures of society and seeks to marginalise specific groups in society thus maintaining the unequal power divide. (Amoore, 2013) With this taking place continuously within many states it is no surprise that we have become accustomed to this type of behaviour and it has found its way into what we consider ‘normal’ life.

Examples of physical violence are much more obvious and can be seen almost daily across news media platforms. An alarming act of physical violence perpetrated legitimately by the American government was observed in the form of the wanton torture of detainees in Guantanamo Bay detention camp and until January 2009 this was commonly practiced within this site. This type of behaviour although now outlawed served to normalise the ill treatment of human beings and demonstrate a method of achieving ones political goals through whatever violent means. This raises the issue of how violence becomes possible- if human beings were unwilling to inflict violence on others then it simply would not exist, and on a larger scale, nor would war. Epistemic violence is lesser known generally but can be found very readily across the global politic. (Inayatullah, 2004) Characterised by the use of law and language in order to marginalise or victimise specific people and groups. Examples of this can be found in statutes detailing the crime and thus defining the criminal. Language used to create ‘others’ and exclude them from the body politic. (Inayatullah, 2004)The process of ‘othering’ serves to align ‘us’ against ‘them’. The other becomes a focus of suspicion, fear and in some instances hate. (Inayatullah, 2004) Through violation of our laws and norms the other becomes perceived a threat to our way of life, we can thus justify taking action against the other in order to protect ourselves from this often imagined threat. We rarely have any evidence to suggest that the other poses any threat or means to cause any harm to us however it seems to be a human instinct to infer this presumption based on cues often left purposely by those in positions of power pursuing a particular agenda. (Inayatullah, 2004) The common media depictions of immigrants offer an example of how we are led to draw conclusions and thus distance ourselves and reject immigrants depending on how they are portrayed; ‘illegal’, ‘undocumented’, ‘drain on our resources’. Immediately we are adopting a negative view of these immigrants based purely on how they are described in a newspaper headline. If, rather than accept this implied notion of us and them, we took people for what they are- people, we may be able to avoid the violent escalations that we often see.

I will now looks at what makes violence possible within society and how small changes could make a big difference within the global political arena. It is common belief that politics turns to violence when there are imbalances of power and perceived injustices.(Bourke, 2008) In a bid to recalibrate, people resort to violence in order to restore or create balance. The Rwandan genocide saw the slaying of over 800,000 in one hundred days (Bourke, 2008) When Rwanda was colonised by Belgium the Tutsi people were designated as ‘more civilised’ than the Hutu, based on outdated and ill-informed ideas of social evolution (Bourke, 2008) Following Rwanda’s independence, it democratised and Hutu people formed a government thus empowering those who had previously been oppressed. (Bourke, 2008) The Tutsi’s were dehumanised through the use of derogatory language such as ‘cockroaches’ and ‘animals’. The Hutu extremists went further to embed this method of ‘othering’ by reading out lists of the names of people who were the designated enemy followed by instructions to kill them. Rendering the Hutu people as less than human enabled the Tutsi’s to feel guiltless and justified in murdering them. This ‘self’ and ‘other’ thought process has proved highly dangerous and often manifests in physical violence against an often undeserving, unsuspecting victim. Another example of this can be seen in the course of action taken by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany which saw him orchestrate the murder of some six million European Jews. This manufacturing of difference has been made possible through the construction of a hierarchical social structures which place specific races as more desirable than others and thus the process of ‘othering’ is created. This type of violence is often effected through exclusion, oppression and marginalisation of the ‘other’ and so it is little wonder that this results in the destruction of so many. (Cohn,1987)

I will now consider how the phenomenon of globalisation has influenced our development of knowledge around violence. For many people globalisation brings with it many benefits; increased trade, development and insight to mention a few. Despite these positives there are also many drawbacks of globalzation and for those on the periphery it can seem to be the cause of all of their problems. It naive to suggest that globalisation is singlehandedly the cause of how we come to know about, interpret and experience violence, after all there are records of violent outbursts between humans dating back to the dawn of time suggesting that, perhaps humans do possess an innate predisposition to violence. However, the advancements and technologies catapulted to the fore on the back of globalization have facilitated and caused us to both witness and in many cases partake in violence. What were previously unreachable audiences are now instantly and unavoidably watching on. As discussed, violence can take many forms and often indiscriminately targets non-combatants (Cohn, 1987) For the instigators, violence is deemed to be the only way to achieve their political goals. As the events of 9/11 demonstrate, the use of violence is often illegitimate and these acts, despite being carried out by just small groups of people, this can have lasting and devastating repercussions. It is instances such as this that go on to influence and shape our understandings and attitudes towards violence through normalising this behaviour. The fact that this is so readily visible to us thanks to TV and internet news we are almost becoming un-phased by such acts.Terrorist acts of violence are unique in that although they are horrendous, they are more likely to have the opposite effect to that which is intended. Extreme in their nature such acts are likely to evoke disgust and opposition rather than achieve desired political goals yet these acts have, particularly for today’s generation of young adults contributed to the shaping of our views of violence.

The introduction of new technologies has enabled the exchange of information, services and goods to almost anywhere on the planet at an unprecedented speed. (Baylis, 2014) With this increased interconnectedness globalization has also brought about an outlet of social media networks which have enabled co-ordination of like minded groups not only in the form of transnational terrorist cells but also many regional pockets of violent outbursts, (Baylis, 2014) as demonstrated by the 2011 London riots which saw the sociopolitical mobilisation of those who felt that there was massive injustices being served to many young black people across the capital and beyond. This show of dissatisfaction was ultimately organised and made possible through the use of Facebook, with many people sharing posts and messaging friends in order to get them involved. Without globalisation the sharing of this information would never have been possible, the introduction of the world wide web and availability and access to the vital components of computers and devices we use to view and communicate our information and ideas would be simply unheard of outside of their place of origin if it were not for our globalised ability to share information. In the earlier stages of globalisation when letter writing often the only way to pass on detailed messages, a feeling of injustice or imbalance of power would likely fail to result in violence simply because they would not have spread and gained brevity on their travels. Of course, it is a huge benefit to be able to spread knowledge but the ability to evoke this desire to reap harm on others is not. Without out modern media outlets telling us to distrust immigrants or carry out loan-wolf attacks it is almost a guarantee that these acts of violence would not occur.

The more recent ripples of globalization have caused a new phenomenon of citizen journalism whereby any person with online access, regardless of their background, may take to the internet or more accurately, ‘blogosphere’ and voice their opinions, in turn influencing public opinion and in some instances, policy-making.(Franklin, 2013) Of course not everybody will be able to reach a large audience, number of followers dependent, but in a society where some of the most talked about and thus most influential people are the Kardashians, the potential for a dangerous shift in attitude towards all matter of things is eye-watering. We are now in an age where the president of the USA, one of, if not the most powerful and influential political people in the world, takes to twitter and live feeds to his many millions of followers, informing, creating and shaping their opinions. Obviously human beings will develop their own opinions, but it is inevitable that this insight into the thoughts of this world leader will have some impact, not just on how we perceive violence (acceptable if aimed at certain ethnic and religious groups of certain political status according to Trump) but also how we view global politics and state governance as a whole. It is this new age behaviour that has the ability to curate how we understand things. Globalisation has introduced the sociocultural embedding of attitudes and ideas through the ability to create social norms and subsequent acceptance of certain practices and approaches.(Wibben, 2008) Without media coverage of the beheadings of infidels and apostates these violent attacks would not have occurred, either because we simply would not have known, there would have been no audience and thus no cause or the British born Jihadi, without the access that social media enables, would have never been recruited or radicalised.

The shape that our views take is highly dependent on where and who we are not just geographically but also culturally and politically. (Wibben, 2008) A fitting interpretation can be found in a famous quote by Darrell Trent, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Modern securitisation has revolutionised the way in which we perceive the political dynamics of given situations. (Stanley, 2016) In the West, a declaration of war is llikely ro be largely considered a legitimate act, violence lawfully carried out in pursuit of a political goal, as long as it is made by a high ranking government official, would be generally acceptable. (Kolin, 2009) The act of treating violence as reasonable and even desirable in some cases, are common place across media platforms and it is these which ultimately shape our views that violence or war as political violence is a necessary tool which can be fairly wielded in the arena of international relations. A good example of how these representations are highly effective, dangerous and immoral can be seen in those which were made about the Gulf war. Despite it being commonly described as a ‘clean war’ only 10% of the precision guided munitions actually hit their intended target (Pin-Fat, 2013) Furthermore, between 1 and 2 hundred thousand Iraqi civilians were killed in what was deemed across the media as the clean war fought with ‘surgical precision’. (Pin-Fat, 2013)Yet if we were to watch the news coverage broadcast at that time a totally different picture is painted. Which leads to the question, had these representations been accurate, would we have been so accepting of this war, would have even gone ahead, almost certainly not.

In keeping with Foucault, we should not accept the notion that we are presented with accurate information from all mediums and it is our job to simply decipher it, rather we are presented with information always from the viewpoint of its producer who will have their own personal experiences impacting their outlook as well as their own agendas. (Foucault, 1980) Regardless of the format, we are tasked with interpreting the information mediated through the media in our own way inevitably, and often unknowingly applying our own personal viewpoint to it.

03 December 2019
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