What is Violence?

We like to paint our society as being opposed to violence, to be supportive of peace. Yet, so often we seem to contradict that sentiment by supporting what seems to be violence. I think this largely has something to do with us never really defining, what violence is.

The lazy and liberal thing to do is to turn to the Dictionary for its definition (which is most fallacious because: which dictionary is right?). In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, violence is defined as “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy,” and also “intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force.” These kind of definitions are intentionally vague, because they are an attempt to “cover all the bases.” They are trying to form a definition that applies to any use of the word. But they ignore the fact that there is a clear difference between the use of “violence” when referring to the behavior of a storm and the behavior of a person. No one finds a “violent” storm to be morally repugnant. So, I think we could agree that the term “violence” when used to refer to the actions of a person, refers to “actions by a group or individual which bring malicious harm to another group or individual.” And it’s that operative word “malicious” that is most significant.

When people decry “violence” they seldom are referring to things like self-defense, or punishment for severe crimes. We count certain harmful acts to be justified, and thus not really “violent.” These justified acts are responses to a violent act, and would not exist if the instigator had not been violent first. If one person is attacked by another, and the victim defends themself with harmful force, would you call that victim violent? I doubt it. They are behaving defensively, not violently. It was the attacker that was violent.

The purpose of this is to point out that just because force might be used against a person or group, doesn’t mean that force is violent, it doesn’t mean those people are violent. Last year Trump insisted that there was “violence on both sides” in Charlottesville. But one of those sides, the Anti Fascists, were only responding to the violence of the Fascists, they were only defending themselves and the community against the provocation of the Fascists, and one of them gave their life to do so: Heather Heyer. No Fascists were killed, or even severely harmed, on that day.

This applies on a larger scale as well. When an oppressed people use force against their oppressors, they are not being violent, they are responding to violence being brought against them. If the Rohingya use force to resist their genocide, are they being violent? Are they “as bad” as the Myanmar Military? Of course not, they are being defensive, not violent.

But it goes beyond this. As we’ve established: violence is an act that brings malicious harm to another person. Such an act may not be force. It could be blocking access to lifesaving needs. If someone dying of thirst came to your door and begged for water from your tap, and you refused, resulting in the dehydrated person’s death, is that not an act of violence on your part? And if you lock someone out of your home in the winter, causing them to lose limbs to frostbite, is that not also violence? If you agree, then you must see my point: poverty is violence.

When owners deny housing to the poor, that is violence. When they deny food to the starving, that is violence. When a bank forecloses on a poor family and evicts them out onto the street, that is violence. When a company buys a people’s water supply, and then charges them to to access it again, locking the poor out from access to a basic human need, that is violence. When a city embezzles money that is meant to maintain its water system, and then refuses to repair it when the water becomes contaminated with lead, that is violence. When indigenous people are forced off their land because it was bought by logging companies, or a company is going to build a dam on it, that is violence. When the anyone is denied healthcare to save their lives just because they cannot afford it, that is violence. And when workers are paid starvation wages for their work that makes an owner rich, that is violence.

When the poor use force to fight against their poverty, they are not being violent, it is the owners, the bourgeoisie, that were violent towards them by making them poor. Instead, those poor people are fighting back against the violence being brought against them. The poor are being defensive, not violent. If you find the forceful actions of the oppressed to be abhorrent, if you don’t want them to behave so desperately, then oppose the actions of those who make them desperate.

National-Liberationism

It has become very common recently for many leftists to denounce many liberatory movements as “nationalist,” particularly among the Left-Communist and Anarchist camps. They do this because the culture that binds these liberatory movements is often called “nationalism of the oppressed.” These leftists fail to analyze the nature of this “nationalism,” and thus lump it in with the same nationalisme which actually conducts oppression. I want to try and explain the flaw in that thinking, and encourage the use of a more accurate term for these liberatory movements: National-Liberationism.

First we have to look at what this so called “nationalism” is and what differentiates it from actual nationalism. The word “nationalism” is accurately applied to ideologies and movements like that of the Nazis, the KKK, Imperial Japan and it’s bushido code, and most recently with the Trumpism of the United States (as well as traditional American Culture). These movements and their nationalism are ones of domination; that is, they seek to impose the will of one nation upon others to exploit them. They are inherently xenophobic, rejecting diversity and embracing violently enforced political borders. This ideology has the effect of harm, slavery, exploitation, and most importantly: this ideology forces artificial national identity upon subjugated people.

Look at the national identity of Black Americans, or the Seminole people, even the Palestinians. These nations only exist because that national identity was forced upon them, they are nations that did not exist before the oppression that created them. As a result, their entire character is the polar opposite of nationalism, it is a Liberatory-Nationalism. Because it exists purely as a means of survival, and to maintain resistance to the nationalism that oppresses them. When an oppressed nation raises a national banner it does so not as a symbol for dominating others, but to throw off it’s own oppression. It does not seek to raise borders, but to eliminate the borders that have been forced upon it. This is characterized by these National-Liberation movements often welcoming foreign individuals, and groups that are not from the groups oppressing them. Such as the Kurds and Catalans welcoming foreign fighters, or the Native Americans welcoming “illegal aliens.”

Of course it is possible for a National-Liberation movement to corrupt itself into a nationalist movement, we need look no further than the Zionist movement for this to be seen. But it is not inevitable. Dismissing National-Liberation movements altogether as “nationalism” because of this possibility is as wrong as dismissing democracy and communist movements because they could become corrupted into despotic systems. Oppose a movement for embodying the things you stand against, not because it might become something that it isn’t right now. Opposing National-Liberationism only helps the oppressors.

Free Speech

“Free Speech” is the mantra of today. Cried by both liberals and conservatives alike. It’s so important to our society that it was the very first right guaranteed in the U.S. constitution. And rightfully so, because the freedom to speak your mind is the cornerstone of civilization, of innovation itself. We cannot hope to ever make advancements in our society if we cannot speak freely. Hell, it’s how Communism itself was developed.

However, we also recognize the need for limits to speech. As the common phrase goes: you cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We recognize this because it causes undue harm, it actually erodes the foundation of society. If we recognize the need for restrictions of speech in one area, then we must at least recognize the possibility to limit speech in other areas.

The very purpose of hate speech is to bring harm against it’s target. It is used to create antagonisms against a group of people and organize actions to hurt them and restrict their freedom. Hate-Speech is anti-freedom. If we want to maintain a free society, then we must not tolerate hate-speech.

However, the “slippery-slope” arguments against prohibiting hate-speech does make a good point. If we simply outlaw the vague concept of “hate-speech,” then that could be turned towards any language that the government doesn’t like, such as mere criticism of it. But that is why you don’t make such laws so vague. We have to be specific about what speech we outlaw, such as Germany’s law against denying the holocaust. We can outlaw speech that promotes white supremacy, genocide, or the inferiority of different ethnicities.

I know that many people would argue that such laws could still be abused by the government, that it could twist such laws to restrict dissent. But that is an argument that can be levied against any and every law. And besides, we already limit speech in this exact manner. It is already illegal to verbally threaten someone’s life. That very law could be abused. They could arrest anyone that makes offhand comments like “I wish they would die,” or “I’m gonna kill someone,” which is a common expression to indicate that a person is angry. But the government doesn’t, because discretion is used, as it must be used in the enforcement of all laws.

Society must be as flexible in the enforcement of anti-hate-speech laws as it is in the enforcement of all laws. It must be flexible, it must have administrators that know when and where to hold people to the strict “letter of the law” and where to let it slide. And if those administrators abuse the law, like they can with any law, society must have systems in place to remove them from office.

In order for a tolerant society to exist, it must be intolerant of intolerance. Otherwise intolerance will gain power and end the tolerant society.