We no longer know how to respond to violence

Between the time I thought about writing an essay on violence when I actually sat in front of my computer, my immediate and larger world became more violent. Violence has revealed itself in all areas of human experience, in the form of abuse, threats, intimidation, incitement, manipulation, assault, and murder. We have all responded to these events with varied tones and decibels. With the endless barrage of violence surrounding us, our immediate reaction is to categorize every violent act. Its severity and impact are quickly accessed. But the parameters that determine the arrangement are diverse. The severity, geographic location, identities of the aggressor and the victim, their ideological leanings, and the position taken by those we admire or dislike are our “independent” decision. Depending on all these variables, an emotional response is generated, causation is determined, and a self-convincing explanation is accommodated. There is little ambiguity about the “why” and “how” behind the violence.

But this set of actions comes from the need for speed. Everything we feed on from within our carefully cultivated environment allows us to reach a quick conclusion that our environment will be acceptable. The obvious knot in our arguments is brushed aside and we declare a polemical victory on social media and during discussions between friends and family groups; All bend back to win. Tug of war in search of victory over an argument about violence!

There are many casualties due to this procedural and repetitive episodic drama in which we are involved. First, the victim is lost. In fact, even the identity of the sufferer is manipulated. With each event, everyone who repeatedly participates in this twisted discourse sheds another layer of humanity. Soon, none of us stand up to violence. We just guarantee that peace will not return. We even derive pleasure indirectly from being a part of violence that affects another person.

But isn’t the general design of cause and effect obvious? It is communalism, caste, patriarchy and all the other “doctrines” that follow this line of thought. It is exacerbated by immortal wrongdoings that flow into the present and create fear of the future. As a last resort, politicians and their agents arm the people for their electoral advantage. Regardless of political affiliation or beliefs, everyone will agree with the above statements. They will disagree about who is responsible for the abuses, the facts behind sectarian practices, the identities of the agents and the political party that pushed the agenda. But there will be consensus on the flow of events.

This tells us that the problem cannot be addressed from within the structural modifier. This does not mean that we remain silent when violence erupts. We must respond. But the mind must observe from a different place, an honest place. We cannot sacrifice our minds at the altar of any “head” that claims to provide answers. There are many of these from within and outside the religion. All they do is redirect our violence toward a target of their choosing or sharpen our daggers if we mutually agree on the goal. But we cannot conduct this research without carefully monitoring our repetitive pattern of behavior when confronted with violence.

The most common trap is to associate ourselves with causation that justifies violence. When someone from a background that upsets us is the target of violence, after the initial feeling of pity, our minds turn toward finding a way to turn the tables. There must be a justifiable reason why this happened to this terrible person. We find fault with the victim, blame him for his bad fate, or discover an ancient act that portrays him as guilty. Violence soon turns into revenge, and the victim’s previous act deprives him of his right to feel wronged. This whole sequence of internal thought processes is evidence of violence at play. However, we do not consider ourselves violent. We claim that the violence was perpetrated by the bad guys. We just care deeply and are emotionally affected by the viewers.

Violence is always evaluated hierarchically. Place the material right on top of the pile. Of course, taking someone’s life or dismembering them is an irreversible condition. But emotional and psychological violence can have a profound and debilitating effect. There is no way to see it right away or measure the damage. We can’t put a number on it. Hence, we assume that it is the lesser of two evils. Courts have a legal necessity to categorize violence but that is not the debate here.

From a human perspective, how are we to view violence that is seen as relatively benign because it is not physical? Most often, the actual physical act occurs after a sustained period of psychological violence. During this pregnancy we enthusiastically participate in his age. We also train, encourage and brainwash. We don’t speak to him directly but our feeding of his psychotic environment is no accident. We know that our every word and action is a trigger, yet we keep pushing until someone settles down somewhere. After that, we quickly wash our hands about the entire loop. When someone points to him, we accuse him of equating words with swords.

But are all forms of physical violence equal? I’ll leave you with these annoying questions.

Do we respond in the same way to the murder of a military man and an alleged perpetrator? Is killing a persecuted Dalit the same as killing an oppressive sect? Is the Muslim’s assault on the Muslim equal to the Hindu’s assault?

At this point, none of us can engage deeply in these questions because we are buried in violence.

Krishna is a musician and author of The Spirit of Inquiry: Notes on Dissent.

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