the othering of violence

I have again been thinking on the eternal debate about tactics amongst activists. Anyone who has taken some time out to reflect will be aware of many things – notwithstanding my critique that many who criticise nonviolence do so from a position of not having actually read much of the theory (explored in many other posts). I have again been involved in discussion and debate regarding nonviolence v violence in social justice movements. This is something that I think will continue for some time – and should. I find problems with numerous views on nonviolence and violence. These include many pacifists (nonviolence and pacifism are not the same, despite people conflating as such), proponents of principled nonviolence, proponents on pragmatic nonviolence (which I have heard referred to as negative nonviolence, as analogous to negative peace) and proponents of various forms of violence through to political assassination. The issues, ideas and debates that have and will continue to emerge, I am sure, will find their way into many more posts here. For now, there is something I have been thinking about of late that I want to put onto paper – I will try to spell this out as I have thought through it.

From cultural studies theorists through to activists challenging racism, the concept of othering is widely considered a central (and essential) part of racism. This is also the case for many other forms of oppression including those based on gender and sexuality. We tend to other someone, a culture, etc., to separate them from us. Once we have created this separation, it makes it easier for us to perpetrate actions we would otherwise not fathom. It also removes the negative connotations of associating these perceived/imposed traits with ourselves. A well-used example is where you have a neighbour, work colleague, etc., who does things we do not like. If they are of a different culture, we take their actions as representative of their culture (much like vegans/radicals/etc are lumped in the same basket) . Whereas, if they are of the same culture as us, we do not consider them representative of us/our culture. Rather, we have issues with them/their actions as individuals. To generalise, progressive folk I discuss ideas with seem not to have an issue with this concept.

From discussion I have had with activists, it seems people do not see this in considering violent actions. For us to perpetuate violence against another requires othering. This need not be race or culturally based. We see it in the actions of those who, for example, make threats against the well being of those who work for companies that inflict untold pain and suffering directly (vivisectors) or indirectly (corporate whores). This othering is clear in how animals are treated in society, and Carol Adams (amongst many others) has shown how women are dehumanised to enable their subjugation.

To call on a base value of anarchism, there is a means/end equivalency – the means reflect the ends. This is at the core of the differences between anarchists and state (amongst other) socialists. It may be obvious where I am going with this. To other someone, whether they be a vivisector or a relative tearing into the flesh on their plate, is a form of dehumanisation. If we are opposed to the dehumanisation of animals, women, other cultures, races, sexualities and more how can we perpetuate violence on others. This is not some hippy attempt at moralising, and I agree with many of Ward Churchill’s criticisms of moral adherents to nonviolence in this regard. I will leave this there for now as it is something I need to think more on. I want to explore this much further and refine. It is something I think requires much more thought and expansion/clarification…

I will come back to this, as well as the many other things I have left open (as indicated in previous posts)

2 thoughts on “the othering of violence

  1. To merely scratch the surface of your post (it’s getting late), I don’t think the notion of the othering involved in acts of violence is raised enough in popular, and not so popular, circles. Myself included in that circle.

    Sorry if I missed some part of your post that covered this, but in what context does this othering occur? That is, you suggest that it exists as means to allow violence to be enacted, but is it principally inherent in violence? Can an act of violence be conducted without some form of othering involved in the process?

    Also, I think this puts a name to the face of the issue I see in certain people advocating "tactical violence": why is it is perceived as being tactical to unleash violence on a slaughterhouse worker, or vivisectionist, but not their fellow friends and family who are omnivorous? Why is one heinous and another a tactical and reasonable option? As you rightly point out – othering enables such a mentality to thrive.

    I might have some more coherent thoughts once I’ve slept.

  2. Interesting.

    From what i’ve recently read violence, but more so civil-disobedience in activism is legit when it serves to attack at the very core interests of leaders (commanders).
    The Vietnam war was highlighted.  Politicians never said that they wanted out of the war based on moral reasons, they just talked of how their own society looked in danger of being lost. In other words their self interests of power over the population looked in danger. They couldn’t continue with that war cos it was to their own detriment due to the escalating rallies that were turning increasingly violent, not because killing thousands of civilians and freedom fighters with things like chemical weapons and destroying a countries environment all to show them and the rest of the world a good example of what happens if you want to leave the U.S. imperial empire, was considered the wrong thing.

    Personally I think violence against living things in activism only begets violence. Violence against property as a method to highlight causes to seems to just be used by the mass media and corporations and governments as a way to illegitimate any activism to the general public and never explores the reasons why people are acting this way. Then violent acts become counter productive to any movement, within a physically non-violent society.

    Civil dis-obedience has, in this moment of time, also been used as a propaganda tool to undermine any protest. And probably doesn’t help in any recruitment of numbers to a cause when most people are not wanting to do such acts, for various reasons.

    So I have come to believe we need to tackle these problems more constructively, in ways that will allow the general population to feel safe in joining activism.

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