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(Re) Constructing Cultures of Violence and Peace

May 19, 2012

Violence is arguably the most ubiquitous feature of modern social life. There is little doubt that we all live in cultures of violence, of one kind or another. Violence – as the daily reality of war or crime, as entertainment, ritual, or metaphor – is embedded into almost every facet of daily life. The news media, for instance, relies almost exclusively on stories of violence, and remains the primary social medium for describing and explaining state-to-state violence, group violence, and inter-personal violence. Wars, riots, and murders are its staples, and the well-known commercial principle of the news industry is: ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ The entertainment industry is similarly obsessed with depictions of violence, which forms a central unifying theme in television programming (including children’s cartoons), movies, video games, comic books, magazines, popular novels, and toys. Even popular music is not immune to the lure of violence as entertainment.” (1)

Violence also forms an important part of virtually every society’s history, myths, legends, and collective memories – as celebrated in commemorative holidays like ‘Guy Fawkes Day’. History books, as well as cultural legends and myths, consist almost entirely of stories about wars, revolutions, assassinations, and crimes. Their central characters are invariably warriors, knights, generals, criminals, and other men and women of violence. Religion is similarly marked by the language and residue of violence, almost to the same extent as it is infused with pacifist values. Its language and doctrines of ‘just wars’ and ‘holy wars’, martyrdom, blood sacrifice, and divine retribution has left a mark on its worship…, its symbols (the Crucifix), its holy days….” (1)

“…our nation’s political life is rooted in doctrines of state sovereignty (the monopoly of violence in a given territory), political independence (the justified use of violence in self-defense), citizenship (the responsibility to kill and die for the nation-state), and the social contract (the state agrees to protect the citizens through the use of force from external or internal threats to life and property). In other words, our primary political community embodies and reproduces daily the notion of legitimate violence. We expect our leaders to ensure our security from foreign enemies, like terrorists and evil dictators, and we are willing for our taxes to be spent on weapons of war. In other words, we accept state violence as having a legitimacy that we would not recognise in other actors.” (2)

Ref: (coloured emphases mine) Richard Jackson (2004) Introduction: (Re) Constructing Cultures of Violence and Peace pp1-13 in Richard Jackson (Ed.) (Re) Constructing Cultures of Violence and Peace Amsterdam, New York, NY: Rodopi [volume 12 in the At the Interface Project ‘cultures of violence’]

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