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Connections between types of violence and the sanctions surrounding them

July 17, 2012

Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie assert that “There are connections between sporting violence, family violence, the kind of television we watch, the sort of video we hire, what we do or think we have a right to do with our sexuality (or that of another), the way we use alcohol, the way we drive vehicles, and the sanctions and permissions which apply in all these spheres.

Some years ago, after surveying the phenomena of violence in New Zealand, and the social background, we found it difficult to explain why there was not more violence. We concluded that New Zealand culture limited violence with tight social controls, rigidly applied. We believed this to be the case with parental authority in childhood, and in most other socially imposed patterns of authority or control (198).” (p.6)

Understanding violence…

For violence to occur, something or someone must be violated. In previous work we used a straightforward definition of violence as any act which harms another (197). Generally speaking, this means that violence is defined in terms of the victim, regardless of the intention or protestations of goodwill or good intent (‘I am only doing this for your own good’) by the aggressor.

We place the emphasis of our approach upon the victim, the person who is harmed, and the harm done to them, because the person committing the violence will attempt to deny the act or put it out of consciousness. The perpetrator easily becomes caught up in defences, denials, excuses, permissions, moral sanctions, and role [-p.7] performances that serve well as justifications. Many parents believe they are not performing their duties properly unless they smack their children; how can prison officers nt act punitively? That is their job. Many an inadequate teacher will play too the classroom gallery and mock a poor learner.” (pp.6-7)

Individuals are violated when another person takes action against them which has the quality of power or force to induce them to do, or to submit to, something which they would rather not. But we all are caught up, on occasion, in imposing our will upon another person. Is that always violent? In the end, probably yes, but reason must be taken into account. If you can explain to me (without using power) why I should submit to your will, and I agree to do so, then I have not been violated. There are, of course, exceptions. If after all my efforts to explain to you why you should not kill me, you still appear determined to do so, the law says I may use legitimate force to defend myself and I may have to do so, violently. We leave it to the philosopher of ethics to examine the circumstances under which violence might be justified.

In most cases, violence is thought of as a physical act, but in this book we will spread the definition much wider to include threats, psychological assaults, and the violence wrought by institutions on individuals or groups of individiuals. Sometimes the act of violation is clear, hard and forceful, committed with quite conscious and deliberate intent, but often, only the victim is really aware that violence has occurred – and sometimes, not until later. But in our view, a violent act is a violent act, whether intended or unintended, whether conscious or unconscious, whether direct or hidden, whether physical or psychological.

Some discussions attempt to make distinctions between physical and non-physical violence. Some writers seek to separate expressive violence, that is, the violence which bursts out almost regardless of victim and situation, and instrumental violence, violence which is designed to achieve an end and is therefore used with greater deliberation. Not all coercive acts are violent – for example, bribery – but all violent acts are coercive.

To understand violence, therefore, we need to look not only at the act but at the social context in which it occurs, the previous history of the aggressor, and why he (or less frequently, she) chose, or was able to choose, this particular victim. We need to understand why the ordinary processes of social control seem not to apply to this person, or have broken down, or have been discarded on this [-p.8] occasion. We need to understand how, and why, and how often the violent person gets away with it, and the powerful satisfaction that arises when this occurs.” (pp.7-8)

“Sometimes a distinction is made between so-called ‘normal violence’ and ‘abusive violence’. …But in the end, the distinction becomes blurred…. The range of violent acts is continuous, from shouting at the office junior to bombing an aircraft for terrorist purposes. Of course, the two acts are different, but as long as we emphasise the difference we will not see the similarities, nor realise how easily the extremity of violence induces us to respond in kind.” (p.8)

“There are two ways in which violent acts become cyclical. One is the inter-generational cycling effect – violence breeds violence. The other is the cycle of stimulus and response that escalates violence towards crisis.” (p.8)

Ref: Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie (1993) Violence in New Zealand. Huia Publishers and Daphne Brasell Associates: Wellington

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