Neelesh Marik's Reviews > Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic

Violence by James Gilligan
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Sep 06, 2011

it was amazing
Read from August 09 to September 06, 2011

This book is a profound act of social service. Its contents should find their way into the educational system of the world, in some shape or form. The arguments and real life stories present a depth of understanding that is truly missing in our world, and a level of cogency on how to address the most dangerous threat to human civilization today. I quote from the book below key sections that help summarize the case, and the suggested approach.

….After spending much of my professional career working with violent offenders and with judges, lawyers and correctional professionals called upon to deal with them, I have come to see the necessity of bringing the discussion of violence into the interpretive arena of tragedy, in the realization that just as tragic drama is always violent, violence itself is always tragic….

….The inadequacy of reducing violence to the level of the morality play becomes apparent the moment we begin to ask deeper ‘root cause’ questions, the questions behind the surface questions of what we hastily judge as right or wrong…..

….The first lesson that tragedy teaches (and that morality plays miss) is that all violence is an attempt to achieve justice, or what the violent person perceives as justice, for himself or for whomsoever it is on whose behalf he is being violent, so as to receive retribution or compensation the violent person feels is ‘due’ him or ‘owed’ to him……THUS, THE ATTEMPT TO ACHIEVE AND MAINTAIN JUSTICE, OR TO UNDO OR PREVENT INJUSTICE, IS THE ONE AND ONLY UNIVERSAL CAUSE OF VIOLENCE….TO RESTORE JUSTICE TO THE WORLD BY REPLACING SHAME WITH PRIDE…

….When I speak of the motives that cause people to pursue justice by means of revenge, punishment and violence, I am not speaking exclusively about the motives that underlie the traditional criminal justice and penal systems. I am speaking also of the motives that give rise to criminal violence itself – that is to say, the motives that cause those whom we have come to think of as ‘criminals’ to commit their acts of violence, in the hope of attaining justice by punishing those whom they feel have punished them, unjustly. ….What is conventionally called ‘crime’ is the kind of violence that the legal system calls illegal, and ‘punishment’ is the kind that it calls legal. But the motives and the goals that underlie both are identical – they both aim to attain justice or revenge for past injuries and injustices. Crime and punishment are conventionally spoken of as if they were opposites, yet both are committed in the name of morality and justice, and both use violence as the means by which to attain those ends. So not only are their ends identical, so are their means……

…To understand the psychology and symbolism of ‘punishment’, and how it mirrors that of ‘crime’, we need to ask: ‘What emotional gratification are people seeking when they advocate punishing other people harshly, as opposed to quarantining them in order to restrain them?’ I am suggesting that the motives behind crime and punishment are identical: the greatest fear in each instance is that of being shamed or laughed at; that the subsequent wish or need to dominate and humiliate others is in the service of gaining a swelled sense of pride and power by having dominion over others, including the power to inflict pain on them, punish them and ‘give them what they deserve.’…

….If we want to gain the knowledge we need in order to achieve the age-old dream of learning how to prevent violence, I am suggesting that instead of asking unanswerable moral and legal questions like ‘How SHOULD we live?’ or ‘What is good and evil, moral and immoral, just and unjust?’ it would be more productive to ask an empirical question instead: namely, ‘How CAN we live?’ or ‘What are the causes of homicide and suicide and assault; how do they vary from one context to another; and how can we use that knowledge to reduce the frequency with which people inflict those kinds of injuries on themselves and other?’ – Questions that can be answered, because they can be investigated, and their answers can be tested, empirically. Not ‘How much pain and anguish does this criminal ‘deserve’ but ‘ How can we help those violent offenders to survive, without further violence, when they are drowning in their own self-righteous hate and despair, feeling justified in exterminating others…….?’

…Man’s greatest pain, whether is life or in prison, is the sense of personal insignificance, of being helpless and of no real value as a person…..Imprisoned and left without any voice in or control over the things that affect him, his personal desires and feelings regarded with gracious indifference, and treated at best like a child and at worst like an animal by those having control of his life, a prisoner leads a life of acute deprivation and insignificance. The psychological pain involved in such an existence creates an urgent and terrible need for reinforcement of his sense of manhood and personal growth. Unfortunately, prison deprives those locked within of the normal avenues of pursuing gratification of their needs and leaves them no instruments but sex, violence, and conquest to validate their sense of manhood and individual worth…..’

…Attitudes such as arrogance, superiority and self-importance, to which the term ‘narcissism’ is often attached, are which are so often misunderstood to be genuine attitudes of the people who hold them, are actually defences against, or attempts to ward off or undo, the opposite set of feelings; namely underlying feelings of insignificance and worthlessness…

…It is for us to see how ‘criminal violence’ is ultimately traceable to ‘structural violence’, results of socio-economic policies such as:
1) Punishing more and more people more and more harshly, stimulating more and more hatred
2) Outlawing those drugs that inhibit violence while legalizing and advertising those that stimulate violence (alcohol and tobacco)
3) Manipulating tax laws and economic policies so as to increase the disparity between the rich and the poor
4) Depriving the poor access to education
5) Perpetuating the caste divisions of society that usually fall along racial lines
6) Exposing the public to entertainment that glorifies violence
7) Making lethal weapons available to the general public
8) Maximizing the polarization of the social roles of men and women (violence object and sex object respectively)
9) Encouraging the prejudice against homosexuality
10) Perpetuating the exposure of children to corporal discipline in schools and homes

Peter Joseph, in his Zeitgeist movie series, says that the real terrorists of the world are not Jihadis shouting ‘Allah Hu Akbar’. The real terrorists are men in $5000 suits who frame policies and practices sitting in positions of power at the Government, the banks and corporations that cause such structural violence.

Responding to those to uphold the virtue of punishment ‘to maintain social order’ Gilligan asks, very pertinently: ….‘Why should the problem of order be more fundamental than, say, the problem of establishing mutual, universal respect for each other’s human dignity? Or the problem of eliminating the gross and rapidly escalating inequities in the distribution of the world’s wealth and power which cause the feelings of shame and humiliation that stimulate the violence that threatens to destroy civilization and, indeed, our whole species, from within?....

The epilogue of the book is a case study of one Matthew – a tragic perpetrator and victim of violence, which concludes that…….’Civilization, one of the greatest blessings humanity has created for itself, also has a tragic flaw-the violence that it stimulates.’

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