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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Narratives of Violence

Every nation that commits violence against some other nation considers its violence to be motivated by a certain sense of purpose, some genuine meaning. Those in authority always spearhead a calculated strategy to justify violence by one means or another, and unleash a whole propaganda machinery to produce a narrative that convinces people about the utility of such violence. 

We see experts on international media putting up remarkable efforts to make sense of Israel's genocidal violence before global audience. Such clichés as "Israel acting in self defense", "Hamas provoking Israel into conflict" "the necessity to destroy Hamas capability that poses threats to Israel civilians" " Israel restraints in using violence as proof of its moral standing" are these days the very highlights of mainstream media cacophonic coverage. All these clichés, one way or the other, are intended to make people believe that images and videos of the children, woman and old people shredded bodies, although regretful, are not act of nihilistic violence; they are not without any meaning.

Leaders have always used their power to convince people about the moral nature and necessity of violence that they perpetrate. Such demagogy is not new to politics. This has been the hallmark of those in authority ever since man left the life of hunter-gathering, switched to agriculture and laid foundations of a social order which stipulate hierarchy, class division and division of society between those who rule and those who are ruled; thereby entrusting the fate of majority on minority.  

Anthropological evidence suggests that first empire proper  in the world emerged in Mesopotamia back in approximately .  Man, by the name Sargon of Akkad, whose dynasty is known as Akkadian empire in historical annals, ruled over a vast empire in present day Iraq and some more areas in Levant and Iran and boasted the company of approximately 2500 soldiers every time he sat to eat. Interestingly, Mesopotamic literature reveals a picture of a society accepting social hierarchy as divinely sanctioned and widely accepted, and tendency of people to rally behind their leaders for grand causes. Evidence for such social hierarchy and people accepting a minority among them to be superior and, the rulers, is also found in other traditions. For example, Olmecs, the first civilization in Americas, in present day Mexico, have left paintings depicting some men kneeling before richly draped nobleman.

Writing about patterns of social hierarchy, Chris Harman quotes R M Roberts (author of The Evolution of Urban Society) in The People’s History of the World as following,

In ‘ancient Eshnunna the larger houses along the main roads…often occupied 200 square metres or more of floor area. The greater number of houses, on the other hand, were considerably smaller…having access to the arterial roads only by twisting, narrow alleys… Many do not exceed 50 square metres in total’

At the bottom of the social hierarchy were slaves, individuals who could be bought and sold… One tablet alone lists 205 slave girls and children who were probably employed in a centralised weaving establishment… Other women were known to be engaged in milling, brewing, cooking… Male slaves generally are referred to as the ‘blind ones’ and apparently were employed in gardening operations

Giving us a glimpse into how in ancient world the noble, heroic and characters in power could make people rally behind them, and how people would tend to toe the line of those in authority,  Herman quotes C J Gadd, while writing about epic of Gilgamesh that in the famous Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh,
‘The hero is represented…looking at the wall of Uruk, which he had just built, and beholding the corpses which floated upon the river; such may indeed have been the end of the poorest citizens

These are very crude examples from ancient times, describing to an extent how social hierarchy can provide some people a capacity and power to rally people behind them. In Mesopotamia, rulers were more content using religion as a way to sterilize people mind against any notion of, rebellion, challenging their authority and their expansionary and violent plans against those inhabiting the neighborhoods.
As we move further into history, entirely new ideas alien to conscious of men before civilization, emerges to serve as control mechanism to rally societies behind the elite. For example, we find heroic statesman like Pericles in ancient Athens motivating people about how important is it for Athens to go to war with its neighbors, that how such acts would make the latter nations glorify Athenians as an empire that stood for.
John Docker writes in The Origins of Violence (quoted in detail)
Pericles has to tell assemblies of his fearful and resentful fellow citizens why they must continue to fight this war. Athens, Pericles says, has become a great city, perhaps the greatest city ever known, because of the warfare practised by their forebears that established their empire. Whatever the feelings of the peoples of the subject states, the empire is the means of making Athens great, to be remembered for all time for its civilized achievements: democracy, equality before the law, advancement by merit, relaxed freedom and tolerance in private life, laws protecting the oppressed, the beauty and good taste of  Athenian homes, an excellent education system and Athens as an open city

We make friends by doing good to others, not by receiving good from them.’    And, says Pericles, Athens is ‘unique’ in this: ‘When we do kindness to others, we do not do [it] out of any calculations of profit or loss.’ He feels no hesitation in declaring that ‘our city is an education to Greece’. Athens’ empire reveals mighty monuments left for posterity: ‘Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age
wonders at us now.’ And part of the reason for the success of Athens is ‘our adventurous spirit’, which has ‘forced an entry into every sea and into every land’. Everywhere, Pericles declares, ‘we
have left behind us everlasting memorials of good done to our friends or suffering inflicted on our enemies.’ Such disinterested virtue, along with valour, adventurousness and ‘manliness’, have
made Athens ‘splendid
A kind of nationalist and ethnocentric values and imperial hauteur and arrogance that were increasingly alarming the other Hellenic nations, including Athens’ own allies and subject states, who more and more tried to revolt and break away. Pericles’ longterm concern, it is evident, is with Athens itself, its survival and continuance as an imperial power. In the stress of the plague, he urges his fellow Athenians to recall their ‘superiority’ that accompanies Athens’ ‘imperial dignity’. Such superiority and imperial dignity are dependent on their possession of empire, and they must hold onto their empire even when they know that they have incurred the ‘hatred’ of its subject peoples in administering It. Pericles even admits that it may have been wrong to have taken the  empire in the first place, because it has become a ‘tyranny’; but, if
the Athenians wish to continue as a great society, they must not let their empire go

The text quoted above shows a statesman convincing the people that for continued glory of them as a nation they must go to war with their neighbors.  Interestingly, we see the attempt to provide moral justification of violence against other people. Violence, although it kills others, it may make other nations hate us, but its not without any purpose and meaning; a meaning that despite all the gore violence causes; not just help in standing psychological negative externalities but also to hail it as a sign of glory and progressiveness.
As they say history is nothing but the development of consciousness. It is true that history is replete with examples of such Pericles existing in every time and in every nation, putting in people’s consciousness the uniqueness of their nation among all nations, divinely inspired chosen character of their community, herding  them  into conflict,  war and violence against other people. They portray such wars as natural outcome of the divided politics of humanity, the conspiracy of the forces which is beyond their control, which they can not challenge, and must accept as a divinely inspired privilege, as something in larger interest of them as a nation, which makes their nation special among all.
People in authority do not fight in the battle field on their own. It’s the people, duped with propaganda, raise the flags, ram through each other columns , and kill each other  for the causes which they have they no say in making.  War serves elites interest. In short run masses may feel tangible benefits accruing to them, but in the long, the accumulated hatred, embedded prejudices and the culture of fear and violence that it creates, only bear out on the life of common people.
War and violence have always been justified and glorified by the rulers. A whole set of ideas, such as of chosen people, pure race, white man’s burden, are hailed and reinforced in people mind to make them consent to the violence against other people. The Enlightenment tradition, emerging in the sixteenth century Europe to liberate the man from the shackles of magic, religious intolerance, and irrationality, all noble ideals, was at service of the rulers to make their nations believe how important is it for the survival of such ideals that West must exhaust all possible means including violence to inculcate the Southern brute with them: violence is necessary to turn violent brute into civilized people.
Enlightenment ideals were at service of the rulers to make European people realize their unique place in the world and responsibility to spread civilization to rest of the world. Violence in this noble pursuit was not meaningless. It was necessary and in the long term interest of both the West and natives living in South. Those who resist civilization must be by the use of force brought within the fold of civilized humanity.
Events that are unfolding in holy land are not exception. The exceptional violence that Israel has been committing with impunity against Palestinian people is only possible as long as Israel can convince its public of the historical necessity of such violence. Cliches such as “right of self defense” followed clichés such as “historical right to the land” can only sustain themselves as long as people are made to feel their uniqueness and special place in the world. Such “uniqueness” must be guarded and protected for though it is divinely ordained but widely abhorred. In order to avoid what Nazis did, Jewish people must provide their consent to such a narrative. That is, violence that Nazi regime unleashed on Jewish people, by convincing its own people the historical necessity of such violence, only in the long run served to reinforced the sense of uniqueness in Jewish mind.
Violence does not start from the stroke of the sword or triggering of the gun. It starts with the power, with power being concentrated and elevated at such level, which gives it an opportunity, to write the narrative. Every act of violence has a certain narrative behind it. And it is at the level of narrative where the violence must be fought. No laws can make the world violence free until the narratives which make violence possible are neutralized. Humanity is One, no matter, how many narratives are constructed to dupe us from this fundamental reality of our existence. We must act now, we must revolt now against all the ideas that serve to divide us in clubs which are at perpetual war against each other, for with such extraordinary means of destruction our hands, the time may last soon.  

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