Vector #70

What do we mean by violence? One might paraphrase Bertrand Russel: I am firm, you are aggressive, he is dangerously violent. One has to think in terms of some definition that means something to you that means something to me also. After all, we’re dealing with an[?] abstract noun. I really like abstract nouns, they’re very, very nice: they earn me money. Truth, beauty, honour, integrit, love – all abstract nouns. We now add violence. Good, let’s consider some concrete examples of violence; let’s bring the concept down from the realm of abstraction into the world of reality. One example of violence – let’s make it topical – an American airman in a plane over Vietnam. He presses a button at a given point, down goes the napalm, whether it’s the Vietcong who collect, whether it’s the Vietnamese who collect, it’s the people who collect. The result of pressing the button up there is violence, down there. Another example of violence, and, it seems to me, a rather different kind: a soldier with a fixed bayonet. He’s on a battlefield: his opponent is right in front of him, and with his fixed bayonet, he disembowells his opponent. He sees the blood and guts spill out.


There is a third kind of violence that one might consider – people will probably argue later. I think I’d describe it as ritual violence. In a repressive state, for example – you can argue about this later: Russia? South Africa? Greece? – the violence imposed by the state has a ritual attached to it. In a country where capital punishment exists, for example, and somebody commits a murder and gets the chop, that is also a form of ritual violence. But we also have milder examples of ritual violence nearer home – after all, what else is soccer, rugby, boxing, wrestling – a ritual violence. It’s one that has its own kind of codes, its own kind of rules, it’s indulged in as a sort of spectacle sport.

Edmund Cooper