Unwinding violence

A common metaphor to describe rising or erupting violence is the “spiral of violence”. In exerting violence by one person or group, the response of the other person or group is even more violent and, potentially, the response to the response makes use again of more violence. The spiralling up of violence is hard to stop or to reverse. Law as well as its enforcement has to play a major role in this process. However, if the police violence is involved as part of the spiralling process the process gets even more complicated. Beware of the beginnings of such a process.
In France in July 2023 the debate about violence is wide open. Contributions to the debate in Le Monde deal with the discussion to claim equal treatment of violence from “fundamental ecologists” as well as extremist defendants of industrial agriculture (Stéphane Foucart). Both sides became more radical in their actions and threaten an escalation in case of governmental inaction. The “triangle of silence” is also a breeding spot with a potential for violent confrontations. Groups in society that have no voice in parliament or local governments frequently use violent actions to raise awareness to their concerns as politics and media tend to ignore “not so nice” images and reporting from areas with multiple disadvantages and social confrontations.
One of the proposed solutions by Marcel Marloie (published in LeMonde) proposes to rethink urban planning deviating from the path proposed originally by Le Corbusier. Instead of offering public parks that are cultivated (and policed) by the local government, entrust areas of collective gardening to the disadvantaged communities. The empowering role is, to master your own piece of happiness. The “bonheur à la Voltaire” is likely to increase attachment to your local and neighbouring community. Of course, this is not evolving without conflicts, but these are processes of accepting compromises and mediation rather than violent resolution of conflicts or aggression out of desperation.
Contrary to the belief that some big projects (Olympic games in Paris) should contribute to unite a nation(s), it might well lead to further segregation of persons who benefit from the games and those who are unable to enjoy some sort of participation in the event. Further gentrification of Paris is likely to be the result. Poorer or lower middle-class people will no longer be able to live in the renovated suburbs that have more public space being privatised and turned into for profit activities. The challenge is to build areas that enhance trust in people, trust in institutions and politics. Schools, associations, trade unions, political parties and social institutions have an important role to play in this respect. The way forward is with more communication and deliberation, not less, especially for and with the most distant groups of a societal consensus.

Collective Violence 2

Summers and Markusen (1999) subsume state terrorism under the broader heading of collective violence. Even beyond non-governmental groups, states might apply collective violence against innocent people. Among the strategies governments use as a form of collective violence fall (1) arbitrary arrests, (2) imprisonment without trial, (3) torture and (4)a summary execution of members of alleged enemy groups. Particular outcries are caused by, for example, police or other para-military groupings of persons who jump from (1) to an execution of an innocent person or of several even seemingly unrelated murdered persons (4b).
Amnesty International attempts for decades to fight against such occurrences on an almost global scale. The need to complement the national legal systems through supra-national instances as well as NGOs in this domain is obvious. Even the most advanced democracies need to permanently check their systems for several forms of state terrorism or abuses of power to eliminate or intimidate opposition.
Staub (1999, pp.195) undertook an attempt to list elements that allow to predict and maybe prevent collective violence. The theory starts with “conditions of life” more generally like economic, social and political conflicts as well as rapid social change. Activation of basic needs in people, like several forms of security, challenges to a person’s self-concept, traditional values, simply the customary way of life (COVID-19) or new comprehension of (climate) realities, they all challenge old world views of people (superiority) and their place in the world (AI).
Claims for support by other people (government), missing connection to others (individualism) lead people to focus more on their own needs and isolated action. Rebellion as collective violence is directed against differences in status, power and (social) rights. Self-interest is becoming an overriding societal principle. Racism (p.200) and police violence (p.201) are part of Staub’s theoretical considerations. He argues in favour of training of situations in which a police officer is likely to become unnecessarily violent or to stop it if it occurs. At least a medium-term solution.
Framing of such training as preparation of good teamwork rather than betrayal is crucial in action teams, be they in the police or the military. The reader on “violence subie, violence agie” by Seron and Denis (2000) allows us to take a step back and reflect on the spirals and repercussions involved in violence from the perspective of the person who carries out an act of violence and the victim. A social-therapeutic approach aiming at reconciliation is worth trying, albeit a lot of obstacles. Collective dance rather than collective violence is the immediate as well as long-term solution (More on dance here).

Triangle without words

There are many forms of triangles. Jacques Pain (2000, pp.121-136) adds another one. “Jeunes, banlieue, école : le triangle sans parole” (Youth, suburb, school : the triangle without voice). He calls it a symbolic, sensitive triangle which is confronted with mounting difficulties from inside as well as external pressure. Pain describes and analyses the violence that emanates from the triangle.
Additionally, the triangle appears to be spiralling upwards causing mounting pressure on the social fabric of whole societies. Education systems have to deliver sufficient numbers of youth ready for insertion into the labour market, ready to accept the subordination to hierarchical structures while at the same time being confronted with high social contributions to other parts of society and unrepairable environmental damage and depletion of resources by older generations. With high interest rates even the middle-class dream of a house with garden is out of reach for almost all of the young growing up in suburbs, disadvantaged schools with pervasive violence. Dealing drugs or taking drugs has become pervasive and an entry port into the violence of law in addition to the violence of the street, school or even home.
Give the triangle a voice. Call the names of the victims so that politicians do not forget all too quickly what is their duty to guarantee – a youth free of violence and a youth with an equal chance for learning. Free from violence, but free to learn or be given a chance to find your way into society at large not only restrained to your suburb.
Reference to the historic riots of the mid-1960s (Saul Bernstein, 1967, p. 27) and the recent Paris riot statistics from July 2023 suggest that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it seems to rhyme. A breaking of the silent triangle is like an eruption of a volcano. Violence is all over the place and leaves a lot of burned land and people. Cohort effects might prolong the suffering further throughout their life courses. Stigmatisation is likely reinforced rather than overcome. For the so-called holy trinity there were many words and songs. The modern triangle within society is still in search of the right wording, although rap-music is shouting loud about “la misère du monde”, only we are not really listening.