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Opinion Columns
For the week of January 10 through January 16, 2001

The hidden violence of structural violence


By DICK DORWORTH
Express Staff Writer

"Not only do most people accept violence if it is perpetuated by legitimate authority, they also regard violence against certain kinds of people as inherently legitimate, no matter who commits it."   Edgar Z. Friedenberg

"It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence." Mohandas K. Gandhi

On the highways of America -- even in sparsely populated Blaine County -- police use racial profiling to determine which automobiles to pull over and search for drugs.

Few American males in the company of other males go a day without a disparaging sexist joke, story, comment or expletive entering their conversation, even among the unusually well educated population of the Wood River Valley.

We (humans) consider a "sustainable" relationship with nature one in which there will always be enough resources for every human being, a perspective which respects nature only in terms of what nature can offer mankind, not on its own terms or in consideration of natureís own needs.

Between 1951 and 1963 the U. S. government detonated 126 above ground atomic bombs into the atmosphere above the southern Nevada Atomic Test Site. Every one of the pink clouds that drifted with the winds (mostly into southern Utah, but actually over most of America) from the blast sites contained levels of radiation comparable to the amount released after the 1986 accidental explosion of the Soviet nuclear reactor at Chernobyl. Thatís 126 times Chernobyl, and not one of them an accident.

African American women are twice as likely to die from breast cancer as European American women because of inferior medical care.

The normal workings of Americaís economic institutions ensure that poor people have significantly increased risks for cancer, heart disease, AIDS, depression, environmental threats and premature death.

Our use of the automobile involves the acceptance of 50,000 deaths a year on the roads of America.

We live in a patriarchal society, which has institutionalized the dominance of men over women.

In our society aging is viewed as a "problem" whose solution is largely solved through institutionalizing the problem in isolation wards for the old, though they have picturesque names to mask their true function.

The preceding are examples of what is known as "structural violence," a mostly hidden, mostly unacknowledged form of violence having to do with the everyday, normal functioning of institutions and policies of society. "Cultural violence" is closely related and is sometimes indistinguishable and equally hidden. It includes racism, sexism, homophobia and the devaluation of particular groups and cultures of people. "Direct violence" is any deliberate attempt to inflict injury to a personís physical or psychological integrity through brutality, homicide, imprisonment, forced labor, or, it could be argued, any unsafe or poorly paid labor done by people without other options.

These three categories and the concept of structural violence have been developed mostly by Johan Galtung, a pioneer in the field of peace studies. Galtung, the author of many books, is the founder of the International Peace Research Institute and is currently Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Hawaii. He claims that the opposite of peace is not war but, rather, violence. He proposes a much wider than generally accepted understanding of violence as that which violates basic needs, rights and the individualís intrinsic dignity as, for instance, enumerated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

Structural/cultural violence, whether it be a police policy of racial profiling, a federal government practice of irradiating its citizens in the name of national defense while lying about the consequences, destroying the environment in the service of business interests, or any attitude or action that disenfranchises a particular group of people is violence. It may be subtle and hidden to those benefiting from it, but it is neither to those affected.

According to Galtung, the opposite of peace is violence. And violence always nurtures more violence. Even the greatest of 20th century peacemaker, Mohandas K. Gandhi, recognized that it is better to be violent than powerless, and structural and cultural violence makes people powerless. Peace is the opposite of violence, and the first step towards peace is the dismantling of the structures and cultures of violence, whether they be national, local or individual. Everyone holds or at least knows a piece of those structures that he or she can remove.

 

 

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