Definition of violenceSubmitted by farmer on Tue, 08/12/2014 - 09:43
I'm reading a book on "violence" by Steven Pinker. Also, there is often confusion in our circles (and outside them) about the difference between aggression and violence. For these and other reasons, I've been thinking about the definition.
Would you agree that violence cannot be defined as any particular action? I apologize for the graphic nature of this example, but it is the clearest one I have thought of: Take the action of a man inserting his erect penis into a woman's vagina. Is this a violent act? It certainly can be. If it is, we call the action rape. But it can also be quite the opposite.
I conclude that any definition of violence must depend on the perception of some person. Then one must ask: Whose perception? The person against whom the violence is committed? The person committing the violence? A third party?
It is difficult to think of an example in which the action is taking the life of another person. That action is usually considered violent and is perhaps the main category considered by Pinker. But there might be examples.
In any case, Pinker certainly allows for other forms of violence. It is my preliminary offhand guess that Pinker is going to disallow or dismiss many kinds of violence. And I'll guess that a correction to his thesis is this: The form that violence takes has changed over time, but the actual level has increased. He can say that violence has decreased by restricting the violence to which he pays attention or by ignoring certain forms of violence. This makes for a much flashier thesis and serves his philosophical and ideological agenda.
Here is a provisional definition: Violence (in human relations) is the perception by one individual that the action of a second individual is damaging to the life of the first individual.
This provisional definition requires two people, but things get really interesting when it is relaxed to allow for only one person. Do we wish to allow in the definition that a person can do violence to himself? We certainly use that language. Is that really something that happens? Does it necessarily require some kind of division of personality or schizophrenia?
As usual, I have disallowed "natural" violence. Of course, if a person gets caught in a lava flow, almost everyone will agree that he suffers violence. But I will follow my usual convention (galling to Nystrom it seems) of disallowing that violence which befalls man at the hand of nature. Thus, starvation may be natural and acceptable by my standards if it comes without the intervention of other humans, or it may be violently induced as in the Ukraine in the early 1930's.
There were a couple other comments I was going to make, but I'll save them for later. Perhaps there will even be comments from others and debate on this thread which will provide an opportunity.
Here's an earlier thread by Treg on the same book:
There wasn't much follow up. I was waiting until it came in the library---and I've got it now.