Structural Violence and the Connected Dots

Two sides of an insidious coin

I awoke on a beautiful calm Sunday morning to read that at least fifty people (perhaps more that are hanging on to life as I write) lost their lives in a nightclub in Orlando. Another well-equipped lone gunman laid siege to the crowded bar and was taken out by a SWAT team before dawn broke. By the time Sunday brunch is routinely over, the over-zealous fundamentalist cretin Pat Robertson had already connected the massacre to God’s disapproval of the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage. Funny, I thought God was busy disapproving of it by leading his dutiful servants to pass ridiculous legislation that made going to a public restroom all the more tedious and uncomfortable. Well, I’d like to connect a few dots if I may.

In 2003, The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island went up in flames due to illegal pyrotechnics started inside to accompany a rock music act. Twice the number of fatalities than in last night’s shooting at Pulse in Orlando were incurred with many hundred injured. Most died of smoke inhalation or being trampled. A needless tragedy but not terrorism, right? Well, it depends on what you regard as terrorism. Fireworks are meant to create awe, show power, but as long as they are kept at a safe distance, can be beautiful and mesmerizing. But, up close, well, ask the survivors of that 2003 incident still suffering from PTSD if it’s the same kind of memorable and exhilarating experience. Who, in that case, would we choose to blame and what actions should our Congress or our military take to protect our citizenry from such needless loss of life?

And speaking of up close and personal, let’s compare the number of fatalities from mass shootings in 2016 to the number of police shootings of citizens not carrying a lethal weapon (let’s not count rock throwing for this example with all deference to the wonderful job law enforcement is doing in the “Shoot First, Ask Questions Later” state of Texas).

Here you can see that up until last night, there have been frequent lone gunman incidents so far this year, but nothing near the scope of the massacre of June 11th in Orlando. Now, compare the number of death statistics of people who either didn’t deserve to die or were denied due process or better assessment of their mental state because of their perceived threat level by police and consider this incrementing number conveniently provided by The Washington Post. I wanted to throw in another statistic: the number of civilians killed by drone strikes in 2016. Regrettably, I can’t immediately retrieve such a statistic since it is likely initially classified before it’s dutifully massaged and placed into justifiable context a year or so later. But I can offer this amortizable assessment made by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism that cites, “In Pakistan alone, CIA drones strikes have killed nearly 2,400 people since 2004. Despite US claims it just hits “confirmed terrorist targets,” only 84 of the victims have been named Al-Qaeda members.

So, where am I going with all this? How can I so dismissively connect the acts of a dead, young Afghan shooter to the acts of night-club owners, over-eager rock band agents, drone strike authorizations and an emergent police state mentality nationally? There is a term that I first became familiar with courtesy of Peter Joseph (of The Zeitgeist Movement) originated by Johan Galtung, which he introduced in the article “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” (1969). In short, structural violence is a fetid and toxic brew of about as many “isms” as you can come up with off the top of your head, Pat Robertson’s unique brand of “homophobia” notwithstanding as being a phobia not an ‘ism’ in this example. Structural violence emerges in a society so dysfunctional in its irresponsible attendance to its citizenry that the statistics of injury and death become societal norms, not unlike the number of deaths attributed to auto fatalities since, “…well, we need to get around faster than a horse can gallop, right?” Or, that the government still subsidized the tobacco industry up through 2014 because, “…well, people have a right to smoke if they want to and it’s a free society, right?”

It’s the collateral damage of people dying domestically and abroad in fires that might’ve been prevented if egos and hubris and cost-cutting measures to ‘run a business’ weren’t in play, such as on that fateful and cold winter night in Rhode Island at The Station. Or, is structural violence a cognizant, terrifying realization that one hears in that quiet wisp or buzz in the dead of night before a modest dwelling is immediately incinerated somewhere in a village in the Middle East or Central Asia? Is it the person of color or the woman who encounters the wrong person, uniformed with a badge or street-clothed, ‘official’ or ‘normal’ at first glance—the white hood and robe or the rape porn tucked out of sight at home—who falls prey to their propensity for wanton objectification and control over someone for whom they need to channel their pent-up contempt and punishment as a proxy for their own unworthy, self-loathing self-perceptions? Is it the preacher, the religious zealot, the ‘freedom fighter’, the chief of staff, who blames gays or muslims or women or foreigners or soldiers or traitors or rebels or apostates, and hands God or Allah that AR-15 and holds their invisible skygod or love of country responsible for the deaths that they blithely or righteously decide are justifiable?

Time and again, it is the zealous, self-righteous, control-obsessed male who makes such fateful decisions. It is he that routinely disturbs the peace, threatens the safety, destroys as a result of explicit orders or implicit permission, either from a commanding officer, an indulgent culture, or from “God”, objectifies and takes at whim, whether it’s a corporation penetrating the Earth for oil, or a driven, over-sexualized male violating an unconscious woman, or a father setting his daughter on fire for shame she has brought to his family.

There are indeed many dots to connect but the last one I’d ever presume to connect all this mayhem to would be to that of a supreme, omniscient being who sees to spitefully stir the darker and more primitive urges of our human nature to maintain some oblique cosmic notion of order. I’d say the responsibility, as well as any blame we might be inclined to cast, rests squarely on us; from nuclear family to national defense system, from meek officiate to adorned pontif, from oil rigger to multi-national industrialist CEO—we propagate and tolerate such terrible and toxic behavior towards one another and upon the planet. It’s about time we started more genuinely connecting the dots back to ourselves and the terrible mess that we’ve made (and allow) that we dubiously refer to as the “new normal.”

Fingers continue to reflexively point as the statistics of senseless murder continue to rise. It’s about time we take stock of ourselves, our communities, our nations, our races, our religious affiliations, and determine down to the root cause, granular level, what are we doing to perpetuate such structural violence? And if we can honestly say we aren’t at all responsible (a big “if”), then what are we doing to give voice and action to putting an end to such sheer insanity? For, if reason and compassion don’t soon preeminently emerge as guiding principles of conduct, from individual to nation, to ideology and race in the global society that we have before us, in these times of total nuclear annihilation, climate change, religious and imperially triggered diasporas, our days may be decidedly numbered as a species. That may be what the illogical, sociopathic controllers and fundamentalist zealots may be content to manifest, but I can’t believe that any sane, sensible person reading this can declare this is what they want. Time to stop looking to our leaders for hope and change. It is within us, collectively, incrementally, increasingly, impactfully, or not at all.

Peace and abiding.

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