What is it about violence?
One of my colleagues asked me what I consider an acceptable topic of casual, daily conversation between people after my face showed my distaste for another (female) co-worker talking about her period. The question is an easy one. There are no acceptable topics of conversation between people. But that does not mean that we should stop talking. Menstruation is just an example. There is nothing at all about which we can acceptably interfere in each other’s lives by actually talking to each other. Still, we do it anyway. But we should not lie to ourselves (and others) by supposing that conversation is typically and habitually benign, friendly, acceptable, or any other positive adjective.
Firstly, remember that language is a game. We are forced to play it even if we detest the sport. Speaking, writing, and signing to each other might or might not convey substantive meaning. The common view is that speech is for communication - the exchange of information. But that is a political interpretation. My point is that speech does not have to involve meaning, and that language more often than not is demonstrably to prevent communication rather than to facilitate it - a privacy thing. Most conversation is just vacuous flapping of the lips as a social convention, or social cement. (From a technical viewpoint, it is easy to write a grammatical sentence that has no meaning. A famous example quoted by Noam Chomsky always comes to mind, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” And again, it is easy to write an ungrammatical sentence that is pregnant with meaning - dependent on the context of the words.)
Secondly, speaking to each other is a perfect example of the violence that infuses our lives. This is an important point. It’s what I’ve been on about for years. I define “violence” in terms of violation, not in terms of physical aggression. Therefore,“violence” exists wherever violation occurs, which is everywhere, all the time. This perspective casts in an entirely new light the observations and boastful claims that Japanese society is less violent than Western societies. I think that defining violence only as physical aggression misses a lot and is far too narrow and limiting to allow us to perceive the truth of our condition. We won’t be able to see all of what is really going on by relying on such a simplistic definition. Consequently, our everyday lives are filled with mostly unacknowledged violations that we impose upon one another and perpetrate on one another.
Just smiling and saying “hello” to people at work, on the beach, in the park or on the street - seemingly perfectly innocent, sociable and friendly - are acts of heinous, antisocial violence. I feel offended by it and want to sue. I have been violated. First, my right to solitude is violated. I mean, my right to be left alone. Second, my right to personal sovereignty has been violated. Third, my right to peace and quiet is violated. Fourth, my right to a secure personal space might have been violated. Fifth, my right not to be aesthetically offended (by what might be greetings from physically unattractive, or unfashionably clad people) is violated. Sixth, my right to have nothing to do with any particular person who might greet me is violated. I am visually violated by seeing or being forced to see others. I am aurally violated by hearing or being forced to hear others. I am olfactorily violated by smells. Heck, I could go on like this for a dozen more points of interest. You reading my words right now is a violation. My giving/sending you my Piper Paper is a violation. Just getting up each morning and walking around is an act of violence. That humming bird feeding at the feeder outside my window is an act of violence. That woman breastfeeding her baby on the park bench is an act of violence. The warm spring sunshine is violent, and so is the sweet lilac that sprouts from the moist earth. Thinking is violent. But that does not mean that any of these are bad. I think you get the idea. Violence by itself is not a bad thing.
The lesson is: violence exists where violation occurs, not merely where physical aggression occurs. The latter definition misses too much in the human equation to be anything but grossly inadequate.