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Terror&violence as stabilizing social forces

  1. Feb 22, 2009 #1


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    A common dialectical cliche in these days is that if you use violence, it'll come back and haunt you even stronger. That is, the use of violent actions is represented as a somehow self-defeating, and hence, irrational, undertaking.

    As with most dialectical quips, the causative mechanism and logic is not very clear, and I think history refutes it by mass of evidence:

    1. Let's face it:
    Slave societies were based on terror and violence, but NONE of them ever fell by massive slave uprisings. The rebellions that are recorded are rare and utterly pitiful, never gained much momentum, and were crushed. Nor did they seriously affect the endurance of the slave system itself. A leader like Spartacus saw that the only realistic option was to lead his slaves out of Roman territory, and try to make a living in Gaul (he was outvoted, and reluctantly led his slaves back south into Italy, to certain doom).
    In the West, slavery didn't abruptly end, but phased out very slowly, as slaves and lowly peasants merged into a class of serfs. They never managed to change the system, either.

    2. There is no reason to assume that the horror regimes of the Incas and Aztecs would have fallen, unless the Spaniards had arrived as an unpredictable factor.

    I'll continue with a few observations later..
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2009 #2
    Haiti while small and late sure did revolt

    both the aztec and inca empires were young
    and who knows if they could last or would re divide
    or fade away like the myians did
  4. Mar 1, 2009 #3


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    In order to make my point clearer, let's take a few more disparate cases:
    1. It was only in the late 19th century that women in Europe "rebelled" against their oppressive condition, that is, at a point when the actual repression of women was far WEAKER than it had been before, rather than stronger.

    2. Similarly, the pre-1789 l'ancien regime in France was much less repressive in terms of censorship, possibilities for economic self-fulfilment, protection against arbitrary arrests than it had been earlier. Interrogative torture was largely a thing in the past when Voltaire railed against it in the 1740's.

    3. In Spain, the Inquisition was dismantled in the 1820's. The auto-dafe's and torture chambers were institutions belonging primarily to the 17th century and before, fizzling out by 1750 or so. From 1750 and onwards, thne Inquisition was mainly pre-occupied with censorship of books, i.e, it had a far weaker repressive function than earlier.

    4. Captain Bligh on the Bounty was one of the least violent of captains, in terms of ordering lashes and other punitive measures. Yet he was the one to be mutinied against.

    What is going on here?

    As I see it, these examples, and innumerable others, indicate that rebellions are far more likely to occur if the utilization of violence&terror is inconsistent, patchy and infrequent rather than when the use of violence&terror is a matter of routine, readily adopted by power holders.

    Now, many will probably oppose that premise, but in the following, I will develop a tentative mechanism and causative explanation in line with my observations.
    Afterwards, one might analyze to which extent that mechanism has pervaded societies at various times (i.e, that mechanism might not be the ONLY feature, perhaps not even the most dominant?)
  5. Mar 1, 2009 #4


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    From a psychological point of view, I think that meeting a well-entrenched system of oppression where terror and violence is readily used,( and not the least, the THREATS of implementing such measures are often issued,) can be met by a variety of responses:

    1. Fatalism
    There is nothing to be done about it, and we shouldn't bother to try

    2. Internalization
    The wielders of power are right, and I have the duty to follow their commands.

    3. Opportunism
    It is better that somebody else than me should face the negative consequences; who knows, if I co-operate with the authorities and remain on the look-out in my local environment for government enemies, maybe I get a promotion?

    4. Perspective narrowing
    What "big folks" do is none of my business, my life is my family and I won't look beyond that unless I can't help it..

    5. Production of imaginary enemies:
    There are enemies lurking everywhere, demons, witches and whatnot, and might it be that my neighbour's wife cast her evil eye and soured the milk I had yesterday? I'm sure she did..

    6. Techniques of inconspicuity
    The power holders are really dangerous, if I make my self invisible or contemptible to their eyes, I might scrounge out a living without them taking notice.

    7. (dialectical) Enemy identification
    The power holders are oppressive, and should be resisted. Down with them!

    Whereas 1-6 are responses that are readily, and effortlessly working in tandem with the oppressive regime, thereby STABILIZING it, only 7 is a directly threatening, and de-stabilizing attitude.

    There is no particular reason why this attitude should be regarded as the one that will emerge as dominant in the presence of an oppressive regime. At the very least, we must work out a "response distribution" in order to estimate the various frequencies of these attitudes (and possibly others as well).

    To see how inconsistency and infrequency of repressive measures might spur on rebellions (in contrast to when those measures are ubiquitous), I think that if 1, rather than 7, is a common response, the explanation is quite straight-forward:

    Precisely because those measures are IN-frequent, the probability of developing a fatalistic attitude lessens significantly, because one experiences numerous "rebellious" occasions in which repression is NOT the consequence (i.e, the authority seems oblivious or caves in/shows weakness). Thus, one can literally "see" an alternate, unrepressive future, because it already exists, albeit still in a patchy manner, interspersed with intervals of repression.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2009
  6. Mar 1, 2009 #5


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    Another point concerning the stabilizing impact of terror and violence on society is that these mechanisms are extremely selective in who manages to fight his way to the top of the social hierarchy:

    Those who are averse to use such techniques will be quashed, only those willing to indulge in them will survive the game. Violent elite games, like tournaments, are eminently suited to weed out the "weaklings". Furthermore, repeated use OF violence will habituate the user to the effects of violence, i.e, de-sensitize him to the pain and fear he causes. Thus, he will be less likely to restrain himself out of compassion, since he hasn't got any.

    In effect, a system of violent bullies at the top is an extremely stable social equilibrium, deviations from it will be quickly quashed.

    It is our responsibility not to deny the sinister effectiveness of violence as a social tool (as is often done today), but rather to think hard about how our own non-repressive society might offfer an equally resilient and stable social reality than the nightmarish, violent regimes of the past and, indeed, in the majority of present regimes.
  7. Aug 24, 2009 #6


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    Closed pending moderation. Trolling, no sources.
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